British Food – not really all it’s cracked up to be (or, Maybe the Italians are right?)

Well, apart from trying to fix my blog for almost a month, now, I have also been doing other things.

Take last weekend, for example.

I went to Hay-on-Wye to see Best Mate. She wasn’t able to come here this year so asked if I would go over. F and I arranged it so that he could look after the dogs (and, finally, ‘do’ the bedroom – but that’s another post).

The travel there and back was one thing, again, maybe, another post. And the weather! So cold it was like being back in winter. In fact, the weather alone would be enough for me to never go back there, certainly to live – and that’s without the other things.

However, it was lovely to see BM who was considerably better than last time.

But I came to the realisation, whilst I was there, why it is that Italians have such a fixation about English=bad food (also see Lola’s blog post).

I used to relish going back to the UK. A Kentucky Burger was high on my list, if not essential. This time, however, it was very different. The real thing I absolutely love is Roast Lamb. The British do it so well. It is now, really the only thing on my list. But let’s look at the food I did have.

I arrive at Birmingham Airport at about 9.30 a.m. BM is there to pick me up and we drive back to Hay. This is about two and a half hours or so. By the time we arrive in Hay, I am ready for lunch, having had nothing but a biscuit and a couple of small croissants on the planes (it was Air France).

We go to Kilverts. The first thing is the beer. I’m afraid I forgot the ‘wine-non-diet’. The beer is great. The UK does great beer and, in particular, the real ale. I had some mild. It was nice and smooth. We looked at the blackboard for food. There was no lamb but I could choose something else. However, they were preparing the kitchen for the Festival (which is happening as I write this). We both agreed that was a bit strange. However, we had ham sandwiches with mustard. It was OK but not really as good as it was in my mind. Still, I had more beer, so it was fine.

That night we went to Red Indigo, billed as the best Indian restaurant in Hay, which makes me laugh because it’s the only one! The food was wonderful. I had a lamb balti. And beer – although Cobra beer. Indian food has come a long way from the time I was at University when it was, really, very hot or slightly less hot muck. Now it is fresh and so tasty. As normal I had Naan bread with my balti. In the UK they do nice large, thick Naan breads. Unfortunately, here, they do rather small and much too thin Naan breads.

Saturday, I needed to go shopping. I had things to buy – things I had come for. We got into Hereford and went straight to the cafe in the centre of High Town. It’s in the open air – so we can smoke. Aside from the cold, the coffee was a ‘Starbucks’ type cappuccino. I used to love these. Now they are too hot and too big. I am used to cappuccino Italian style. Tepid, small but lovely. As we are at the ‘bar’ ordering (of course, I noticed, for the first time really, how I am used to having a waiter serve me), I saw delicious-looking Almond croissants and decided to have one.

It was the first time I realised why the Italians think English food is so bad. It is bad. At least, if you’re not in the right places it is. The croissant (brioche, here) was filled with custard (crema, here). It had flakes of almond on top. Without the flakes of almond it would have been the same as the brioche I normally have for breakfast (when we go to a cafe on the weekends), except – the crema was not soft but more of a gel and it didn’t ooze out since there was so little of it. However, the worst thing was that, being used to having brioche that has been baked that very morning – this must have been baked several days ago. It was, quite frankly, stale. If they served this kind of stuff in Italy, the café would go out of business.

And then I thought: that’s how it has always been. The British tolerate this being given very little alternative or just because we don’t complain. I would have complained but I knew that this was perfectly acceptable here, so what was the point?

Later we got some cakes from Greggs. I had a Belgian Bun. It was OK. Actually, it was quite nice – but mainly because here, in Italy, they don’t do them. At least it was fresh, unlike the croissant.

Later still we went for lunch to the The Imperial. The beer (I don’t remember what it was) was fine. I ordered Gammon with Egg. It should have been good but it wasn’t. To be honest, G, here, in our canteen, does a much better job of making it and I had to explain how to make it to her! Also there were just too many chips. Don’t get me wrong, it was OK – it just wasn’t nice enough.

That evening we weren’t able to book a table at the Black Lion and so went to the Three Tuns. This was divine. Good beer (Butty Bach, I think) and rack of lamb. This is how British food should be. Fresh vegetables, good gravy and the lamb was perfectly cooked and juicy.

Sunday, we were in Hay for reasons I cannot disclose. We did go to Shepherds for a morning cappuccino (which wasn’t bad and much more like real Italian coffee) and, more importantly, I had a Toasted Tea Cake. Oozing with butter it is one of the things from my childhood. I adore Toasted Tea Cakes and this one was as good as any I have had.

We skipped lunch and I really wasn’t hungry anyway. That evening we went to the Old Black Lion. I do like the Black Lion. The beer isn’t so special but it’s OK. The food is very good, though. Again it was lamb. Again it was fantastic. I had some meringue thing for sweet. BM chose the summer pudding which I tasted and it was far, far better than my choice!

Before the Black Lion we were back in Kilverts where we met up with T, a friend of BM’s. I had a few pints of Butty Bach and I had really forgotten how good that beer is!

The next day I was back to the airport. I was there about 2 p.m. I had over an hour to ‘kill’. I went through to departures (after stocking up on nicotine) and went to the Weatherspoons pub in the departure lounge. The choice wasn’t brilliant but I chose a cheeseburger. It arrived. It was tepid which was a shame because if it had been hot, it would have been quite nice. Of course, they can do this as there’s no time to fix it, what with departing flights and all.

But it got me to thinking that, really, in the UK, if you don’t know the places, food is quite a hit and miss affair – in fact, mainly miss.

So, Italians are right, in a way, in that British food is not that good, unless you go to a place that does good food. Elsewhere it is liable to be fairly crap.

And, for the first time, I really didn’t want a Kentucky Burger. Too much salt and fat and sugar and crap. It seems I’ve moved on a bit!

Printers; I want to learn English NOW!; Update to weather and stuff.

Those of you who know me or who have been reading this blog for long enough will know this is me.

I have been putting it off for about 3 years. But now it’s simply not good enough and I really do need to do something about it.

I am going to buy a printer – which has a scanner and a copier as well. I did a lesson today and I need to scan the resulting log sheet AND copy a couple of other things. I am not in work for over a week so I have no choice but to get one.

About bloody time really, to be honest. As usual (like the shirts I was going to buy the other week (and for the last couple of years) but didn’t),I keep ‘managing’ until it just becomes so difficult or so much of a pain or I have no choice.

I am, indeed, very lazy!

Or, maybe, very, very tight ;-)

Either way, sometimes, I do seem to make it difficult for myself.

Maybe I’ll get shirts tomorrow too?


Today, for the second time in four days, I get told that the person wants ‘to be perfect in English’ – giving themselves an impossible timetable. Of course, it’s not ‘impossible’, just highly unlikely and impractical.

But, what does one say?

I want to say, ‘Did you learn Italian in one month?’

But I don’t. I say nothing or try to guide them as to the impossibility of this.

One wants to be in the UK soon. The other has, kind of, told her new employers that she speak English well and is now, rightly, scared that the reality won’t match their expectations. And, anyway, we spent the whole lesson talking about her inability to progress to the third date with her boyfriends – in spite of me trying to move on to different things.

Hmmm. Does this make me a bad person? Should I just say, ‘Don’t be stupid’ or something?


The weather forecast, unfortunately, was right. Heavy and prolonged rain. In fact, heavy rain all day. However, the forecast for most of the rest of the week has significantly improved. On the minus side, F informed me last night that he was going to work some of Friday after all. Ah well, it’s not a disaster as we hadn’t planned anything. But I think I might try and persuade him we should go to Mantova for the day next Saturday :-)

The smell of dead things.

Of course, certain smells and sights remind you of times, of places, of people, etc.

And I was in conversation with a couple of people the other day. I was explaining how our Purchasing department (occupied by three women) have plants and flowers dotted around but that most of their plants and flowers are in various stages of death.

And how there was one flower that, even when alive, I detested as, when alive, it smelt like a dead thing. And when dead it stopped smelling but looked like a dead thing. It has no redeeming features.

The other people were Italian and I was told that the smell was wonderful because it reminded them of spring. Of course, since we don’t have it in the UK, it doesn’t have this recollection for me – to me it is quite horrible.

The flower (or is it shrub) is mimosa and today, being La Festa delle Donne (Women’s Day) it the flower of choice to give to a woman. I suppose, in the same way, the flower for St David’s Day is a daffodil (since it’s almost the only flower out in the UK on St David’s Day).

I don’t give it. I couldn’t bear to have it in the same space as me. Dreadful, dreadful stuff.

Also, as it happens, this is Pancake Day – but only in the UK, I fear. This is a shame as I really like pancakes. I could make my own but, somehow, this not being Pancake Day here takes all of the impetus out of it.

I suppose, as it’s Pancake Day, it must also mean it is Shrove Tuesday.

Wow! There’s a LOT of stuff going on today.

Are you doing pancakes or celebrating Women’s Day or doing some other wonderful thing for this very full Tuesday?


OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.

Last night I saw that my phone was very low on charge. However, this was after we had been to Polpetta (F, An and I) and so I could not stay up long for it to charge. I charged it a bit and it ‘said’ there were two bars of charge. It’s enough.

Except, obviously, it lied. It was not on two bars. During the night it ran out of battery and switched itself off.

This morning, after a rather good night’s sleep, I opened my eyes to see the time was eight minutes past seven.

“Shit!”, I jumped out of bed. The dogs had a short walk. I still had a coffee (as without that I cannot survive), a shower but no shave and rushed out almost an hour late starting to work.

The traffic was terrible.

That’s because there had been a bad accident. Today! The day I am late! I suddenly start driving like an Italian, crossing a dual carriageway exactly as they do! Sometimes I scare myself. I mutter to myself (really I did this), “When in Italy …….”.

Then there were stupid drivers. Then there was a truck blocking the road. It took me an hour to get to work and so I arrived at 9. Grrrr.

Also, I have to admit to you, dear reader that I have, again, fallen off the wagon just a little bit. The night before last I ate two Mars bars. Last night I had two beers.

On the bright side, I have not had a bread roll since I went on the non-diet :-)

Other bright sides: I had almost an hour and a half’s extra sleep; it is Friday; the weather is warmer (or, rather not so cold); tonight I go out with A to Polpetta (he may not talk to me because of the last time) and then we join F and An to go to the Taverna della Lamparo; on Sunday, we shall go for breakfast with An and then, later, for lunch at the Alle Colline Senesi with her. (All links are on the side)

And, Saturday night is the final of the Festival of San Remo, which is televised and which we MUST watch. Well, F MUST watch it and so, we will.

And you? What fun things will you be doing over the weekend?

I am alive!

“Do you like it?”, he asked.

“It’s OK. It enables me to stay here”, I replied.

Thinking about it, it’s not really OK at all. But what can I do? He is determined ‘to be a writer’. But I remember, vaguely, some quote from an actor or writer that said, more or less, that they kept on saying that one day they would be a writer or actor until the time came to renew a passport and, since they didn’t have a ‘real’ job, they had to put writer or actor and then realised that there was no ‘big moment’ where they moved from being an aspiring whatever to the real thing.

So, he is, in fact, a writer. A writer of books. Well, one book with another, he hopes, soon. I hope so. I wish it could be the same for me but I am not that skilled in writing that I could ever be a real writer. I’m just a blogger which is not the same thing at all. Anyway, I couldn’t do what he has done/does and my goal is not that defined. I have no goal. ‘Just living’ is the goal. Oh, yes, and eating and drinking and spending time with friends and the dogs and stuff.

Hardly the stuff of dreams.


F is funny. When he meets any one of my friends (or, even in this case, someone I really don’t know), he talks. It’s like he can’t have a silence.

Of course, once he had found something to talk about, he didn’t stop. In this case, once Karl (this is NOT anything to do with the ‘Karl spark’ – it’s his real name and I’ll link to his blogs in due course – since the ‘Karl’ in the ‘Karl spark was, in fact, a guy with a real name beginning with J) had explained his ‘great plan’ (which is not a great plan as such – just an idea that will change as the year progresses), which is to visit as many festivals as possible over the world, F started to come up with all the festivals that Karl absolutely MUST go to. They were all music festivals and included, of course, San Remo.

I’m not actually sure that, even if Karl intends to go to San Remo, it will be quite the same as the festival experience he’s looking for. After all, it’s a little commercial now. I recall the Upton Jazz Festival. The first year that it was staged, the jazz bands played in the many pub gardens that are a feature of Upton upon Severn. Everything was free. The feeling that one got was fantastic, wandering from pub to pub, having a beer, listening to some live band – really ‘chilled out’. The next year, the bands were behind screens and you had to pay and, immediately, it moved from being ‘a night out with friends (even if you didn’t know the people nor the musicians) to being a commercial event. Not the same at all. A little like the Hay Festival or (I imagine) the Edinburgh Festival. Far removed from the original thing.

I think San Remo would be more like going to a book festival. Of course, to F, it is a wonderful thing. We shall watch it again, certainly.

Still, Karl took notes, which was kind of him even if some of them were almost certainly going to be dropped from the list even as he wrote them down.

As I predicted, F didn’t come and stay with me. He is quite strange sometimes.

This morning, I got up just after the alarm. The sambuca, the night before, didn’t seem to have the usual effect, which was good. The lack of enough sleep makes me tired – but it’s not really different from normal.

He said he slept well. I forgot to ask if he had managed to connect to the internet OK after I went to bed. I forgot to tell him to take tram 23 to the middle of town. Mornings are not really my best time.

But, in case you were worried, I am, in fact, alive.

So he wasn’t a crazed axe murderer after all. Nice guy doing this round the world thing. I couldn’t do it – I like my comforts too much, I guess. Still it was interesting and I wished him good luck with it all.

I am a sex god!

Whoops! Of course, although the title may have got your attention (and, as a result I’ll probably get even more spam comments), I forgot to add a ‘y’!

Yes, the title should have read I am a sexy god ……… apparently. :-)

People have said, in the past, that I have a nice voice. I have been called upon to read things in groups, etc., as a result. When I did my certificate for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), the group asked me to read a poem out loud to the class. Well, to be precise, N asked me to read it but the others agreed. When we were at the Hay Festival, one time, I was asked to read the English translation for an Italian guy.

As an aside, that leads to a story that I used to give to my English classes about pronunciation. Italians find it so hard to pronounce our words correctly. In Italian, apart from the stress (which I find very difficult) and the single and double consonants (where I hear no difference but the Italians do), you pronounce the word according to the way it is spelt. In English, of course, this is not so. Take bough, cough, tough and hiccough as examples. And so, having never seen the text of this passage before, I came across a word, in English that I had never seen before. The word was gelid. If I had thought only in Italian, I would have pronounced it like jellied but I was in the UK and for me it could also have been with a hard ‘g’ as in gelding.

Since I had no way of being able to tell how to pronounce it and no time to look it up, I went with the hard g. When I came back to the audience, Flo, the wife of the man who started the festival, whispered to me how well I had read and said how glad she was that she wasn’t reading it because she would never have known how to pronounce the word and how on earth did I know? I explained that I didn’t. Looking it up afterwards, since I was already teaching English, I found, of course, that it should have been pronounced as jellied – but how does one really know in English?

But, back to the headline story.

I had to ring the garage about my car. The guy only speaks about two words of English and so I had to speak in my (bad) Italian. After I had finished, S, my colleague was laughing. She explained it like this:

‘I’m sorry that I laugh but it’s so strange to hear you speak in Italian. You don’t sound the same. When you speak English you speak very well (sic) – your voice is ….. umm …. sexy. When you speak in Italian it is different and it seems like a child’.

This is not the first time. Apparently I have a sexy voice :-)

OK, but why ‘god’ you may well ask?

Last night we went round to F’s place. I know he has lots of things to do so it is much easier for him and no real bother for me. Anyway, the dogs get their walk and so it’s fine.

It’s now a little chilly but because he had been working round the flat he was warm. Still, as he was closing the windows, the shoes which were out on the balcony, airing, needed to be moved.

‘Is it going to rain?’, he asked.

No, it was not, I assured him.

Yesterday, I was asked by two people in the office about the weather tonight and the weather at the weekend. I feel like a god! Actually, I use a site called Meteo Blue. It is a forecast so not always perfect, particularly more than a day or two in advance and it does change every few hours (if the forecast changes) but it is the most reliable weather forecast site I have found. You select your country and start typing your city – it will list all the possible options. I cannot say what it is like for other countries but for Italy it is pretty damned good.

And so, I am a god (apparently) who has a sexy voice. Not quite the same as being a sex god but you get my drift, yes? (as they say in Italy).

The voices in my head


Alan Bennett, with the exception of the one monologue I saw with Mrs Bucket, has never really been one of those authors I would wish to read. I don’t know. It’s a bit like Hockney or Lowry. It’s a form of racism on my part, I suppose, against people from ‘The North’.

It’s not that they look any different, although they seem to, once I know they’re from the North. It’s when they speak. I apologise to those of you from the North (and here I should stipulate that it’s not the North in general but, rather specifically, Lancashire, Yorkshire and parts of Cheshire and Derbyshire) but I’m afraid the accent really doesn’t do it for me – and I lived there for a number of years!

So, although I wasn’t so interested in hearing him at the Hay Festival this year, I went because, if I am being frank (and here, if nowhere else, I should be so), I thought he was dead already or, at least, nearly dead and I further thought that if I didn’t see him now, this time, I probably would never see him.

And, as I posted (or twittered, or told someone, or something like that) he was, actually very good. He is old and pasty (but then, to me, he’s always seemed old and pasty – so no change there) but he didn’t look like he was going to die any time soon and, for good measure, he was well worth seeing and hearing.

>He was highly entertaining and his flat, monotone, Northern accented voice was quite perfect for the short extracts of stories that he told. It made them seem funnier; gave them an edge that, related in a different voice, would have been missing.

When I got home, as I was about to finish ‘We Need to talk about Kevin’, for the umpteenth time, the next book I picked up was Untold Stories! This was quite freaky. If you had asked me a month back, if I had any books by Bennett, I would have been certain that I had not even one.

I suspect that this came from L, one of the many books that she was giving away when she left Milan for London.

I am enjoying the book and find it both interesting, funny and an interesting historical book – historical in the respect of it being details of the minutiae of ordinary life which, of course, is not ordinary at all at a time that is seemingly (and is, in fact, truly) my early years of life. But then, he is a storyteller. I would probably write something like:

My mother became ill. I ferried my Dad to the hospital very often. We didn’t really talk that much. I did find out, however, that my Grandfather who, supposedly died of a heart attack actually committed suicide. I was quite shocked.

He does not.  For him, of course, these are a load of pages with descriptions and details that go to make up a complete picture.

It’s interesting that, as I have posted before, it’s the voice that really works for me. As I read the words on the page I can hear him saying them; the same dry, flat voice with that Northern accent, that makes the story more real and more alive. Whereas, with most voices that I subsequently read, it’s the enjoyment of the voice itself that is the key, I’m afraid I cannot quite say that I find his voice enjoyable per se but, still, the voice does make the story. Of course, that’s only in my head

And from this (and more recent posts and another to follow) I am becoming increasingly concerned that everything that I find worth blogging about seems to be in my head (even if there are slight connections with the real world). Either my head is very large to contain all this rubbish or my ‘head life’ is taking over from real life!

Alan Bennett and other things

I’ve only seen a couple of his plays on television, well, at least, some of his monologues. But D came over to see me and after lunch we went down to the Festival to see what was on.

After seeing Chris Patten, we went to see Alan Bennett.

He was very funny, reading some excerpts from his diary (which, I guess, is his latest publication). It’s a thing that real writers have, that I, as a blog writer, don’t. The ability to see the mudane and ordinary and, somehow make them interesting or, even, humourous. I wish…..

The weather remains warm and sunny. The new pair of sandals I bought in Goldworthy’s on Friday – to replace my favourite pair that I bought from there about 6 years ago and, eventually, this year became too difficult to wear, the insoles having become almost completely detached from the soles, the stitching being so undone in places as to mean I had to be careful putting them on in case the thread became tied up with my toes and now they could be safely called ‘Dino’s Sandals’ since I know how much he likes my old shoes – I am now wearing as I write this.

My feet feel a little cold but, when I get out in the sun, I hope they will feel OK. I know that by about 4 p.m. I should change and go back to shoes and socks – this is not Milan, after all – but at least I should try, I feel.

Looking out from Best Mate’s bedroom (The Smoking Room) window, I watched the booksellers laying out their stalls in the Butter Market over the lst couple of days. This morning was the turn of the Craft Fair stallholders. I wonder who buys all this stuff? And why?

I’ve been getting a newspaper every day since I got here. I like to be able to feel the paper as I read – it makes a change from the Internet – but I have decided that I really can’t be bothered to buy a Sunday paper this morning. I mean they are so large and, for me, so largely unread it is not only a waste of money but also paper.

And now, as I write this, I am doing coffee for Best Mate and I – and I hear the moka telling me it’s time to go……

Being back in Hay

It’s been three years since I was last at the Hay Fetival. It’s nice to be back and it certainly helps that the weather is good. I’ve been seeing a lot of people that I know and it’s been good to chat with them over a coffee/pimms/beer/whatever.

Everyone seems genuinely pleased to see me.

Everyone seems to know about V & I splitting so there is the usual start to the conversation proper, where they are unsure as to what to say about it, but once I explain that we’re still friends and that, although I have custody of the boys, V is looking after them whilst I am here, they are much more relaxed about it.

I’ve been to one event today and will, probably, try to go to another later this afternoon, if I can drag Best Mate down there. I’ve hardly had anything to drink – just been talking, really.

Still, if Best Mate comes down, I feel a couple of beers coming on……….