Tuesday 5 April 2011 – Sorry to begin with a moan this week, but what is it with cyclists. Today I am sat waiting at a red light, when a cyclist comes up my right hand side, and crosses straight into the traffic. He’s weaving in and out of the cars travelling through their green light opposite. Horns sound and the cyclist raises one finger in defiance. I have witnessed many cyclists that seem to either have no knowledge of, or just total disregard for the highway code. In my opinion, I think the law should be changed, and for cyclists that want to ride on the public highways, there should be some form of registration plate, and don’t get me started on the aspect of insurance………Breathe Barry.
Wednesday 6 April 2011 - I am packing suitcases as Muse play ‘Guiding Light’: now I’m not a big Muse fan to be honest, I find they tend to drone on, however I did like their ‘The Renaissance’ album. There’s a knock at the door, which opens to reveal a suited male with a small boy. “Hello,” he says: the man that is not the boy; he looks miserable: That’s the boy not the man. “Would you like to join us to celebrate the death of our lord?” Now I am about to say, “Oh I didn’t know there was going to be a party, shall I bring along the trifle.” But I catch the words in my throat and say, “Celebrate? That’s an odd expression to couple with the word death.” The boy shifts his weight from his left foot to his right, however his expression remains unchanged. “Well?” asks the man. “No I don’t think so.” I say, and as soon as the last consonant of my response has sounded, a leaflet appears from nowhere in the boy’s hand and in perfect unison with the grown up, who says, “If you change your mind here’s some information,” the leaflet is pushed into my hand, and the boy; expression unfaltering says, “Thank you mister.” They leave and the final notes of ‘Guiding Light’ fade.
Thursday 7 April 2011 - I’m wandering around the local supermarket ‘House in My Head’ by Sons and Daughters is playing on my iPod, when coming towards me I see a man. He’s of average height and build, with a pale complexion and the wiry trail of dark hair that snakes up past his belly button and explodes across his chest. Why do I have knowledge of him in such graphic detail? Because he’s walking briskly with shopping basket in the crook of his left arm, naked apart from a pair of red briefs. Behind him at a safe distance are two other men of similar ages, one holds a pair of jeans and t-shirt, the other a pair of socks and trainers. With nothing more than a snigger, the semi-naked man passes me. I watch the two walking in his wake, they are finding it difficult to contain their laughter. I just hope the bet was worth it.
Early evening we go out for dinner, nothing fancy, just a local pub carvery. I’m just starting my meal when a couple walk in, both early twenties, he’s tall, lanky and looks bored, she’s short, squat and looks down at her phone as her fingers flick across its surface writing a text like an over excited arachnid. They sit, he picks up a menu and she continues to send and receive texts. Several minutes pass, he’s now put the menu down and is looking up at the ceiling, checking for cobwebs maybe. She however is now talking on her phone, the conversation as animated as her fingers had been before. The one-sided dialogue I hear is peppered with expressions like like, ‘Nah, and ‘Shat app’. I begin to believe she’s seen to many episodes of the dreadful UK docu-soap-drivel, ‘The Only Way Is Essex'.’ The phonecall over, she puts her phone upon the table and picks up her menu, her boyfriend has moved his gaze from up to down, and is now studying his trainers. Suddenly loudly a telephone rings, it’s ringtone a tinny version of some generic R&B track. The menu goes down to the table and the phone goes up to the girls ear, ‘Nah, shat app.’ The boy now rises and walks away from the table. Several minutes pass, more texting and one more diatribe of fake Essex speak before the girl realises the boy isn’t coming back. She rises from her seat and walks through the diners, and with phone glued to her ear in a thick ‘Potteries’ accent she gives her boyfriend grief for walking away. Oh well, you can’t blame him.
Friday 08.04.2011 – Today is made up of all the last minute things that need to be done before we drive to Dover. Hazel O’Connor sings ‘That’s Life’, a lovely song about not changing a thing if you could live your life again. Life, what a strange thing it is, we are not really sure why we’re here and do we have any idea what our purpose for being here really is. As we shall be away for seventeen days, it seems a shame to waste the vase of spring flowers in the living room, so despite not really having the time to spare, I decide I’ll put them on a friends grave. I open the drawer where her details are kept, but cannot find the sheet which has the map and plot number on it; it always sits in this drawer, so where’s it gone? (I have to have the crematorium plan as it’s so large and is very confusing). I cannot find it, so have a quick conversation with my friend, wishing her well, and asking her to give me a sign she’s happy. The car is packed, sandwiches are made and some frozen items are stored for travel in the cool box. We are ready to leave, so I turn off the iPod dock, halting Jason Mraz with ‘O, Lover’. I point the electronic fob at the garage and the door silently closes, I put the fob back inside the drawer and close it, however the drawer will not close, something is preventing it. I try a couple of times, when I notice a piece of glossy paper sticking out from the underside, I pull the paper out and it’s the crematorium plan. I smile just as my partner comes home from getting a haircut, “Sorry I’m late,” he says, “The traffic was a nightmare, all the roads into town are full of congestion. How’ve you got on?” I look down at the map and say, “Okay, everything is okay.”
Now I’m not some God-bothering paid up member of the life after death brigade nor am I a total sceptic, but it was comfort for me to feel that somehow a good friend had been able to give me a sign she was happy. But like all things read into what you will.
Saturday 09.04.11 – The iPhone buzzes and rouses me from my sleep, it’s 03.10 and with the urgency of an elderly sloth I crawl from the Premier Inn bed and head for the tiny two cup kettle. We are just five minutes from the ferry terminal, so after showers, cups of tea, a short car ride and check in, we are finally ensconced in the DFDS Seaways ferry’s restaurant….. Will we never learn, cold eggs and bacon as per usual? However as we approach Dunkirk, the view of the day breaking is stunning.
We leave the ferry two hours later and are off on our seventeen hour road trip, we are heading towards Namur in Belgium, when the iPod adapter-radio-thingy (I’m not very tech minded), starts to play up and Lady Gaga begins to sound like she has musical Tourette's, as ‘Telephone’ flicks in and out of coherency. the signal keeps flickering and crackling, making it impossible to enjoy listening to the music. So a decision is made, and the iPod is switched off, and for the time being I no longer am living a life on shuffle.
The journey is very pleasant, with nothing of major importance happening to merit a mention here, France looks nice bathed in sunshine, even Switzerland, a country I’m not fond of is appealing to me this trip. However I am beginning to suffer from music withdrawal. I take some photo’s as we drive, but it’s hard to get good shots when there’s nowhere to stop. I do take a photo of an exit sign, just because when you say the word it sounds rude. (Immature I know, but makes me smile, as does the name of one tunnel we pass through. Belcher tunnel).
We cross the border into Italy, having made great time; stopping only briefly en route for a toilet break. We are now just 430 miles away from our destination. The satnav decides to take us a different way around Milano onto the A14, but we are not fazed. We trundle along, down the Italian autostrada until we are just over the Lombardia border when I notice a crack has appeared in the windscreen, it’s about three inches long, and we have no recollection of being struck by anything. We stop at an Autogrill, the Italian equivalent of a motorway service station, albeit with edible food and not hiked prices.
After a bite to eat we continue on with the journey, by now we’ve been driving for fourteen hours and it’s beginning to take it’s toll. We pull into a rest stop for a break, only to discover we’ve stumbled onto a dogging/gay cruising area, cars pull up, men wander about, then disappear into the night. A car pulls up with a couple in the front seat, he gets out to stretch his legs, whilst she flicks the interior light switch a couple of times. I appears it’s also a dogging spot. A solitary police car appears, has a nosy around and leaves, that’s our cue to follow.
We continue to travel down the A14 south, until we come to Rimini nord, here the autostrada is closed for maintenance, so we are diverted via a toll booth. €2,60 later we are driving through the outskirts of Rimini, unaware of which direction we are travelling in. The satnav is no help as all it keeps trying to do is direct us back to the closed junction. Eventually we spot a car transporter, and making a guess that it too is travelling south we blindly follow it. Our assumption was a good one and pays off and soon we are back on track.
Eventually sleep begins to win the fight and we pull into a parking space on a service station, clamber into the back of the car: bringing that futon mattress proves to have been a good idea.
Sunday 10.04.11 – We wake on the service station, groggy but feeling the better for actually catching a couple of hours sleep. Italians mill about the forecourt, dressed in their Sunday best. (Church clothing). The aroma of coffee and sweet breakfast pastries sits on the idle breeze. It’s early in the day and the bright sunshine promises a warm one. An ancient man looks in at me through the rear window, puzzled as what looked like a pile of rags comes to life, I smile, he frowns, I can read his mind; ‘Stranieri’. I have an odd experience with a toilet that appears possessed, it was silent before I entered the cubicle, not now, it keeps flushing over and over and the cold water/testicle experience isn’t pleasant, but enough said of that.
The drive to Archi is pleasant, it’s like meeting an old friend, having stayed in Kati’s house once before, the familiarity is as warming as the sunshine that creeps along the narrow streets banishing shade. We unpack and the iPod is placed into it’s dock, ready to cure me of my music withdrawal. The first song to shuffle forward is ‘Divine’ by Blondie, what an apt title, it completely encompasses the setting and also the feel of the day. My phone beeps and it’s a text from Brenda inviting us over for lunch.
After freshening up, I turn off the iPod mid flow interrupting Siouxsie Sioux, as she sings ‘Further Nearer’ from the Creatures album Hai! I then drive down the steep gradients that make up the road back down to the valley, the fields are awash with borage, and wood smoke fragrances the air. We arrive at our friends laden with gifts and it’s great to see Terry and Brenda. We last saw them back in November 2010, and although only four months and a few days have passed, it seems to have been an age ago. This is partly due I think to the cold winter back in the UK, as both times we have been together have been in good weather. Lunch is Terry’s one-pot pork, a rustic dish of potatoes, vegetable and pork seasoned with bay, fennel and other natural dashes of goodness. We eat outside with the sounds of the valley all around us.
The sound of tyres on gravel indicates that our other friends Rozz and Spike have arrived, and after a few hours we are all sat around a table eating dinner. It’s strange to think how things come together, here on an Italian hillside is a group of people all from different towns and places: Manchester, Huddersfield, Melton Mowbray, Glasgow, Stoke on Trent, somehow the fates have conspired to bring us all here, at this time. But for what purpose, what is our part in the great scheme of things?
Later back at Archi, a game of dominos and a glass of wine is taken as ‘Necromancer’ by Gnarls Barkley plays, at a discreet volume. Very quickly it proves futile to fight it, and I climb the stairs and fall into bed.
Life can be perfect sometimes.