Books 5 and 6

20 – 22/8

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Books, to me, are like films. Films that last a few days rather than a couple of hours.

With both films and books, I “lose” myself whilst I become involved, encapsulated into the story. I love both but, with exception of some films, books provide a greater satisfaction. Except, I do like a more “open” ending.

I really don’t want a book to “finish”. And they lived happy ever after is not for me. I want a book that is like a dream or a nightmare where the end is left hanging so that I can decide, based on my mood, what should happen next.

So, I start this latest book and find it is (at the moment) about reading. About the joys of reading. About the smells and the requirements for good books.

And I wonder why I was never really involved in “books” at some level.

The book was good but, given the ending, I think that, probably, I am in the minority when it comes to ending. It seems most people like to have the ends tied up with a neat bow.

Although the ending to this one (with one small exception) was not really ‘happy ever after’ and so it scraped through into the reasonable catalogue, in my brain.

Now I have started Visibility by Boris Starling.

So that’ll be book 6 then. In fact, as F is not here, I took book 5 home and finished it last night. After all, I wasn’t going anywhere and, after dinner, it’s nice to read with a glass of wine. The only problem is, now, that dusk falls too early and I had to finish reading indoors – even if it was really to hot to be inside!

Interestingly because here, in Italy, it seems twins are everywhere (I have NEVER seen so many twins as here), both books 5 and 6 include twins.

Maybe more on that later.

Wonderful English/Scottish words

I have been reading a lot this holiday. And it always means that I find words that aren’t used so often and, because I live here, I never use now.

One of these was charabanc (pronounced shar – uh – bang), meaning coach or bus, usually for tourists and often used for day trips. An old, English word, little used nowadays. A rather splendid word, I think.

The second was a Scottish word, dreich (pronounced dreek) meaning dreary and dark, applied to the weather (we wouldn’t really use it so much here anyway). It does, in my mind summon up a rather damp and miserable day.

We go to the vet (and other things)

I weigh it up in my mind. Emergency or not?

Of course, in reality, one day or two probably won’t make any difference but I am worried.

Just because I’m worried doesn’t make it a real emergency, though, does it?

No but I would absolutely hate for it to be my fault if something bad happened.

So, although it may not be an emergency, they SHOULD have been here and, so, it is an emergency and won’t wait for another day or two.

But let’s step back a bit.

I didn’t leave work early yesterday. Probably because of my undoubtedly-misplaced loyalty. In any event, I left ‘on time’. I parked and went to see about the tyres. The old, miserable guy remembered me. Or remembered the car. I booked. They keep the tyres in their store since I have nowhere to put them – and the store is somewhere else in Milan, so no doing it straight away.

Anyway, I don’t really want it done before Easter. I want good tyres for going up to the lake (for that is where we are going). If it rains a lot, the winter tyres hold the road better.

Then I go to the supermarket. Not my normal supermarket since I need soap and, therefore, I have to go to the horrible supermarket, Unes. It used to be my favourite supermarket until I found the meat wasn’t so good and they kept overcharging me for plastic bags, etc. Now I hate it. But they do the soap that I like and so I have to go there. I try to get round it as fast as I can, not only because I don’t like it but also because I have to take Dino to the vet.

I get my stuff and pay and leave. Back at the car, I put the shopping in and drive the few streets home. Of course, I am later than normal and so there is no parking in my usual street :-(. I drive around a bit and, eventually, park in a dodgy place – on a corner. Ah well, other people do it. Mind you, my normal parking is half-on the pavement in a street where it has a sign showing that cars will be towed away.

But we are in Italy and everyone does the same and, so far, mine has not been towed away. And nor has anyone else’s. So I park in a place that in England would be absolutely illegal and for which you would certainly find you had a big fine – if not that your car had been towed away.

I rush to get cigarettes since I am nearly out.

I rush home and change my shoes and take my tie off and off we go. I notice that Dino now has a cough as well. This is not good :-(

I feel rushed. And hot, even if it isn’t quite so hot. Spring is back with a vengeance – meaning it is cool and overcast and not really that nice. Milan is grey when it’s cloudy. More like Aberdeen (in summer :-) ) than a city near the Mediterranean!

Dino is a bit confused because although we start as normal for our early evening walk, we deviate.

There are a lot of people about which is why, normally, I don’t come down this street. Too many shops and stuff and the pavement is not very wide. It means Dino cannot wee as often as he would like.

As we approach the vet, I see that the shutters seem to be down.

When we get there I see it is closed. I check the opening times on the notice. Yes, they are supposed to be open. There is a motorbike outside and it may be one of the two vets. I try to call the vet number – the phone inside. It rings but no one answers. I look at the notice. There are two mobile numbers to call ‘in an emergency’.

Then I spot another, temporary notice. It explains that they are sorry but the practice is closed this afternoon. In an emergency phone this mobile number – one of the ones on the main notice.

And now we have caught up. I phone the number. I get the not-so-nice-vet. I explain the problem. He is sorry that they are not open. I humpf in my head. I am not happy. It’s a good job I hadn’t come home early especially to take him there. But I don’t say this. I explain he has what seems like a very bad cold.

He asks if he is coughing – except he uses the Italian word for it. Cough is a difficult word for Italians – unsurprising when you consider its spelling to its pronunciation. I explain that he wasn’t until this evening.

He asks if he’s eating. I say that he is – which he is. He says its a virus and common at this time of year. I think it must be Kennel Cough.

Anyway, he asks what I have left over from the time when we had Rufus – as we kept on having lots of pills for him. I say I don’t know and he says I should telephone him and he will advise if anything I have is good for Dino.

I rush home. The chemist will close in just over half an hour and if I need to buy something, I need to do it soon. Of course, I moved a lot of the bandages and plasters and stuff that we used to use with Rufus, into storage above the wardrobes. At least, I hope I did else I don’t know where they all are. And, of course, there’s the bathroom cabinet stuff. Some dog’s stuff might be in there.

I get the stepladder and find the stuff I am looking for in the second box I open. I get the stuff from the bathroom too. It goes onto the kitchen table and I make the call. I don’t have so much, to be honest. I thought I had more. Ah well.

The vet tells me that none of the stuff I have is any good and I must get this other stuff. He should have one pill tonight and one in the morning. Then I should phone him tomorrow. The stuff I am getting is anti-inflammatory.

I rush to the chemist. I get the pills. Dino has one. Or, rather, I shove it to the back of his throat and clamp his jaws shut, massaging his neck so that he swallows.

Last night I was really quite angry with the vet; for being closed; for not being there in MY emergency.

This morning, Dino is much better. He still has the occasional problem but is definitely more lively than the last few days. He didn’t cough at all this morning. And I didn’t get woken up in the night. But I shall take him to the vets this evening, just in case. I am not so angry with the vet now and, anyway, any anger is negated by the fact that the pills seem to have worked.

I just ain’t lovin it, innit? OK?

Of course, I explain, English is an evolving language, as are most.

I try to explain that, even if ‘I’m loving your new coat’ can be heard (or something similar) everywhere in the UK, it doesn’t make it grammatically correct. A bit like innit, innit?

I then try to explain that inteligent people often take up these new ‘grammar’ forms in mockery.

But, then, at what point does the whole thing become a mockery as it becomes normal use?

I explain that I do it too (well, not so much with innit unless I’m trying to be clever). I use I’m loving something as if it were proper grammar. In fact, I wonder how many people in the UK would even know that I’m loving something is NOT grammatically correct. And, so, at what point does it pass into a well-known and well-used phrase?

I mean, this form of continuous verb has been used for ages already. When does it stop being bad grammar and just becomes grammar? And who decides anyway?

Like ‘And’ and ‘But’ to start sentences – terrible but justified by use?


Does my English look good in this?

“What sort of English do you want?”

I should ask this, really.

In any case, I wouldn’t get the right answer.

But I do try to explain. If I were to say “Me to go cinema this night”, I’m sure you would understand that I am going to the cinema this evening. Is it good English? Well, no, of course not if, by good English you mean to say ‘like a native’.

But even that is not quite correct. Take, for example, “If I was to come to urs ….” Written by a native speaker or some ‘useless’ foreigner? Of course, it would be made by normal English speakers in the UK. Therefore ‘like a native’ is a bit misleading, is it not, since it should read “If I were to come to your house …”?

So, exactly what is ‘good’ English? And, to live or converse with people in the UK, how good does it have to be?

This article, then, seeks to define how ‘good’ good should be and advises that ‘not very good’ is, in fact, good enough.

And I agree. And, anyway, it’s only by use, by reading, by listening (and, maybe, by having a good teacher/copy editor – ahem!) to good English that we can hope to improve our own.

In any event, English evolves simply because native English speakers adjust the language and grammar to suit themselves. I wonder, indeed, how long it will take for your and you’re to just become ur or their, there and they’re to become a singly-spelt word, maybe ther? Already ur is used, not only in texting but also in emails and, I guess, any time the word is written.

After all, with just the two lettas, its quicka, init?

The Chritsmas Spirit; Friends from across the water.

“Did you like the thing on the table in the lounge?”; he grins as he asks this of me.

“What thing?”, I ask back. Of course, I knew he had been there, dropping off some jars of antipasto stuff for Christmas day lunch. But they had been in the kitchen. Although I had put some washing out to dry in the lounge I had, as normal, failed to look at anything. I am a man. It’s not an excuse – just a fact.

He is obviously excited about it. In fact, he seems very excited about Christmas all round. Which is lovely.

I go back home and look on the table. There is a festive table centrepiece. All green and gold and red. I tell him it is lovely – which it is – but more for the fact that he is making such an effort with everything this year. Not that it is really effort – at least, I think he’s doing it because he’s really looking forward to it.

The previous morning, we had gone for breakfast and, on the way back, we popped into the Chinese shop round the corner from me. He had decided that he didn’t like the lights round the doorways in the lounge. They were not the right shade of white. He bought two more sets of lights that were the right shade of white.

In the evening we went to Baia Chia – the Sardinian restaurant. A colleague (of mine from 18 years ago, he said – and it was probably true) and his wife (whom I had never met) are over in Milan and we had agreed to go out. Also, Stef was over from the US. An also joined us and so we were six.

We had a fabulous meal. I miss Stef and Nicole quite a lot so it was particularly good to see him. He has gone very American though and all the good work I had put into teaching him British English has been for nothing. Obviously, it’s OK but it was funny to hear him speak with an American accent and use words live ‘beverages’ when he meant ‘drinks’.

We also had a lot to drink. Indeed, between the six of us we must have had the best part of two bottles of Mirto after all the wine! F was a little drunk. When we arrived home, he started trying to put up the new lights. I told him not to do it because he was drunk. He did one but left the other until the morning, thank goodness.

And now the flat is nearly ready. The only room which has not had the full ‘spring clean’ is the bedroom – to be done on Christmas Eve.

And, unusually for me, I did some Christmas shopping on Sunday! This just shows how much I am into the Christmas spirit this year. This could be the very best Christmas ever :-D

We may both be in Europe but it doesn’t mean we’re the same.

Of course, I have long known it. More, I have blogged about it quite often. Usually, it makes me laugh although often that laugh is kept inside of me.

I have talked about it with FfC who now has a child.

It’s the illnesses that Italians get.

A often talks about his liver and how it is suffering. Or should that be how HE is suffering?. Yet, if this article on Italians and their ills is correct, it is impossible for you to ‘feel’ that your liver is bad. Indeed, until I came here, I had never heard of such a thing. I still find it very amusing, more so now that I know it cannot feel unwell.

I always thought the closest thing to ‘colpo d’aria’ was a stiff neck. I was always amazed by how much the Italians took it so seriously. Now, from the article, I understand that it can include illness to your head, ears, eyes, etc and so cannot be just a stiff neck. Again, until I was here, I had never heard of such a thing. Now that I look it up I find a translation that says it is a ‘blast of air’. I can’t even imagine the UK people too worried about a blast of air. After all, one of the things you can guarantee about the UK is the wind!

Let’s not get too pious though. The English (and Scottish and Welsh) DO have illnesses. We used to have a cold, a sore throat, a cough, (all three would be ‘flu), a headache, a stomach (or tummy) ache, etc. Nowadays this has become ‘flu, a migraine, stomach cramps. Of course, originally, a migraine was worse than a headache but since no one else can actually feel what you feel, how can they know that what you have is not a migraine but just a regular, plain, headache? As you can see, this is all invention anyway (although if some of my friends saw this they would argue that I didn’t have a clue, I am sure).

However, I loved this bit, which is so very true:

British mums hold their kids’ jackets so they will not get hot and sweaty while they run around and play. In contrast, the parks here in Italy are filled with pint-sized, quilted Michelin men, zipped up to their noses to stop the air getting in and hitting them.

In fact, the wearing of a scarf round the neck (precisely to stop the blast of air) is, I think, now, a fashion item here. Certainly, you will see people with a scarf round their neck even if they are inside a building or even outside, even if they are not wearing a coat!

Yea, Italians do make me laugh sometimes.

It’s just effin’ mental!

I do and don’t love teaching English.

One of the ‘dos’ is that I get to meet people who might be interesting and learn a lot about them through the lessons. So, I have a designer of accessories that is learning English so that he can move out of Italy; a woman with a difficult family background looking for her Prince Charming; someone who needs to pass an English exam or else he will lose his degree and, a new student from last night.

He used to be a singer in a rock band (maybe heavy metal) so, through the words of songs both his pronunciation and his spelling is not that bad. He is really elementary in some ways and not anywhere near that in others.

He doesn’t sing any more.

Now he is a mentalist. What? Did he mean he was crazy or what? Has he used the wrong word? But, no. He explains that whereas an illusionist does trickery with the hands, a mentalist does the same with the mind.

He also has a girlfriend in Finland. Say again?

Yes, this summer he spent 10 days in Finland. According to him, this is where he learnt his English and, it seems, where he picked up this girlfriend.

Why does he want to learn English? Because, as a mentalist, he wants to attend international conferences and the like and, of course, the language for such conferences is English.

Now, he is also a colleague at work. But I had absolutely no idea about these other things and wouldn’t still if it weren’t that he wants to learn English. How crazy is that?

Do the work and wait ……… wait ……… for the money

I read this, from the Independant (which I got from Twitter or Facebook or something – I’m sorry, I forget now).

Interns, from what I can understand can expect no payment for any work they do. It is supposed to be treated as ‘work experience’. The problem here is that it rarely leads to a full-time job. Instead, Interns go from one ‘unpaid job’ to another.

It will surely become a problem given the current crisis. With no hope of securing a full-time job – why bother?

Which then leads to unhappiness. Which, in turn leads to restlessness. And then, when there are enough unhappy, restless young people, something is bound to happen, isn’t it?

However, the really damning bit (for me) comes towards the end of the piece, namely:

But it seems that even people hired by the magazine cannot count on being paid. The Independent spoke to one person who was recruited this summer by Flash Art magazine without pay on a two-month trial basis. After a successful trial he continued working but was told there was no money to pay him a month later.

“Of course it’s immoral,” he said. “If they haven’t got the money to pay the staff they need, then they shouldn’t be in operation. But it’s hardly the only company doing this sort of thing.”

The Flash Art controversy followed the magazine’s recent call for new interns for eight to 10-month periods – even though using someone as an intern for more than six months is illegal in Italy.

I have known of other people who haven’t been paid – either for a very long time or at all. Worse still, if you’re on some sort of term contract. I cross my fingers that I didn’t have too much problem getting my money when I was teaching (although there was one, how should I say, ‘near miss’).

Part of the reason it’s like this is the Italian way of thinking. Mummy and Daddy can always take care of you, it seems. And, because Italians have the highest savings rate in Europe (maybe the world?), it is (I guess) assumed you have plenty of savings to tide you over.

I’m sure I would have a much stronger opinion about it if it had ever happened to me but it is wrong, isn’t it? I mean, in a civilised country within the European Union, how can this possibly be right?

It’s a sign of a wider problem. That of not really giving a shit about anyone else [that’s not either family or important to you].

And things that I do, as a Brit, sometimes get misconstrued by Italians. I remember somebody who got a ‘job’ through someone else. They thought it would be a really nice idea to take their new boss to lunch – if the guy were in the area. But the friend who had done the recommendation became something akin to a Tasmanian Devil and the vitriol and hatred that spat from a (normally) very nice, pleasant, Italian woman was more than a little shocking. For her it was this person ‘going behind her back’.

She now lives in the UK. I wonder how she gets on over there – where, to be honest, this kind of situation is not something to be bothered about.

We don’t all have some ulterior motive other than ‘to be nice and respectful’. Here that does not always seem to be the case. Not giving a shit about people seems to be the norm – and it does annoy me a bit.