If

In 1971, singer David Gates sang the lyric, ‘If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?’  The song written by Paul Heaton, Scott Shields and Martin Paul Slattery was made famous by Gates’ band, Bread and its popularity cemented the phrase within the public consciousness. So famous is the line, it soon become a cliché. But is this a bad thing?

Not in my opinion, because if by becoming a cliché its saved it from being copied and used by less talented writers.

A few days ago a photograph landed in my inbox and upon opening the attachment the lyric came to mind instantly.

GW02

The photo, by Graham Ward, was taken one evening after we had eaten dinner at our favourite local restaurant, from the roadside at Selva Piana looking up at the town of Casoli. The three-quarter moon looks like someone has cut a slice away and the soft ochre coloured lights of the town give the castle a welcoming hue. The fact that only two pictures were taken before the camera battery died makes them even more special. I could go on enthusing about the majesty of the image, but what’s the point. This is an image that paints its own one-thousand words and sums up just why this part of Italy is a special place to live.

I don’t care how long you’ve been…

It’s been very remiss of me to neglect my blog this past week and I can only really offer one excuse, I’ve been having too much fun. I did actually pitch six articles to various editors in the UK last week so I’ve not been completely lazy. Like all writers I do make notes as things that interest me occur, thus storing up potential blog entries or magazine features for the future. Today’s is a previous incident that I’d overlooked, so rather than leaving the notes lying dormant like bed-sheets in a cupboard, I’ll take them out and give them an airing.

A few weeks back we were working downstairs on the house, which meant we couldn’t hear any traffic passing in the lane. The post-lady, a young girl in her twenties always peeps her horn to let us know we have mail. (For mail read, bills.) So imagine our surprise when we emerge from downstairs to discover an old guy next to his ape forking garden waste over the wall. I quickly lose all Italian vocabulary and use that accepted English phrase to gain someone’s attention. “Oi.” The old guy looks around and sees me, “Yes, you.” I say walking up towards him, my sleeves are already rolled up so I’m unable to roll them as I walk to add to the menace in my voice. I reach him and he says, “What.” Obviously in Italian, then continues lifting forkfuls of weeds up and tossing them over the wall.

100_6456

By now the builder has arrived to ask him what he’s doing, explaining that we now live here and he can’t come and tip his garden waste on our land. The old guys response is, “I’ve been tipping it here for about fifteen years, no one has ever complained before.” Our builder does his best to explain that no one’s complained because the house has been empty for twenty-five years. I understand a little of the conversation, and add my two-penneth, “I don’t care how long you’ve been…” You get the gist, not that it’s of any help whatsoever.

The old guy then points out that we have dumped lots of rubble on the land, “So it’s the same.” We explain that it’s not the same as the rubble is ours and so is the land. Our builder reiterates by telling him that the garden waste belongs to him, but the land doesn’t. The old man then asks what can he do with the waste from his orto now. I’m about to be facetious, but the builder throws me a glance before the words can leave my mouth, and more diplomatically says, “You can leave the rubbish here this time, but don’t come back again.”

The old man leaves and our builder returns downstairs, and I’m left alone in the lane waving a fist in the air and proclaiming to the wind, “Come back again old man, and I’ll show you where you can stick your rubbish.”

Apologies for the less than entertaining photographs.100_6457

Man in a Can

As a writer myself, one piece of advice I always give fledgling writers is, read. Read what you have written carefully, read it aloud, put it away for a day or so and read it again. You need to be sure before you submit anything that you have ironed out an imperfections, corrected grammar and given the spelling a good going over. If only in my day to day life I followed my own advice. We’re surrounded by signs, and being in a foreign country you’d think I’d take extra care while reading them. Not a chance.

Now bear with me while I explain the title for today’s entry. There are many foods that can be purchased in a can and cooked within it. Sponges pudding and those dreadful pies in a tin. Today because I didn’t pay attention I came close to discovering just how that steak and onion pie feels inside its tin prison.

A few days back I commented on how the locals are regular visitors to the car wash nearby. So today I thought it’s about time I washed the sand off my car, so It can shine in the sun as I’m pootling down to the supermarket or builders’ merchant. So I’m driving back from Eurospin, the iPod is playing Shangri-La by Nightmares in Wax (Pete Burns, pre-Dead or Alive guise) a song that I always feel has 41 seconds of unnecessary shenanigans at the end, when I pass the car wash. I pull in and glance at the bays, one is taken by a young man who’s power washing his car, another is free and so is a conventional drive in one, designed for the lazier driver. As it’s sunny I opt for the conventional drive in one, thinking I can’t be bothered wielding a shampoo brush and pressure washer in this heat. I glance at the board telling what’s on offer, but I don’t read what’s written I just look at the range of prices. “Ahh,” I say to myself, “Two euro, must be quick wash.” I drive in, the red lights asks me to stop, I insert a coin and press the button, then wait.

The machine rumbled into life and began moving towards me and I waited for the water, only it didn’t come. The lad across the way looked up and shook his head and then went back to his pressure washing. The machine moved over the car with me inside but instead of washing it was blowing hot air, I’d only set it to dry mode. So I sat inside my car on a hot day with an industrial sized hair-dryer above me increasing the temperature inside making me feel like a pie in a tin inside an oven. Next time I’ll take my own advice and read everything carefully.

Needless to say after the young man had left and the dryer had completed it’s actions I drove into a bay and did what I should have done in the first place, grabbed the shampoo brush and did the job by hand.

100_6094

Macchina senza sabbia

The Saucepan and OCD

There’s a saying that goes something like, never judge a book by its cover. Now,  before anyone thinks, is this another blog posting about writing, let me say right now that it’s actually got bog all about writing. Well that is if we pass over the fact that I used a cliché in the opening paragraph and that age old question, are clichés bad? Well, come to think about it, yes they are, very bad indeed – now for those interested in the mechanics of writing, go discuss, for those interested in mindless waffle from a Potteries bloke living in Italy, continue on.

The reason I say you should never judge is because you can fall foul of finding out just what an arse you are and in my case it’s all down to a saucepan. I’ve been coming to Italy since 1988, my first visit was on September 8, now is it OCD or autism, that the date is cemented into my memory, a friend once told me that because I have the ability to retain numbers easily, I could be on the autistic spectrum. You see I remember things like phone numbers, car registrations and UK postcodes: Don’t get me started, you give me a postcode anywhere in the United Kingdom, and I’ll tell you to where in the country it belongs. But I digress, so let’s back to the saucepan. 100_6040

In all the hardware shops, market stalls and department stores, they sell what I’ve always referred to as cheap pans; I use the phrase cheap not because they are comparatively inexpensive but as a derogatory term. They always seemed to be a cheaply fashioned piece of aluminium, that I imagined wouldn’t be very serviceable and easily damaged. Oh, how wrong was I, I purchased one two weeks ago for the princely sum of €3,50 and haven’t stopped using it yet. It conducts heat so much better than my thick bottomed expensive ones purchased in the UK, it cleans easier and don’t ask me how, but the handles don’t get hot. Now I realise that all those years of sneering at saucepans was wasted. No wonder the Italian’s use them, they’re brilliant. I can boil a pan of pasta in half the time and it cuts down on risotto time enough to enable the cook to squeeze in another glass of wine with the guests.

So what has this saucepan got to do with my OCD? Well not much, in fact in the scheme of things this will be possibly the most tenuous link you’ll ever see. The other day I put the saucepan in the washing up bowl and went outside onto the patio: how pretentious am I; patio – it’s a flat bit of concreted land out front. Anyway out front was a line of washing drying in the early evening sunshine. I looked at it and instantly knew that something was wrong with it. Look at the picture below and can you see what’s wrong?

Washing 1

Obviously, the towels shouldn’t be mixed with the T shirt, but it’s the flagrant misuse of pegs. Two to each item equals an uneconomical usage of pegs. Also this leads to spaces between the clothing making optimum wind for drying is wasted. Now if you share the pegs between items the gaps are reduced making the washing flap in the breeze more effectively leading to a shorter drying time. Also if you group the slower drying things together, then you spend less time repositioning items as you remove the dry ones from their section of the washing line.

Washing 2

Now for those of you who think there’s more to life than worrying about washing on a line, let me say I agree. And for those who say I have too much time on my hands, I also say, I agree. But then again, I do have OCD, so for me it’s perfectly natural to think about these things. It could be worse, I could check the doors locked twenty times before I go out, or wash my hands fifty times after touching fish or obsess over which brand of pencil to write with. Come to think about it, the pencil thing is true…

…maybe it’s time to lie down in a darkened room.

Yet Another ‘I Started a New Life’ Book?

Back in 2010 while I was on holiday in Italy, the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull erupted spewing ash into the atmosphere and grounding planes. This meant that we couldn’t fly home at the time we had booked to do so: no great hardship to be honest. We rescheduled with Ryanair to fly back six-days later from Rome, which meant a coach journey from Pescara in Abruzzo to the capital. I blogged about this back in the day, the link is: The Purple Shirt and Carrier Bag Drama. So were stuck in Italy and we decide to spend the time looking at houses for sale, I wont bore you with the details of the house hunting, but suffice to say it was an experience like no other. The result of our being stranded is that we found a nice little house in a rural location and agreed to buy it.

I was telling a friend about my experience of purchasing a property in Italy and the restoration that will need to take place to bring our little piece of Italy up to a comfortable and habitable standard. “What you need to do,” my friend said, “is write a book about it.” I shook my head and responded that there’s already a multitude of books out there and is the world ready for yet another, I started a new life in Italy book? I’ve read so many of these books, some tell of restoration of ancient vineyards, others talk about reconstructing ruins into remarkable palazzos, (actually the plural should be palazzi), but the one thing they all seem to do is romanticise their story. I know Tim Parks’ books tend to record a more honest account of his life in Italy, but to be brutally honest I find his style dull so gave up after his first book.

268010_10150207611092187_5441591_n

It’s this romantic notion that starting a new life in Italy that the readers seem to want. No one wants to hear about your fight to get the water company to realise that as your house once had a fully functioning bathroom and kitchen there must be a pipe underground connected to the newly installed water meter. (Yes we’ve had an on-going debate about this with our water company, who say the house has never had a water supply, despite them fitting the new meter within days of us buying the place). But my friend argues that with my comedic writing style I could write a different kind of I started a new life in Italy book. I ask why he thinks people would be interested and says that because of my ability to do or say the wrong thing, it’d make a more refreshing read, rather than endless passages of descriptions of olive groves and old ladies clad in black. I smile and think back to one of the incidents, again blogged previously as How a simple vowel. “Surely,” I say, “People want books with practical advice.” My friend then points out that the people who purchase these books are looking for escapism, they want to hear about the authors dilemmas but they also want to believe in the prospect that life in Italy is as idyllic as the Dolmio adverts.

I’m not sure, maybe when I’m there I’ll keep a diary for a few months and re-read any blog entries I post and if I think my musings are worthy of a book, then I’ll decide what to do, until then it’ll be onwards and upwards with my fictional book, ‘52’ and concentrating on those non-fiction magazine features that should get my undivided attention, for it’s those pieces that will be paying for the new windows for la nostra casa in abruzzo.

265061_10150204427242187_2894430_n

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.