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

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.

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.

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!

Ho ho ho! It’s that time of year again

Well, here we are, in the first few days of December and, amazingly, Italy seems a bit more prepared than usual. Well, at least that is true of the post office.

The Christmas stamps were released last Friday, 1st December and I have already got mine. Obviously, as usual, I have chosen the non-religious ones (and they are also the right price for cards within the EU) and the design is:

Normal Italian Christmas stamp 2017

For the sake of completeness, the religious ones (suitable for post within Italy) are:

Italian Religious Christmas stamp 2017

My cards are already written so today or tomorrow I can add the stamps and post them. You never know, some people even might receive them before 25th! :-)

Connected! A wedding and a funeral.

Connected! A wedding and a funeral

Like the film. Except only the one wedding and not four.

The wedding I mentioned in the two posts below.

The funeral was yesterday. I had been feeling very anxious about it. I was going for the day. It meant flying to the UK, taking trains and it was going to be a long day. Plus there would be plenty of people that I should know but I knew I wouldn’t recognise. And, F was going to be in Japan.

So, he went to Japan on Saturday afternoon and, because of the funeral and the fact that he was away, that whole sinking feeling was back. The spiral into a blackness. But, I knew it was mainly because of the funeral.

I get up at 4.30 a.m. to take the dogs out. Poor things. It would be their only walk until I got back that evening. I felt bad about it but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

I didn’t even have time for coffee. I had to be ready by 5.30 for the taxi I had booked. The taxi was there, on time and I got to the airport. I had already checked in and was only going for the day, so no baggage – straight through security and a cappuccino and then straight to the “smoking cubicle”. Then queue up to get through passport control (I was going to the UK – outside the normal rules for Europe – bloody British.

I was flying Easyjet. Not my first choice but I needed to make it as cheap as possible.

I had forgotten that they allocated seat numbers now and got into any seat, to be reminded by a gentleman that I needed to go to the seat I had been allocated. Fucking hell! And it made me wonder why people would spend more money to have “speedy boarding” if they have seat numbers allocated. It became clear before we went through to the gate when the staff started tagging the bags which had to be put in the hold – they had counted them on and the overhead racks had run out of room. Still, it seemed to me crazy that you would pay extra just for that.

Then I remembered that I could also have “paid extra” to decide which seat I wanted rather than an automatic allocation, when I had checked in over the Internet.

We arrived at Gatwick. I absolutely hate the passport checks going back into the UK. Even with a British passport, I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed in – they make me feel like I shouldn’t be allowed in!

Through passport control and straight out to the smoking area.

Then to the station to collect my pre-booked tickets. Then I had some time but not really enough to go back to the smoking area.

It’s a bit cold – but I’m dressed like it’s winter here, so it’s OK. On the train. Got to Guildford. Checked with the taxi how long it would take to the crematorium (where the service was to be) and how much it would cost and, more importantly, if I could use one of the two £10 notes I had. Apparently, I could. The new ones have been introduced but it seems there is a while yet before the old ones go out of circulation.

I have several cigarettes and go in to Costa to get a cappuccino. “What size”, I’m asked. Erm, I have no idea. He shows me medium. I’m used to Italian now and that’s too large. “Something smaller”, I reply. He gets a “small” – which is still far too large, really. And I really want it in a cup not a cardboard beaker. But, hey, ho, I go with it. It’s a large cappuccino all right – but with a massive amount of really crap “foam” on top. But I drink it anyway. And go and have more cigarettes.

Then I get a taxi. I am at the crematorium early. The service before them is just going in. I have more cigarettes. I see people getting out of their cars in the car park and chatting to each other. I wonder if I’m supposed to know them. They head towards the building and me.

The guy in the light grey suit heads towards me. He’s unshaven but he looks like H, my best friend from school. I assume he’s D, his brother. I say, “D?” He says he is H. Oh, for fucks sake, I think. Why am I so crap. But my mind closes this off quickly. I can’t worry about it today. I give him a hug. I am pleased to see him and sad for him at the same time. I am introduced to his daughter and his son. This is the first time I’ve met them. His daughter looks the spitting image of his wife, T, who is the person we are having the service for today. She had a brain tumour and died a couple of weeks ago.

He is worried that I am OK. He introduces me to someone who I guess I should know but really don’t. It’s T’s sister. She is chatty and talks to me and introduces me to others that I don’t know and shouldn’t. We talk and chat.

I am introduced to M, who I do know although he is much, much older now, probably mid seventies. He was also a kind of friend from school days although was never really my friend and, anyway, was years older than us – but that’s a whole other story – if I can ever properly remember it.

M hangs around me. We go in together and we are to sit with close family, at the front.

There are so many people here that they are standing all around the room and, although I don’t look, at the back.

We have the service. T comes in inside a wicker basket thing. The service is semi-religious. It’s lovely, if you see what I mean. It is heartfelt and heartbreaking. She was younger than me – didn’t smoke or anything. Bugger!

We go outside. There are possibly 200 hundred people here. She was well liked/loved.

I am taken to the wake by some people who are neighbours. I hear afterwards that V (the wife) had been so pleased to meet me because T had told her how much she had enjoyed their trip to Milan. There is food and drink available but there isn’t enough for all the people here. I say that the number of people is a testament to how well loved T was. I say all sorts of crap to anyone that’ll listen. I don’t really want to be there. I think: this is the way it is now – I shall be coming to the UK for funerals – it’s an age thing.

I get to see H a bit. I hug him several times. M asks if I can come and see him. I say I had thought of coming in December when I have a couple of days’ holiday. M says that would be very good. I want to do this.

I am never without people to speak to. I am the centre of attention or, rather, the second centre of attention after H. They have all seen the picture of me and H after our first holiday together, on our own. The picture was taken by my mother. H disputes the date of it – I don’t know – it was my mother who wrote the date on the back of the photo.

H doesn’t burst into tears but almost, at several points. It’s been lovely and not lovely at the same time.

D takes me back to the station. I am very early. I have hours to wait before the plane back. I wish I’d booked an earlier flight but I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get back and wanted to be there in case H needed me.

But, he didn’t. And, anyway, he had loads of people around. I catch an early train. At the airport I have a meal, as I had only eaten very little all day. Then I decide to go through security. This, being Britain, means no smoking as there are no “smoking areas”. Bloody up-their-own-arse people. I’ve been overhearing conversations whilst travelling and, to be honest, it’s painful. I can’t imagine living here again. I hope, really hope, I never have to. I try to buy chocolate. They need my boarding pass – which they don’t, by the way. I say no. She says “it’s the rules.” I tell her I don’t want them then. I go to Boots for Lemsip and pills. The guy in the queue before me is asked for his boarding card. He says it’s in his jacket so he doesn’t have it. The guy takes his money anyway. My turn and he asks me if I have my boarding card. I say I have but he doesn’t need it. He’s clearly pissed off but accepts my payment anyway. I go and get chocolate and newspapers from WH Smith. They don’t ask me for my boarding card.

I wait around, have yet another beer and, finally, the gate is up. I can’t wait to get out of this country. The funeral was fine but the people travelling make me want to go home – and this is NOT home. I should try to remember this when I complain about Italians.

On board, the guy next to me wants to talk. He talks. Then he goes to sleep. We are late. I worry about the dogs having been inside since around 5 until now – which is already 11 p.m. I don’t even stop for a cigarette but get in a taxi straight away. They are a little bit super-pleased to see me. I take them out. I feed them and have a cigarette. It’s gone midnight. I go to bed and they come with me, super-attached. And then normality will start in just 5 hours.

God, I’m knackered.

And the connection between the funeral and the wedding? Well, this was the woman that H, my best friend at school, married those 37 years ago and when he asked me to be Best Man and when I made that terrible speech. Life is odd sometimes, isn’t it.

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

Commenting allowed!

Commenting allowed!

After putting up my last post, I noticed that commenting was off, for some reason.

Not just on the last port – but all posts, at least for a while back.

I guess, at some point, an upgrade to WordPress made this setting and I had no idea.

Well, now I’ve corrected it. I needed to go to Posts, tick all titles, select Bulk Actions -> Edit and up came a window with various options including allowing people to comment.

Of course, to stop this happening in future, I also went to Settings -> Discussions and ticked some boxes to allow comments.

So, it wasn’t my fault and, it seems, was some common problem.

Glad I noticed it though. At least, now, people can comment on the stuff I write.