Spending Time with an Elephant

I’ve been spending time with an elephant today; actually a rather intelligent elephant that’s pretty clued up about the periodic table. If you think that I’m making a rather outlandish claim, then you are forgiven, despite being in the wrong. What I’m saying is quite true.

Okay, I’ll explain myself…

Last night around 21.00, we heard an odd rumbling noise, we thought nothing of it until this morning when a friend from the nearby town informed me we’d had a tremor: Possibly a throwback from the 4.1 mini-quake 135 km south in Campobasso yesterday. Along with the rumble we had the onset of snowfall. So this morning began with our Italian hill covered in a blanket of white; the forecast of snow had arrived.

After turning on the iPod for the first shuffle of the day, Over the Sea, by Jesse Rae; the blatantly patriotic song about Scotland, that in 1985 only reached number 65 in the charts despite lots of TV coverage on pop music shows plays as I make breakfast.  I decide that a walk up the hill to look over the valley would be a good idea. We wrap up and trudge upwards, the snow is deep making it hard going but we reach the top just as it starts snowing once again. So our descent was amid flurries of white and a biting wind.

Back home with the log burner giving off a generous amount of heat I decide it’s time to become acquainted with Dot the elephant. Dot is the logo for a company based in Cheltenham (UK) called, Stitch Dotcom. The company which took out some advertising space in our previous property brochure is run by two beautiful young ladies; Annie and Alison. They specialise in mail order cross stitch kits; but not your run of the mill kittens and country cottages. Their designs are more contemporary with one of their products being the keys on a standard UK typewriter, which can be framed to spell out your name – or any word you fancy to be honest.

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A few weeks ago the company advertised for people to test stitch some of their patterns to evaluate time taken and the level of experience required to complete the finished product. So with no experience of cross stitch I volunteered.

 

This weekend the post lady delivered me a box which contained everything I need to make my own coaster. I’ve been sent two elements to create, just 2 colours, which I think is ample for a novice. So today I read the instructions several times, checked out what is required of me as a cross stitch tester and chose between molybdenum and niobium for my initial foray into the world of tiny x’s.

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So after choosing niobium, I set to with thread and needle and the stopwatch recorded the time it took to stitch the pattern. After a couple of false starts, I was soon into my stride and after 21:10 minutes I had used all of the first thread I had selected and completed 11.5 rows of the top half of the right-hand side of the letter N.

 

Laura Pausini started to sing Benvenuto and with a self-satisfied smile I packed away my test kit until another day when I look forward to my second date with Dot.

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There’ll be further progress reports in the future to keep me focussed on the task in hand.

For more info about Stitch Dotcom click the link in the text above to reach their website.

No Clouds and Kitchen Crocodiles

The weather has been quite nice of late, we’ve had clear skies without any traces of clouds so of course I’ve been taking advantage of the chance to do a little sunbathing to get the winter white flesh a healthier colour. I’m not really good at lying in the sun doing nothing and without clouds to watch it can be a bit dull just lying there.

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So with the iPod breaking the stillness of the day up with tunes shuffling I lie and catch a few rays. The first song to blast out over the Italian countryside is, Think Again by 1980’s pop-combo, ABC, in fact the tunes today have a decidedly 80’s vibe. Mel and Kim make an appearance as does King and Tears for Fears. It’s only when Italian metal band, Linea 77, featuring Tiziano Ferro,  thrash the tranquillity with their single Sogni Resplendono,  that I decide it’s time to stop lying around.

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I watch as resident lizard, ‘stumpy’ patrols in my orto, so named as he’s lost his tail, and decide it’s time to grab a cold drink, I wander into the kitchen just as Olive chases a large lizard through the door and watch as it dives for cover under the fridge, but not until our black terrier has nipped off the end of its tail. I do think if you had a phobia to lizards that central Italy wouldn’t be for you, as there’s so many of the emerald green reptiles here.

A few years ago I was at my friends house in Casoli, and somehow a baby lizard had managed to get through a fly screen, both us being a tad squeamish meant that the operation to remove the small visitor was an hilarious operation, and we then referred to it as the great crocodile hunt. So Now I’m left here on ‘crocodile’ watch as a tail end wriggles about on the floor.

The OH takes the dogs out and I settle down to work and look up and there’s the crocodile wandering across my kitchen floor, so with the yard-brush I coax it towards the front door and watch as it runs away to the safety of the grass.

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OH returns and I tell the tale of the great crocodile hunter that retrieved it from under the fridge and sent it off on its way. At that moment, Alf our lanky juvenile red-legged dog chases another lizard in through the door and this new reptilian visitor takes safety under the kitchen units.

Oh-hum, that’s me in great crocodile hunter guise again.

Growing Old Disgracefully

The first song to appear in today’s shuffle list is. Say When, by Lene Lovich; my favourite part being the whistle in the background of chorus two. I much preferred this song from the album, Stateless, to the mostly remembered Lucky Number, which had an alternative version of the brilliant, Home on the b-side. I love how a song can transport you back in time and evoke memories that have lain dormant. Maybe one day I’ll see what assortment of memories a few hours on shuffle will bring, but that’s something for another day.

Say When, reminds me of walking down the road in 1979, with my blond hair dyed a mixture of blue and black, (not a good look for a pale youth), dressed in skin-tight green drainpipe trousers, pointed winkle-picker shoes and my fathers jacket that was many sizes to big and covered in safety pins and assorted buttons. Growing up in a small village meant I stood out and that was the intention. I won’t claim to be original or rebellious, what I was I think, was outlandish by choice.

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I was always looking for a way to stand out, and if people sniggered and pointed than I had achieved what I set out to do. I had a time in the eighties when, (long before Prince) I’d wear stiletto boots  and double-breasted shirts, with bolero jacketed suits, made for me at the time by my wife. I do my shopping in Tesco or pop to the pub wearing make-up and dressed to shock . Androgyny soon became the in-thing and so I fitted in; which I didn’t want to do. Singing with a band meant that my musical tastes changed, I started to develop a liking for darker indie rock, and with this the amalgamation of androgyny and my previous punk looks developed.

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Around 1984, my life was unsettled, I was still singing with the band and felt that although we had success locally, we could achieve more. I arranged a gig in London at the prestigious Camden venue, Dingwalls. We took a coach full of fans to see us perform for some record company A&R men. They were impressed, but felt as a band we weren’t marketable, however they thought I had potential, and with a change of image maybe they could work with me. This coincided with the end of my marriage and I hastily made decision to move to London. I did some backing singing work for Virgin records, there’s a few singles from the period that had my BV’s on, but I’ll not name them here. I did some acting work and my style reverted back to a more punk look, back came the spiky dyed hair and spray-on trousers. Having a 26 inch waist meant my bottom half looked like Olivia Newton-John in Grease posing like Elvis Costello. (He had a way of standing with his legs at odd angles that I adopted).

Skip on a few years and I settled down a little, gone was the deliberate shock-dressing and in my 30’s and 40’s it was supplanted by unusual shoes and loud shirts, but there was still the hair that defied gravity, or as the kids I taught called it, my crown. Then of course there was those moments when I was able to be as outrageous as I wanted to be, performance day for the kids I taught, whether it was punk inspired story or a bunch of freaks, the teachers all joined in the fun and dressed accordingly.

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Cirka No Prata 2011 (There’s those buttons)

So will I grow old gracefully? Probably not, I may no longer wear jackets festooned with buttons, or dye my hair pink. I do still wear flowery shirts and very pointy shoes, and my hair, which is now rapidly turning from blond to white still stands on end like I’ve had my fingers in a plug socket.

Age, it’s just a number, isn’t it?

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Abruzzo 2013

Evidence of Dogs

As we near the end of our house refurbishment the front garden is looking less like a building site and more like a wasteland. The grasses have been killed off by piles of sand and cement. Plastic covered piles of materials have gone to reveal yellowing weeds and there’s lots of evidence that dogs live here.

Now when I say evidence that dogs live here, I don’t mean what I’m sure has sprung to mind. I’m not referring to dog poop, that is quickly dispensed with and dropped into the appropriate council bin. What I mean by evidence, is dog litter.

The iPod is playing and as it shuffles and as Girls Aloud, (yes I have Girls Aloud on my iPod) begin to play, Something Kinda Oooh, I decide to clean up outside. I look around at the doggie destruction, a tennis ball lies disembowelled near the herb planter, that incidentally will be taken out as the dogs have removed fifty per cent of its soil by digging in it. On the step is a chewed plastic bottle and beside a scarlet geranium is a discarded and bitten ice cream container.

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The day is heating up and the thought of clearing up the dog litter as I sweat under the sun makes me consider it’s best to leave the task until later, maybe early evening. I look at the only patch of green outside and it’s strewn with ripped up pieces of cement bags; the perils of puppyhood is the constant urge to chew. There’s a crushed plastic plant pot and a finger from a gardening glove and where our flooring had been stored is a mangled kitchen spatula: When did that go missing?

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Early evening arrives and I find another excuse not to tidy up, the mosquito’s are out, just flying at ankle level, maybe I’d be better to get up early in the morning when the ankle biting insects are away and the sun is still waking up. I stroll back into the house, the iPod shuffles and, David Bowie launches into, Diamond Dogs, I put out of my mind the need to clean up after my dogs who are not diamonds but are still precious, and pour a glass of wine. We’ll see if tomorrow morning brings back the urge to tidy up the front of the house.

Somehow I doubt it.

Paloma Faith and the Inexpensive Cauliflower

Everyone who knows me, knows that music is an important part of my life. I’ve always liked to be surrounded by it, and as my taste is eclectic my iPod is constantly on shuffle. One minute a track by Linkin Park can be replaced by the electronic sound of Kraftwerk and that then by the operatic timbre of José Carreras. Occasionally though, as it shuffles its way from punk to pop and rock to reggae, it seems to favour one particular artist or band. Yesterday was a day like this. As the coffee machined bubbled, I opened the doors to a wonderful Italian morning,  before turning on my iPod. The last few bars of Doctor, Doctor by Thompson Twins faded out, to be replaced by the hauntingly, wonderful acoustic version of, Just Be, by, Paloma Faith, from her 2012 album Fall to Grace.

I’ve always been drawn to unusual artists; I mean that in a positive way, and probably unusual isn’t the right word, maybe I mean different: different as in interesting. There’s been a few women in the music business over the years who have caught my attention because of their individuality, Toyah Willcox, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are four that spring to mind. Each one was original, with a desire to project their personality rather than become music industry puppets. Image is imperative in music and each of these women had a strong, definite look, and Paloma Faith sits very well within this circle. Like Willcox, Bush et al, Faith, has that rare ability to write a lyric that stabs you where it matters, add to this her kookiness and intriguing voice and you have the perfect pop package.

After breakfast, I’m driving through Perano on my way to the builders merchants where the handsome Pietro works, unaware of the 51 year old school-boy crush, he serves me with my twelve sacks of cement, and as I drive off the iPod shuffles again and this time, Paloma sings Agony. Oh how apt, I think.

I drop into the small fruit and veg store before the roundabout on the Atessa road. Every day there are cars parked outside, often double-parked like today. I go inside, curious why it’s such a popular store considering it’s within a few minutes of three supermarkets. It doesn’t take long to see why the store is popular, the service is excellent, the assistant smiles and chats as she helps people with their purchases and the prices are low. I pick up a cauliflower, it’s almost half the price of those in the supermarket on the roundabout, As i do this the radio in the corner plays Stone Cold Sober, I smile as another Paloma Faith song enriches my day. I leave with a bag of vegetables complete with some freebies thrown in by the smiling assistant and climb into my car and drive home.

Back home I’m sitting in the sunshine as I free broad beans from their pods, the pizza eating cat turns up calling for food and the iPod does it’s job sat in its dock on the kitchen windowsill. This time a Jamie Cullum song begins to play, I then move the track on while making a mental note to remove Mr Cullum’s album from my collection, as his voice is monotony to the extreme. I’m happy again as another song by Paloma plays, This time it’s Do You Want the Truth or Something Better.

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Sorry, as I don’t own the copyright on any photos of the lovely Ms Faith, and a snap of a cauliflower would be just boring, here’s the rainbow over our valley this morning.

Evening update: It would appear my iPod really does favour Ms Faith today, as later as I pour a glass of wine on a warm Italian evening she shuffles to the fore again, this time with My Legs are Weak. I raise a glass to Paloma and say, “A couple more of these and mine will be the same.”

Distraction

Tuesday 15 January 2013 – Regular readers of my blog know that when I’m working, I have music playing in the background. It doesn’t often distract me and serves to stop me feeling the seclusion, writer’s must feel. Yes, being a writer is a solitary profession, but that jangle of noise behind me somehow helps to keep me focussed. The other day I was sat at my laptop punching the keys, creating new experiences for my imaginary character when a song shuffled forward and took over my concentration.

Oddly enough it’s a song that doesn’t play on my iPod often, but it grabbed my attention enough to have me leave my seat and stand listening, head bobbing as it played. The song in question was, Leader of the Pack by The Shangri-Las.

Ask anyone to name a song by this famous girl group and you can guarantee it’ll be the teenage, tragedy, Leader of the Pack. The group was actually made up of four girls, but they always appeared on stage and on television as a trio. The Shangri-Las consisted of two sets of sisters, Mary Weiss, who was the lead vocalist, Betty Weiss and twins, Marge and Mary Ganser. r-2563769-1290638113

Originally, Leader of the Pack had been written for another girl group, The Goodies. But the producer George Morton needed a follow up single for the Shangri-Las who had recently charted with the song Remember (Walking on the Sand). When the song was first released, it was banned on the BBC; executives thought that the storyline would encourage delinquency and rival gang fights between Mods and Rockers. Despite this, it charted and reached number eleven in the British charts. It charted twice again reaching, number three in 1972 and number seven in 1976. By this time the ban had been lifted and song received radio airplay,

There have been a plethora of cover versions of the song, people from Bette Midler to rockers Twisted Sister, even camp comic Julian Clary has had a bash at the song. What greater compliment can a song-writer/singer have, than other artists wanting to perform and record your work, I wonder how many One Direction or Cheryl Cole songs will receive such accolades?

But back to me. As the sound of the motorbikes wheels shriek on the rain-slickened road, I press repeat and sit down and savour this classic once again before returning to my writing.