Monday, 22 October 2012


I went to Francesco's funeral this afternoon. He fell off his perch on Saturday morning, aged 86. He was glad to die, the doctors having threatened to amputate a leg just to keep him going a little longer. He was one of my most revealing introductions to Real Italy. Francesco was one of that dying breed (sorry), the contadino, the smallholder. Everything his family ate or drank (more or less), he grew. He had a few acres above the local town, vineyards, vegetable plots, a cow, a few goats, a number of hutches full of rabbits, two pigs (always named after the Italian President and the current Prime Minister..the last two were Giorgio and Silvio). They were slaughtered in his yard every February. Everything was used and consumed. I used to go there grape picking after teaching in the morning. I could always find the pickers in the vineyard by their chatter, even if I couldn't see them. Then at six o'clock we would go, knackered, to the tap near the pigsty (Ciao Giorgio! Ciao Silvio!) wash our sticky hands and faces and then go into the house for a supper prepared by his long-suffering wife Giannina. The house (not that much difference actually between the human accommodation and that reserved for the animals) just stank of pork. Salami dangled from the ceiling in various stages of maturing. Great hocks lined the walls. At table, there would be maybe 16 or 18 of us pickers and helpers, Francesco would preside over it all, his sparkling eyes reserving a special glance for any young females present. Plates and plates of food would appear, jugs of wine would be emptied and the singing would start. If it sounds all a bit Peter Mayle-ish and idyllic, well, it really was like that.
RIP Francesco Campasso. A Good Bloke.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Fruits of the Bleeding Forest

 Last year was a disaster for mushrooming but this year, with some decent rain in September followed by heat, is quite the opposite. I may have written about these before but can't be bothered to find out. Caesar's Mushroom doesn't find Blighty the right place to pop up but here is his home. They look like a shelled, boiled egg, then the orange head pops up and turns into a mushroom - bingo! Below is one morning's haul:
You have to be careful because if the head that pops out is pale grenish-white then it's one that will put you six feet under. I like to eat them (the safe ones not the dodgy ones ha ha) raw, sliced and sprinkled with finely chopped garlic and parsley and drizzled with decent olive oil. Below was a baked version, lots of garlic and parsley but with Ron's spuds. Unfortunately I didn't parboil the teddies so they were a bit hard, bloody bugger. Good zingy white wine is essential of course so an Arneis is good but I think myself and Victor the Spictor saw this one off with a couple of bottles of Smooth Tony's Pinot Grigio. Or was it his Sauvignon Blanc? Whatever innit.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Give me a Good Exploiting

This is often how it works here:
The phone rings.
RC: Pronto!
XX: Hello! We haven't spoken before. My name is Mr YY and I'm a good friend of Roberto, you know the friend of yours who works in Milan at the publishing house.
RC: Err, yeeees (who is this?) ah, Roberto, yes I think I know who you mean (faintest recall of someone I met at the Pinky Bar, once, maybe about a month ago, I'd been on Spritzes and gin). 
XX: Well, my son Luca has just got a really good job with a company in Brescia that makes safety equipment for airports and he thinks that their literature is really poor, especially the English versions. Would you consider doing some translation work for them?
RC: Of course, that's right up my street, thank you.
XX: So, it's OK if I give my son your telephone number and he gets directly in contact with you?
RC: Of course, I'll look forward to hearing from him. Thank you again.
XX: Not at all. I'm sure you'll do an excellent job, you know, you need a real English speaker for this sort of work.
RC: Well, it is a help.
XX: More than a help I'd say, ha ha! Oh, while I remember, sorry I was going to ask earlier...... I'm doing some work for a local conservation group, we're working on a castle, all not-for-profit you understand, and I've prepared a little tourism brochure and I've done the English translation myself, not like doing that technical stuff that my son will be asking you to do of course, ha ha, and I was just wondering if you wouldn't mind giving it the quick once over, my English is pretty good but I just thought you might be able to polish it up a bit, if that's OK with you, shouldn't take more than ten minutes. Would you mind?
RC: You'll need my e-mail address then....(and on it goes)

What then arrives is about 600 words that kick off something like this:
"The Cazzo Castle stand proud over enemies from time ever and today is tired. Us worker do hard thing making castle new happy. Castle is all covered in tree with bird and beast. Tower is a heavy monument. The big Lord last drink strong wine here back 1790..." (continues thus for another 550 words).

1. It is a hundred times easier to translate from the Italian than rework this garbage.
2. I am not going to get paid.
3. His son Luca is a trainee forklift truck driver in said company's warehouse. There will be no translation work with payment.

Monday, 23 July 2012

My Tomato Heaven!

After the pomodoro hell of last year, Ron's tomatoes are back, bigger and better than ever! Give me back my crown! Thank you the God of Manure!

Friday, 6 July 2012

On The Road to Ruin

A weekend away in the mountains meant that Bruno decided to bring a Nebuchadnezzar of Refosco (a lively and cheerful red from Friuli Venezia Giulia) to accompany that evening's supper. This 15 litre monster he had bottled and corked that morning. Your correspondent was charged with keeping the beast upright between his legs (cue Affer please) on the 200km journey. All was well until a combination of the motion of the car and the heat made the wine want to leave the bottle at speed. "Christo!" shouted Bruno as he considered the possibilities, the principal one being the loss of a lot of decent wine. Interior damage to vehicle and passengers was, I believe, a secondary consideration.
What to do? I sat there with two thumbs pushing down on the cork which really was straining to leave the bottle.  
"Porca puttana di quella troia"* shouted Bruno, his voice an octave higher. We had to find a bar and lo and behold an anonymous village came up on the horizon. Bruno skidded to a halt, came around to my door and blaspheming without pause lifted the brute out of the car as I continued to press down the cork and off we waddled, both of us holding the bottle.
In the bar, Bruno called immediately for glasses, we went to a quiet corner while the horribly inbred locals looked on, slack jawed but hopeful. We rested the bottle on a table and Bruno stood, poised. On his command I took my thumb off the cork, it shot upwards, ricocheted off the ceiling and hit a peasant on his head. The wine foamed and creamed happily out of the bottle and the locals started cackling and pointing as Bruno let fly with a volley of seriously foul language. "Wine for everyone!" shouted Bruno as the barmaid brought a tray of glasses. "We need to get rid of at least a litre before we get back in the car or it'll go again!" The gap-toothed locals cheered to a man and gathered around, chortling and elbowing each other, barely able to believe their luck.
It was a good start to the weekend.

*Pig whore of that trollop slut in case you're interested.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Upon Driving in Italy

Some of you may be contemplating a driving holiday in Italy this summer.
Having spent a somewhat fraught period on Italy's roads and motorways of late, I'd thought I'd give some driving guidelines for visitors to this fair country:

1. Never stop at a zebra crossing for a pedestrian. If you do they will only glare at you because you are weak and do not deserve to hold a driving licence.
2. On the motorway, never drive so far away from the car in front that you are unable to read the name of the manufacturer of their rear number plate. This is especially important at speeds in excess of 160 km/h. Make sure you have your headlights on full beam.
3. On the rare occasion that someone might let you into a line of slow-moving traffic from a side road do not make any sign of acknowledgement or thanks. It is much better to glare at them because they are weak and do not know how to drive like an real Italian. 

4. If you meet another Italian driver on a single-track road and (this is extremely unlikely) should he or she then reverse to a part of the road that is wide enough to allow you to pass, then follow rule 3 (above). Even better, stop when you are alongside and laugh openly at the driver, pointing and inviting any fellow passengers to follow suit. They are clearly weak and deserve all the abuse they get.
4. When approaching a red traffic light do not slow down. You never know, it might change at the last second. Only weak, indecisive drivers bother with brakes in such a scenario.
5. When negotiating a roundabout or indeed any junction do not use your indicators. That is a sure sign of weakness and people will laugh at you. Indicators are for idiots.
6. When travelling with small children please be aware that all children prefer to travel standing up in the front passenger foot well, preferably playing with a doll or toy on the dashboard. This is even more important when travelling at high speed (see 2 above) on the motorway and you are smoking and/or using your mobile telephone and, like the rest of your gorgeous family, not wearing a seat belt.

Happy motoring!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

My Lack of Faith

This evening the local choir in which I drink sang at the ordination ceremony of a new priest. Young chap from one of the many parishes in this rather large diocese that almost stretches down to the sea in Liguria. Interestingly he is Italian. Even more interesting (or predictable) is that now there are no more young Italian nuns (damn! damn!). All the new nuns are from China or India or Africa. Apparently all young Italian girls want to be on Italy's Got No Talent or the Z-Factor or whatever.
Being from the paramilitary wing of the Anglican Church I wonder whether my participation at an ordination is rather heretical. I stare blankly at the staggering amounts of pink and grey marble and gold filigree work and statues of the bleeding Jesus and the Madonna with her tacky crown of electric candles and wonder at the utter lack of spirituality that for me is the singular hallmark of Catholic places of worship. And then from the choir gallery I see all the new priest's young friends from his village beaming with pride, young children playing in the aisles, couples cuddling and people talking on their mobiles and think maybe this is the way a living church should be. Shortly afterwards Bruno says from the back of the gallery, "hey Ron, we've just opened a bottle of grappa that Giorgio gave me, you must have a glass."

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Drawn to the Flame

I left an exterior house light on the other night and this little chap showed up, lying trashed and seemingly no longer of this cruel world on the terrace presumably having spent quite a few hours hurling himself against the synthetic flame. Actually he wasn't so little, about three inches tip to tip, and I immediately presumed it was a butterfly but then twigged when I saw the offending light still switched on. I took him into the Mad Brother Memorial Shed which is quite dark and left him there to get his wind back. The next day he was no longer there so I do hope (and think) he recovered.
Continuing the Nature Notes theme, last Saturday I heard the first cuckoo and on Sunday saw the first swallow, twisting and turning northwards.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Please, stop me!

One barely knows where to begin. But I will. All my Italian pupils use the word lavatory. Some interim punctuation would not go amiss. And as for issues....God help us.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

1950s Radio

In an after-dinner red wine haze, I was idly flicking through the 962 digital TV channels in an anonymous hotel room in an anonymous Italian town when I came across the radio station channels And amidst a blizzard of EuroPop stations with the DJs in constant fits of hysterical laughter even as they hand over to the weather forecaster I found this little gem.
It's from RAI, Italy's BBC. Just go to the right hand side where the box is headed "Dirette Radio". Click on RAI radiofd 5 and step back in time. Straight classical music, no ads, no pleading for listeners' opinions via SMS/Twitter/email. No dumbing down. Just a terribly formal annnouncer who details the music in a wonderful deadpan voice and then they play the bloody stuff without telling you alla BBC Radio 3 with Rob sodding Cowan giggling that Bruckner never wrote anything worthwhile after his 9th because his piles got to him.
This is presuming that you like classical music of course.
Lord I am getting old and grumpy.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ghastly ExPat Musings

Clearly, it is wonderful to live in Italy. No Nick Clegg, no wide-boy Cameron, no licensing laws and an abundance of the whole food and wine thingy.
However it is not all sweetness and light. I have nothing else to write about, differently abled as I am. So, as I survey* my horribly swollen knee**, here are the things I miss most about Blighty. They are not in order of importance.
1. Boots the Chemist
2. County cricket
3. Evensong at St Mary Abbots, Kensington...
4. ...and going to The Elephant afterwards
5. Going to the theatre, darling
6. Mates
7. Decent ale
8. London
9. Horse racing
10. Devonshire
11. Manners (behavioural attitude, not some apocryphal butler)
12. Fevertree tonic water
13. My sister
14. Gordon's Wine Bar

*Actually, it's not that bad now
** Re-reading the last knee-related post, it does now seem a little tragic. Apologies.

Friday, 10 February 2012

And the next one please!

Just three minutes after taking this on the road that connects Combo Towers with what passes for  civilisation here, I went down like a sack of you-know-what and did my knee. Just where you can see the sign in the distance which, with black humour, reminds motorist to fit snow chains before descending the hill. As I lay in the middle of the road, nearly a mile from home, with both dogs licking my face, I seriously wondered how I was going to get back. No mobile, even the snow plough wasn't due past for a few hours. You hardly see anyone here in the high summer, let alone when it's -5ยบ and snowing. The riiiiiiiiip of something tearing in my leg still echoed around the empty frozen hills. How long oh Lord, I thought, how long?
At the hospital (under three hours for A&E, radiology, orthopedics, A&E again to be dismissed) they said that immediately after an injury like this and when the limb is warm it can work for a while without there being too much pain.
Now the offending leg is wrapped up in one of those Velcro® festooned braces which runs from thigh to foot and which some High Court judges would pay good money to be forced to wear. Next week a scan to see the extent of the damage.
This is the latest in a regular series of visits to the local hospital. Falling off the roof was probably the most spectacular but the rest...metal splinters from splitting logs with an iron wedge that required surgery (twice), dog bites, braining myself on a door lintel (5 stitches), the vegetable slicer (3 stitches), the eye injury clearing a path (machete)....if anyone knows anyone who is more wearily accident-prone than your humble correspondent please do get in touch.
The next visit to A&E could be tomorrow because I will have done my very own personal 40 days of Lent with nary a drop passing my lips so Saturday night will be marked by the consumption of industrial quantities of red wine.
With a bit of luck.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Gun Ho!

I hope you like this one.
I have to get rid of some vermin. So I decided to buy an air rifle, nothing too serious, just a decent make that I'd heard about.
So off I tootle to a specialist hunting shop about 20 miles from here. I open the door, ding-a-ling goes the little bell and I enter the empty shop, its silent walls lined with gun cabinets, decoys, fishing rods and camouflaged hunting jackets, each with around 160 pockets. Nothing. I stand and wait. Eventually the person who is presumably the owner comes out from the back room. He is about 45 and thick set. Now Piedmont folk aren't exactly known for their spontaneity and joie de vivre. His salutation was an almost imperceptible raising of his eyebrows. Not a grunt escaped his lips, greasy from the salami he had presumably been snacking on in the back.
I asked him if he had a Weihrauch 577 in stock. I had barely finished forming the question before his face was wreathed in the sort of broad smile that you might see on a lottery winner's face. He raised his arms heavenwards. "Such a good choice my friend, such a good choice!" For a terrible moment I thought he was going to vault the counter and allow me to taste the salami second-hand. "Such a rifle! Such German engineering! Buying a Weihrauch is an investment! You'll have to wait until the middle of February when the next shipment arrives. But the wait will be more than worth your while, my friend! A wonderful rifle!"
I asked him how much this particular rifle cost. He laid both hands on the glass-topped counter and his head dropped, as if he was examining his nails. "These German rifles just fly off the shelves my friend. They fly off the shelves! The 577 is a beauty, one of their flagship models!" He looked up at me, the smile hadn't left him. "It costs €340. I can maybe give you a little discount but...I don't know..maybe €5? Here's our card. Ring me at the end of January and I'll put your Weihrauch to one side my friend!" Ding-a-ling went the little bell as I left the shop.
What the bastard doesn't know is that Mrs Combo's cousin went to the same shop towards the end of last year, bought the same rifle, didn't ask for a discount, got a rifle case thrown in and paid €260.
It's my accent you see. I have the most dreadful English pronunciation so that some shopkeepers wet themselves either with joy and/or laughter as soon as I open my trap. Think of this bloke, in reverse.
Anyhoo, I'm buying my rifle via mail order from a shop in Blackpool. So there.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

My Old Cock

I ate some cockerel last night. It was greeted at the table with unbridled joy amongst the assembled diners. Once an uncastrated rooster was fairly standard fare here but even in Italy, the capon (the castrated cockerel) is now more common. This old bird came from a local farm where it had been scratching around and generally ruling the roost for a couple of years. I don't know how much the kind hosts paid for it, but probably a premium. We had half of the fowl boiled and served with a parsley and garlic sauce and the other half roasted. It was quite delicious and surprisingly tender. They had probably cooked it for about three days. Going for seconds I was served the Parson's Nose which took some getting down I can tell you. All washed down with bottles and bottles of Barbera and Dolcetto.
Although as your correspondent is doing January yet again, I stayed on fizzy water. How many years is it now Mr Unmitigated? The January on-the-wagon thing does seem to be awfully popular now doesn't it? The only slight upside is that I felt like a spring chicken this morning.