Cooking and cleaning in preparation

Cooking and cleaning in preparation

So, Christmas is nearly here and there’s something I like doing before Christmas but for Christmas.

And that’s cooking. But cooking something unusual. In this case, a Sauternes Jelly and a Smoky Beetroot Ketchup, both to be used with cheese. I do this both for me and for Al and P who are likely to come on Boxing Day for our usual day long feast. I say likely because this year then might come on Christmas Day instead. In any event, the menu will be the same:

Antipasto (meats, salami, Russian salad, English cheeses with the things mentioned above, olives, etc.)
Cullen Skink
Individual Cottage Pies with mushy peas and some other vegetables
Roast Duck with Orange Sauce and vegetables as above
Veneziana (which is a little like Pannetone but better)
Maybe English Trifle or something else if I decide to do it.
Wine/Prossecco/other things

We have to do plenty of food because Al eats … a lot!

Anyway, that really wasn’t the point of this post.

So there I am, in the kitchen, making the things above. It’s time consuming (although not difficult) and uses lots of pots and pans – so I am washing up often to reuse pans and utensils. I don’t have any problem with this and really enjoy it as it’s going to be something home made to be presented for our Christmas or Boxing Day dinner.

F, meanwhile, is cleaning in the lounge. The cleaning is spread over a number of weeks before the final BIG CLEAN, a few days before Christmas. These weekends, cleaning involves taking everything out of a cupboard, cleaning and/or washing everything, cleaning the inside of the cupboard and then putting everything back. The dining room, with all the plates and things that “might” be used, has already been done last weekend. Now it’s the turn of the lounge.

And there are things to be washed up and so he does. This is a bit of a pain because he’s at the sink sometimes when I want to use it but, hey ho, such is life. Most of the time he’s out of my way.

At a certain point I need to grind some spices. I can find the mortar but not the pestle. I ask F if he knows where it is. He doesn’t but thinks it might be in the same cupboard as the mortar. I tell him not to worry and I’ll have a look. I do and it’s not there. I look in a couple of drawers where it might be and still don’t find it. I find an alternative to a pestle – in fact, what I have used before.

He arrives in the kitchen. “Did you find it?”, he asks. I tell him no but not to worry. He decides to look in the cupboard. He takes everything out and puts it on the table – the very table that has my recipe sheets, the Sauternes Jelly stuff currently going through the sieve, the jars I will steralise shortly and several other things.

He then states that he needs to clean this cupboard. I have my back to him stirring something on the stove. I am gobsmacked. He can see what I’m doing and still wants to clean in the effing kitchen! I don’t say anything for what could I possibly say? (BTW, the pestle wasn’t there, as I already knew.)

I think, possibly because I didn’t say anything or possibly because I had to go to one of the recipes and, in order to see it, I had to move something he’d placed on top, he went away, annoyed.

But this was 100% not my fault. But he wasn’t happy that he couldn’t do the cleaning as he wanted, for sure.

And that continued for the rest of the time. He went back to cleaning cupboards in the lounge. Occasional mutterings were heard.

Eventually, in a break between things (I’d finished the Ketchup but the Jelly still needed more time through the sieve), I told him I was taking the dogs out and then going to the supermarket.

By the time I got back from the supermarket, all the stuff (well, nearly) on the table had been put back. I don’t honestly know if things were cleaned or not and didn’t ask.

Later, I took a shower and went out with A, as we do on a Sunday.

By the time I got back for dinner, everything was fine. Cleaning was not mentioned.

And, in case you were wondering, the Jelly was perfect (but it only made two jars) and the Ketchup was, erm, different. Not as good as I would have liked but, still, worth doing and I shall still use it with cheese (it made 5 jars).

Christmas, geese and, really, Christmas Card Stamps

So, the new stamps arrived yesterday.

To those few in far-flung places, I’ve already sent off the cards as it included our news for this year, so they have old stamps.

But for everyone else, the new stamps will be used. All the cards are ready and I’ll put on the stamps tonight.

This is the one I’m using (suitable for Europe and, as usual, the best one.) Actually I really quite like this year’s stamp:
Italian Christmas Stamp for Europe

And, although I don’t get them, this is the stamp for just Italy and it’s the religious one:
Italian Christmas Stamp for Italy

10 anni and 22 day – versary

So, today it’s 10 years. 10 of the best, for certain.

F is in Japan right now but coming back tomorrow and will be, hopefully, here tomorrow night (late) or if he misses his connection, Saturday.

When we went to Scotland, I got him to try Cullen Skink – which he loved and had several times afterwards. I’ve managed to procure some smoked haddock (essential for this) and so plan to make it on Saturday, together with a chocolate cake. That’s my present since now, of course, we have both this anniversary and the new one that is only on it’s 22nd dayversary.

I suppose, at some point, the one will take over from the other.

I never did talk about that day since it’s still not on social media (except a bit on Twitter ‘cos no one really uses Twitter.) It’s a kind of secret but not a secret. So far, only one person has noticed the ring. Obviously, I did tell some of my friends so we’ve had cards and even presents which is nice but unexpected, since no one was involved in the day itself, apart from the witnesses (and the dogs).

So, I went to work in the morning because I didn’t have enough holiday to take the morning off too. I came home about 12ish and we got ready. At the last minute, F decided that we should wear our dog T-shirts under our suits. I had the one with Piero and he had the one with Dino (or la mia vita, as he calls him). We walked to town, passing through the park so that the dogs were a little tired.

We arrived early, of course. We sat outside as it was sunny and reasonably warm. There’s a little garden thing at the back. Our witnesses found us and we sat around talking. At one point, P (she’s married to Af, and they were our witnesses) told me to pose with her for a picture because a tourist was taking pictures of the garden. As soon as we posed though, he turned his camera to an upper part of the building.

Eventually, we were into a side room signing some paperwork and having our documents checked. The woman doing this seemed a little bit crazy (in a nice way) – with a wide-brimmed hat, slightly 70s style, fingerless, lace gloves, etc. In the end she was the one who officiated it all and she was perfect. She seemed more excited about the whole thing than either us or the witnesses!

We went into the room and there was (paid for by our witnesses) an official photographer. I also noticed the tourist was inside but didn’t take much notice. The room is quite beautiful with full length mirrors down one side. The door is always open so anyone can slip in.

We did the thing. Had pictures taken (the tourist was still hanging around). It had taken perhaps 20 minutes, top! We went out into the nearby courtyard and were introduced to the tourist – who was P&Af’s friend and who was there to take more informal pictures. He took several of us 6 (don’t forget the dogs) and then we invited him for an aperitivo. We went to Aperol, which overlooks the Duomo. We had one drink. Then the “tourist” took off and we walked back to the park, stopping, on the way, at F’s normal lunchtime cafe for a bottle of prosecco and 4 glasses. We took these to the park and let the dogs play in the dog area whilst we drank the prosecco.

Then home to drop off the dogs. Whilst there, we had another bottle of prosecco.

Then to the restaurant that F had booked. Our normal pizza place. F had told them that it was Af’s birthday!

So, we didn’t have pizza but some antipasto (fish and vegetables) followed by more fish. During this time we had another 4/5 bottles of prosecco.

Then the cake which F had bought from our cake shop and on which was a platform. F brought out the two men figurines to put on top and we cut the cake. With that we had the huge bottle of champagne which we shared with the restaurant owners and staff and couple of random diners.

We then played a few scratchcards with the cook – who is also one of the restaurant owners, went to the Chinese shop on the corner to play some more, then walked to the bar near our home and had some more cocktails. It had been forecast to rain sometime during the day but, in fact, did not.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and we were both very happy (and quite drunk!)

I will add photos to this in the next few days.

About 5 months later …

about 5 months later ...

Let’s be honest, he never actually wanted to do it.

If other people asked (and they did, often over the last few years), he always said that he didn’t see the point. Whereas I always said that I would in a moment and then, by way of justification, suggested that it meant it would be much easier if one of us had to go into hospital or if one of us dies, it would ensure the other got such things as pensions, etc.

And then came Brexit and with that a great deal of uncertainty, not least because I had never formalised anything. So I went about formalising everything and I’ve done it. But, as always, there’s a nagging doubt, an ongoing uncertainty. After all, come October 31st (or any other date that it might happen) I will cease to have the “right” to remain here but will be subject to the whims of the Italian Government, or the EU or both – who will, in turn, react to any nonsense that the British Government will dream up.

So, whereas most Italians tell me “Don’t worry, you’ll be alright”, I’m not convinced. And F knows this. And so, against his feelings he went ahead to try and get it all done as a surprise. Except that, due to bureaucracy, it was really too difficult. So, when he told me, we went about going through all the hoops anyway.

And here we are, about 5 months later, about to complete it all.

Except, he doesn’t want all the bells and whistles (which is OK) and so he has only (he has said) told one person. I have told 2.

“And afterwards?,” I asked. “People will see and will ask questions,” I added. “Your cousin will notice for sure.”
“I’ll just say it’s a present,” he replied. Which, of course, it is, technically.

But, I wonder why not tell them? Will there be (is there?) some guilt, on his part, that people won’t have had the chance to celebrate? Honestly, I don’t know. I understood not telling them before the wedding (it’s complicated). But after?

I mean, I will say, especially as I find it hard to lie to people. But that’s for my friends. Where they are his, or his family, I guess I have to go along with it. I mean to say, I don’t want to be shouting it out but, if people ask, I would like to tell the truth.

So, further, last night we were talking about it and I tried to explain my problem and he said that I should say what I want to. I tried to explain that this was fine for my friends but with joint friends or his friends and family, we should really be “in harmony” – but it really didn’t seem to bother him.

He’s a little strange sometimes. I can’t understand his motivation.

But I guess it’ll all be alright in the end.

I wish ……. kind of

A Younger Me?

It’s hot here. We’re in the middle of some sort of heatwave. I really do like it but would obviously prefer it if I were on the beach, under the umbrella, reading a good book.

But I’d forgotten this thing that comes with it. Where you are almost breaking out in a sweat all the time. Having a shower helps – but just for the time under the shower. After that, you actually break into a sweat before reverting back to this almost sweating – where the skin feels like it’s about to burst into full-on flooding. It’s not really comfortable but I’d much rather this than feeling cold.

Having just been out for a cigarette, checking the weather forecast, it’s supposed to be a real temperature of 37°C at the moment but feeling like 43°! Tomorrow will be hotter still. And this weekend, we should go down to Carrara, which will be lovely. It will be our first time on the beach this year (the weather up to about 2 weeks ago being pretty dire) and I’m looking forward to getting some sun and reading a book.

In the meantime, yesterday, someone sent me a picture of one of the models at the recent Paris Fashion Week shows who, apparently, reminded him of me – a younger me, of course, hence the picture at the top. And you see the lips? Similar, for sure, hence the horrible nickname I had at my first secondary school.

And, last night at the bar, I was looking at other, younger people, and wondering if they realise what they have because I didn’t. If I had known I was so “beautiful” maybe I could have had a different life. But only kind of, since I’m happy with my life, more or less, to date and wouldn’t really want to change it. But, obviously, I don’t know how it would have been so, just for a moment, last night, in the bar, I wondered …

The Boiler Room

The Boiler Room

Things I remember.

I remember it’s dark. I remember it’s cold. I remember the hods, the coke, the ashes, the metal bucket used to carry the hot ashes to a place further away to tip them on the growing heap of cold ashes. I remember the smell, how the ash rose in a cloud in that small room, breathing in that cloud and the acrid, hot ash hitting your throat, getting everywhere – in your hair, in your nose, on your clothes and, if you weren’t careful or if you were unlucky, in your eyes.

But there was a sanctuary in that small, windowless, airless room full of ash and smell, for there was heat.

Every morning and every evening, clean out the ash that had fallen, scraping it out into the bucket, using a brush to get it clean; carrying said bucket away to tip onto the pile (at the end of the garden, I think), then shovelling the hod into the bottom of the pile of coke, filling up the hod as much as possible – you wanted to do this as few times as possible, carrying the hod over (was the coke in a different room/place?) and tipping it into the feeder. It was heavy. You were tired. Sick and tired.

But at least there was heat.

Was I eight? Or older? Did they replace it with one fired by oil, needing a large tank nearby? The door to this room was next to the kitchen door, at the back of the bungalow.

I felt like Cinderella – without the Fairy Godmother, or the Prince, or the glass slipper. I got up before everyone else to make sure that everyone had heating. It was early. Possibly 6? Often dark. Or, probably, I was awoken to do this in the morning. In the evening, possibly, straight after school. Nobody else did this job – only me. And I had forgotten about it – but the smell I can still smell, the heat I can still feel, the dust in every pore, I still remember. And I would shut the door to the room and I could pretend that I wasn’t there, in that world, I could be anywhere I wanted to be …. as long as it also had a boiler room!

p.s. In case you didn’t know what I was talking about:
Hod
A hod – although I seem to remember I used plastic ones.

Coke
Not the type of coke you may have initially thought about!

Everything happened at 8

Something happened at 8

Well, I really know that not everything happened at 8. Some things happened before and some afterwards but, for most of them, it seems that 8 was the magic number.

That was the year that many bad things happened. And, yet, it cannot possibly be.

So, at around 2 a.m., as I’m lying in bed and thinking why it seems that so much happened when I was eight years old, I realised there was one event that definitely, without question, happened during that year.

I can remember the date of the birthdays of most of my family. My mother, my youngest brother, my nan, my grandfather, my sister ……. but not my father nor my middle brother (or my paternal grandparents – but that’s a whole different thing). I can’t even remember the month for either of them, let alone the actual day. And the middle brother was born in the same year that I was 8. Was that it? Or is there something else? Did something happen before or after he was born that explains my justification for all bad things being when I was 8?

These thoughts came to me because, just before this I remembered “The Boiler Room”. Honestly, I don’t know why. But, it came to me and I started to remember some of the detail. And that led me to try and remember when it started. I do know it was before I was 14 but I can’t remember when it began and that’s when “8” came into my mind. But, maybe I was 10 or 12? I don’t actually remember, so “8” has claimed it as its own.

It doesn’t really matter. I thought that I would like to write a post about it and so I will. Maybe during the writing of some of these things from the past, I’ll get a handle on what the real problem with “8” is?

So, future planned posts are:
The Boiler Room
The Garden
The Birthday Present
The Hospital
The Wasps in the Window
Fencing.

There may be more that will come to me. I’ll try to cover them in the next few weeks.

And …… relax – well, maybe.

It’s really difficult to explain (here or in person), my feelings regarding Brexit and how it might affect me.

But I felt a little bit better today to read this. Of course, my distrust of things that are said or written, especially by Governments, is high but, you know, this gives me a little hope.

What isn’t entirely clear is if the pension rules, currently in place, will actually be the same after 29th March. But there is nothing I can actually do about that.

But it’s a kind of Christmas present and gives me some calm, so better than nothing.

And, speaking of Christmas, here is our tree:
Our Christmas Tree

Last Saturday, we had people coming round for an aperitivo. Nothing grand – but, of course, the house had to be sparkling and there had to be lots of food and drink. So, late Saturday afternoon, around 5, we went to get some last-minute things. And on our way back, at the Piazza just by our house, I heard singing – as in, carol singing. Now, in all the years I’ve been here, I have never, ever seen or heard carol singers. A big thing in the UK with the chances of not hearing them around zero, here, just like Christmas cards, it is definitely NOT a thing. Sadly, as we had guests coming, we couldn’t stay but, as I hadn’t heard any for so long, it was kind of wonderful and we stopped for a moment. I recorded a short video which might or might not work:

So, on that note (pun intended), I’ll wish you all a very Merry Christmas now. I hope it’s a good one for you.

Christmas is coming … and so are the stamps!

Well, it’s nearly Christmas and, as usual, one has to do Christmas cards.

And, for that, one needs stamps. And they have been released and I should get them on Thursday – which means this weekend will be writing cards.

The options are, as always, 2. The non-religious one is the one needed to send cards withing Europe and it’s this one:

Non-religious Italian Christmas Stamp 2018

The other is the religious one which I don’t get:

Religious Italian Christmas Stamp 2018

To be honest, I don’t rate this year’s choice very much but, as I say, there are only two.

So, this (long) weekend will be writing cards, eating minced pies and watching some sort of Christmas film. I’m looking forward to it!

Strange collective nouns; a rushes of films; God’s Own Country

*This post contains spoilers for some films, especially God’s Own Country*

God's Own Country DVD

I recently saw, on Twitter that the collective noun (the name we give for a number of the same thing together) for pandas is “a cupboard”. So if you happen to be somewhere and see a lot of pandas roaming around you could say to someone that you’d seen a cupboard. Of course, unless they also know that there is such a thing as a cupboard of pandas, they won’t have a clue what you are talking about. Probably the most famous collective noun is “murder” – as in a murder of crows. Collective nouns can be quite strange.

That led me to wondering if there was a collective noun for films. It seems there isn’t. So I thought about “rushes”. This is the raw footage of films before editing and I thought that “a rushes of films” would fit the bill. And why was I thinking about this? Well, recently, I’ve been watching a lot of films with a gay theme. Of course, we have Brokeback Mountain to thank for this. And then there was Moonlight which won the Oscar. And this year, there’s Call Me By Your Name up for best picture.

I find gay-themed films so bloody depressing. Being gay is never really celebrated. Being gay, in films, seems to be destructive and heart-breaking. A gay person must go through a slight moment of happiness before it all comes crashing down. Or they suffer immeasurably simply by not being able to be themselves.

Call Me By Your Name is like this. It’s a “coming of age” film where a youngish kid learns that he’s gay and has an affair with an older guy who then goes and breaks his heart by going back to the USA and conforming by getting married to some woman. The young guy is left distraught. I mean to say, I know it was like this even 30 years ago, but this was not how it was for me, so it’s hard to relate to.

Then there’s 1:54, a French-Canadian film – again about coming of age but this also deals with bullying and death and none of the gay characters end up in a good position (since they all die).

Then, I am watching BPM (120 battements par minute), a french film about Act Up in Paris. You can see this isn’t going to end well for many of the protagonists since most of them have AIDS and are dying. Although, obviously, this is about the bravery of those who were fighting for better health care from the French government.

And in the meantime I watched God’s Own Country two times and, in fact, it was even better the second time around. It is, quite possibly, the best film ….. ever.

My “best film ever” has always been Brief Encounter, the David Lean film from 1945. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this and now I cry even at the beginning, knowing what will happen at the end. But, basically, I am a romantic. A hopeless romantic. This idea of a handsome, strong prince who comes and sweeps you off your feet is what I always wanted. Now, quite possibly, God’s Own Country might take over as my favourite film. It’s a true romantic film. It is like a Cinderella for our times. Cinderella being a hard-working farmer who sees no hope and is rescued by a handsome Romanian who shows him what love, tenderness, relationships are like AND gives him ideas as to how to create a better farm. It’s beautiful and inspiring and, for once, the characters are not left in a bad place. This is the reality for me.

People have tried to compare it to Call Me By Your Name. CMBYN was a beautifully filmed film, gorgeous settings, great soundtrack and a gay storyline. GOC has all of that (even if the Yorkshire landscape is not really to my taste, it was filmed so as to make it stunning) but there is really no comparison. Although both cover a relationship that gets off to a tricky start and flourishes for a while and then seems to hit the rocks, GOC has a comeback at the end that gives the film it’s hope and happy ending – like in a “normal”, heterosexual film whereas CMBYN ends in a cliche – a “typical” gay film where no one is really happy. CMBYN is, correctly, described as a “coming of age” film. GOC is not. In GOC there is no “coming to terms with” being gay, rather it shows someone who has never known affection, thinking that gay sex is only a quickie in the toilets, learn that love and affection CAN be had and that both have some real meaning.

Some have compared it to Brokeback Mountain, saying it’s the British version of the same. And, yes, the relationship really starts whilst the two are in some desolate spot, stuck together in a harsh environment – but that’s it. That is a small part of the film, not the main part. Again, the ending of BM seems to imply that gay people can’t have proper relationships; that it’s all about sex and that, eventually, one of them “returns” to get married and have kids, forever hating the fact that he can’t be who he wants to be.

GOC is not this at all. These guys are quite happy being gay; they don’t want and nor are they pressured (by society; by family; by whoever) into giving up their gay side to become “normal”. Johnny is up for sex whenever the opportunity arises. Gheorghe is not really looking for that, having already had some meaningful relationship, he sees the possibility in Johnny for the real thing and a chance to create something together. Thank God – because Johnny is difficult as he doesn’t understand himself, his emotions, nor what is possible.

But the thing about this film is the subtlety. There is no difficult, long dialogue (although the Yorshire accent can be difficult.) This is a film told in pictures, in metaphors. This is reality, where a look tells you so much more than words can; salt takes on a different meaning; coating yourself in another’s hide can help you to be with someone (the little lamb finding a new mother/Johnny wearing Gheorghe’s jumper and realising that he needs Gheorghe too); the caravan is towed away meaning Gheorghe already lives in the house with Johnny (and Johnny’s Dad and Nan). A picture tells a thousand words but this film is hundreds* of pictures telling thousands of words. You will have to watch it several times to get it all.

But, basically, it’s boy meets boy, boy nearly fucks it all up, boy goes to get boy and they all live happily ever after, maybe.

But, quite honestly, it’s just the best thing I’ve seen. It covers the gay scene that I never experienced (the cruising, one-time sex) but am aware of and the one I have experienced 3 times (the long relationship bit). And, most gay people I’ve met long for that handsome prince to settle down with – this film gives hope to many who think it can never happen to them and that type of gay-themed film doesn’t come along that often – if it ever does.

So, this is more than worth a watch. It should be a must-see. For me it’s a reality that exists and the farming bits are as real as they could be. In fact, it didn’t seem like the actors were acting at all – and that always makes for a good film.

And, most importantly, it’s a really romantic film, beautifully filmed and the screenplay is second to none. As I say, now it is possibly my most favourite film ever! I can’t stop thinking about it and every evening I want to watch it again. For sure, this weekend I must watch it again.

* Hundreds of pictures telling thousands of words may be an slight exaggeration!