Semplice Piaceres

Semplice Piaceres


Simple Pleasures

To eat badly in Umbria is an achievement. To eat well is the  every day. The spinach in cheese sauce in Monte Castello,the ragu in Todi, the duck in Ilci, the tagliatelle in Bevagna. I could go on.

But first among equals was Trippini in Civtella del Lago on the way to Ovietta. High above the lake, the view stretched on and on, way into the mountains which had wreaked death only weeks before. It was out of season so we had the white table clothes and so much more to ourselves. Paolo the chef obviously enjoyed his own cooking. As did we. Every mouthful a work of art. So perfecto was the experience that I felt they should do a deal with Dignitas, as this is where we should all eat our Last Supper.

Other pleasures are not so expensive. Some nights a complete set of stars accompanied by  a lone owl concerto. Sometimes we would walk the 40 minutes to Pantalla. Down a long steep hill and then up a more gentle slope. Its 11 am. We go into the local bar. One man reading a  paper. Corriere del Sport which now carries a page on English football since most of our teams are now managed by Italians. Duee orange juice. He doesn’t understand,he calls his sister. I don’t speak much English. Whatever, its enough. We get our drinks. The bar starts to fill.

The TV is on. Same mid morning, real life, house wife domestic tragedy drama. A large TV audience watch a husband and wife accuse each other of sins worse than life can bear. Unlike in England where these shows star the fat and ugly here the duo are good looking and extremely operatic. We finish our drinks, stand up and  the others in the bar look up, smile and wave Buon Giorno. We have made friends for life.

Another time we go and inspect the castle at Collepepe. We come across Fernando doing up his ground floor flat. I admire his work and am told in pidgin English that its for sale. Stupidly I ask the price. Stupidly, because before the price must come the tour. The dwelling has two entrances but no windows. It has a part glass floor which allows you a view of a well dozens of metres below. Lots of space, cupboards,it goes on,these tours are dull in ones own language. But if you hate natural light and have a head for heights this might be the place for you. Price? 116 sqm, £300K. I told him, I would make an offer later in the week.

The last morning was misty and as we picked mellow fruits from the fig tree we felt the seasons were changing and Autumn was on its way and it was time to go home.  Semplice Piaceres.

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Passo in Campagna

Passo a Campagna


Walk in the Country

Out of the villa we had several  easy walks. The best through the hamlet of Rapioli and turn down the rolling side road and along the ridge. Three or four hillside medieval villages in view, the odd farm even a castle  or two. Hill tops decked with woods, lower down the olive groves and the vineyards. Ploughed fields  with heavy clods ready for the winter seed and sunflowers once so bright and hopeful, now black with death.

But our  favourite this year was  along another ridge with its views across the Tiber valley to Montecastello. Down a pine grove to the big house with its cats and young caged dog. I had to explain to a friend that if they were going to talk to dogs they had to speak in Italian. Along a track past a mellow fruitful fig tree and  down into the valley.

Up a long track to the farm houses, here dogs on chains gave a  punk rock concert and then back onto the road. Here was the village cemetery. The rows of mausoleums like neat council houses , complete with their dull plastic flowers and boring photos, all defying  Italian style, taste and  charm. But none are deserted or left to ruin. Here families still rule OK.

On the way home down the hill we would pass homeowners and farmers. Bon Journo, Bonna Sera we would wave. They would reply, we hadn’t a clue so we would  smile the gormless,  illiterate rictus of the well meaning tourist. One day inspired such pleasantries I picked wild flowers. Blues, purples, pinks, yellows, not a bad bunch. Back in our hamlet two old ladies were on a terrace. Could have been a very ancient mother and daughter. Hardly a white tooth between them. I gave them the flowers. Brexit, they have to know what they are losing.

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Nuata per Putni, Umbria

Nuato per Putni, Umbria.

Swimming for Putney. Umbria

We were told of the Olympic sized  50 metre pool in nearby Todi. After going round the hilltop town a few times we eventually found it. Of course it was closed. Out of season, the wrong day. Who knows?

The next day we travelled past the dull town of Massciano to “La Carquelle”. Here we were told we could swim and eat well. We arrived at 12 noon. The little man waved his arms and cried “No Bagnio, no bagnio.” My heart sank ,were my speedos to be denied again?. He saw the disappointment. Puscine si, bagnio no.” I got it.

I have crossed Himalayan glaciers, I have braved snow storms in the high Andes, I have got home late. No changing rooms could be handled. The pool a lovely 25×10. I did my furious lengths. My child bride her graceful strokes. I ordered some beers.

Lovely Anna,silk shirt slightly undone, red lips smiling, white teeth sparkling, tight  washed jeans, served the amber liquid and smiled. The sun got even hotter and we moved into the shade of the restaurant area.

We ate lovely arrabiata penne, drank a little wine, shared a tiramisu and finished off with an espresso. Sometimes swimming for Putney is not such a chore.

The next day we went again. No one around. We dived in any way. No Anna, no beers as it was closed. Piscine ,perfecto. But open tomorrow. We were there. Anna had on a different shirt and jeans. But once again we were the only ones using the pool.

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Sins of the Father

Sins of the  Father

It was an everyday story of city life. An everyday story of unintended consequences.

Last week a low life steals a car. The police   are on the case. Lights flash , sirens hehaw. The low life  floors it. For a moment he thinks he can out drive them. He is high  maybe only  on adrenaline, maybe more. Through the crowded streets they race. This not the movies. He is not Steve McQueen. He hits a car, he swerves, the steering wheel spins, he hits a bollard. he mounts the pavement.

Going to park that day is the child  actor Makyah McDermott his aunt and two siblings. To those  in accidents  every nano second is recorded in dramatic slow mo. The car approaching, the sirens, the car out of control,the  chasing cops, then……. bang. The boy and his aunt  are dead. The driver, Joshua  Dobby leaps out of the killer whale and runs to hide pathetically behind a front garden hedge. Every year 25 are killed in crashes involving  police chases.

Joshua is soon arrested and charged. 23 of no fixed abode a sad figure but it gets worse.

It  turns out that his father is Mark Dobby a 51 year old businessman who  lives in  £3m house and runs  successful pet food and property businesses. Classic dull businesses but now he is famous.

A few  details are reported. The dad has  been estranged from his son for 16 years and hasn’t seen him for seven. Joshua’s mother died three years ago and is not called Dobby. She may have married again, the new man may not have got with Joshua.

Dobby started his businesses twenty years ago. Was it the oft told tale of the young  successful businessman upgrading his wife. The son never forgiving his  dad but never really settling down to life without him. Despite a  degree of privilege Joshua does badly school and   never settles down. He drifts, his mother, before she died of cancer is reported to have been battling alcoholism and drug addiction. There is more than one  car crash in this story.

Whatever. As many are inspired by their dysfunctional families,  as are broken by them. Most get on with their lives. It starts with one family destroyed by “everyday” causes, it  ends with another smashed by five minutes excitement in  a South London street.

This story has echoes in my family. My legal parents divorced when I was four, I was in therapy at eight. My parents, however flawed, never gave up and boarding school saved me.

Vivien’s older brother in the late 1960s was an extremely successful businessman. He traded in his wife for a younger model . The ex took the two children and married again. Her new husband  treated the children as his own. Vivien’s brother never forgave his children for switching their allegiance and has rebuffed all their efforts to make contact. He has not talked to his children(and their children) for over thirty years.

This is a biblical story, his second marriage crashed with his  business and  twenty years ago bailiffs and creditors chased him to another country. Where he remains.

His children meanwhile moved on  and have become successful adults. Sometimes the sins of the  father drift on like a chemical cloud, sometimes they don’t.

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Burkini or Not





Burkini or Not

So 46 per cent are for banning the burkini. Here are some thoughts.

  1. My parents went on holiday in Southern Spain. Then, what at best could be called a developing country. One of their memories was of women swimming in the sea in the full black on black,toe to toe kit which  all Spanish women wore. The dominance of the church, the rigid conservatism of the Franco regime, the rural nature  of society, the undevelopment of  capitalism, the peripheral nature of tourism, the non existence of feminism(and the pill) all allied to create women swimming modestly in their clothes.

Times, regimes, economies, development, ideas all change. And today topless beaches in Spain are as common as anywhere else in Europe.

After all its wasn’t very long ago that a lady couldn’t go into a Catholic   church unless her hair and shoulders were covered.

1966  St Stephens Square, Dublin. A young couple are snogging on a bench. An old lady goes over and starts hitting them with her umbrella and telling then not to be so profane and godless. Then that city was still crawling with priests and nuns. They have gone as has the old lady, but the couples are still snogging.

In 1968 I went to Greece then very much a student destination with a little bit of first  and a lot of third world on offer. There too I saw women swimming in their black on black clothes. Within ten years they too were  topless.

In 2007 in Kerala, South India we saw the same. Recently Bollywood allowed kissing on  screen. We know where this ends,no more honour killing perhaps.

2008  Vietnam. Women swimming with tshirts on. Was that modesty or to keep the sun  away?

  1. A beach in Dorset. A Muslim family sits. They are awkward. The man plays football with the son. The mother and daughter sit. The males paddle and after a bit the women join them. Much laughter, they are a enjoying themselves, they are integrating. The burkini is a step in that direction.

First Victorian ladies went to the beach. Separate changing cabins which were wheeled to the water’s edge, of course. Then like the men they wore full length swim suits. These got smaller. Then the bikini. Then topless.

When Jews were forced into the ghetto, guess what? They developed a distinctive and alien style. Once out and into a liberal tolerant society, they became  indistinguishable (well almost) .

Maybe the Muslim faith is less tolerant, less flexible, more commanding.  However,  the difference between third generation American Muslims and Saudis is as pronounced as the difference between Indonesians and Somalis.

Hollywood v  the Koran; Women’s rights v the immans; religious intolerance v material progress. Historically we know these are unfair as contests. Let them wear birkinis, they will soon itch.


Link-Has M&S run out or taken them off the shelves?

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Train Ride

Train Ride

There is an unforgettable moment in Jack Nicholson’s As Good as it   Gets when the unreconstructed (that comes later) novelist is asked by a gaping fan ,How do you  get women so right?

Black  Jack twinkles “I think of a man and take away responsibility and accountability.” Ha! Shame! He is going to get his, and he does.

No one  would dream of saying such a thing in a Almodovar film. Here only  women  bleed, and how. In the latest, the  brilliant Julietta women are  portayed as lover, wife, best friend, rival, daughter, harridan, gossip. Most of the emotions are stirred up one way or another by a man and how the women take to him and each other. Based on  Nobel winning  Alice Munro’s short stories the film scores on  every level.

Typically the sex scene is done originally and with style. On a train. To the rhythm of the stag seen in the snow. See the film. Now sex on a  train has a class of its own. I have got the age when I’m not sure whether I’m making it up or not. Actually I don’t care.

Coming back from an Austrian university ski trip Eva and I shared a couchette. As the stations of Europe whizzed by  through the snowy night, we whizzed through whatever was  possible on that narrow  bed. Two motions running parallel, fusing and parting, parting and fusing, The film caught that syncopation brilliantly.

Fast forward to 1972. Trish and I were both teaching at a secondary modern in Surbiton. We both lived with our parents. We were going away for the weekend to stay with friends in Wareham. We were hot. We had been building up too long.  We caught the train at Waterloo. We looked at each other. We touched, The fuse was lit.

We rushed to  the toilet. This is more Sex Pistols than Roy Orbison. After twenty minutes(maybe I lie) I poked my head out. There was a queue. OMG. Ouch. I went back in. Threw open the door and looked the queue in the eye as I said,”Darling, Have you got everything “.

Those were the days, we thought they would never end.






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Swift to Bless

Swift to Bless

Corston in Wiltshire gets its name from “cors” the Celtic  word for marsh. It was there on Sunday we went, with our dear friend Sara, to All Saints  church for morning service. The small medieval church built to hold around 100 had to make do with 15. Five men.Not many church ornaments  except to the Gale family. No one could tell when they had died out and if they had anything to do with  the famous  family that makes honey.

All but three and two infants were over sixty. The vicar, the delightful Ursula Grey a retired hospital chaplain.  We  had been warned that in one service she had fainted.

But this was a congregation that could handle such details. One week the vicar(not Ursula) had forgotten to turn up and they just got on with it and did the service themselves.

Corston’s pews are  particularly hard and uncomfortable. Maybe a case of no pain, no gain. Although this congregation can look after themselves  there were times when there was indecision about whether to stand, sit or kneel.  Which led to this worshipper spending a lot of time hovering between those three positions.

Whatever the virtues of communion,  services are made by the hymns and the sermon. The standout hymn was Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven”. Once voted no 21  by TV’s Songs of Praise.This is a great favourite of  The Queen, she chose it for her wedding in 1947.

It is based on Psalm 103 and written by  Henry Lyte who also penned Abide with Me.  Lyte a Scot was educated at Trinity Dublin and spent a large part of his career as curate  in Lower Brixham, Devon, a fishing village. He retired with ill health to Italy agd 54 but died very quickly in 1847.

The sermon was a difficult one. Based on the gospel reading it told not to invite  guests to dinner parties in the hope of getting return invites, but to invite the poor, cripples, blind people and the rest and pick up  your reward in heaven. Seriously, Come on.

On the way out I pointed out to Ursula ,that this was a bit tough all round. She winked and laughed. “At least you were listening”. That’s why I love the Church of England.

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