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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tomato Plants, Top Tens and Home

Monday 6 June 2011 - I spend the first part of the morning cleaning up after yesterday’s party, then start my packing in readiness for my departure from the UK. As I’m going alone, as my other half has things to tie up here, all I take is some things for the house and clothing. We’ll do a final pack when we have to ship the remainder of our possessions over. I leave Stoke on Trent at 21.30, Fill up with petrol at Tesco, turn on the iPod and Some Of Your Lovin’ by Dusty Springfield plays, the first song of my new life- slash- adventure.

It’s an odd feeling leaving your partner behind as you set off for another country. I’m used to doing this as an actor, as I’ve toured internationally. This time however I don’t have the company of other actors to distract me. I know I must do this, it’s our dream, and it makes sense for me to work on the house out in Italy, rather than sit at home in the UK doing very little. This said, it still doesn’t stop me fighting that knot in my guts that wants me to turn back.

The drive south is mundane, and just under four hours later I pull into the 24 hour services just outside Dover, (despite the name, they are only open for 22 hours per day.) I catch an hours sleep in the car park then drive the last few miles to the port.

Tuesday 7 June 2011 - I drive through border control unchecked, and check in with a brunette complete with cheery disposition despite the hour. I then line up with all the other cars waiting. I’m surprised by the amount of ancient vehicles, my own being a battered X registered one. K’s IMG_0861and R’s sit comfortable alongside S’s and the occasional 51 plate.

At 03.23 it’s 14 degrees and I watch as the information board tells me that on the previous day 57,307 people passed through the port of Dover; the busiest port in Europe, apparently.

After boarding, I find a corner and desperate for sleep I curl up on a sofa. Thankfully this early morning crossing is under prescribed, meaning everyone seems to find somewhere to relax. I have an hour of constantly disturbed sleep. I’m woken by the barista at the coffee bar, who is unable to make a beverage without the maximum amount of noise. A woman sleeping nearby lets out an impressive fart, much to the amusement of the young boy with her. I decide to walk around, I notice the man beside me has an unfortunate tenting effect in his jogging bottoms, I smile, hoping he’s enjoying the dream. I get a coffee and walk out on deck. The sea is as grey as the sky, making the division between the two indiscernible. At this early hour it’s almost as if the world is devoid of any colour.IMG_0864

The coffee is hot, that’s all than be said about it, it’s bitter and devoid of any enjoyment, but as I drain the last dreg and toss the paper cup into a waste bin, we are about to dock at Dunkerque.

I plug in my iPod, tune it into a free signal and press play, Haysi Fantayzee burst out with their ludicrously upbeat oddity, John Wayne Is Big Leggy. I sing along as I disembark and head off into the French countryside. The drive is tedious, to say the least. As I leave Belgium and enter Luxembourg, the iPod/radio connection becomes jangled with the vast amount of stations here, making it impossible to enjoy the music. I stop in Luxembourg and in a IMG_0866rest spot have a bite to eat, I have my first bite of my special cake overseas. (thank you to who ever came up with the invention of the cool-box). Cake consumed and I partake of 40 minutes snoozing in the back of the car. In the foot well there’s my tomato plants and my onion’s, and the warmth mixed with the scent of the plants conjures up an image of sleeping in a potting shed.

After passing Metz, I find myself making lists in my head to divert my attention from the brain crushing boredom. I start off listing my top ten songs:




1 You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) Sylvester
2 Neon Womb Toyah
3 The Day the World Turned Day-Glo X-Ray Spex
4 Lagartija Nick Bauhaus
5 Under the Ivy Kate Bush
6 Il Tempo Stesso Tiziano Ferro
7 Playground Twist Siouxsie and the Banshees
8 Donne In Amore Gianna Nannini
9 Top of the Wheel Hazel O’Connor
10 Stronger Sugababes

As the journey continues the lists become more and more banal and after listing my top ten names for a dog, I give up halfway through my top ten green vegetables and stop for another 30 minutes of shut-eye. (For the curious the top veg was broad beans)

I enter Switzerland, (regular blog readers will already know my feelings for this country), and after passing through the Gotthard Tunnel I look for somewhere to stop for the night. I continue on and just minutes from the border I spot a lorry park. I pull in and squeeze the Berlingo into a space between two goliaths of the road, and crawl into the back. I plan to have a glass of red wine, but after checking out the shower facilities I’m too tired. I’m falling asleep, when a car pulls into the park and windows open a young couple have an argument, gradually his voice is getting louder, like a vocal incendiary, I’m wondering when the explosion will occur, suddenly the engine guns and they drive away; altercation obviously resolved.

At 22.40, with the funk of tomato in the air, my eyes begin to close and before I know it the world outside has dissolved.

Wednesday 8 June 2011 – I wake up at 06.15, untangle my twisted body, reposition my aching frame and sleep again. I wake the second time at 07.20. I look around and I’m alone, every lorry has silently slipped away, leaving one blue Citroen stranded upon a grid of white lines. I walk over to the showers only to find the automatic doors wont open, there’s a sign saying the free showers can only be used between the hours of 04.00 and 07.00. I try the toilet door and with a swoosh it opens, I press a button to dispense lavatory paper, but none appears, just the whirring sound of a motor. Yet another, although illogical reason to dislike the country.

I drive a few metres to a service station, only to find the showers are being cleaned, so it’s a trip to the loo and a quick wash. I exit and as I’m crossing the car park there’s a loud crack followed by the smell of electricity; I get my shower in the end, albeit courtesy of Mother Nature.

I’m waved over the border and emerge through the mist into Italy, as before it’s tedious heading south alone, the most exciting occurrences being the change in weather conditions. Lombardia has drizzle, Emilia Romagna has sunshine and Marche has the most dramatic thunderstorm I have ever witnessed.

I am driving down the autostrada (A14) when a sheet of water hits the car, the rain is so heavy all three lanes stop, and the motorway is at a standstill, the only things visible are the orange blinks of numerous hazard lights, as they flash on stationary vehicles. I can see the sea and am privy to a spettacolare naturale. The sea is being attacked by rods of glowing yellow, the surface is penetrated by lightning as it crackles and hisses it’s way to earth. The rain eases and we move away en massé, I watch as cars ahead of me move erratically, dodging the lightning that is coming down onto the road surface.

I sail past the Marche sign with the red line through it, and into Abruzzo, the sun is shining and I stop at Le Siren Ovest, (the mermaid west, rest area) and stretch my legs, pee and continue on my way. I leave the motorway at Val di Sangro, take the first exit off the strada statale and once on the country road that runs parallel I feel like I’ve come home.

I check on the house, all is fine, no signs of rodents, rain or robbers. To clear the stench of rodents months ago we used a strong smelling alcohol cleaner, still months on it lingers in the air, like stale tobacco on a seldom worn evening gown. I open the windows to let some Abruzzi air in and drop in to see my friends Terry and Brenda. A cup of tea later I go to unpack the car, my neighbour Domenico has been IMG_0870over to cut his grass, coincidence? Maybe he doesn’t want the stranieri to make a complaint again?

I make a few phone calls to let people know I’ve arrived safely, down the glass of red wine I promised myself in Switzerland, have dinner with my friends, shower, put my new watch beside my bed and finally collapse onto the mattress: my back is grateful. With a slight hint of potting shed still clutching to me I give in to slumber.

Thursday 9 June 2011 – Today is the first real day in my little part of Italy and to celebrate I wake up with four mosquito bites. First lesson learned: Don’t stand early evening, outside in the long grass calling people in the UK without any protection from the little critters. I spray myself liberally with enough anti insect repellent to fell a swarm off African bees mid flight, and walk the few metres to our house.

100_3356I begin by mixing some weed killer so that I can see what lurks beneath the mass of weeds that is our land. I spray three areas and at 11.00 the day is getting too hot to be outside without shade. So with the iPod shuffling as usual, I turn my attention to the huge fireplace in our kitchen, as ironically The Prodigy unleash Firestarter.

We love the fireplace but it’s impractical, taking up so much room. When the wood burner is fitted we can use the space for two chairs. I have been advised by Spike that it should come down easily, so armed with hammer and chisel I begin to dismantle it. I discover a secret shelf plastered over and filled by a block of polystyrene. A few more chips IMG_0878and I’m level with the mantelpiece. A quick swipe of my hammer to the side reveals the supporting beam and it looks safe to remove the remains of the white plastered fireplace.

I stand back pleased with my handiwork, the kitchen smells of soot and fires past extinguished, and the hearth is littered with rubble. The black hole is photographed and uploaded onto Facebook, and I retreat for lunch. This being Italy, lunch becomes a three hour affair of food, conversation and respite from the sun.

IMG_0880Friday 10 June 2011 – I’m just about to get petrol but have a dilemma. Should I take the track down the hill or the better road? I decide on the easier option and am halfway down the road when I meet someone I’ve met briefly before. We chat and she asks me if I’m interested in free Italian lessons for foreigners? Yes I say and make arrangements to pop along. (Just a few days in and I’m getting a social life already.)

I pop along as promised and have an enjoyable two hours, lessons over I partake of a glass of wine with Sheila, a fellow classmate, at her place. The view from every window in her house is spectacular, her property is perched high enough up to give you the opportunity to look down on middle Italy literally for many, many kilometres. I quite like the fact that I’m out and about as part of a community: long may it last. (Well at least for the next six weeks until the free lessons end.) I drive home and Joan Armatrading sings Willow – Perfetto

Saturday 11 June 2011 – I wake up ridiculously early today, 05.50, I try to snooze but to no avail my brain is churning. I make myself a cup of tea, clamber back beneath the sheets and read a couple of chapters of Bill Bryson’s, Neither Here Nor There. To be honest I’ve only read one of his books before and didn’t really like his style, his dialogue is full of negatives, his jokes are instantly stale and his metaphors are jaded. However I got the book at an Italian book swap, and as it’s the only one I have I’ll persevere; my opinions remain the same though.

I make myself breakfast, and make a discovery about myself: not that I’m a member of the estranged Albanian aristocracy, but that the reason I get indigestion every morning is because I always eat breakfast stood up and pacing up and down. I sit down and Boy George sings Out Of Fashion, a song I assume to be mostly autobiographical.

I prepare some salad and a pasta sauce for later, before helping ship furniture down to the main road for Terry and Brenda, onto the removal lorry, as there’s no way it would ever make it up our lane. The removals complete I come back with a possible offer of some work teaching drama in September, and a desire for some fizz. The cork pops and I pour a large glass, before starting to prepare dinner.

Dinner is bavette (a kind of flat spaghetti) with pasta sauce and the most gorgeous meaty sausages from the shop down the road, tied up with little pieces of string. After my small feast I sit outside and read – it’s past 19.00 and the temperature is pleasant. There’s a hint of jasmine floating on the air, the full effect of this heady perfume won’t emerge until darkness falls. – I try to read but am distracted by the view, I put my book down and look out over the valley, and up at theIMG_0892 mountains opposite. I can’t believe I own this view, and if I told you how much It cost you’d think me a liar.

I chat to my neighbour Adda, she checks she has my telephone number written down correctly, at 93 she needs to feel secure. Despite our close proximity to many amenities, in the evening our little hamlet becomes quite remote. I finish off the fizz and settle down to watch a DVD on my laptop before once again, earlier than when back in England I feel the hands of sleep holding my head, and retire for the evening.

So I come to the end of another week, and the end of the first few days of my new life. So much has happened in such a short space of time, I look forward to next week with the anticipation of a ten year old on the eve of its eleventh year.

This posting is dedicated to Terry and Brenda, with love for a happy and healthy new life in the US. In bocca al lupo.

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