Pubs and beer and food and Indian and rain and cold and wind – but mainly pubs , beer and food

A proper English country pub

I mentioned before about my friend from school, H, who’s wife died a little while ago.

Unfortunately, I could only go to the funeral for the day but I made the effort and went over on our long holiday weekend – the one just gone, to spend some time with him.

I tried to let him do most of the talking. I thought it was the least I could do. We are blokes, after all, and we don’t do the opening up thing very easily – at least, face-to-face. But I think he did a bit and I really hope it helped him. But his story is not my story to write. I found the UK to be nicer than I had thought it would be. Admittedly, although not so far from London, this was the middle of the countryside and reminded me a lot of Herefordshire.

The first night we went out, with his daughter and son, to The Fox Inn in Rudgewick. It was a typical old English pub serving food. The food was wonderful (Steak and Ale Pie with mashed potato) and, of course, there was the beer. A very nice start to the trip.

The next day we we to his daughter’s new house. It was a lovely old house which she had started doing up. We went for lunch at The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold. Again, a typical English village pub with an open fire. Of course, I don’t eat so much and, in the end we had (H & I) some sharing nibbles. And some beer! God, I miss the English beer. Food was good and the place was very nice.

In the afternoon we did some shopping (for me) in Cranleigh, apparently the biggest village in England (or, maybe the UK?). It was very pretty. We were back there in the evening to go to The Curry Inn – not an inn at all but rather a good quality Indian restaurant. H had asked me if it was OK to go out with some of his friends and gave me a choice of Thai or Indian – which. of course, meant Indian. And boy, the curry I had was the best curry I’ve ever had. It was incredibly busy which, of course, means it must be good but the downside to that was we did have to wait an incredibly long time for the food. But, for me, the wait was worth it! Of course, it was Indian beer but you can’t have everything!

The next day it was raining all bloody day. However, H took me on a trip around and to his “baby”, some all-weather football ground (he’s very sporty) that he’d managed to get built. Then a bit more shopping and then, at my request, we went for a proper Sunday Lunch at The Chequers Inn in a tiny village called Rowhook. Again, a typical old English pub with an open fire (the wood smoke permeated the whole place and was so lovely to smell – I miss that atmosphere and that smell) and the food was fantastic. I had roast pork with gravy and asked for a Yorkshire pudding. And, of course, beer. The waiter/manager was Italian! Of course. I would have liked to understand why he was still there but the place was too busy.

Just before that we went shopping and I got my last bits and bobs.

So a weekend of listening, great food and great beer and meeting some very nice people.

So that’s what I got from it but, really, it was for him, so I really hope he got something from it too! And, maybe because I was with him, maybe because of the English pubs and the Indian restaurant – I didn’t hate being back in the UK – apart from the cold and the wet.

Wedding nightmares.

Wedding Nightmares

Just over 37 years ago, I was Best Man at my best schoolmate’s wedding.

It has given my nightmares ever since.

I was young. I didn’t understand and, by then, I was no longer speaking to my parents so I couldn’t turn to them for advice.

I honestly don’t remember the whole day. I only remember (slightly) one part of the day. The part where I had to give a speech. When I say that I remember, that’s not entirely true. I don’t remember what I actually said. All I remember is that it was awful. Possibly the worst speech ever uttered by anyone in the whole world, ever!

And for most of my life, every time I saw a wedding, whether in real life or on screen, the awfulness of that wedding and, in particular, that speech, came flooding back.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, A got married. He wanted me to be a witness (they don’t really have the Best Man thing here). As for when I was Best Man, I was really honoured to be asked.

Then he told me he wanted me to do a speech. I didn’t really believe it would happen, to be honest. In Italy, speeches are not a thing. They just don’t do them. Here, a wedding is the service (in church or the local council place) followed by a meal (which often lasts for hours and has about 6 million different courses). Then everyone goes home/to their rooms (if in a hotel).

But, A being A, wanted a speech from me. He was concerned that many people would not understand because it would be in English and asked if F could translate it. Instead (but only as a just in case because I really believed it wouldn’t happen – both the wedding and the speech thing), I prepared a speech in Italian. F was supposed to look over it to correct the translation but we didn’t have time before the wedding.

So, we arrive at the church. F sits at the back correcting and editing (slashing loads of stuff out because it was too long, he said) whilst the service commences.

The church
(see the church! At the top of the very windy road, just below the famous statue at Maratea – God, it was scary!)

Then we all get in cars to head back to the reception which is at the hotel we are staying at, far away from Milan, at a place called Maratea, on the Italian coast, south of Naples.

hotel with private beach
(this is the hotel, near Maratea, with its own, private, beach! The subject of another post)

We have the aperitivo. I don’t have much because I know there’s a main meal to come. Then we go in for the main meal. In the UK, we normally have the speeches after the meal. A wanted them before. M, one of his other witnesses and, possibly, his best friend, gives a speech. Then it’s my turn. He gives me the microphone but the waiters are serving the first course – so it doesn’t happen. Later it does. I (try to) speak in Italian since that is how it is written but I’m sure it was terrible – and yet, it wasn’t like 37 years ago. It didn’t embarrass me at all. Firstly because it was all written out and secondly because I made such an effort, I guess.

So, maybe now I can get over the 37-year-old disaster and be proud that I did something good?

A picture of the famous statue with the town below

The Joy Is Back

The Joy Is Back

He’s away. Again.

This time it’s for at least 10 days. He left on Friday morning for London and then on Saturday flew to China. 10 days is a very long time, made worse by the fact that, this weekend just gone, was a long weekend – Monday and Tuesday were holidays.

But I had plans to make sure that I wasn’t stuck in the house all day by myself. Or, as it could be, lonely.

Plans of things to do. Some of which I did do and some I didn’t – of course, as this is me.

Things that I did do include: finishing all the Christmas cards (they are now with the daughter of the woman who works at the main post office in Milan as the Christmas stamps (see a post below) do not even cover the postage to other European countries, let alone American and Australia or New Zealand); buying of presents; wrapping of presents for overseas to be boxed up and posted today (more on that later); the usual stuff such as washing and tidying up; getting the winter tyres put on the car.

Things that I didn’t do include: cleaning the silver; painting the bathroom shower area; brushing the dogs.

I didn’t quite finish the wrapping of presents to be posted because I forgot to buy things for Best Mate’s dogs. So that means that I will have to go out this lunchtime to get things – which is actually OK because I can also buy the food to keep our dogs going over Christmas. So the parcels will actually be sent tomorrow. This is not so bad and they should reach there in plenty of time.

The cards should also reach most destinations in time. I hope. Obviously, they won’t actually be sent until tomorrow but as it’s only the 9th today, it should be OK, I think – I mean it’s 2 weeks!

I also went to Il Salvegente (a kind of Designer Outlet store – the oldest in Milan) to see if there was anything for BM and J (there was) and to buy some jeans and a jumper and, maybe, something for F. There wasn’t – but I did pick up a pair of shoes that I liked (but certainly didn’t need – unlike the jeans and jumper). As they didn’t open until 11 a.m. yesterday (it being a public holiday here), I took a longer, more meandering route and managed to find a shop (unfortunately closed) that sold Shaun the Sheep stuff – so I’ll be going back there on Saturday to pick something else up for F.

I also got a call from V’s Dad. Ay had told him that we had really looked after her well when she came over. He was ringing to thank me. I told him that he didn’t need to thank me as this was Ay and I would do anything for her – but I think his ringing me was a lovely thing to do.

Next weekend, I still have time to paint the bathroom (but probably won’t) and time to brush the dogs (I will possibly do that) but I’ve decided to forget the silver. It’s better to do that on 24th when F will, almost certainly, be cleaning the house like it’s spring or like the Queen is coming. At least it will give me something to do other than being in the way (and in the cold as the windows will certainly be open throughout the house). Obviously, even cleaning the silver, I will certainly be in the way (and in the cold) but he will understand that I’m doing something – with any luck.

Among other things that I did over the weekend was get some tickets for The Cure (next November) which F wants to go and see. This, I’ve decided, will be his birthday present. I have also ordered tickets for the ballet at La Scala for 30th December – which will be his main Christmas present, as they are quite expensive. I also thought it would be a nice thing to go to – sort of Festive and dressy-uppy and, as it’s Cinderella, both a story I can follow (I’m not that much into ballet) and right for the Christmas period.

What I also did was wrap all the presents for him, so that’s good. I still have the Cinderella tickets to come and one other present which should be on its way soon and, of course, the Shaun the Sheep thing. Then I’ve done.

And, for those of you who’ve been reading this blog over the years, you will know that this is totally unlike me. This is NOT to say that I won’t do some last-minute shopping on 24th as you will know I like that. But I really don’t need to as I have enough. It’s like the old days when I was prepared and ready. F has given me the joy back and I really like that.

So, although I miss him, I AM busy and am doing lots of things and the time is going quickly and so it’s OK. I will be very happy when he’s back, safe and sound though.

Surprise! This one’s about food (maybe unsurprisingly.)

Italy still has the power to surprise me, even after all these years.

In this case it’s food (again).

So, for the last 5 years or so, I’ve been going down to the Tuscan coast a fair bit, especially in the summer. Of course, we have often eaten at someone’s home – real Italian home-cooked food. And, more often than not, it is delicious. There are things that F likes a lot and, as it’s his family, he gets what he really likes. I’ve never really paid much attention to it other than to like it and eat it. There are things I like less than others, of course.

For example, for breakfast, I usually have a pastry which has apple in it. F usually has the rice one. We don’t seem to see them in Milan but, to be honest, I never thought much of it. They are flat pastries, similar, in a way, to Eccles Cakes (i.e. a kind of flaky pastry thing) – but mine is filled with apple and his with some rice filling (although I’ve had it and there aren’t any bits of rice as you’d expect.)

So, this weekend just gone, we had visitors. One of his close friends from school/college and her boyfriend. Originally, they were coming to go to Expo (which, incidentally finishes on Saturday) but they couldn’t get up until Saturday afternoon so, instead, we went for a walk in the Porto Nuova area (the new area of Milan) and then on Sunday went to the Castle to see some exhibitions/museum things they have there.

The strange thing was that they were coming to stay one night (and not even 24 hours) and yet his friend (she is An2) was bringing the food for Saturday night. It all felt a bit wrong. She is, however, a wonderful cook and every summer we go to her place for an evening meal at least a couple of times. She always makes stuff that F really likes and there is always too much food.

Still, it all seemed wrong that they, as visitors, should be bringing the food.

We were going to be having lasagne and torta di riso.

So, on Friday, I mentioned to someone at work that they were doing this and got a blank expression when I mentioned the torta di riso. I had always assumed that every Italian would know about this. Basically, it’s a little like egg custard tart (which I love anyway and, as an aside, was one of my choices from the bakery when we had treats on a Friday when I was a kid) but, instead of a pastry base, it has a layer of rice on the bottom.

I tried to explain it (but it’s difficult if egg custard tart is not a point of reference.) But I then learnt that the food I’ve been getting in Carrara is local to Carrara! I don’t know why I’ve never really thought of it before. I mean, I had the apple and rice pastries which, to be honest, should have given me a clue since I’ve never seen them anywhere else!

So, I asked F about it. He explained that, yes, torta di riso was quite local. Even in Sarzana, a few miles away, they make torta di riso in a completely different way and, certainly, with many less eggs!

But, even the lasagne was different. Lasagne is known throughout Italy and the world but this is “open” lasagne (called lasagne sfordellate) and is basically small squares of pasta with a meat and tomato sauce. The pasta isn’t arranged in any way, it’s just like having spaghetti bolognese but using, square bits of pasta instead.

I remember having it a couple of times down there and I remember thinking, at the time, that it was strange that they called it lasagne (especially strange since lasagne also includes bechamel sauce, which this doesn’t have.)

As usual, the stuff she did was out of this world. The lasagne sfordellate was divine, the meat seasoned with herbs and spices and cooked in the tomato sauce.

The torta di riso was also divine, as usual. I learnt some things. 1. They use eggs (and I mean A LOT of eggs) when they do this tart with egg custard and rice. In this case, she had used 14 eggs! 2. It is baked in the oven (at 180°C) for 3 hours. Yes, THREE hours! And, on Sunday, was the day that I realised that the apple pastry and the rice pastry is not universal in Italy as she wanted the rice on and, of course, we couldn’t get it here (or, rather, we don’t know where one could be found.)

Of course, even in the UK, we have slight regional differences. For example, tripe is something I would only expect to find in the North West of the UK. But we’re talking a few things. Here, in Italy, there are so many things that are specific to a region.

So, here are some pictures, only one of which is the actual thing we had. The picture of the torta di riso is from someone’s blog where they only used 12 eggs, so, obviously, inferior ;-)

Egg custard tarts (although you can have a big one too)
Egg custard tarts

Torta di riso (I’ve never seen individual ones)
Torta di riso

Lasagne sfordellate with An2 as the model. Bless here. She’s promised to do me lamb with roasted potatoes when we go down again. Can’t wait!
Lasagne sfordellate

I have to say that I appreciate these foods we get in Carrara much more now. I understand the joke about the number of eggs better. I now know how much trouble they go to to create these dishes. Now F has the recipe for torta di riso so I expect one to be coming soon ………

Express Train

There are just 2 weekends to go and then it’s almost our holiday. I say “our” meaning mine, since F won’t be with me the first week.

Instead, Best Mate will be.

I am just so ready for this holiday. The problem is that I know that the holiday will also pass like an express train so, although I can’t wait for it to come, I also don’t want it to come, if you see what I mean. For as soon as it starts, it will seem to end.

There is also the weather. As usual, it is incredibly hot. It is July and this is normal. The problem is that last year, the end of July also triggered a significant change in the weather, for the worse. I’m hoping this year is not the case.

People are, as usual, complaining that it’s too hot – although the temperatures are only in the mid-thirties °C (although the temperature felt is closer to the forties.) The rain which my forecast keeps promising is due in the next 10 days (for about the last three weeks) has failed to materialise – but today does seem as if it might rain.

Over the next couple of weekends, we’re going to try out a few restaurants nearby, so that I have places to take Best Mate who will be with me for just over a week. Obviously, we have some – Bati Bati (lardo and asparagus pizza), Venezia (fish), La Brace (meat) – but we need more. I have also thought that, maybe, one night we do a barbecue in the garden. We’ll see how it goes. I’m very easy-going about it all tbh.

So, only 17 days to go until I pick BM up from the airport and start my hols! Yeah!!

How To Be Both/Citadel

So, it seems I’m back to normal in that I finished How To Be Both, by Ali Smith, yesterday evening – so, a couple of days, more or less.

It’s won lots of awards, including the Bailey’s Prize (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction). But, although clever and interesting, it doesn’t match A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing from last year. Nor does it make me want to rush out to read other books by her.

So, I have the next book which is one of a couple or series, I’m not sure which. Except I picked up the wrong one. It’s not the first. Damn. The first is back at the house. So I trudge back to our cabin to swap it for the other book I brought today – Citadel by Kate Mosse.

And here, I should confess, I read her books because I know her. I mean, know to speak to – from the Hay Festival days and the early days of the Orange Prize when we used to get invited to the party where they announced the winner.

She probably doesn’t remember me. But that’s ok. She’s a lovely lady and so I read her stuff. Sometimes I really like her stuff, so we shall see with this one.

A night at Blue Note and the thoughts in my head; downloading a video from Facebook

I can’t help but stare at him.

He’s young, probably about 25. He has that “floppy” hair that seems in favour, certainly with the gay people, here, in Milan, and he has a “kind of” beard. He plays the violin.

I stare at him because of the thoughts in my head. They race through, from one thing to another.

How lives are different; when I was his age; I could have been in this world; I’m envious that I’m not in this world; how fascinating to be creative; I wonder how much he practices; assuming he’s gay, I wonder what his boyfriend’s like; or maybe he has no time for that; always practising; up late every night performing; no money; no, I couldn’t have done that – no willpower to keep practising; how much do the whole band practise; he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the band, they are much older, like “this is where not-famous musicians go to die”; but he’s too young for that – he has still to “make it”; so why is he here on stage with the oldies (none of them will be under 40); I wonder what his life’s really like; does he really have another job and this is only a hobby he wishes were something more; I wish I could do something creative; but I’m good with people; but that’s not really creative, is it; I wonder if I could do something creative with that skill; I would like to be on stage again; how did I get here – listening to this, in a foreign land, in a foreign tongue; am I lucky and will it always feel strange?

And so on, and so on.

That’s one thing.

There’s another.

We are at the concert of a “friend”. I mean, she’s not really a close friend but a friend of one of F’s colleagues, I. And she is a florist. And she sings. Good enough to have the stage at Blue Note in Milan – the kind of jazz/blues venue. And she was a student of mine once, for about 6 lessons.

We, in the audience, are a group of 5. There’s I, another girl, S, who is a very close friend and also works in one of the shops, and E who I’ve never met before. But they all know R, the singer. We don’t have a great place to see, being at the side of the stage but R has to walk past us to the stage and gives F her mobile asking him to take some pictures.

So, during the whole thing, F, E, S and I are taking videos and photos with her phone and theirs and then checking the photos and checking with each other for the best photos.

About the second song into the set, I am struck by the fact that, if I look around the place, everyone is watching R sing – except all the people in our group, who are, instead, checking their phones. OK, so R asked them for some photos but, really, even if all these people are friends of R, how come our world is now only really seen through the small screen of a telephone?

I find it a shame, really. People, as last night, are so busy with the technology, they forget to enjoy the experience.

I ate almost the whole plate of chips. And had two beers. And, after the concert, we went for an Indian. And, after a while, R and the entourage came too. But without the guy I mentioned at the beginning.

Of course.

Anyway, I’ve found out how to download a video from Facebook – that is, 1. Open the video in a new tab; 2. Change the part of the url from “www” to “m” and press enter; 3. As the video is playing, right click and “Save target as …..” which will save a copy to your hard disk.

Unfortunately, it seems the video doesn’t work (on this page – although I can play it on my desktop).  Damn the problem with browsers not supporting certain formats, etc.  Still working on it though.

The “Family” tag

Well, so far it’s taken me about 1 month to fix all the links/pictures.

But, I think I’ve done it.

Now there are a couple of things I want to do (such as linking to my “best” posts, linking to specific areas, etc.) which will take more time but, slowly, slowly.

In the meantime, I have got rid of about 50 or 60 posts (some of which were draft) and published some other draft posts (as you will see (as they are scheduled to post over the next few days) and as you will have seen already). Then set up some links from the old blog. And so on.

But, one of the things I just wanted to clarify, which came about as I was double-checking all the old posts. That is, Family. There is a tag “Family” which is great, of course, but not really that simple and could be confusing.

The Family Tag

In my head (and, therefore, on this blog) I have at least 3 very distinct and different “families”.

These are:

1. F’s family – who have always been so kind and who, initially, got me confused with S, F’s ex-boyfriend but, from the first time I met them have been very inclusive – i.e. including me. I treat them as family because, well, they are!

2. V’s family – who were always so lovely to me (with the exception of V’s sister, P and her ex-boyfriend who were, to be frank, downright racist!). I still phone on birthdays, send Christmas cards, etc. Of course, since the split, it’s not been quite so easy either for them or me. Worse still as V is now back “at home”, so more difficult for them, I imagine. However, there is a post soon about the call I made to his mum on her birthday. I still treat them as family because after more than 25 years of being my family, they are too!

3. My family – who, by and large, I dislike intensely. For a while, just recently, I was in touch with my younger brother but that seems to have petered out and, probably, that’s for the best. Just to be clear, there was my father (who died in 2003) who was a right bastard, my mother, one sister who is much like my father and two brothers, the youngest of whom looks slightly similar to me. I now have sister-in-laws and nephews and a niece – but I haven’t met any of them. I don’t treat them as family but as people to avoid. I find them intriguing in that they are my blood relations – but I really don’t have any ties to them. They are a bit like “ancestors” – but still alive (some of them). Only my maternal grandfather remains as the one of them who causes me to feel deep, deep love, even after he’s been dead for so long.

For all three above, if I post about them, I use the tag “Family”. So, it is possible to get confused by that.

So this is just to clarify the category.

A long weekend with an old, old friend

What I really need now is a weekend off.

I am, in fact, completely fucking exhausted. The last four days have been just constant activity. And, for almost all of it, F has not been here. PaC is not good so he was down there for a couple of days and then he had to go to London for work. So, it was just me and I feel like I just want to relax now.

But, back to the long weekend, (since Lola is so insistent). It was exhausting because D wanted to walk everywhere. I do understand but, obviously, for me, living here means that I don’t need to see everything so the metro is fine.

But we walked. And walked. And bloody walked. Then, whilst they were relaxing in their hotel I would be out walking the dogs, of course. And then walking them in the morning and in the evening. I actually feel like I don’t want to walk for a week.

Or eat for a week when it comes to it. From my usual one meal a day to breakfast, lunch AND dinner. I am stuffed.

So, there it is. After around 30 years of not seeing each other, D was just the same. A little older, true, but really just the same. And I’d forgotten how much he talks. We would be in a restaurant and we (J, his partner and I) would have finished eating whilst he had been talking, so his food was cold (I imagine). And still he would talk. And talk.

And, what did we do besides walk and talk (or listen) and eat?

Well, not much as it happens. They didn’t want to go inside anywhere. I did take them to Villa Necchi – but I think I only got away with that because it poured with rain on the Saturday. And, so, being inside was a good thing. They said they wanted to soak up being in Italy, so I did my best to give them that.

On the first day, we walked to the centre of the city (via the flamingos off Corso Venezia), past the Duomo, into the Galleria to the front of La Scala then up to Brera where we had lunch. Then around Brera and on to the the Castle and then back down to the Duomo and back to their hotel via Via Della Spiga and the park. That evening we went to Ristoranti Al Grigliaro where we ate fish (this is because J really likes fish and so does F and F was only going to be with us for that night for certain.)

The next day, F was at work. I met them at their hotel which was close to our flat and we strolled through Porta Nuova (the brand new area of Milan), stopping for ice-cream (it was J’s first time in Italy), walking down Corso Como (we stopped in to take a look round Corso Como 10 a famous designer shop/café/restaurant which also has a bookshop and an exhibition space) and then on to Eataly where we had lunch. From there, down Corso Garibaldi and back to the centre and straight back to Corso Buenos Aires. That evening we went to eat at the Cantinetta Belle Donne so that F could get home easily if it got late.

The next morning, early, F left for London. I had some errands to do so I ended up at their hotel about mid-day. We went to La Belle Aurore for a simple lunch and then to Villa Necchi Campiglio (the villa that featured in the film I Am Love). The nice thing was that, this time, we had the tour with a guide who spoke English (rather than a recorded tape) and, as there were only 6 of us, we saw a couple of rooms that I hadn’t seen before (the bigger groups don’t get to see them). In addition, they had finished the work on the basement so we got to see the Butler’s pantry and what had originally been the changing rooms for the swimming pool and the snooker room. That evening, in spite of the persistent rain, we went down to Navigli (we took a tram) and had an aperitivo (with mountains of “free” food) and then a pizza at Fabbrica – they loved the pizzas.

By the next morning, it had almost stopped raining. By 10.30 we were on our way to via Paolo Sarpi, the “Chinatown” of Milan for the New Year’s celebrations. We got there early and walked about. We couldn’t get in to any of the Chinese restaurants but went to a Sardinian place off piazza Gramsci (Ristorante Giulia) and came out just before the parade started.

As J comes from Taiwan, he was able to explain the procession – the Emperor, the concubines, the courtiers, the common people, the wedding party with the bride and groom, etc. So it made it much more interesting.

Then, even before the thing was over, we were back on the bus to their hotel as they had a plane to catch and I had a lesson.

It was really nice to see D again, after all these years. And J, his partner was lovely. There weren’t any “difficult” moments and it was all very easy (if exhausting) and I think they enjoyed it very much. It was unfortunate that F didn’t get to spend more time with them. But I think they did get a flavour of Italy, which was important.

And in a few weeks, my friend, J, is coming for a few days and a trip to La Scala, so that will be nice.