Friday, 25 April 2008

Electrocution Lesson

Last night I stuck my finger in a live light socket, rather inexplicably. True, I’d had a hangover all day and was still not feeling ‘quite myself’ shall we say – but nonetheless, what a bloody stupid thing to do. It’s one of those things that I always find myself doing (well, not always electrocuting myself) at some silly time of the night when I should be focusing just on getting to bed. Yet in my over-tired and fuzzy-minded state (the norm, I might add), I embark on strange activities such as pulling grey hairs out of my barnet with a pair of tweezers, peering at the mirror till my eyes ache (and what’s the point having a grey-free front of head when there’s loads of the buggers at the back which I can’t see OR reach?); or sharpening my make-up pencils or suddenly deciding to rationalise the contents of my bathroom cabinet.

Anyway, heading for bed, my eye was drawn to the wall lamp by the stairs up to the girls’ room. The left-hand bulb has been gone for months with the shade perched on the empty fitting a good inch lower than its companion and looking bleak and abandoned rather than lit up and jolly. Having been in Tesco earlier buying, amongst other things, more light bulbs but not quite remembering the type of candle bulbs I needed out of the myriad on offer (small screw clear 60w 40w 25w; large screw pearl 60w 40 w 25w; small bayonet clear, pearl etc etc; large bayonet clear, pearl etc etc – well you get the picture) I thought I would just stick my finger down the hole to see if it was indeed small screw or bayonet to confirm that I had / hadn’t bought the right bloody bulbs currently languishing in an un-unpacked shopping bag in the stable (we don’t have horses but I’ll spare you the floor plans of our house at this point). This was, of course, my (near) fatal error. Electricity: Lesson 1 – Do Not Poke Metal or Body Parts into Live Connections, especially if not wearing rubber-soled shoes. Which of course I wasn’t. It was like a scene from Mr Bean. As my finger became a light bulb for a brief moment in its 44 year old life (never be afraid to try something new) some weird sounds came out of my mouth, my body jerked backwards and my brain said ‘You stupid cow!’ I stood for a moment just to see if my racing heart was about to stop – thoughts rushing through my head about how, instead of tucking myself under a welcoming duvet where I’d longed to be all day and tickling the cat under the chin with my lovely girls asleep upstairs, my life was actually about to end on the landing at midnight in the most banal and stupid of fashions and that the girls would find me there in the morning and no-one would be able to take them to school (N away, of course – never there when you need them). When, after a few minutes, I found myself still standing – albeit with a pulsating index finger on my left hand which clearly had not enjoyed its brief change of career – I thanked God for my reprieve and tottered uneasily (and buzzing gently) to bed putting all ideas of any other last-minute-stupid-things-to-do right out of my head. I didn’t even pluck my grey hairs, though I imagine there’ll be a fair few more when I next take a look. But as long as they’re round the back I s’pose it doesn’t really matter, does it? For now, at least, I’m still here to tell the tale and we must be thankful for small mercies, eh? I now have to go away and worry about why my life was spared and exactly HOW I’m going to save the world…Ho hum, busy, busy. Meanwhile I’m going around turning off electric switches with a certain amount of trepidation and renewed respect - rubber soles firmly ON.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

A Different Sort of Politics

We’ve been having a fair few chuckles in this house recently over the Silvio Berlusconi Show, I can tell you. You couldn’t write the script if you tried and it is particularly apt that the star of the show is Italy’s very own premier media mogul, disguising himself once again as a politician. But this is Italy, and that’s why we love it.

‘Judges should have mental check-ups’ he said, with characteristic aplomb and not a hint of irony in his voice – this from the man who has stood trial for misdemeanours more times than I’ve had hot dinners (among them embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting, and attempting to bribe a judge). Antonio di Pietro, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor, said it was Sig. Berlusconi who “should be tested”, adding: “He is quite crazy.”

In the run-up to his election as Italy’s prime minister (for the third time, somewhat unbelievably) he promised to give voters a one month tax holiday. “It would be a month of freedom” he said with political flourish. Yet hours later he was denying it was a firm commitment, saying, “We may not be able to do it because of the cost, bust as you can see, we do not lack imagination for solving problems.” Superb!

With regard to mentally impaired judges wreaking havoc in the Italian judicial system, he later elaborated: “There are judges who have been certified as mentally insane still on the bench. Prosecutors can begin cases that ruin people’s lives and take their freedom away.” If he’s right, it is a bit of a worry, but, then again, is it any less worrying that this man is back in the Italian driving seat? Let me give you some classic Berlusconi moments, or ‘planetary gaffes’ as a rival once described his legendary and free flowing faux pas:-

At a rally during the 2006 election campaign:
"Read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields."

At the launch of the 2006 campaign: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."

Promising to put family values at the centre of his campaign: "I will try to meet your expectations, and I promise from now on, two-and-a-half months of absolute sexual abstinence, until [election day on] 9 April."

To German MEP Martin Schulz, at start of Italy's EU presidency in July 2003: "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo (guard chosen from among the prisoners) - you would be perfect."
During the controversy raging over the above remark: "I'll try to soften it and become boring, maybe even very boring, but I am not sure I will be able to do it."

To a German newspaper: "In Italy I am almost seen as German for my workaholism. Also I am from Milan, the city where people work the hardest. Work, work, work - I am almost German."

At the Brussels summit, at the end of Italy's EU presidency, in December 2003:
"Let's talk about football and women." (Turning to four-times-married German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.) "Gerhard, why don't you start?"

On Italian secretaries (comments made at the New York stock exchange):
"Italy is now a great country to invest in... today we have fewer communists and those who are still there deny having been one. Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls."

On judges pursuing former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti on charges relating to the Mafia: "Those judges are doubly mad! In the first place, because they are politically mad, and in the second place because they are mad anyway.
"If they do that job it is because they are anthropologically different from the rest of the human race."

On himself:
"There is no-one on the world stage who can compete with me."

"I don't need to go into office for the power. I have houses all over the world, stupendous boats... beautiful airplanes, a beautiful wife, a beautiful family... I am making a sacrifice."

On his alleged conflict of interest as prime minister and one of Italy's biggest tycoons, with major media holdings:
"If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest."

On a proposal to base an EU food standards agency in Finland, rather than the Italian city of Parma:
"Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this."

On history: "The founders of Rome were Romulus and Remulus ..."

We first lived in Italy between 1990 and 1992, a year before Berlusconi burst onto the political scene and shook the whole sorry mess up. He lost his throne the year before we returned to Italy in 1997 and his name was all over the news throughout our time there as he fought to regroup and regain his seat of power. So, yes, Silvio is a bit of an old friend (albeit re-packaged with hair transplant and face-lift), a recurring theme in our love affair with Italy. He represents ‘A different sort of politics’ as BBC correspondent Mark Mardell called it wryly the other night on the news. It is all that is marvellous, mad and totally refreshing about The Italian Way. They just don’t give a damn. Flamboyancy in a dull grey world. Indeed, Berlusconi and Brown are the proverbial chalk and cheese – and you can give me tangy Parmigiano over tasteless dry chalk any day.

Come to think of it, 'Berlusconi: The Movie' could rival 'The Simpsons Movie' for laughs and far-out moments. Robert De Niro, whaddya reckon? You're a dead ringer for Silvio, after all. If you happen to have a mo...

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sunday Morning Walk

We woke to glorious sparkly sunshine and a light dusting of snow.

N decided a morning walk was obligatory. Quite so. Quick showers. Quick dressing. Quick breakfast. But alas, even though we were out by 11.30am the sun was already playing catch with the clouds. Still, it was better than our usual efforts and we stomped off up the hill with Enid Blyton hearts. The dangling carrot of 'The Pub' spurred the girls on. Not very Enid Blyton.

Mr Hill (L) formed a 'snowman' with her small red-gloved hands which she insisted on carrying all the way (and wondered why her hands were cold). It was a lump of snow with small sticks and grass. But it was hers and she'd made it and she was jolly well holding on to it.

Many were out enjoying the day. Mountain bikers, dog walkers. We stopped and chatted to Abigail on her pony with her parents and spaniel frolicking around its hooves. Just the spaniel, mind. Not the parents. They’re a bit too old for that. They were walking in a seemly fashion, as you might expect. Language, it can be such a trap.

A chilly breeze whipped up, but mostly we were in the lee of the hill. We cast our minds back to last April where the unseasonal summer warmth lapped lazily around us, a tantalizing taste of what was not to come. Same country? Same month? It was hard to believe…

We climbed stone stiles and wooden ladders over dry stone walls, said ‘baa’ to the sheep, pointed out new lambs and fed a horse hay where the footpath led us past its paddock. Down into the valley, alongside the stream, we imagined picnicking in the summer. Vain hopes, I’m sure.

Past friends’ houses, the school and village hall – the pub loomed closer. Wiping muddy boots on a thin grass verge, we pushed open the door into the fuggy heat and hum of happy eaters. A fire burned, we ordered drinks and crisps and toasted our toes. Refreshed and warmed, we left ‘Snowman’, looking a bit bedraggled, on top of the post box and headed back up our hill for a bowl of soup, feeling, for once, that we probably deserved it.

Our own fire was lit, the girls played and tasks were tackled before a family viewing of The Simpsons Movie. Outside the snow fell even as the last rays of light lingered till gone 8 o’clock. We paused for ‘Daddy’s famous’ (spag bol), leaving Homer’s car suspended in mid air as it hurtled off a cliff in Alaska, the white celluloid landscape mirroring the one outside our window.

It was late when the girls got to bed, giggling endlessly over the Simpson catchphrases and singing ‘Spider Pig, Spider Pig’ as they climbed the stairs. But it didn’t matter. It’s the holidays. It’s what they’re all about. It’s just hard to believe it’s Easter.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Resurrection Antics

At the risk of blasphemy, I wouldn’t mind crawling into a cave right now and having someone put a bloody great stone across it. At least that way I could get some peace and a damn good kip. And I'd be in no rush to reappear, I can tell you!

I seem incapable of getting myself to bed at a sensible hour. By the time I’ve finished with the children (about 9 o’clock), I’m so drained (five very boisterous ones for tea yesterday whose noise reached Neptune) that I can do nothing more than come down and stare at the telly for a couple of hours. Even making supper is almost a bridge too far. I’m beyond speech really. I always aim to get to bed for about 11 o’clock, but then I think ‘oh God, I’ve just wasted the last two hours, and this is the only time I get to do something for myself, so I think I’ll just go and turn on the computer/pluck my eyebrows/flick through the teetering pile of catalogues…’ and, hey presto!, it’s 1 o’clock in the morning again!

So today I’ve decided to be firm. I’ve dumped the children with a friend (I was the virtuous one yesterday playing Mothers Entertaining Children in School Holidays all day) and have sat down at a far more sensible hour to ‘do my thing’.

Trouble is, I’m so tired that my brain is a fog, and all the bright ideas I had buzzing through my head yesterday as I whizzed round the countryside with my car-full of kids are long gone. Instead, I am reduced to cribbing. Still, it’s quite an interesting crib, and vaguely topical as it is Easter time (well, sort of).

Shifting us away from the chocolate frenzy of modern Easter (says she, having just popped another square of Green & Black’s in her mouth), I thought I would tell you about a rather dodgy sounding custom which used to be practised around my neck of the woods in the 18th and 19th century. It was called ‘Lifting’ (see what I mean?) and seems to have been practised in the western side of north and middle England, namely, Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Derbyshire and the northern half of Wales. A Manchester correspondent to the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1784 described it (somewhat snippily)thus:

The men lift the women on Easter Monday, and the women the men on Tuesday. One or more take hold of each leg, and one or more of each arm, near the body, and lift the person up, in a horizontal position, three times. It is a rude, indecent, and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly by the lower class of people. Our magistrates constantly prohibit it by the bellman, but it subsists at the end of the town; and the women have of late converted it into a money job. I believe it is chiefly confined to these northern counties.

The basic procedure was very similar from place to place, although there were differences in detail. Apparently, in Shropshire, the men carried posies that were dipped in water to sprinkle on the feet of the women (torture now!), and whereas men were usually lifted in the way described, women and elderly people were more often placed in a chair, which was usually decorated with ribbons and bows (ah, that’s better). There was also a wide variation in the amount of ‘rough handling’ allowed. Nearly all the descriptions stress that it was very much a working-class custom, and several say that women and timid men avoided going out on the day if they could. Don’t blame them. Sounds ghastly – specially with a full stomach of chocolate.

Because this custom was performed on Easter Monday, it has been assumed that it celebrated the resurrection of Christ, and one report mentions that the lifters sang, ‘Jesus Christ is risen again.’ This seems logical enough (despite there apparently being no real evidence either way) – but it strikes me that this is just a thin excuse to engage in some hanky panky with strangers of the opposite sex! Indeed, down south, northern Lifting had its equivalent in ‘Hocktide’. Here, on Easter Monday, the women attempted to catch men and tie them up (to be untied on payment of a small fee), and on the Tuesday it was the men’s turn to do likewise with the women. Hmmmmm…..I rest my case!
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