Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A New Year's eve for two

First of all, a mini quiz, to see how much you have been paying attention this year.
One of my favourite New Year's eve memories, was in Paris. It was beautiful, bright , but with a flurry of snow. We walked all around the centre of Paris, and the St Germain area. We had a meal in a place near the Champs Elysee, this most romantic of cities, lived up to all expectations.

We also have wonderful memories of family and friends celebrating together.

This evening, I know some couples will be on their own, so here are a few suggestions for them.
First of all a mini quiz:_
1 What is the full name of the Royal baby?
2 Who won Wimbledon, men's singles final?
3 What car did the Pope drive?
4 What happened at Chelyabinsk?
5 Which country became the 28th member of the EU on 1st July 2013?
6 What do Silvio Berlusconi and Alphonse Capone have in common?
7 What, according to Edward Snowden caused more deaths that terrorism, in the USA?
8 A 40 million year old lizard was discovered in June, and named What?
9 What did the Pope personally cancel, in Buenos Aires, by phone, three days after his election?
10 What word won the International Scrabble championships?
(Answers at the bottom)

Here is a quick recipe for four, which can easily be halved for two

Tagliatelle with salmon and cream

250 g tagliatelle
2 potatoes
150 g smoked salmon
200 ml fresh cream
2 spoonfuls of yoghurt
juice of half a lemon
knob of butter
salt and pepper

cut the smoked salmon into strips
Mix the cream, lemon juice and yoghurt together
peel  and dice the potatoes
Boil a large saucepan of water, add salt, then the potatoes.
After about 3 minutes add the tagliatelle
melt the butter in a large non-stick pan
drain the pasta and potatoes and toss in the pan with the melted butter
add the salmon cut in strips and mix carefully
remove from the heat and add the cream mixture
grind over some pepper, adjust the seasoning

Here are the answers to the quiz
1 Prince George of Cambridge, George Alexander Louis
2 Andy Murray
3 A 1984 Renault 4 Hatchback
4 An asteroid fell to earth
5 Croatia
6 They both fell ultimately to tax fraud
7 Bathtub falls
8 Barbaturex Morrison after Jim Morrison, the Lizard King of Rock
9 The daily papers
10 Bandura, which is an Ukrainian ukelele

Well I hope I got those right !
Happy New Year xxx

Happy Hogmanay

In Italy, for some reason, it is considered to be bad luck if a woman says "happy new year" to you. Some people say that a man must say it first, and so I make my husband wish me a happy new year,nice and early !

It is a traditon here, to wear red underwear on New year's eve.It brings good luck, and it certainly cheers you up.

This morning I was walking past a caffe and outside was a mannequin in red underwear, bearing the sign
"Se un anno buono, vuoi avere,
qui dentro, devi bere,
toccandoci il sedere,
Roughly translated this is;-
If you want to have a happy new year.
You must come and drink in here,
Best Wishes!

So, of course I had to go in for a cappuccino, I know the girls that work in there, and we had a giggle about the last line-which I haven't translated ...

New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay, in Scotland is the threshold between one year and the next. It's a time for a mixture of customs, for silent contemplation or noisy parties,for expressions of good luck,feasting and toasting and most of all for looking to the future with hope and confidence.

Here, in Italy, lentils and grapes are eaten as symbols of wealth. Chicken is not eaten, because chickens disperse the grain, while pork can be eaten, because the pig gathers his food towards him.

In Scotland, haggis is traditionally eaten  to celebrate Hogmanay. It is usually served with mashed potatoes and turnips. The word haggis probably comes from the French "hachis", meaning chopped. It's made of chopped offal, oatmeal and suet, boiled inside the bag of a lamb's stomach. It is always eaten to the accompaniment of the skirl of bagpipes and washed down with neat whisky.

Wassailing, is an ancient custom associated with the New Year. I don't think anyone does it anymore. It used to be that there was a wassailing procession. The wassail bowl was taken from house to house filled with spiced ale and apples. In England, it was the custom for people to get together in their homes and pass round the wassail bowl as they waited for the procession to call on them. Then, they would have some hot, spiced ale ready to pour into the visitors' bowl.
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves, so green,
Here we come a-wandering,
So fair to be seen;

Love and joy come to you
And to you our wassail too,
And God bless you, and send you
A happy New Year,
And God send you
A happy New year.
(Wassail song, from a traditional North of England song)

My Mum always liked the first person to cross the threshold, after midnight, to be a dark, handsome man. So, when she was staying with us in Italy, my husband would be the first person to come in our house. He would carry a piece of bread and some coal (they have pretend sweet coal here for the Befana to bring) and some salt. His reward would be a wee dram of whisky.

New Year's eve is often the excuse for the a big and boisterous party. Here, in Italy they love setting off fireworks. You start hearing lots of bangs towards the end of December and then at midnight on New year's eve there is a dazzling display, all over the place.

Then, everyone kisses each other and wishes everyone a happy new year.

We like to link hands and sing "Auld lang syne", in Britain.

Bonne anneè, Buon anno, Happy New Year, Srečna Nova Godina, An Nou Fericit,  to you all.

Monday, 30 December 2013

New words

My English speaking friends and I often say, how our spoken English is sort of stuck in a 70s time-warp.
We've all lived in Italy for so long and don't regularly speak to people who actually live in an English-speaking country.
When I return to the UK,people often correct me, I might say Canadian geese, instead of Canada geese,
or anti beeotics instead of anti by otics.
I'll find myself peering at the coins, to see which is 5p or 10p

Recently, a fellow ex-pat, went back to London. She was early for an appointment. The receptionist said "Oh, you're previous". My friend looked puzzled. "You 're early", the receptionist tried again.
None of us,here had ever heard before.

Another friend told how she had been in the UK and described someone as "a bright spark", everyone looked amazed and said no-one used that expression any more.

A Language is constantly being enriched and added to, words being discarded or gathered all the time.
When I was young, we said wireless, then radio, now the wireless is back again.
My Mum said gramophone, we said record player, our children say stereo, or Ipod or whatever.

This last year has seen the creation of lots of new, interesting words.
The selfie ,derp, dappy,twerk, buzzworthy,bitcoin,megadata,binge watching.

The ones I like best are meggings (leggings for men, it used to be long.johns),and babymoon-which is like a holiday for parents before their baby is born.

I'd only just managed to understand GSOH (good sense of humour), but now there is BYOD (bring your own device) LDR (Long distance relationship) and FOMO (fear of missing out).

So I'm feeling rather dappy because I'm trying to twerk while my husband is binge-watching "The Sopranos" wearing meggings, and my daughter is on a babymoon with her husband.

Does that sound buzzworthy ?

New Year Resolutions

For years, my Mum always made the same New Years resolution: to be more punctual. She hardly ever was. I did suspect that she didn't like being early.

I always said I was going to write my diary every day. On the first of January, for a long time, I wrote the same thing :_ saw the New Year in with my brother and his friend from school, watching "Ready,Steady, Go" and drinking ginger beer. That was it, I never wrote much after that.

I haven't thought about my resolutions yet for this year, but we were drinking from the mugs we were given for Christmas and I was thinking about what was written on them, and my resolutions.

On mine, is written
"Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world"
It is signed "Marilyn Monroe". I expect Marilyn was thinking of pretty, fluffy mules, or sexy kitten heels, dangling seductively from her dainty feet. But, I thought, maybe I could invest in some good walking shoes, and this could be the year we walk the whole route of Compostela.

My husband's mug says
"May you be happy always"
signed Honorè de Balzac. Of course, Balzac knew what he was talking about. If my husband is happy I'll be happy too! I know he'd love to walk the Compostela route.

I've always liked things written on mugs and greetings cards, ever since we would roam round the card shop after school, giggling at cards that said things like "Joe's pipe and tool works" on the front, with a picture of a workshop, and inside, "Hope yours does too".
"Want to go steady? Try prune juice"
Or more seriously:
"It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty, the important thing is to fill it up".
Recently, I received one of those emails that get sent to lots of people. It was the 45 things that an old lady, called Sue, considered of fundamental importance to have a happy life. I read them out to my Dad's best friend, who is over 90, just like Sue. He listened quietly, nodding or pursing his lips in approval  or doubt. When I read out the line
"Remember, the biggest sex organ, is the brain".
He looked surprised.

"After all these years!", he said ...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Family day

Today in Italy it is "Family Day", or Il giorno della famiglia. So I was thinking a lot about what is a family. How it should be a refuge and a place of comfort.

A family usually starts with a couple. In fact a couple is already a family. So is a single parent with just one child. Our society is re-defining what it means by a family all the time. Whatever the family is made up of though, it is hoped they are fond of each other and care about each other. That it all started with a couple that love each other. It used  to seem simple to me, two people fall in love, decide they want to live with each other and then set about loving each other with all their hearts.

As the song goes "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, just find a pretty girl, and make her your wife".

When I was about 2, I was sure I was going to marry my Dad, I'm sure that any girl who has loved her Dad will always see the good in men.

From the moment I realised I couldn't marry my Dad, I started looking forward to when I would have a husband. I'd lie in bed at night imagining where he could be. I would never be frightened again, he would be in bed beside me every night. I would be able to watch frightening films and go straight to sleep, safe, with him beside me. I would have children and look after them just the way I looked after my dolls. We would be best friends and have lots of fun. He would look after me. This was the way I thought when I was about 5. Now, my little grand-daughter seems to feel the same. She is fascinated by being in love, princes, boys protecting her and having babies. She asked me if she could have my house for when she has her husband and babies, but not until I'm really, really old, and have become a star!

What makes a happy family? We just have to read the news to know there are a lot of unhappy ones, and it is very sad to hear about distress in the family. When it should be somewhere that is the best place to be. Well I think it's a lot to do with wanting to be together, wanting the best for each other, respect, and above all, love.

Once I read that the best thing a man can do for his children is love their mother.

Being a happy family doesn't mean sitting around smiling at each other and agreeing all the time. I think it is a lot to do with acceptance, perfect acceptance, not a perfect family.

Sounds better in French

English spoken with a French accent, has a very special charm. Many a woman has fallen for the way a Frenchman speaks English.

A whole television series "'Allo 'Allo" was based on the misunderstandings an accent can bring. We all remember "When the girls piddle, I will flush". (The airmen were talking about peddling and flashing lights!)

We were given some organic leeks yesterday, so the first thing I made was "Leek and Potato soup". My Italian family love Leek and Potato Soup and Shepherd's Pie. Today I decided to call it Vichyssoise, which is French for Leek and Potato Soup. It's just pureed a bit more and got lots of cream in it, and I think it's served cold, in the Summer.

It reminded me of a lovely cartoon, by Matt from The Telegraph. When the French had to vote for a European something or other, the cartoon showed a man looking at a newspaper, with the headline "The French say 'Non'", and the wife says "Oh, it sound much more romantic in French".

When in France, listening to French mamans calling out, "Dépêche-toi", or "ca suffit", or people telling you, "Je suis desolé", it sounds so nice. Just hearing French spoken feels like being on holiday.

Je t'aime, ti amo, I love you, all sound wonderful.

The French have bon appetit, the Italians, buon appetito, I think the Germans have guten Appetit (not sure if that was someone pulling my leg), in Britain we have 'dig in', or 'enjoy your meal'. Today we are going to have Vichyssoise.

Vive la France and its lovely Language.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Pantomime Time

If we were in England now, we would be booking up to see a Pantomime. It was always an after Christmas treat.

A Pantomime is usually a well-known fairy tale, like Aladdin, Cinderella or Snow White. The leading man used to be played by a woman, and there was always a funny old woman played by a man. The leading man is no longer a woman, it's probably not politically correct anymore.

There is always a jar of sweets placed at the side of the stage and a pantomime horse with people inside it. At a certain point the audience  are asked to join in, singing or calling out.

The first Pantomime we went to see was "Peter Pan on Ice" at Wembley Stadium. Tinkerbell flying about was just magical, and we clapped loudly to make her know we believed in fairies.

A few years ago, a fellow expat friend of mine took his Italian wife to a Pantomime at Christmas, in England. She was absolutely shocked by all the double meanings and saucy humour.

Well, I often thought maybe all those innuendos were to remind the Mums and Dads how they came to be Mums and Dads in the first place.

When my children were small, we went to see Dick Whittington. At a certain point someone says to the leading girl, "Oh, Dick, Dick, Dick, all you can think about is... Whittington". All the adults roared with laughter, the children looked blank.

Another time, we managed to get last-minute seats in the front row, for Cinderella. When the Fairy godmother transformed everything into the coach and horses, it was impossible to see how it was done.

One year we went to see The Magic Story Book. This wasn't a Pantomime. It was a Christmas show for the children. they loved that too. There were all the ingredients. the goodie, the baddie, the humour and the wise cracks. The baddie went around saying "Evil, evil, evil ... bad, bad, bad ...".

It was wonderful.

My children got a lot of fun from a children's programme called "Rainbow". They thought it was hilarious. There were 3 main characters. George, a pink hippopotamus, Zippy a yellow puppet with a zip for a mouth, and Bungle the bear. The presenter was a man called Geoffrey. One year they starred in the Pantomime "Aladdin". My sister-in-law arranged for us all to go and see it. My  youngest son was going through  a phase when he had perfected a very infectious laugh. How he laughed at that Pantomime, to the great delight of us and slight annoyance of the people behind. My brother called him "the great defuser", what a wonderful quality to have. He still is.

After the Pantomime, the children were all longing to meet the cast, and as luck would have it, we bumped into them near the car park. They begged the man who played George  to imitate him. The actors all seemed a bit shy, but as they left us we heard the one impersonating George say "I don't want to do George's voice", in George's voice. It was the crowning glory of a very, happy, family outing.

The last time we went to a Pantomime, I sat with my Mum right at the front. It was Aladdin. We had 3D glasses for when the genie appeared. We could hear my little grand daughter clapping with total delight.

If you have the chance to go to the Pantomime, have a great time! Laugh, sing and join in !

Special omelette

Some friends brought us a jar of red caviar for Christmas. We ate it on white bread, with butter and some frozen vodka, like they do in Russia. It was a great hit, everyone loved it.
They suggested making an omelette with the leftover caviar.

Today we went for a lovely brisk walk,  the sun had at last come out and it was a joy to be in the open air, it felt like Spring was round the corner.

We arrived back late for lunch. I decided to try the omelette with the caviar and a spoonful of cream, as our friend had suggested. It was delicious, a real treat, and all ready and on the table in 10 minutes.

I really enjoy making omelettes, standing there gently lifting the sides and watching it cook, it is very relaxing. If you don't have caviar, anything else in the fridge can be magically transformed into an appetizing meal. Leftover ham, cheese, mushrooms, bacon.
Eggs used to have a bad reputation, now it seems they are good for us after all. Only in moderation, though. Which reminds me of Oscar Wilde and his "Everything in moderation, even moderation".

While I was making the omelette I thought of all the one line sayings about eggs,

'You have to crack an egg to make an omelette'
'Don't put all your eggs in one basket'
'As sure as eggs are eggs'
'A sunken soufflé is just a risen omelette'

And the silly joke we liked as children: "Is it correct to say, the yolk of the egg is white or the yolk of the egg are white?"

Neither, because.. the yolk of the egg is yellow!

Sorry about that !!!


This evening we went to see the film "Philomena". I didn't know what to expect, but knew it would be good, because it stars the great Judi Dench.

Well I came out of the cinema, with my heart like lead, full of tears and a lump in my throat. Torn apart by the story full of human suffering and pain, feeling so dreadfully sorry for everyone in it. Full of questions about nuns, and convents, man's inhumanity to man, the seemingly impossible task of healing Ireland, with its tragic, painful history and very, very sad.

What shines out of the film is the incredible, redeeming power of forgiveness.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Christmas Kisses under the Mistletoe

This afternoon, I watched a Christmas film with my Grandson. Snuggled on the sofa with him, leaning against me, one eye on the sunset and the other on the film. It was wonderful. The film was about Father Christmas, preparing his sleigh and delivering the gifts all over the world. Through his eyes, I relived all the wonder of that special, magical night.

How quickly Christmas passes. All the preparation, all the expectation, all the fun of family and friends, and now it's over.

So I 'd just like to pause awhile, think about Christmas, and write one more Christmas post.

Some friends gave us a lovely, big bunch of real mistletoe to hang above the kitchen door. I've always liked the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. It always seemed innocently exciting, to find yourself under it when a boy was near, "Don't kiss under the mistletoe, with any one else but me tra la la".

It's another Christmas tradition from Victorian times. Each time a gallant beau captured a shy maiden beneath the mistletoe, he claimed a kiss. The act was recorded by the removal of a berry. When the branches were bare, the kissing had to stop.

'Pick a berry off the mistletoe             
For ev'ry kiss that's given.
When the berries have all gone,
There's an end to kissing.'
(Traditional rhyme)

Again, according to the Victorians, the giving of a sprig of mistletoe signified the surmounting of all difficulties, and the overcoming of all obstacles. Its symbolism extends way back to the time of the Druids, the priests or soothsayers from the ancient Celtic religion.

The Holly is probably the most symbolic of evergreens and has long been used to signify eternal life.
In ancient times it was thought to be a deterrent to witches and, as such, considered a sign of good luck.

Ivy, in the Victorian language of flowers, was thought to signify friendship, fidelity and marriage. Like holly, ivy was considered a symbol of good luck, and if it grew up the walls of a house, to protect the occupants from harm.

'The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.'

Working magic

One of my husband's pleasures in England is Pickled Onions.He loves a good old-fashioned Ploughman's lunch in a pub, with pickled onions.

So this Christmas I ordered some Pickled Onions by post from Britain, especially for him.

We had them on the table yesterday, for lunch. I was sitting next to a couple who have been together for a long time, but never make a move to actually start a life together.
Now that is OPB of course, but I am very fond of them and so I thought I'd give them a shove in the right direction.
The enormous jar of jumbo size Pickled Onions was in front of us. You all know that they are a bit like  garlic, you both have to eat them if you want to get up close. So I told them that, in Britain, if two people share a pickled onion they will be bound together for life. Would you believe they both beamed with delight and ate half a pickled onion each.

Now I am waiting to see if my magic works...

The rest of the jar is strictly for my husband.

Detox soup

Just a quick recipe, It's  really easy, it 's just the thing for a light supper for two.

Serves 2
300 g floury potatoes
1 small onion
2 tsp butter
400 ml  vegetable stock
2 tbsp. flaked almonds
1 small handful of rocket
salt to taste
white pepper
70 g whipping cream

Peel, wash and dice the potatoes. Peel and dice the onion. Melt the butter in a saucepan, and fry the onion in it until translucent.
Add the diced potato and the stock, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, brown the almonds lightly in a dry frying pan without fat until golden.
Remove from the heat and set aside on a plate.
Wash the rocket, remove the tough stems and cut the rest into strips.
Puree the potato soup, with a miniprimer, in the saucepan. Season to taste.
Add the strips of rocket to the soup.
Whip the cream stiffly and fold it into the soup.
Scatter with the almonds before serving.

It might not sound like a detox soup, with the cream, but the potassium in the potatoes and the aspartic acid in the rocket make it a bit diuretic.
Soups always help flush out the kidneys.
(I hope that hasn't made it less appetizing).

Thank you letters

Most of us have probably said thank you for our presents by text or email this year.

When we were children, straight after Christmas we were told to write our thank you letters.

My Dad had a friend who owned a Toy shop, and some time before Christmas we received a parcel through the post with our Christmas present. This was really exciting for us , the parcel was put under the tree, waiting for Christmas Day. But it was the fact it had arrived with the Postman that made it such a special present. Someone had gone to all that bother, for us.
All our thank you letters said the same thing.

Dear So and So,
Thank you for the lovely Christmas present.
It was just what we wanted.
It was very kind of you.
Hope you are well.
Lots of love

It never really expressed the joy we felt, receiving that parcel.

This year, about 3 weeks before Christmas, we received a box through the post from our loved ones far away. We opened it up and I can tell you, it was a real Box of delights. Packed full, with presents for all the all the family, right down to the baby. It was overwhelming, the kindness and the care, that was in that box. I kept it open, in the bedroom, and looked at it every day, thinking not of the presents but of all the love and care that had gone into it.
I could never write a "Thank you letter" that could quite express the pleasure I got from that parcel, but I'll try.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Light Relief

Just a few more Christmas cracker jokes:-

What did one eye say to the other ?
Between you and me something smells.

What do you get if you cross a hen with a bedside clock?
An alarm cluck.

What do you get if you cross a Snowman with a Vampire?
Frost Bite.

The last joke reminds me of when I went sledging in a mini skirt and got frost bite on my leg. AHH the  follies of youth.

Boxing Day, a special day

Today is called Boxing Day in Britain, because in Victorian times boxes of provisions were given to people like the postman or the milkman.
It is St. Stephen's day, in Italy Santo Stefano.
To us, however, it is above all, the day my Mum was born.

To me Christmas Day, is all gold and red, bright and sparkly. Boxing Day is pink and silver and smells of roses. There was always a stack of cards amongst our Christmas cards, with "For the 26th" written on the envelope. There was always a lovely box of chocolates, there was always our deep, unfathomable love for her.

She was the youngest of six children and deeply loved, right from the start. The older ones always said, they looked after her with kid gloves. It is easy to understand why. She was sweet and gentle, loving and kind. All through her life, she gave out love and comfort to all.

My Dad and Mum fell in love when they he was 18 and  she was 15.

They held hands tightly all through their lives, in every sense. At my Dad's funeral, my daughter said "looking at Grandpa and Grandma we learnt the meaning of true love."

Here is a poem written 300 years ago by an American, called Anne Bradstreet for her husband,

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee:
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye woman if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray,
then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

It could have been written for them.

On this very special day for me, I dedicate this poem to all couples in long-lasting, friendly, comfortable and loving relationship, and to all those young couples just starting, that they will find comfort with each other always.

Happy Boxing day!!!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Special thoughts

Special thoughts for all those that are alone today.
Most of us like to be part of some sort of family gathering on Christmas day. Some people like to be on their own. Others have no choice. Lots of people are apart from their loved ones.
It does seem that all emotions are heightened at this time, you miss people even more than usual, you demonstrate you love for those close to you more, everything seems more intense- happiness and loneliness.
Merry Christmas to everyone

Merry Christmas

The great story teller Charles Dickens wrote this of Christmas:

Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance.
"Him did come PiPi" I said to my brother
"Him did come MiMi", my daughter said to her brother
It is lovely to remember that magical moment when children wake up to see that Father Christmas has been.

Merry Christmas and may you all have a wonderful time. Special thoughts to loved ones that are far apart.

One cracker after another, bang bang bang! Have a great time!

Silent Night

All is calm, all is bright. This beautiful carol says all we need to hear, to reflect now and through the night, of the love descending on the world.
Stille nacht, Silent night, Tacita notte,

O perfect Love, outpassing sight,
O Light beyond our ken,
Come down through all the world tonight,
And heal the hearts of men.
(Laurence Housman)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is such a magical time. All the promise and hope for lots of happy moments with family and friends.
We can just pause for a moment this morning to think what the real message of Christmas is for each of us.
It's nice to think of Father Christmas getting everything ready to go round the whole world spreading happiness and joy with his gifts. I used to love lying in bed thinking of that, the whole world. The whole wide world.
Of course, he couldn't do that on his own, so Mums and Dads do it for him.
Baby Jesus, on the other hand, can. He came to spread love all over the world. He told lots of lovely stories to help us understand how to love each other. He gave us an extra commandment which sums up all the other ten. Love each other.
It sounds simple. It's not.
What does loving each other or Love they neighbour really mean to us ?
It's easy to love the people that love us, the ones that make us feel good about ourselves.
I'm just going to quote a little poem by Emily Dickinson to pause for thought today

Who has not found the heaven below,
Will fail of it above,
For angels rent the house next ours
Wherever we remove.
I shall update this post throughout the day. There is lots to do, but I want to say thank you for reading my blog and all your helpful, kind comments.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

This Summer our Italian relatives came to England and had a lot of fun, learning new expressions.
One, they particularly liked was "Easy peasy, lemon squeezy".

I'm going to give you two very easy peasy recipes now.
They are useful when you get asked to take along something you have made yourself, to a party.

Stuffed Dates

Buy the best dates you can find, the nice, fat, juicy ones if possible.

My son-in-law who is an expert on Lean management says it is quicker to prepare one date at a time rather than a production line.
So ...
  • take out the pip;
  • put a small amount of mascarpone, or other cream cheese in the centre, then a walnut half on top;
  • arrange on a pretty plate.
They are simply,delicious, and good for you too.

Salmon mousse

Actually I made this recipe up and every time I make it, it tastes slightly different, but it is always a success.
1 jar of good quality mayonnaise;
2 tins of best salmon;
some gelatine for about 600 g of liquid, here in Italy we use "Colla di Pesce", fish glue (just follow the instructions on the packet).

Whizz the salmon and mayonnaise in a blender until it looks like a mousse.
Add the prepared gelatine,
then add the flavourings as you like, pepper and salt, tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce, lemon juice,
I usually taste it and see bit by bit.
Pour it into a jelly mould until set.
I have got a marvellous Tupperware mould that is ideal. When ready to turn it over onto a bed of lettuce.
You can decorate it as you like. At this time of the year you could make a Christmas tree with finely chopped parsley and pomegranate pips as baubles.
Lemon slices, squiggles of mayonnaise and sliced olives.

Both of these recipes can be made well in advance. Always a bonus at Christmas.
Buon appetite ...


Simon was the first friend that my brother brought home from his new school. It was a very exciting time. Not only did I have a brother but his friends too!
We were all on the threshold of those magical teenage years. Everything seemed exciting. We could listen to pop music on the radio  for the first time. After the struggle with the Pirate radio stations we had Radio one.The Pick of the Pops and Disc Jockeys.
Simon and music are inseparable in my mind - we listened to Itchycoo Park on the radio together . We loved listening to music. He was one of the few boys who would admit to liking Tamla Motown. My brother liked Led Zeppelin and the Cream, Leonard Cohen and Pink Floyd. We loved our generation's music. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, the Who, Bob Dylan. There was such a rich variety. My Dad thought it was all a terrible noise, especially the Who. He liked Petula Clarke and Acka Bilk.
Simon loved Rod Stewart and when I play my Christmas cd, and when I listen to it I can hear Simon, even though he was tone deaf like me .
Simon would always help me choose my clothes. He had a real talent for knowing what suited me. We went to Carnaby Street and he picked out a green dress for me, just like that, we went to the nearby towns and if he didn't like something he just shook his head, when he did he nodded his approval. He was a real BFF.

When I went away with the school on a Field Trip, he came to pick me up and my brother and I went to his house for the best Spaghetti Bolognese and Lemon meringue pie that I' ve ever had.
Simon had a noble heart.

In recent years he came to stay with me and my family, we walked the streets for hours, talking as though we were 14 again. He did often comment "trivia" on what I said, but with kindness .
This Summer he gave me one of the most precious hugs I've ever had. "It s really good to see you - he whispered in my ear - always good to see you".
That moment is engraved on my heart forever .

Pretty Ping Pongs

Getting ready this morning, I was reading the names of my body lotions and creams. I've got one called Joy experience and the other, soft cream of happiness, (crema soffice della felicità): I chose both for their names, in my constant quest for positive energy. They smell nice enough, and I like their names.

I'm not very good at choosing perfume. I suppose women's perfume is meant to attract men,  and visa versa, which makes sense. In fact ,I really like my husband's aftershave most. He has been using the same one for 40 years. Often, when women greet him with a kiss on the cheek, they say "OOH, you smell delicious. That's probably why he carries on using it!

At this time of year, we will all probably be kissing each other in greeting, slightly more than usual.
It's always nice when someone says "Oh I like your perfume".
I'm not very good at choosing perfumes. When I used to go to England, I would often buy some perfume on the aeroplane, on the hostess's recommendation.
After a few days at my parent's house, my Dad would go round with an uncomfortable expression on his face,saying things like " What's that funny smell that's been here since you arrived ?"Ninety euro down the drain.

The only perfume that I can  remember my Dad liking was "Charlie" by Revlon, very popular in the Seventies. He would buy jumbo size bottles and use it as air-freshener. He would go round saying "What a pretty ping pong".

When I was a teenager, the boys either had Old Spice or Brut. It seemed that the more sophisticated types preferred Brut.
There is an advert for Chanel number 5 this Christmas, using Marilyn Monroe's voice. She is famous for saying that all she wore to bed was Chanel number 5. It sounds like you couldn't go wrong. Well I tried  it once and moved closer to my husband. He sniffed loudly and said "OH no, that reminds me of my great aunt Tina, she always wore Chanel number 5.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Little Treasures

There are some dear, very special, little treasures in my life. Two of them can talk, and everything they say is sweet. Really momentous. Lots of books are written about the things children say, and they certainly seem to have a very refreshing and direct outlook on life.

The other evening, one Grandpa was looking after the 3 year old, and couldn't get the television to work, confused by the multitude of remote controls available. Resignedly he said, "Nonno is too old, he can't understand these modern things ... oh but Nonno, you are so very clever at mending things, instead," came the reassuring answer.

Yesterday, at a party with the 5 year old, an entertainer was twisting balloons into different shapes. I saw another little girl, running round with pink balloon fairy wings. I asked my grand daughter if she would like a pair too, and she said yes, so we joined the queue. While we were waiting, a group of little boys with balloon swords, started swashbuckling around us, ruffling her curls. The boys were dressed as Spider man, Batman and the Incredible Hulk.

" Don't boys just love to charge around", I said.
"They are only protecting us girls", was her reply.

Spider man, overhearing her, drew himself up taller and smiled at her warmly. By the time it was our turn, the little girl wearing fairy wings had lost one, it was difficult to keep an eye on them, on her back.

"Nonna, I think I'll have a sword, instead", my grand daughter said, "but a pink one".

Christmas films

Every Christmas there are some films that  it's great  to just watch over and over again. Everyone has their favourite Christmas films. A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34 th Street, Love Actually, the Box of delights. Even though we've seen them before, we all get settled on the sofa, coffee and chocolates to hand, and become engrossed in them, as though it was the first time.

One of our favourites is "It's a Wonderful Life", and it never fails to move us to tears.
I don't want to spoil it for any of you that haven't seen it. I have got a terrible reputation among my friends for doing that. Saying things like " I wish they hadn't got divorced at the end." Probably the worst blunder in spoiling a film was telling my brother the ending of "The Sting"...

 "It's a Wonderful life "  is  a film by Frank Capra, based on a short story called "The Greatest Gift".
It's about a man called George who, on Christmas Eve, meets with financial disaster, and goes to a bridge, thinking about jumping off it. There, he meets a trainee angel called Clarence Odbody.
Clarence sets about to show George what a difference he has made to the lives of  the  people he loves, and how awful things would have been without him.
George had always put his loved ones first, mainly his younger brother, and sacrificed his own dreams.

Often, in Italy you hear people saying how many "sacrifici" they have made, meaning they have given up something, or gone without for the sake of someone else. It always sounded a negative way of looking at things. A few days ago though, I heard an old lady, in a village in the mountains, who had spent her whole life making "sacrifice" for her family, give another definition. She said that making "sacrifici" to her, meant making what she did sacred. I really liked that.
She repeated it , loudly and emphatically with hand gestures, "rendo cioè che faccio sacro ".
I make what I do sacred.

Another really great Christmas film is "A Christmas Carol". What a story. It was written 170 years ago but still has a great message for us all. If some versions are a bit too scary for the children there is always "The Muppets Christmas Carol" which has all the charm but less of the frightening stuff.

The Christmas film for the children this year at the cinema is called "Frozen ".

The film "Frozen" is based on the story of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.
The Snow Queen  frightened me more than any other story. The idea that someone could stop loving me was just so frightening it gave me nightmares for a long time. I remember watching it behind the curtain and feeling absolutely scared stiff.
The main thing that The Snow Queen and Frozen have in common is that true love will conquer all.
In the fight of good and bad, love will win.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Trivial Pursuits

A very dear friend of mine, would often comment on the things that I say, as "Trivia".
"Trivia" he would say, and shake his head.

Probably, most of what  most of us say, most of the time, can be considered trivia . A kind way to look at it is probably, that it's just a way of building bridges between us all. We don't want to get ourselves in deep water (one of my Dad's favourite warnings) by saying controversial or potentially upsetting things so we engage in small talk. Trying to cheer each other up, to communicate.

We always loved playing the board game, Trivial Pursuit. Another very dear friend introduced us to it one Christmas. It's very well known now, and there are lots of different versions. The questions are often quite difficult. They are mostly based on General knowledge.
I suppose you could define General Knowledge as "things everyone knows something vaguely about".
One Christmas, we were playing the children's version with my children from Italy and their English cousins. My children were getting more and more despondent, "they knew nothing " as Manuel says in Fawlty towers. They hadn't got a clue what Miss Muffet sat on, or who Zebedee was. Then one of them got the question "What do you not do when you fast?" they misheard the last word, they were in full "Whoopee " cushion phase and so all the tension was dispersed by their hysterical laughter.

Now the Whoopee cushion was a last minute Christmas present that I'd put in their stocking. It was an instant success, all other presents discarded. Their father didn't really approve,which only seemed to add to their amusement. What is it about the chaps and funny noises?
One year, I came upon a fart machine in a toy shop. Just the writing on the box made me smile.
"New improved noises, hours of office fun". It was remote controlled. You can imagine the fun.

How did I get here from Trivia. Well, as my dear lovely friend always said to me "Trivia".

Put on your life jackets

In the last few days, I have met a wide variety of new, interesting people. A night club bouncer, an actor who teaches Latin and Greek in his spare time, a woman whose Mother country is in deep distress, a pensioner who does voluntary work in an Old Peoples' home 7 days a week. Everybody has a story to tell.
 I have also heard a lot of lovely singing in preparation for Christmas. the presenter of a concert we went to, told us about the great discrepancies in our society, how beneath all the glitter of Christmas there is so much suffering.
You just have to read the papers or read the teletext to see what heartache there is all around, every day. Christmas seems to heighten joy and suffering at the same time.

I was sitting listening to the beautiful Christmas songs, nothing can put joy in your heart so quickly as music and singing, reflecting on the immense and rich variety of human lives. the hugely different circumstances of people all  over the world.

In many professions people can be easily seen to be making an active difference to the quality of people's lives. Firemen, nurses, ambulance drivers, policeman, They all deserve great admiration and constant recognition of the wonderful job they do. they need help too, though.
I applied to be a Physiotherapist, once , and on the application form, it said you had to have a very stable and happy life to be able to cope with such a career.
 A friend of mine who is a nurse in a Paraplegic ward , says they couldn't manage without the volunteers who come in to help at meal times.
I know so many people who do admirable voluntary work. They can save lives, give hope and comfort and make people feel less alone.

When you go on an aeroplane they always say "in the unlikely event of the plane having to land on water, put your own life jacket on before helping others". This isn't a selfish act, it's essential.
To help other people you can't really afford to be in danger yourself.

So let's all try and put our life jackets on, whatever that means to each of us, so we can help those around us.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Private Parts

My Mum had a rather posh friend, who had been a Wren during the war. they used to giggle a lot about someone called Private Parts.
This was all very risqué !

 When something is private it seems to cause a lot of interest. Maybe if Eve had been told to eat as many apples as she liked then she would have preferred a pear. We can all be awkward like that. Italians use the English word "privacy", they don't seem to have one of their own, the nearest is "riservato". A private room, a private car park, private property can all make you feel a bit sort of excluded. This is probably because our freedom is so fundamental to our well-being. However lovely a place is, you wouldn't want to be stuck there. The minute something is private you feel you want to know about it.

Well anyway the whole point of this rambling on, is that I was thinking about the internet, and what a wonderful gift to the world it is, and now it seems some countries want to sort of privatise it.
The Internet did have many inventors, but only one man can lay claim to formulating the codes and protocols that set the foundation of  the World Wide Web.
In 1984, Tim Berners Lee, a British  freelance computer programmer, saw a way of combining the internet with a programme of hyper-text, which allowed information to be linked.
He then created a whole architecture to organize this protocol. which he called the World Wide Web.
the new hypertext transfer protocol (http) allowed easier use and navigation.

Then, Tim Berners Lee gave his invention away !!
He refused to patent it, thus allowing anyone who wished, to have access to the internet. that sound wonderful. a gift to the whole world !.
In an interview Berners Lee once said " Even the clearest, cleverest and most comprehensive website cannot hope to equal the wealth of information contained in a good reference book. The internet is definitely not a substitute for a well-stocked public library".
There's a lot of talk in the local paper here, about the importance of books, and that Book shops do continue to flourish, in spite of competition from Kindles and ipads.

What is ceaselessly amazing to me is that you can google any weird and wonderful question you like and it really tries to answer it !
How to you cope with extreme homesickness ?- up comes a load of answers.
How do you cure a white furry tongue.? same again !
How do you cure a broken-heart? ditto
What is the quickest way to the top of Kilimanjaro ?

I wonder if there is a list of the strangest questions ever asked on the internet ?
the whole wonderful point of it seemed to be that it was free for everyone. From the Beduins in the desert to the tip of Patagonia. We can all join in. Perhaps there just need to be some rules, like in the Football,fair play, team spirit and discipline.


Just quickly, I' m going to tell you how to play consequences. I loved playing it as a teenager, it was so exciting if your name happened to appear with a boy's that you quite fancied...
It's just the thing to suggest when people are tired after activity games or the evening starts to flag a little.
Everyone is given a pencil and a sheet of paper, on the top of which, they write an adjective or two.
Each person then folds his paper so that what was written cannot be seen, and passes it to the person on the right.
Everyone now writes a male name, folds and passes as before.

The game goes on until everyone has written:-
1 one or more adjectives
2  a male name
3 another set of adjectives
4 a female name
5 a place where they met
6 an object that he gave to her
7 something that he said to her
8 what she said to him
9 the consequence
10 what the world said

When everyone has written down whatever the world said, they pass their papers on one more time and take it in turn to read out the papers they receive. Because most players choose to write things that are ridiculous or rude, the results are usually very funny.
The fussy and thin Cuthbert Ransom met the gregarious and gorgeous Camilla in the jungle. He gave her a look that suggested he would like to get to know her better. He said "Could I use your mobile?, please?" She said "My grandfather died doing that!" the consequence was that the budgie flew away,
and the world said "They had it coming "

It probably sounds a bit old fashioned now, but give it go !

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Frost at Midnight

Someone told me that my post about Jack Frost, had made them think of a poem by Samuel Coleridge, called "Frost at Midnight ".

I looked it up on Wikipedia and it was very interesting. It said it was considered to be the best of the Conversation poems.
Coleridge was born in a beautiful part of the country, in Ottery St Mary in Devon, but when he was 9 he had to go away to Boarding School and was very unhappy. This, and other personal experiences are all in the poem. He wrote it in 1798, when he was 26. The way nature is portrayed in the poem is inspired by Wordsworth's descriptions of the Lake District. Coleridge and Wordsworth were great friends at the time. Coleridge met  Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, on a walk in Dorset. Their great friendship shaped their lives for 14 years and became one of the most creative partnerships in English Romanticism. They all three shared a great love of poetry,critical discussion, and hill-walking They also loved talking about we would call Politics. Don't forget that The French revolution was going on, so they must have had a lot to talk about.
It's nice to think of them walking about in the beautiful English countryside, trying to sort out the world. Just like us today (ha ha!)

The poem is quite long, so I'm just going to write the last verse because that seems to be where he mentions frost.

Therefore all seasons  shall be sweet to thee
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple tree, while the nigh natch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the Secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

It's lovely isn't it?
Coleridge was very aware of the delight to be found in growing up in the countryside.
I agree with him. It brings to mind the story "The town mouse and the country mouse" by Beatrix Potter. I once taught at a school in London, the pupils went on a special trip to stay on a farm. they didn't like it at all and couldn't wait to get back to the city.

More wise words

My Dad has been on my mind a lot today. Nothing unusual about that, his voice pops up all the time.
Not always politely. "Cut the cackle" I hear him say, if I'm chatting too much. "Get on with your knitting" if I'm wasting time. He couldn't understand knitting, or crossword puzzles.
My Dad was a bit  like a shield for us. You always felt safe when he was around.
He always knew what really mattered

Maybe it was using the word "pompous" in the previous blog. He used to  say things like "He's all pumped up with his own pomposity", to describe some poor soul who had given the impression of being full of conceit. Once, he amazed my husband by parking his car in a slot that someone else was waiting for, then  saying "well, you shouldn't have been so pugnacious". I'm not sure if I've remembered that right.
He was always telling us to keep "cool, calm and collected", (difficult) and be "patient, tolerant and understanding". We were always fascinated by his expressions.
If someone was known as being a bit reactive he would say "You don't want to cross swords with him".
He had a knack of turning up in unexpected places. The one and only time I went out in the lunch hour, from school , who should come by but him. the one time I made a rash exit onto a road in the car, who should be sitting in the restaurant in front but him.

I used to love it when my Dad took me to school in the car. He was meant to drop me off at the bus stop but would sort of pretend he'd forgotten and we'd drive on in companionable silence. He might sometimes make a detour to get flea powder for the dog or something like that and send me into school with a note explaining why I was late, always a ridiculous reason.

He never became a dab hand on the computer or anything, his 90 year old best friend who is still alive has read "Fifty shades of Grey" on his kindle, he would have been interested in that. He always said the best invention ever was the telephone, he loved to just ring up and  say "you sound as though you're in the next room".

Fun and games

It's time to start dusting down the board games from last year and think of games to play with the whole family in the long Winter afternoons.
At children's parties in England, we used to play lots of party games. The whole event revolved around them.
Pass the parcel, Blind man's buff, Chinese whispers, pin the tail on the donkey, hunt the thimble. The list was endless, and we all knew how to play them. I can still clearly see my Mum dancing towards me, face alight, holding hands with the other Mums and singing "Here we go gathering nuts in May".
As we got older we played Postman's knock, spin the bottle and most exciting of all Sardines.
I always loved playing Charades and Consequences.
At parties for grown ups in England, at this time of year, you could find yourself standing on a phone book with a complete stranger trying to pick up a key from the floor, without falling off.
I tried to export these games to Italy. Elegant women playing pass the orange under the chin, or passing a match box from the end of your nose. They were all good sports and joined in, but I don't think they've got the same enthusiasm.
It seems to me that the aim of these games, apart from, hopefully having fun, is not to take yourself too seriously and break the ice.
Party games must go back a long way. In "A Christmas carol" we see  Scrooge's nephew playing Charades.
When my Mum came to stay in Italy, she and my Italian mother-in-law, spent many happy afternoons playing "Connect Four" and "Guess Who", the language barrier less of a problem.
My mother-in-law joined in with my party games more than anyone. It was very moving to see this lovely, elegant woman dressed in my daughter's tutu, my Dad's flat cap and some fairy wings. She looked like she was having the time of her life.

I'm just going to give instructions for one game here. Anyone can play it, from one to a hundred.
It's a great game for the end of a party because everyone can win something.

Beat the pan.
A sturdy kitchen pan is placed upside-down in the centre of the room and under it is placed a small prize.
In turn, each player is blindfolded and given a wooden  spoon, then turned round and round (gently).
Either crouching or on all fours ,the player tries to first find and then beat the pan, with everyone encouraging and directing from the sidelines.
When a player beats the pan the blindfold is removed and the prize won.
Another prize is then placed under the pan until everyone has a turn.

Just to be a bit sort of pompous here, party games start to teach you to do what Kipling says we should. "Meet with triumph and disaster and treat to these imposters just the same ", I think it's written above Wimbledon.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Frosted Fruits

This frosty day, has reminded me of  making frosted fruits. It is a good activity to do with children over the Christmas holiday, even little ones. You also get a very attractive table decoration for Christmas.

Frosted Fruits

a selection of shiny red apples, pears and black grapes.
1 egg white
 sugar for coating

Find a clean tea towel and a small clean paintbrush. Cut a square of kitchen foil or greaseproof paper for the sugar. Find a pretty dish to arrange the finished fruit in.
Wash and polish up the apples and pears. wash and pat dry the grapes.
The apples and pears should polish up nicely with a tea-towel.
Place the egg white in a small bowl and lightly whisk  with a fork.
Sprinkle plenty of sugar on a square of foil or greaseproof paper  to make a bed of sugar.
Using a paint brush dipped in the egg white, streak the surface of the apples and pears. take care not to paint all over, a streaky effect running from the top downwards is much more effective.
Prepare one fruit at a time and as you finish painting it, roll it in the sugar. The sugar will only stick where the egg white has been painted on and so will give the streaky, frosted effect. Allow the fruit to dry.
For the grapes, keep in a bunch if possible. dab the top of each grape with a little egg white, then dip the whole bunch in the sugar. Shale away loose sugar and the bunch will have a frosty effect.
Arrange these frosted fruits, along with other unfrosted fruit and nuts for a pretty table centre piece.

What is Santa's favourite pizza ?
One that's deep pan, crisp and even.... (deep and crisp and even, from Good King Wenceslas)

Today I learnt how to say Merry Christmas in Welsh,  Nadalig Llawen !

Jack Frost

My Mum had a great respect for the "Little people". Her stories about them weaved their way through our childhood.
On frosty mornings, she would look out of the window and say very convincingly "Jack Frost has been playing in the garden ". She made it sound as though he had a special magic wand that made the whole world glisten with silver.
She would read us poems that were like stories.
Just a few lines spring to mind at the moment:-

Look out, look out
Jack Frost is about
He's after our fingers and toes

This made getting dressed more fun

A poem by John P: Smeeton which is quite long so I' ll  just write the first verse to give you the picture
Jack Frost is in the garden
I saw him there at dawn
He was dancing round the bushes
And prancing on the lawn
He had a cloak of silver
A hat all shimmering white
A wand of glittering star dust
And shoes of sunbeam light.

When Jack Frost has been about it is very important to wrap up really warm!

Friends that leave footprints

Last Summer' a dear friend gave me a ceramic heart that said "People walk through our lives but only true friends leave footprints on our hearts". What a lovely present to receive.

When I woke up this morning, and saw all the frost, and felt how cold it was outside, it took me back to when I was about 7 (I do sound like an old Granny today).
A young girl called Juliet had come to stay with us. Such is the acceptance of children, I didn't ever question why,  I really, really liked her, and that was enough. She shared my bedroom and we had a great time together.We didn't have central heating and it was very difficult to leave a nice warm bed to get dressed. Juliet made it into a game, we would huddle round the small  electric heater, giggling away, warming ourselves up with our laughter.

Such was the power of her kind personality, that I was persuaded  to go and stay on a farm with her, near Hastings.  Wimpy me that wouldn't ever leave my Mum and was painfully shy!.It belonged to her aunt. It was magical there for me. It was a proper" Fisher Price "type of farm. Lots of different animals and a cockerel waking us up at dawn.

One day, I was very upset to hear Juliet crying in the bathroom. Soon after a young man called David came to claim her. She was very happy then.Years later I asked my Mum about her. As usual, she never did other people's business, but mumbled something about a baby and a small village in Cornwall.

Sorting through my parents' letters last Summer, I found one from her. It said all sorts of nice things about me. I hope things worked out for her. She would have been a great Mum. She left footprints on my heart.
I am aware that this post is of little interest to anyone but my close family. But on frosty mornings I often think of Juliet and our race to get dressed.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Beautiful game

The Brazilians have chosen the name of their football for the World Cup in 2014.
They were given three names to choose from,out of Brazuca, Bossa Nova and Carnevalesca.
Trust the Brazilians to make a football sound sexy. Well, maybe not Bossa Nova. Brazuca won with 70 per cent of the votes. It made me think of how fond we all got of "Wilson"in "Castaway".How  heart-wrenching it was to see him drift off. I hope Brazuca brings them all a lot of luck.
It was the great Brazilian player, Pelè, that first called football "The beautiful game".

The first Football match I went to see was with my brother, when I was about 7 . We both loved it. We had a rattle to make a lot of noise with. Everybody looked so happy. It seemed a great way to let off steam.
We both got really involved watching the 1966 World Cup at Wembley. We bought the Commemoration stamps, and learnt the names of the players. The final match between Germany took place as we were about to go on holiday. We had one eye on the television and one on the car boot. As we put stuff in, our Dad took it out. How we laughed when Kenneth Wostenholme said in the last few minutes, "And England has won the World Cup.... whoops ! Germany has scored a goal ". As we all know England did eventually win it, which was really nice because it was in Wembley, and we haven't done much since. The 1970 World Cup started off hopefully, but  they had a mascot and a song that was called "World Cup Willy", which not many people wanted to sing...

The next most momentous World Cup for me was the 1982 one, when I had come to Italy. My daughter was born as the contest started, and we would cuddle her and stroke her little silky head while watching all the matches. We watched the final squashed in a bar. My son can still remember it. Paolo Rossi became a world famous football star. Some years later I was in a bar with my Dad and Paolo Rossi came in. My Dad was so excited, he wanted his autograph so much, all he had was his passport. So he  asked Paolo Rossi to put his autograph on his passport.

The World Cup has always been a great event for us. we love watching all the different nationalities, the fans dressing up and waving their flags. An Australian friend of ours who went to the World cup in Germany, was overcome by how welcome he was made by the Germans. The great success of the German World cup was definitely in the harmony and enthusiasm between the supporters.

When my son started played football, I got really involved again, and studied all the rules. It seemed to me that the success of Football as a world wide game was all down to these rules. It was all about fair play, team spirit and discipline. The Football Association Rules were first written down in 1863 in a pub in London. This made it possible for everyone in the whole world to play the same game.
I think that there were about 13 rules to begin with. All you need is a ball, two equal teams and the rule book, any where in the world, it is an international language.

People often ask me if I support Italy or England. I really can say both. It is a case of may the best team win. In all the years I've lived here, I have never watched a game between Italy and England that has not been a good one.  The Italians are united by their football team, it is the one occasion when they all feel one nation. they love their National Anthem, which incites them to fight for their country to the end. It is certainly very rousing and bouncy. If they win, they go round honking their horns and waving flags out of their car windows. Who could ever begrudge them such joy.
But of course, if England  wins.... I'm happy too !

What has 22 legs and 2 wings but can't fly ?
A Football team.

Go Brazuca Go !

Homeward Bound

"They'll all be home for Christmas", they said nearly one hundred years ago. we all know how that turned out.
Home is where the heart is.
Travel East and travel West, going home is always best.
"I wish I was Homeward Bound" sang Simon and Garfunkel.
"I'll be home for Christmas" sang Chris Rea
"Make yourselves at home" we say to our friends.
Thinking about intrepid explorers going home, made me reflect on that word "Home". It seems to be unique to the English language. It doesn't just conjure up images of a dwelling, but of a whole life.
I wonder what E:T says in other languages as he points his bony looking finger towards the sky and utters "home", bringing a lump to everyone's throat. We all know what he means.
In Italian he says "casa", which means house, like in German "haus". In French does he say "chez moi" or "à la maison."?
One thing is sure, we all need a home to go to

One of the most moving passages, for me in "The Wind in the Willows" is when Mole feels that he is near his home.
"Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!"
The Mole is  a bit ashamed of his home, feeling that it is shabby compared to The River bank. The kind-hearted Ratty makes it  a warm and welcome home-coming for him because he realises the importance of "being home".
The Wind in the Willows was inspired by the wonderful River Thames. It is little known in Italy. It might seem a bit of a strange story. I made my Italian relatives sit through a production that involved people dressed up as the animals.They all seemed a bit perplexed, especially by the mole's nose. Then we took them to see "The Wind in the Willows walk-through experience" and made them familiar with the beauty that is the life on the River Thames. the variety of ducks and geese, the little islands, the pretty banks, the locks, the willow trees, walks along the bank and trips on a boat. "Oh now we understand" they said.
I like to think that England and Italy are both home for me.


Reading about Prince Harry and The Walking Wounded expedition, filled me with admiration for the bravery of men. They arrived at the South Pole about 4 days ago after a 200 mile trek. I can imagine all their equipment was top notch. Lots of micro fibre and thermal underwear. My future daughter-in -law who was an active Scout (they don't have Girl Guides in Italy, they are all Scouts), said one of their mottoes is "There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing).

 I wonder what it feels like to be there, at the bottom of the world? My Dad went to New Zealand and thought he was going to fall off .. I 've been thinking of all the projects we did at school about expeditions to the North and South Pole. All those explorers that really hoped they'd get there. At this time of year it's nice to think of Father Christmas busy at the North Pole, drinking hot chocolate and wearing a very warm red suit.
 The South Pole, lying on a continental land mass, seems a bit easier to reach, whereas  the North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic ocean and so less easily accessible. People have been claiming to reach the North Pole way back as far as the 18 Th century. Lots of claims have been disproved, but I think it is agreed that the Russians got there first (?).I 'll look it up on Wikipedia.
My favourite explorer is Shinji Kazama from Japan, who on April 21 st 1987 became the first person to reach the North Pole on a motorbike.
In "The Oxford Book of Children's verse" I found a poem called "A North Pole Story". It was written in the 19 Th century by someone called Menella Bute Smedley. It's rather long and tells the story of an explorer going to the North Pole and being threatened by wolves. It's about 12 verses long so I won't write it all here, just one
 because it made me smile, it's OTT but so true of men anywhere in the world, even if they are just going to the shops not the North Pole.

But British men are fain
To venture on and through
And when you tell them to refrain,
They set themselves to do;
Into the secrets of the snow
they hurry and they press,
And answer Nature's coldest "No"
With a great shout of "Yes".

One thing I would think, that being at the North and South Pole must make the rest of the world feel like a very inviting place to go .Somewhere that needs looking after by everybody.

 May Prince Harry and his fellow adventurers have a safe journey home with lots of exciting tales to tell.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Feliz Navidad

In England we have a tradition of Christmas carols. A whole wealth of Christmas songs that everyone knows. When I came to Italy there only seemed to be one or two.
"Tu scendi dale stelle" and "Tacita notte"(Silent Night)
My husband sang "Tu s

I always had a bit of a problem when listening to Christmas songs. they would make me feel far too emotional and homesick. The strains of "Someday soon, we all will be together " would have me  brimming over in the supermarket.
At last I have found one that makes me feel really happy . Instead of feeling homesick and mournful it makes me think of warm, sunny places where people dance around in the street , throwing roses in the air and toasting  each other with vibrant drinks. It's joyful . Feliz Navidad.

I do love the old carols though. When I was about 14, we all went up to London with the school, in
October, to record a carol concert. It was shown on Christmas day on television and it was a real thrill to see me singing away. No-one could tell I couldn't.

Christmas parties

Every year, I enjoy hearing about the many Christmas parties my brother goes to in England.. Bowling with the Boss, Carol concerts, Quiz parties, Golf parties, a whole month of Christmas dinners  and drinks parties. Here, in Italy there doesn't seem to be such a tradition of Christmas parties. Maybe a panettone on the last day of work, or a class pizza.

The first Christmas party I can remember, was when I was about 6.It was the Sunday school Christmas party.We always had jellies, cakes, sandwiches, balloons. We put on a show for the parents. The things we did were very innocent but probably would raise a few eyebrows now. A well-developed little girl ran about wearing a bikini and danced to "Itsy Bitsy Teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikini". We performed "Seven little girls sitting in the back seat, hugging and a kissing with Fred." I was one of the little girls in the back seat, my brother was the driver in the front, and the Vicar was Fred. He kept kicking my brother and I remember feeling very indignant on his behalf. We also did a penguin dance, I was a penguin and my Mum threw pretend fish at me to eat. Now I really enjoy entertaining my grandchildren with the Penguin dance.

At the zoo, I love to see,
Penguins dancing for their tea,
They're as happy as can be
When they do the Penguin Polka
One two three, hop
One two three hop
One two three hop
One two three
They're as happy as can be
When they do the Penguin Polka

My grandchildren's Christmas concert in Italy was a magnificent show. The teachers must work so hard and put so much effort into organizing it. It was held in a theatre and right from the start there was a jolly, festive atmosphere. As we arrived, a special  Christmas compilation was playing to get us in the mood. The children performed a whole range of songs and Nativity scenes. It was all a dazzling display of colour. The children were dressed in red and  wore headbands with gold stars. The head teacher was full of enthusiasm  and positive energy. She really wanted to convey the Christmas message of love and goodwill to all men .
Afterwards we all had hot chocolate served to us by Alpine soldiers wearing the hats with feathers.

It's on occasions like this that I feel my Mum is with me for the ride. She's right there with me.
I know my Mum would really have enjoyed that. That would all have been "Perfezione " for her.
Little children, happy Christmas songs, enthusiastic dynamic teachers and hot chocolate served by men - I 've got to put an exclamation mark here !She loved coming to Italy and being with her grandchildren. I'm really grateful that she did.

More helpful hints

I am enjoying writing my Blog, but don't feel very confident and I get worried about being pathetic.
So I have been looking up helpful hints on writing by experts.
One piece of advice was to never use the word "suddenly". Well, it hadn't entered my head to use it, but of course now it is trying to creep in everywhere.
I was wearing my smart new boots with the high heel, when suddenly I slipped, causing my husband to swear.
My cuddly looking cat suddenly scratched me.
My lovely sponge cake, suddenly sank  in the middle.

What's wrong with suddenly? I am very confused.Anyway, I won't be using it .
The other piece of advice was to use exclamation marks sparingly. I already knew it was uncool to use exclamation marks in texts, but how else can you get across enthusiasm or surprise so quickly?

When I was at Primary school, we were told to use the word "nice" as little as possible. So, we used pleasant or friendly or  attractive.Often,however you really just want to say "nice". It says everything you want to.
I read once that Henry James said that "kindness" was the most wonderful word in the English language. I've also read that he thought "Summer afternoon" was the best expression. Actually, kindness on a Summer afternoon does sound lovely.
I am not very good at translating, my brain either sticks with English or Italian. Kindness in Italian is "gentilezza", it never sounds quite the same to me. Kindness seems to involve body, heart and soul, to get right to the core of a person's being, whereas gentilezza just feels like good manners.
It makes such a difference when the people working at Post Offices, banks, any public offices are kind in their dealings. It takes no longer to say something in a kind. pleasant way.
As Glen Campbell sings" The kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way".

Happy Birthday

Two famous people that have enriched the lives of millions of people were born on this day, 16 TH December. Beethoven and Jane Austen.
Beethoven was supposedly born on 16 Th December 1770, and Jane Austen on 16 Th December 1775.
Jane Austen, by all accounts had a very happy family life and was particularly close to her father. Probably a bit like the character Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice.
Beethoven, on the other hand, seems to have had a miserable childhood and went deaf in later years.
He managed to compose some of the most beautiful music ever heard while he was completely deaf., and in spite of all the adversity in his life, this is one of his lovely quotes :-
"Never shall I forget the time I spent with you. Please continue to be my friend as you will always find me yours".

Now, many people born on this day have also enriched the lives of those around them, without being famous, just by being them. Starting with their Mum and Dad. I can speak from experience to say that a baby born near Christmas is a wondrous , joyous occasion.

there is a little poem in my birthday book that is very appropriate here:

The world has no such  flowers in any land
And no such pearl in any gulf the sea
As any babe on any mother's knee

Algernon Charles Swinburne ( I hope I didn't have to ask his permission, but Thanks Algie!!)

Whenever I see someone who  seems to have been broken by life's circumstances ,I think "That person was surely, once someone's infinitely precious baby ".

So to all those who have their birthday today a very special happy birthday and may you have a wonderful year surrounded by love and joy and enriching the lives of those around you- just by being you !

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Festive Cheer

?Tis the season of goodwill and hopefully there will be many occasions for all of you reading my blog to be merry and bright. I wish you all a very, happy festive season.
One thing that could always be guaranteed to put my Mum in a festive mood was a little tipple.
Her favourite, at this time of year was mulled wine and mince pies. Yesterday I made some  and I'd like to share the recipe with you .

Mulled Wine

500 ml water
6 cloves
half a cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
pinch of grated nutmeg
thinly pared rind of half a lemon
1 bottle of red wine
granulated sugar

Put the water into an enamel or stainless steel saucepan and heat gently, then stir in the spices and lemon rind.
Heat to boiling point and simmer for ten minutes.
Strain the liquid into a bowl and add the wine
Sweeten to taste with sugar (about 2-3 tablespoons)
Return to the pan and heat without boiling.
Serve immediately
Makes about 10 wine glasses( avoid breakage by putting a spoon in the glass as you pour the wine in )

If you have mince pies with it that is perfection, but chocolate truffles are nice too !

Here is a recipe for the tee-totallers and drivers.-

Non-alcoholic Fruit Punch

1 litre of red grape juice
thinly pared rind and juice of 3 oranges
6 cloves
4cm cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
granulated sugar
2 eating apples, thinly sliced

Put the grape juice, orange rind and juice and spices into an enamel or stainless steel saucepan and heat to boiling point. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir occasionally until it has dissolved. Strain the liquid and discard the orange rind and spices.
Add the apple slices, and serve immediately.
Makes about 10 wine glasses.

Making either of these recipes will fill your home with the most wonderful, Christmassy aromas and get you in the festive spirit.

First camping trip

Before buying all the gear to go camping, my Dad decided to borrow an old army tent from a friend of his. We set off for Wales and he pitched the tent in a camp site. There was no sewn-in ground sheet or pretty little awning, it was all very basic. My brother and I set off to explore and found a lovely, bubbling brook, we went to bed looking forward to paddling in it the next day.
During the night we had torrential rain. Our tent started to flood. My Dad spent all night digging a trench round it to protect us. We woke up to find that the brook had become a raging torrent.
All I can remember about the rest of the holiday is going up Mount Snowdon on a train which was exciting, and going to see district nurses to have my brother's  "carbuncle" dressed.
One highlight was my doll in Welsh dress called Blodwyn.
My Dad had a song  that he always sang on rainy days, we sang it a lot in Wales.

"Here we all are, happy as can be,
All good friends, and jolly good company,
Never mind the weather,
Never mind the rain,
As long as we're together,
Whoops, she goes again "

Some years later I went back to Wales with the school, on a Geography Field Trip. This time we went to  Pembrokeshire. It has a breath-taking coastline and this time the sun shone. We studied the Fjords and the geography of the area and really saw the beauty of Wales.

Hug your loved ones today

Two songs are going round my head today. One is James Taylor's "Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel". We went to see his concert last year and he seemed so happy to be playing his songs to an enthusiastic audience. All his songs made the people there, happy, and we all went home feeling sort of warm inside. "Shower the people " always makes me want to hug all the people I love, ring them up or text them and let them know how much they mean  to me.

The other song is more emotional and about loss. It's a song by Bread from the 70's. "I would give everything I own". I' d always liked their songs in a sort of sing-a long way just humming along to them. Then , one day on the Radio someone dedicated this song to their Dad who had passed on. I was driving along a country road. I just had to pull over in a layby, the tears streaming down my cheeks, reduced to a sodden mess. I can't listen to it any more without my heart aching.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Nutty Navigators

Modern technology is fascinating. In the last fifteen years the way we communicate has changed in an astounding way. We can get in touch with people anywhere  in the world. Skype, mobile phones, all the information we can think of, is at our fingertips.
One thing, does however, leave me with mixed feelings. The navigator. For years men have said that women are useless at reading maps. People from England would arrive at our house, deeply flustered, saying they nearly risked divorce trying to find there way.
The navigator should have changed all that.
On our first journey with a navigator, from the shop to our house, about one kilometre, a route we know very well, the female voice kept on telling us to turn round and go back.
We were very confused, we knew which way to go. Eventually, we realised it had been programmed to go from our house to the shop.
Friends have told me they are delighted with their navigators. They have driven round Paris as though they were born there. They have given the navigator a name, it has become one of the family.
This has not been the case with us. We have accumulated fines as it has taken us down traffic free zones and the wrong way down one -way streets.
In France, where they do "sensual" better than anyone, I have felt a bit jealous as the automatic voices
on motorways and cashpoints, seem to be flirting with my husband.
Not so, luckily, with our navigator. He finds her accent irritating and wants to change it. He doesn't like being told what to do, and she sounds bossy.
Last night our navigator directed us into the middle of nowhere, in thick fog. rescue.
Perhaps she was offended. I think she 's on her way out.