Disco Driva and Wine Workers

This weekend I switched the iPod from general shuffle to a playlist shuffle, the sun was shining and I had a desire for some 1970’s disco music. People often find it odd that I like disco considering the amount of punk, indie and rock in my music collection. But I’ll hold my hands up and state honestly that I am and have always been a bit of a disco bunny.

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Photo from Freepics.com

Growing up in the 1970’s most of the music around was (what I call) dull-rock like ELP, Barclay James Harvest and (cringe) Smokie and bands that I hated with a vengeance like Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, in-fact the only rock band I did like back then was Black Sabbath.

I was always a Northern Soul lover; I loved the dancing, intricate moves and backflips, I can’t tell you how many pairs of trousers I split the crotch in doing the splits at the youth club discos. So when disco burst onto the scene with more dance music I grabbed it by the throat and danced the ass of it at every opportunity.

So I’ve been driving along the Italian roads with my windows open and the likes of Donna Summer, Karen Young and Chic playing loud, on my way from Fossacesia my all time favourite song and disco diva, Sylvester shuffled to the fore, and as I bounced along the lane I sang along to You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real): it never fails to make me happy.

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Image: Screenshot

In fact every song by the late, great Sylvester James makes me happy, so when I’m back home I set the iPod to Sylvester and spend the afternoon in a self-induced euphoric disco  haze.

Later that evening we went with friends to a local bar, that’s a bit rough around the edges but serves excellent porchetta and arosticini and as we sat enjoying the fragrant pork and the mutton skewers three men walked in still dressed in work overalls. As they ordered their drinks and sat down, it struck me much the Italians are like the British, but at the same time how very different. The men had dropped by for a quick drink and sat with newspapers open at the sports pages and chatted about football, no different than English blokes just off work. The difference was they didn’t have a pint of beer, they sat drinking a glass of red wine each. Just the beverage sat them apart from their English cousins, I would lay bets had this been Germany then a stein of beer would have been the drink of choice.

The evening came to a close and I drove back home with Sylvester singing, Rock the Box, and as we pulled up outside the house, this disco driva, pressed the centre of the iPod and then set it back to, ‘shuffle songs’ in readiness for the following day.

Limoncello

I love a drop of limoncello, and for me it’s best served as cold as a polar bears nether regions, straight from the freezer. Anyone who likes this after dinner tipple should take a trip to Sorrento where every street seems to have a shop selling the intoxicating yellow liquid. Commercially manufactured limoncello ranges from a very sweet tasting drink to bright yellow concoctions that scream additives and e numbers.

The best limoncello, in my opinion is the home made variety, and everyone has their own recipe and preference. Friends in Cheshire make a delicious liqueur with a mix of lemon and lime. Using the same process, I’ve made an orange variety, which I wasn’t keen on, a grapefruit one which was mind-numbing but very good; not for people on statin medications though and even a strawberry variety. But it’s the lemon that works best for me and today I started my first batch of 2014.

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So for those of you thinking of having a go at it, here’s my recipe:

Ingredients

5 lemons (unwaxed)

1 litre of 95 proof alcohol (a good quality vodka works if you can’t source clear alcohol)

1 litre of water

750g of granulated sugar

1 five litre bottle of red wine (optional)

First drink the 5 litres of red wine so you have a large container to make your limoncello in. It’s probably best you make this a couple of days after the consumption of the wine as you may have a heady hangover. Wash and using a potato peeler, peel the skin from the lemons and drop it into the empty bottle, then add the juice of 4 of the lemons and slice the remaining lemon to drop into gin and tonic later in the day. Try to make sure no lemon pips drop into the jar as these can make the limoncello bitter. Add the litre of alcohol, screw on the lid and wait for 40 days. (There is one school of thought that says the oils from the lemon skins are absorbed in 3 days, but as I’ve never made a 3 day liqueur I can’t vouch for the reliability.)

After 40 days add the sugar to a litre of cold water and put over a low light to dissolve, do not stir the sugar solution as it creates stringy threads in the liquid. Once the sugar has dissolved put the liquid aside to cool down completely. Strain the lemon infused alcohol through a fine sieve to remove any pulp and skin and then add the cold sugar solution.  Bottle and store in a cold place, preferably the freezer and drink at your leisure.

Dark Skies and Serenity

As we’re semi-rural there are no street lights, however, occupied houses do have an outside light provided by the council. Ours is about 6 metres away from our front door, it gives just enough light to stop you tripping over in the lane, other than that we have very little light pollution, so we almost get what astronomers call, Dark Skies. Now I know very little about astronomy, I can just about pick out the Plough and hazard a guess that the very bright star is Sirius. In truth I’ve never really given much thought to what’s up there in the night sky. I did once find it odd looking up at a different layout of stars while I was working in New Zealand, but that’s about the sum total of my interest in the sky at night.

Tonight the sky is clear, no clouds obscure the stars and as Fond Affections from, This Mortal Coil’s debut album, It’ll End in Tears plays, I sit outside. Maybe it’s the majesty of the heavens or the wine, but tonight I’m finding it quite relaxing to just look up. There are no shooting stars or unidentified objects up there, just little blobs of light that scientists tell us have travelled far too many years to comprehend to get here. What happens when the light has no where else to go, is it snuffed out? I put the question out of my head and as if planned Antony and the Johnsons start to play, Soft Black Stars, their cover of the song originally recorded by Current’ 93. Antony Hegarty’s plaintive voice  spills outside, his trembling vibrato complimenting the stillness of the evening.

I could go on about how this feeling of contentment could only have happened here in Italy, but I wont, as that would just be nonsense. It’s just a classic case of time and place creating an emotional response. Would I have looked up and felt this serene had the iPod shuffled and Professor Green or Fall Out Boy played, probably not, so I let the song wash over me, sip my wine and watch the twinkling up above me.

Al Fresco Dining

One of the best things about living in a country with a temperate climate in early autumn, is the ability to still eat al fresco. In summer eating outside can be plagued with all manner of problems, flies, mosquitos and ants to name a few, but in autumn when the dreaded mozzies have faded away outdoor eating is a pleasure. A few weeks back when we finally had our cooker fitted we had friends around for a traditional (English) Sunday roast dinner. The weather was good, and as we sat tucking into roast potatoes and chicken it was hard to believe we were in the tenth month of 2013.

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A couple of weeks later I decided to invite a few people over for an afternoon of al fesco dining, and as my mate: partner in crime so may say, was over from the UK it seemed a good idea. I checked the weather forecast and it all seemed okay, until a week before the proposed date, when the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain. “Oh well,” I said the the OH, “Looks like we’ll have al fresco, inside. If we have the door open we can call it in fresco.” My attempt at humour instigated just a reedy snigger from OH and a roll of the eyes.

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So al fresco day was upon us, I spent the previous afternoon prepping, and the morning; with my OCD in overdrive making canapes and antipasti. The mini porchetta were in the oven as was the Sicilian lemon chicken and the Abruzzi green torte was cooling. All this kitchen activity is of course accompanied by the shuffle of the iPod, and as I take the riccotta torte from the fridge the excellent new single, Loud Like Love by Placebo is replaced by Bauhaus’s, Kick in the Eye B-side, Satori. The rain has been continuous all morning and as the final dishes are finished people begin to arrive, then as the last of my guests park their car, the rain stops and the sun peeks out from behind a grey cloud. It’s still a little chilly but everyone gathers together, half of us are standing on the patio outside the front door while the rest are just inside the kitchen.

The weather may not have been perfect for out gathering, but as the last of the guests leave we give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and vow next time to do any group gatherings in the summer, and to hell with the mosquitos.

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How Odd ( a short scene taken from reality)

Time: 21.30

Place: An Italian House

Man 1. Pours himself a glass of wine.

A car horn sounds.

Man 1. Puts down the wine bottle and walks to the door and opens it as he restrains his dog.

Man 1. Sees a car containing 2 men.

Man 1. Can I help you?

Man 2. Are you English?

Man 1. Yes.

Man 2. We come for you.

Man 1. What?

Man 2. Hands Man 1 a sheet of paper.

Man 1. Looks at paper. On it written in English is directions from Ciampino airport in Rome to this lane in the Abruzzi countryside.

Man 3. We take you to the airport?

Man 1. No.

Man 2. Is there three English for the airport?

Man 1. Not here mate.

General confusion, man 1 reads again and sees it says ‘our friends live at this house’

Man 3. Is this from your friends?

Man 1. No.

Man 2. Will your dog attack.

Man 1. (Lies) Yes. It mentions a yellow house.

Man 3. Is there a yellow house.

Man 1. Yes, but not up this end of the road.

Man 2. Where is a yellow house?

Man 1. Down the road, that way.

Car reverses up lane and drives away in the direction of the yellow house

Man 1. Goes back into the house and resumes the pouring of the wine.

This happened here on 27th August 2013. Odd doesn’t cover it.

The Best Laid Plans and all that Jazz

August 15th is Ferragosto in Italy, the day the whole country celebrates summer and like the rest of the population we were intent of celebrating, However, things did not go to plan. I like it when things go off on a tangent, so to speak, the result can often be better than the anticipated original idea. A few weeks ago we made plans to visit Roccascalegna to enjoy an evening there during its three-day music festival. We’d looked at which acts were performing and decided to forgo the strumming of mandolins and rock based acts of days two and three and opt for the opening evening of jazz influenced piano playing under the stars.

We’d been privileged to be invited to a pre-festival get together at the Olive House; a mere 1.5km from the town centre and main stage. So we collected our friends Viv and Seppe and after Annie arrived with a van full of people we set off up the roads that snake their way upwards. We passed through the lovely town of Altino; making a note of the date for the town’s pepper festival and continued climbing higher. The views over Abruzzo from up high are magnificent, even in August, the valley is green and between the mountains you catch a glimpse of the Adriatic coast in the distance. We turn a corner and the road begins to descend and soon the medieval castle can be seen sitting on top of an outcrop; within minutes we’ve passed through the town centre and are pulling up outside our destination.

I became aware of the Olive House when I was asked to write some copy for a marketing campaign, since then I’ve become friends with the owners, Graham and Mark. Our convoy of cars park outside the property and our hosts invite us inside. The patio is set out with tables and chairs in readiness and as Graham serves drinks, Mark welcomes everyone. Some of our party have never been before and Mark gives them a potted history of the house and its facilities as Graham brings out the food, to go with the bowls of nibbles already on the tables. We’re served pizza rustica, a superb vegetable frittata and homemade herby focaccia.

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Very quickly we’re all chatting and getting to know each other, there’s much mirth and merriment and as we’re coming to the end of the mosquito season seldom nips from the annoying little blighters. (Being higher up, the Olive House is less plagued by mozzies than our house down in the valley). The setting is perfect; there’s a slight breeze keeping the heat at bay. The half-moon is high and occasionally there’s a distant hoot of an owl. The evening air is filled with the sounds of friends laughing and sharing stories. People joke about my conversation with one of the dogs, as i always answer the question I ask the canine in a deep voice, Mike says it’s like a prisoner who’s been on sixty cigarettes a day for years, the lunacy threatens to become surreal when someone asks, “what time are we leaving for the music festival?”

Quizzical expressions are passed across the tables, shoulders are shrugged and heads are shook. The consensus of opinion is that we’re all having such a good time that we don’t need to listen to someone tickling the ivories to make the evening perfect. So another bottle of wine is opened and more laughter floats down towards the orchard.

Eight Things (a continuation)

I follow a blog written by another Brit who has made Italy his home. The Brit in question is Richard Noble and the part of Italy he’s chosen is Piemonte, a good six and half hours north west of here by car. It’s nice to see that another person is writing about their experiences of relocating, Richard’s posts are entertaining and it is nice to see someone else coming up against the eccentricities of la bella Italia. Recently Richard posted a really positive piece about the eight things he loved about Piemonte. Here’s the link, so you can take a look for yourselves: http://livinginthelanghe.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/eight-things-to-love-about-piemonte/ As it’s always tempting to write about negative things; a sort of cathartic writing exercise to exorcise those niggles, (Did you like the play on words there?) I decided to do the same and write about the eight things I love about Abruzzo.

Diversity – Tuscany looks pretty much the same no matter where you go, Calabria is mostly dusty and sandy and Le Marche is green. Abruzzo is so diverse, it has so many different landscapes that you’d be forgiven for thinking they can’t belong to one region. The beauty of this is that they are all within easy reach of each other. I love the fact that I’m a mere 18 minutes from the coast, in particular the trabocchi coast, where rickety fishing platforms lean out over the sea. I particularly love the sandy beaches a little further down towards the town of Vasto. Forty minutes away are the mountains, where Apennine wolves have been reintroduced and the marsican bear shyly keeps himself to himself. Skiing is there for those that ski, and the mountains have some wonderful shepherd trails and walking routes that lead you onto breath taking vistas. We have national parks; lush environments where waterfalls invite you to cool off, flowers perfume the breeze and the clean air has an intoxicating effect. Whatever terrain you favour, you’ll find it here.

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Eating Out – Everyone has their favourite restaurant or bar and I’m no exception, however here it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. When I was living in the UK I had only one favourite, an Italian (no surprise there) pizza house in town called Roberto’s.  http://www.robertopizzeria.com/ if you’re passing through Stoke on Trent, pop in and sample the pizza Pina, and tell them I sent you. If I want pizza I can pop to our local pizzeria and grab a freshly prepared one for very few Euro, but if I want a good dinner then it has to be Il Buchanieri, where superb service and food is always on the menu. We have so many excellent restaurants here that eating out is always high on the ‘to do list’.

Work – I’m lucky, I can work anywhere in the world, all I need is a laptop and internet connection. But I love working in Abruzzo for two reasons, the first is inspiration. As a staff writer for Italy Magazine, when my inspiration levels drop al I need is a walk around and I can find a multitude of things to write about. A trip to the local bar for a coffee gave me the idea for a forthcoming feature on Italian coffee culture. The second reason is the fact that we have an airport in Pescara, 40 minutes away, that flies daily to London Stansted. So if I have to be in the UK for a meeting or presentation I can get there in under three hours. Also, when all is said and done, it’s much nicer to be sat at my desk looking down over an Italian valley than my previous office that looked out over a litter strewn alleyway.

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Piano Piano – It hasn’t taken me long to slot in with the pace of life here. No more rushing around, no more stress levels rising as I sit in a traffic jam, no more ‘I need this, like yesterday’. Driving to the shop is now a relaxing affair, I pootle along, taking in the scenery. I sound my horn and wave to friends. The low levels of traffic on our rural roads makes driving a joy, so what if I’m behind an octogenarian in an Ape doing just 15 kmph, I’m in no hurry. If I need some tomatoes for dinner, I have all day in which to wander over to the plants and pick them, no need to dodge shopping trolleys in Tesco. This said I like the fact that I can browse in my local fruit shop, handle the produce and take my time over buying. The pretty girl in the bread shop; actually she’s beautiful, always chats, asks how the house is coming along and waves to Olive the dog, who’s always in the car looking through the window. Okay buying a loaf takes several more minutes than it needs to, but I have time.

Community – During my final year in the UK, we rented a house in the north of the city and apart from my friend Tim a few streets away, I didn’t know any of the other people that lived close by. In fact i can’t recall having any conversations with my neighbours. Granted most of the houses were tenanted and this in itself leads to a fractured community. Here, I know my neighbours by name, we stop and pass the time of day. Acceptance within the community has been quick, cars pass and slow to see the work on the house progressing, the occupants wave and now ask how things are, we’re no longer the crazy foreigners, we’re now the English on the hill. If we go to our favourite bar in Casoli, the owner asks how we are, we get served tasty titbits with our beers, and many of the locals that pass by say hello. It may not work for some people this bonhomie, many think the Italians take too much interest in the lives of others, but I like it, I like that I know about my neighbours forthcoming prostate check-up and another neighbours problems with her daughter’s husband, it makes me feel part of the community.

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View from my office window

Taxes – Here’s an odd one, as no one enjoys paying taxes, but here in Italy and particularly the comune we are in, the comparison to what we paid in the UK makes me very happy. Back in Stoke on Trent, my town of birth, I was paying at one point £2,168 in council tax per annum. Understandably at the time I did reside in a large detached house. Profits from the sale of this house went to buy our current casa italiana. In my final year in the UK my council tax, which covered refuse removal, once weekly and street lighting etc. was £978. Here in Italy my council tax is €115 and my rubbish removal tax is €118 with recycling/rubbish collections taking place daily, except Sunday. The total taxes are €233, add to this the sixty cents it’ll cost to pay at the post office and the conversion to GBP is £201.67, saving me a total of £776.33 each year.

Dog Friendly – For a country that has an appalling record regarding dog welfare; approximately 650 dogs are abandoned during the summer months of June to September, that’s a rate of one dog every two minutes. http://ow.ly/nm07N These statistics are shocking, but on the other side of the coin, living here is great for people with dogs. We have lots of open space for them to enjoy, the roads here in the countryside are quiet so it’s possible to wander along them with your pooch on its lead without having to dodge traffic. The bars are dog friendly, I can take my dogs to the two bars I frequent, and they are welcomed as we sit outside enjoying our beers. There are even shops, large international ones that are okay with small dogs coming in with their owners. So if we take a trip into Ikea, Olive our terrier can come along with us and enjoy a sneaky hot-dog at the end of the trip, but our big hound, Alfie has to stay behind in the car. (In the underground car-park of course where it’s cool).

Wine – Hands up who thought I’d not give the red stuff a mention: As if… I like the fact that I can buy a good bottle of prosecco for as little as €3 compared to £11 back in England. There’s a plethora of good wines on offer here for very little money, yes the supermarkets have undrinkable red plonk for as little as 99 cents, but a good montepulciano d’abruzzo can be purchased for around €1,49. But a big change I have discovered is there are a few whites that I can drink and enjoy. I’ve never really taken to white wine, having found it mostly acidic and unpalatable. Now when we eat at our favourite restaurant, I can be seen sipping a chilled, dry white with my seafood pasta.

Italy isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there’s elements of living here that infuriate, there are things I miss about the UK, silly things like walking down the road and instantly understanding every written sign around me. I miss being able to go to my writers’ group on a Wednesday evening and enjoying the company of like-minded people. Mostly I miss hearing the potteries dialect, the flat vowels and nasal sounds I grew up with. But there’s much more that I don’t miss, and as this is a post about being positive I’ll resist the urge to go into detail.

I hope this idea of positive things about where we live is taken up by another blogger and directed back to me, and this in turn will filter back to Richard and of course his edition will  kick back to the Brit in Bavaria who unknowingly started this chain. http://boahbayern.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/top-twelve-reasons-i-love-living-in-germany/ So come on, one of you bloggers out there tell us all, why you love where you live.

Prodotto in Italia

When I grew up in the 70’s, ‘Made in England’ was the watchword for anything you needed, it was seen as a mark of quality. However, the UK the marketplace is now flooded with cheap imports and very little of what people buy is manufactured in their own country. I grew up in the heart of the pottery industry and am proud of my heritage. Knowing that the mere mention of the town of Stoke on Trent, anywhere in the world, meant people instinctively thought of top quality china and earthenware, was something to be proud of. Sadly this is no longer the case, the idiots that ran the major china manufacturers became greedy and farmed out the production abroad, weakening the brand, creating unemployment and all for nothing. The increased profit they craved never materialised, and the doors opened for cheap china products from Poland, Russia and the East to flood the market. If only in those greed laden 80’s someone had, had the sense to say, no, maybe the town would still be synonymous with pottery rather than unemployment.

100_6465The Italians are very proud of what they produce, here, you very rarely see anything manufactured outside of Italy. Clothes from China are few and far between, kitchen showrooms boast, loudly that everything they sell is made in Italy. Even saucepans, washing-up bowls and toilet rolls have, prodotto in Italia stamped on the packaging somewhere. And surely this makes sound economic sense as well as keeping people in employment.

Here, prodotto in Italia carries the same gravitas for the Italian people, that made in England once did for the English.

The Italians are fiercely defensive of the heritage of their products, nowhere can a hard cheese made outside Emilia-Romagna be called, Parmesan, if your vinegar doesn’t come from Modena don’t even think of calling it balsamic, and if your curing ham outside of Parma, just call it prosciutto on the packaging.

Italy has more protected foods and wine than any other country in the European Union, and to keep them safe they all have the DOC, denominazione di origine controllata certification. So important is this heritage, that anyone manufacturing and falsely labelling a protected product faces huge fines and even imprisonment.

Sadly, there’s always someone who’ll deceive you and many products outside Italy that claim to be authentic may not be. The most common fakes on the market being olive oil, gorgonzola, parmesan and parma ham, with the greatest number of fakes being sold in China, Australia and New Zealand, Back in the UK, I’ve actually seen olive oil on the shelves of a well-known supermarket that is marketed as Italian. It has a typical Tuscan scene and the Italian flag on the label and the following wording on the reverse; ‘ may contain oil from various sources in the EU’.

Back in the 80’s two well-known pottery manufacturers in Stoke on Trent, had their china produced in Malaysia, it was shipped back to Stoke and there the final decoration was added, be it gilding or lithographing. The back stamp was then added, which led people to believe the product was a genuine piece of Stoke on Trent china. No wonder the industry died, if only we’d fought as hard as the Italians do.

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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.”