Friday, 31 October 2008

The Game's Up

I got the results yesterday and went to the Doctor's surgery this morning. "Well Mr Combo" said the Doctor, scanning the four pages, "what you have to do is diet. For three months. No cheese, no eggs, no fried food, no pork-based products, no duck, no goose, nothing high in fat. Your cholesterol is too high. Not high enough for medication but still too high." He then looked up from the analysis and fixed me through his half-moon spectacles, "and your liver is in crisis. I will allow you half a glass of wine at mealtimes and no more." "Does that include breakfast?" I asked brightly. "I don't really need to answer that do I Mr Combo?" "No doctor, just a little joke, ha ha, you know my way of coping with, er, bad, y'know, news." "Come back and see me at the end of January and we'll do some more tests. However the rest of you would appear to be OK. Your prostate is fine. So it's not all doom and gloom is it?"

Yes it sodding well is actually Doctor. Anyway, dear readers, what should I do? Buckle down and do what the dear doctor recommends or flick two fingers at the health fascists and carry on? I am inclined to cave in (starting tomorrow of course, November 1st, I have a dinner tonight for God's sake) and follow orders. I have always been obedient in the face of authority, that's St. bloody Custard's for you. What do you lot think I should do?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Food Glorious Food!

On Sunday I went to the Salone del Gusto at Turin, a huge exhibition devoted to the very best worldwide in food and run by the admirable Slow Food organisation. Its was absolutely mobbed but great fun with all sorts of free tastings and opportunities to get stuck in for nowt. Dominated by Italians of course but there was also a lot of representation from Africa and China. You'd need at least two days to do the lot. Can you believe that I did NOT visit either the beer hall or the wine tasting centre? I think I may be going certifiably mad.
This, remarkably, is the scene by the British Pig Association stand where they were flogging bacon and sausage sandwishes at €3 a pop. It was bonkers and heaving. Couldn't get near.
The event itself was held in the old Fiat factory at Lingotto. This is a view from the inside looking up. On the top of the building is a fully-banked test driving circuit, but most of you lot probably knew that anyway.
In the evening and back at home I had to go out for dinner and worked my way through five courses and a shedload of decent Cab Franc, Raboso and Barbera. On Monday morning I bit the bullet and went for a comprehensive blood test at the local hospital. That should have caused an interesting reaction ("Mamma mia! Come here and have a look at this sod!") in the analysis lab the next day. I get the results tomorrow. Well, it's been fun, what I can remember.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tinkle Halt

Now, this is the only one of these I have seen in Italy. It has a rather pleasing name too: vespiasiano. So much nicer than urinal. This one looks rather, er, well used. I understand that there are lots of vespiasiani in Blighty still, most of them designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

His day is done

"Finish good tractor; the bright day is done,
And we are for the dark"*

All the proud work in field and valley is forgotten, this old workhorse is now counting out his days in the damp corner of a grotty field, powering a bandsaw.

*Sincere, abject apologies to W.S.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Good grub

Just about recovered from Fred's visit; he certainly made a big impression with the locals. There was a lot of wine taken. And I thought I thought I was the one with a drink problem!
Anyway, I must try and look forward. Mrs Combo has a cousin who is a real peasant (in the nicest sense of the word). They are virtually self-sufficient, living a truly bucolic existence, seemingly unaware that their house is falling down around them. I had a 'phone call this morning telling me to pop by as they had gone mushrooming yesterday. These little beauties were duly thrust into my hands; they have a name in local dialect, something like pinerung. Whilst there hasn't been the rain followed by a hot spell that is needed for a classic mushroom season, apparently if you know where to go, then they can be found.
I washed them, sliced them, finely chopped up a handful of parsley and a clove of garlic and chucked everything in a frying pan with a little oil. Bingo! Delicious, washed down with half a bottle of Cabernet Franc out of the 'fridge. I had to prepare this one for luncheon whilst Mrs Combo was at work as she isn't too keen on the smell of funghi. I once put her in hospital for three days after some unfortunate mushroom selection. Live and learn I say.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A Broken Man

I went grape picking at the weekend; a chap I know was short of some people so I turned up on the Saturday. There were about ten of us, so pairs would work each side of a row of (what else?) Barbera vines. Most of them were locals and I imagine the average age was around 75. I was working with Bruna (78, still blessed with some of her own teeth) and I think I was in. I wanted to take her photograph but she was shy.

We started at eight in the morning, stopped for a light lunch (above, and that's not Bruna in the middle by the way but it is a woman) at twelve and then back to work at one. At four I had to throw in the towel, the seven hours of being bent over nearly double had rendered me utterly exhausted, had done for my back and my ability to see straight. They waved me goodbye all the Italians, still bent over, picking, laughing, chatting, sometimes singing*, scurrying around with their plastic baskets, in perpetual motion, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky. Bastards. The thing is I had done it a few years ago and hardly batted an eyelid. Time for a major review of my physical condition? Fat chance with Fred pitching up on Friday, bright-eyed and ready for it. I wonder whether he will have an, er, travelling companion?

*Sorry for the Under the Tuscan Sun moment.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Talking and Boozing with Italians

Italians love yapping. Anytime, anyplace, any topic. Give them a chance 'though to speak in public on a subject about which they have more than passing knowledge and they seize it with both hands, clutch it to them and snog it until their tongue is aching. And so it happened at the reception for the new 'University' which is to be (if anyone bothers to enrol) a languages unit as an offshoot of the University of Genoa. It should be a banker however because it is in a remote hilltop village (pop. 173) with no public transport connections whatsoever. But don't worry because you lot paid for it via the EU's regional development fund. The people at the table above are all language specialists. And they went on. And on. And on. For about one hour and forty minutes. It honestly seemed like two days. Talking bollocks of course. All against a backdrop of gentle snoring from some of the old boys from the village who scented a free drink. The old buffer seated second from the right with the white hair is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Genoa. More about him later.
However, everything comes to him who waits. Afterwards there was a rinfresco in a 15th century cellar belonging to the local council. All red wine and decent grub, including little crispy pan-fried ravioli. Delicious. Being a borderline alky (water always finds its own level), I soon found myself boring two Germans, an Italian and the V-C glassy-eyed with London drinking tales (big nod to Lord Ashley). The old boy (the V-C that is) could certainly stick it away.

Two hours later (after having fended off a frantic Mrs Combo on the 'phone) I found myself with the dregs of the group in this private cellar in the village. On the left of the table is a model of the US Cavalry Fort at Tuscon made out of fag packets and corks and the other is of St. Peter's in Rome made conventionally out of polished wood. Just cop the posters on the wall.

The biblical-looking owner's cellar is a shrine to the 70s. I had never met him before. Here he is extolling the benefits of a Remington razor. I think him and his mate opened some eight bottles while we were there and there were only six of us. My final, hazy memory of the evening is leaving the cellar and seeing the V-Cs enormous wife staggering around in the garden trying to find the way out. There was a bizarre green light flashing under her lower clothing. I think it may have been a warning that her bag was full.