Monday, 31 August 2009

AUG 30th

Aug 30. Leaving Hotel Sacre Cuore just before midday and the sat nav immediately takes me onto an unmade road. It isn't even a farm track and it falls so steeply that I don't think me and Roisie can turn around and go back. We plough on and come out at a junction beside the main dual carriageway. How did sat nav know that? I open the throttle and off we go! Me and Rosie have a wee problem. I don't think she'll mind me telling you that when she's half full it's too early to fill up. 5 litres is the minimum that self service will serve. When she's quarter full then we're already a bit low and not for the first time I find nyself on the road with the warning light on, no garage in sight, it's a Sunday and we're in trouble. After another ten scary miles we're nearly empty and I leave the main road and drive into the nearest town wishing it wasn't a Sunday in August. And we come upon a petrol station right away. It's self service, and the machine doesn't take credit cards. None of them do. A kind person changes my 50 Euro note, and the machine gives Rosie 10 Euros worth of fuel which should get us all the way to Pisa. When we rejoin the dual carriageway we pass a service station within half a mile. Ho hum.

The road from Perugia to Pisa is the same as the road from Pisa to Perugia. We did it a fortnight ago. We leave the dual carriageway and climb over the chianti hills. There are thousands of square miles of vineyards in these hills. And I must have missed the view on the way south. The road follows a high ridge and you can see for miles in every direction. Sometimes me and Rosie stop and let the landscape take our breath away. We drive for 30 miles and don't see another car. Me and Rosie practice leaning over into the curves like real professionals. Arriving into Pisa and sat nav takes me to within 50 yards of Hotel Galileo where I'm sleeping tonight. There it is at the end of this one way street where sat nav directs us. I'm reluctant to disobey the no entry sign so I explore another way. There is no other way. So I break the law. Rosie's locked up for the night. She refuses to have her photo taken in front of the leaning tower. She will have nothing to do with anything so vulgar. 'If your blog readers want to see the leaning tower then can get the tea towel,' she sulks. So I wander up to the tower and take this picture on my own.

Many years ago I came here and enjoyed a fabulous 'La Sonnambula' in the little opera house. Colin Steele never cracks a note. Chet sometimes did. The brass players of The Pisa opera always do. I love it. It's got a rustic quality that I'm very comfortable with. Of course there's nothing on tonight. It's August. But look at what they've got coming up. 'Tosca' in January and 'Candide' in March.

Decide to treat myself to 'Candide' for my birthday. The problem with 'Candide' is that the overture is just the best piece of music ever. So cheerful and so mischevous. You just want them to play it again. How on earth are these rustic brass ever going to get their lips round that? The restaurant I wanted to go to is closed on Sundays. I check it out anyway and discover that it is closed for August! So I find somewhere else and eat like a lonely prince, drank the whole bottle, and stumbled home to bed.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

AUG 29th

Aug 29. Feeling my age this morning. Barney's dad is 8 years younger than me so I let him check the oil. He looked at the book and found where the dipstick was, wiped it clean, put it back, and then drew it out like King Arthur and there was the oil level - perfect. No problem! One last photo of two people in love.

So off we go! Me and Rosie together burning up the kilometres from Bagni San Filippo to Perugia. And there's Silvana at this most Catholic of hotels. A lapsed convent with a bar. She presents me with my clean laundry, is it really two weeks since I was last here? - a large cool beer, a shower, a couple of hours with John Muir in Alaska, and me sitting here with a campari soda con gin high above Umbria in the early evening sun. I don't know how the hierachy shakes up and down here but it was the chap who's been working in the garden who opened the bar for me - and what a heavy hand he had with the gin! I was well gone before dinner. And what a dinner! Lasagne and then seconds. Roast beef with courgettes and aubergines and then seconds! I made a good stab at the litre of wine and I hope the doctors and nurses at Addenbrookes will be pleased with my failure. Semi-freddo with chocolater sauce and just sober enough to take this picture of the Umbrian moon in the sunset.

Buona notte, Tutti.

AUG 28th

Aug 28. It's time to leave Manciano.

It takes me all day to pack up my few things and load them onto Rosie. I have arranged to stay with two new friends, Barney and Suzie, in Bagni San Filippo. It's vaguely north and I'm zigging and zagging here and there like a man who is lost. The idea is to reach Livorno in time for a late ferry on Aug 31.

There are hot volcanic springs here too so the three of us go out for a dip before supper. Barney is a foodie and celebrates all the local produce. He celebrates the landscape and the empty roads. If only he and Suzie could live here! If only! But Italian bureaucracy stifles their ambitions and his stories about trying to get electricity connected or buy something on the internet have reduced them both to surrender. And they're packing up to return to London. They show me the spare room where I can sleep but I've set my heart on the hammock under the vine in the garden.

Some bees have gathered in the parasol which shades the table where we are eating and they're building a hive. A little boy comes by to show us the snake he has just caught. The neighbour's cat drops in and fouls the path.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

AUG 27th

Aug 27. Last day in Manciano and Umberto has invited me to join his parents at the swimming pools of the grand hotel where he works at the reception. I have to turn up at 3pm. It's still very warm but the clouds are gathering. It's dark and hot. No thunder. No rain. But thrilling bolts of lightning. The water is hot, full of sulphur, and the air is full of rotten eggs.

I took a picture so you could see the darkening sky over the swimming pool. Can you see the white bouys floating on the water? I have to swim under the ropes to reach the steps which is the only way out of the pool. I pulled myself under the dark sulphuric waters, made one mighty powerful butterfly stroke and knocked my head against the side of the pool. Just as well I'm not a very good swimmer otherwise I might have knocked myself out! And that's my haircut postponed for another day. The wind is getting up and I thought I'd better get me and Rosie home before it turns nasty. But nothing happens on the ground - the drama is all in the sky and when the sun goes down the clouds light up.

At midnight I couldn't tell you if it was cloudy or not but there are 14 stars twinkling and I am alone.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

AUG 26th

Aug 26. It is ten years since I first came here to Manciano. Corelli had just opened and was enjoying some success and I treated myself to a week of Italian lessons at the school here. I was quite taken by an advertisement that described Manciano as 'off the tourist track' and I came here for three lessons a day for a week, one to one, with three different teachers - Stella and I talked about families,Umberto and I talked about theatre projects, and Marie-Therese and I didn' talk much about anything. She was determined to teach me how to conjugate Italian verbs properly but she was easily subverted because she was football crazy - a Fiorentina fan 'una tifosa al fegato!' Which means 'from the heart' except it really means from the liver. On the Wednesday night Fiorentina beat Arsenal at Wembly and Battistuta scored one of the most extraordinary goals I have ever seen beating Seaman at his near post with a shot he could never have seen. So grammar flew out the window that day and I still don't conjugate. Marie-Therese married another of her students - a young German boy who worked as a cameraman and who filmed Simon Rattle's very first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, Mahler 5, a TV programme I watched at home in Cambridge with no idea there was a Manciano connection.

Here I am, ten years later, with Stella in Bar Centrale and I learn that the school is closed. Stella soldiers on with a few private students. They don't pay as much as I did because with no school there is no middleman - no admin etc. And it just occurs to me that it surely wouldn't be difficult to find 30 or 40 students a year who would like to stay in this beautiful spot and learn Italian. One of her students, Walter, comes twice a year from Canada and he's 92. This tells me firstly that you are never too old and that secondly you will never find a teacher who is ever so patient. So I have great pleasure in introducing you to Stella. I told her how grateful I was to the surgeon and everyone at Addenbrookes and she tells me how grateful she is too ....

I spend the afternoon in Yosemite with John Muir in the middle of the 19th century. It's one helluva ride and I hope it will percolate through my odd chemistry to emerge on stage with music that scales the heights of the Sierra Nevada - maybe sometime next year.

Supper with Umberto's mum and dad. They used to run a newspaper stall in Rome but now they are retired. I remember when I first met them they told me about a customer who came every day and took two newspapers, concealed one inside the other, and only paid for one. They never challenged him and once a week the thief went to church to light a candle and pray for their ancestors. We all eat pizza together and Umberto's mum get's a poroblem off her chest. They have an apartment in Rome and water from their terrace leaked to the balcony below and now there is some litigation going on regarding the division of reconstruction costs. It's an old story. Umberto works in the rather expensive hotel in Saturnia and I have been invited as his guest to the swimming pool tomorrow.

A domani! Ciao!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

AUG 25th

'Got up, got out of bed' but didn't drag a comb across my head, had breakfast, did my washing, read, ate supper, and went back to bed. Here's a picture of my washing hanging out to dry in a hallowed spot.

The football T-shirt on the left is number 11 'Pasolini' - the late great Italian film director - a Christian, a Communist, and a controversial poet. When the Italian police broke up the student demonstrations in the late sixties he called the students 'bourgeoise' and the police, 'the sons of the working class.' He filmed ' The Gospel of St. Matthew' and without changing anything revealed a revolutionary message. He was murdered on a piece of wasteland outside Rome by 'a rent boy.' Don't know if he ever played football but if he did he would have played like Cantona. Number 11 is the old fashioned 'outside left' and that seems just right.

Tomorrow I'm meeting Stella for breakfast and Umberto for supper so that's the last solitary blog from this recluse - I'm rejoining the world tomorrow! Ciao!

AUG 24th

I would like a haircut. There are three barbers in Manciano - there's a barber- for- a- long- time, a barber-for-short-time,and a barber in-between. That's where I went some years ago and found myself in the hands of a man who only knew two words of English - 'David Beckham.' I came out shaven with a razored streak of lightning on each temple. I want to go back. A 'David Beckham' today would be less severe. But I'm having trouble with Italian doors. There was the little door to Beatrice's terrace in Rome and now the door to the terrace in Manciano. I am too tall for little doors!. And my head's a bit the worse for wear. It would be more of a bloody haircut than a David Beckham! All I did today was get up, eat breakfast, read, cook supper, and go to bed. Here's a picture of my breakfast.


Monday, 24 August 2009

AUG. 23rd

Aug 23rd. And it's Sunday. The lord ordained the sabbath as a day if rest and who is the poor mortal who dares to argue. Not me! As the great poet said, 'I ain't goin' nowhere.' And isn't that just a relief? I'm going to read all day and then cook my own dinner. I'll do my travelling in my head and won't think twice - it's alright.
'How My Heart Sings! That's the name of the book in front of me - a biography of the great jazz pianist, Bill Evans. And that's the problem he spent his life's work trying to solve. How to make a percussive instrument, whose sound naturally dies, sing. And did he suceed? Did he ever! Oh boy! And it is only now that I regret not bringing any music to listen to. I wanted to hear Italy, the grasshoppers, the capuccino machines, the hunting dogs barking in their cages at night, and not be imprisoned by earphones listening to a playlist. But in Rome I had a yearning for Mahler 9 and now I'd give anything for Bill Evans exploring 'Nardis' or celebrating 'Debbie's Waltz.'. Debbie, you lucky child, to have such a beautiful waltz. And while Dave Brubeck was mining all these crazy time signatures what does Bill Evans do? He writes a waltz! Jazz in 3/4. A small miracle! And when Miles Davis asked him to join the band - Bill Evans brought Chopin and Liszt with him and changed the history of music. And when black audiences gave him the 'silent treatment' he left. This is a huge story about one of the two great artforms America gave the world. And I bet you wished me and Rosie had gone somewhere interesting instead of me wandering about like this. But wait a minute! I've got to cook my supper yet.

And I bought pici - just like I had in the restaurant that first night. It's very thick spaghetti. Takes nearly half an hour to cook. No matter how long you cook it - it's always al dente. So you put the pasta on first. That gives you plenty time to prepare the tomatoes, onions,basil, and garlic. No wine tonight! And I reret that now too! No wine! No music! What's the matter with me? I set the table on the terrace and so please excuse me while I eat my dinner and wash it all down with a bottle of water.

Nothing else to drink! I've had enough of this nonsense. I'm going to the supermercato in the morning to stock up and right now I'm off to the bar for coffee and a grappa!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

AUG 22nd

'Happy talkin', talkin', happy talk.....'

Aug. 22nd - Me and Rosie are off chasing dreams. Some years ago my friend, Philip, gave me a bottle of Morellino di Scansano, and some years later I found myself on a bus going through Scansano and there it was - a beautiful small town high in the Maremma, clinging to the edge of the cliff, and I fancied that there was a place for me here.

A small gate in a high wall would take me into a garden overgrown with fruit trees, and the terrace of the little house looked down into the valley and all the way across the hills and down to the sea. There are very few buses and the one that goes through Scansano is the one that takes the long way round. That bus was recommended to me because the driver was 'Michael Schumaker's brother'! Me and Rosie wait for no bus - and off we go to Scansano. I ignored the omens. Firstly, Umberto told me last year that Scansano is no great shakes and secondly, the bottle of Morellino I bought as soon as I arrived here was no great shakes either. But me and Rosie are on our way. We drive around Scansano until Rosie has had enough. Rosie had seen a Ferrari and wants to stop. So I park her next to the fancy shy red racer covered with a tarpaulin revealing only the tell tale black horse on the rear wheel like a Victorian lady's ankle - and I look for my dream alone on foot.

There's no dream here. Just me alone on foot. But 'if you don't have a dream, if you don't have a dream - how you gonna make a dream come true?'

Rosie was getting nowhere with the shy Ferrari either, so we decided to go back home. Normally when we let out the throttle me and Rosie can summon up a cool breeze but today we are driving through a fan assisted oven and when we pass the 'cascade' at Saturnia I fancy sitting in the water again. This time I find a comfy spot where I am almost completely submerged with a gentle water falling on my head. All together now... 'Raindrops keep falling on my head...' But it's not an umbrella you need round here. It's a parasol. And I feel like going to sleep. The water is even warmer than the air so when I finally emerge after more than two hours the first thing I feel is a little chill! And it must be nearly 40 degrees. How cool is that?

My friend, Umberto, invited me out to dinner and we drive to a little restaurant in the hills - an agriturismo - and Umberto knows everyone here. There is no menu. The food just keeps coming. A cold pasta salad, a selection of crostini, tortelli stuffed with I don't know what, all Umberto can tell me is that it isn't chicken, and it isn' turkey, but it is similar. And then another plate of tortelli arrives. I don't ask but it taste's like ricotta with basil. And then two dishes of hot meat. A dry dish of lamb cooked in herbs and another dish of lamb cooked in a princely gravy
and then a dolce of semifreddo and chocolate sauce, espresso and grappa. Umberto listens to the grey tale of Scansano and kindly declines to say, 'told you so'. Instead he tells me about a very special place called Monte Labbro, the highest point in Tuscany and it's less than an hour away. Me and Rosie can drive to within 500 metres of the summit. I have to take a torch for going into the crypt of the church I will find there.

Back home in Manciano my hosts have closed the shutters. It takes ages to figure out the engineering but I must have them open. It's so warm in here and my beautiful cool breeze is waiting outside and I finally find the way to let her in. Buona notte a tutti.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

AUG 21st

Aug. 21st - I never have to get out of bed in the morning because I never get into bed at night. I sleep on the bed with the window open and a gentle breeze holds me in her arms. This morning I ate bread and salami, two peaches and a pint of strong coffee, covered myself in sun cream, and sat on the terrace with Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Weir of Hermiston.' He wrote about Edinburgh and The Borders in the early 19th century while living in Samoa in the late 19th century. A 'late period'? The prose is electrifying. I have read it many times and it is a small miracle - only 116 pages before he was struck down by a brain haemorrage. He was 44 when he died. My body might be in the Maremma but my head is at! And now it's already 5pm but there's still time for Rosie and me to go to Saturnia before supper.

The sun is lower in the sky and it's a good time to take the waters. I'm sitting in a volcanic spring and the water is cloudy with sulphur. There are several hundred people here all around me in the waterfalls at the side of the road. They are all sexes shapes and sizes and I find a spot under a waterfall which fits my new trim physique! There are some folk here who clearly enjoy their pasta! The air is 35 degrees. The volcanic water is warmer still so when I get out after an hour it actually feels cool. No need for a towel. I fire up Rosie's 125cc - she's got a kick like a mule - and off we go - me wearing a pair of swimming trunks and a crash helmet. Sorry, no photo!

Back home in Manciano there's just time for a shower to wash away the pong of rotten eggs and it's time to go to the Food Festival - an annual celebration of the local produce. I'm having tagliatelle, roast lamb, patate fritte, salad, half a litre of water and half a litre of wine.

On the way home I stop off at Bar Centrale for a coffee and a grappa.If my GP is reading this I hope she is not counting the units. Units are different in Italy anyway (ahem)and it is better not to count them.

It's nearly midnight and the street outside the bar is full of families - mum with the baby in the pram, dad with a beer, and the older son with his ponytail and designer clothes eating an ice cream. There have been requsts for more pohotos and better photos. Sorry, but I can only do the former. We have taken on a new secretary in Rome and she is a fierce Madonna of the blog and is scornful of the poor photography which 'adorns' the text. What's a poor boy on a Vespa supposed to do?

I am eating my way across Italy and everyone wants to know the name of the surgeon who rearranged my digestion. No one is ill. They just want to come to Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge and have the same operation so that they can be as well as me! Come gentle breeze and kiss me goodnight!

p.s. Oh, and there was a scare just before leaving Rome when we discovered two thieves in the garage who were about to steal the Vespa. Fortunately we took a photo of the miscreants and sent them to our friendly carabiniere, Umberto. (See Aug 18th) When he checked the photo against the carabinieri's criminal records it turned out that the thieves were Diana's nieces, Antonia and Cecila. Antonia is the Beatles fan!

Friday, 21 August 2009

AUG 20th

Aug 20th. It was Matty's birthday yesterday. 'Happy Birthday to my son, Matty. May all your travels bring you joy'.

I left Rome but I didn't want to. I had found a new - not only Diana but her sister and brother-in-law and their children and they all came to see me off which made it almost impossible to leave.

There is only one place to go - and that is here in Manciano, where the family I come and stay with gave me such a warm welcome and a room and kitchen at the top of the house. You would not believe the view! When I've finished writing this blog I'll take a picture and you'll see what I mean.

On the way here I stopped at a house on Lake Bolsena where the lady who runs the Biggar Little Festival lives with her husband and it was a joy to hear a Scottish accent again - music for my ears which I have not heard since I left Edinburgh on Aug 4th. They have a friend who has also undergone a 'whipples' procedure and they nervously asked if I might be hungry. They looked on in astonishment as I cleaned up a plateful of meat and cheese and a strong mug of coffee. This is something their friend cannot do. Well, I can! And every day I whisper a thankyou to the surgeon in Cambridge. My cousin, Arnold, a retired surgeon in Edinburgh, was similarly surprised when I polished off a plate of steak and chips and a bottle of wine in his house a month after the operation. I think he had not expected me to survive the surgery never mind eat him out of house and home. I am afraid there may be complaints from my readers who are expecting gruelling accounts of a lonely traveller on a dangerous journey. Well here is more fuel for the fire.

I ate last night in a fine restaurant. Pici's - that's the local pasta with porcini - followed by roast pork with crakcling and salad, washed down with half a litre of the local vino. I did have a moment of sobriety and declined the offer of a grappa with my coffee. Then I sat outside Bar Centrale where there was a band playing and children, some of them tiny tots dancing. And it's nearly midnight. When the music stops the wee ones just keep on dancing, whirling and birling to some music in their heads which only they can hear. And the little art gallery opposite the bar is still open and I am in a mood to buy a small painting for my invisible friend. I slept last night in a comfortable bed and went shopping today for jewels! Well no ... Not jewels - but I'm going to stay here for a week and I need to stock up the kitchen. Manuela in the fruit and veg shop gave me a huge hug and couldn't believe how much weight I had lost - I looked so well! I told her the whole story. Never did a bag of fruit and veg come so emotionally charged. And when I went to see Monica in the grocer next door I couldn't go through it again and she must have wondered what kind of diet it was that allowed me to buy so much mortadella and salami. The butcher didn't recognize me at all - and I left it at that! We'll meet again tomorrow. Back at the house and I've just eaten it all and drunk several large espressos. And now I'll take that photo for you.

Perhaps I'll do a blog every other day. I don't want you thinking I am having such a good time every day. Is that OK? You can get in touch if you like - you will find me at


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

AUG 18th - ROME

Me and Rosie set off for the centre of Rome with Diana in front leading the procession. The roads are quite busy. Clearly the word has got out that I'm on my way. The road takes us first to The Vatican and sure enough there was a huge crowd waiting to greet me. We took a picture of Rosie outside St Peter's.

Maybe the Pope wasn't feeling too well but he didn't come out to greet us himself but there were lot's of other people including a team of Portuguese Vespisti who had driven all the way from Lisbon on vintage scooters, over 2,000 kilometers, to welcome us to The Vatican. There they are in the photo standing beside their scooters all of them over 40 years old and still going strong. Me and Rosie have got a long way to go to catch up with these guys.

Then we went to Piazza Venezia to take a picture in front of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele. Romans refer to it as the 'macchina da scrivere' (typewriter) or the 'wedding cake' Look at the photo and you will see what they're thinking off. What was Mussolini thinking of when he built it! Don't know - but he was thinking 'big' (Little man thinks big? Napoleon? Hitler? Mussolini?) But then nothing in Rome is small. Huge monuments built in the fascist style go back to Roman times. Fascion? A charming young carabiniere called Umberto was there to welcome us and took a few minutes off from controlling the no parking zone where we had parked to talk to us and shake hands. That's Umberto in the photo. He was very pleased that I had driven from Edinburgh to park Rosie right here under his nose in the no parking place in Piazza Venezia and have his photo taken. Umberto is now a friend and Diana and Umberto have started sending e-mails to one another.

And then we went to The Pantheon and that's where we met another arm of the law. We never got to find out her name or exchange e-mail addresses because she just wanted us to move on. She was a Vigile or something - whatever. Her lot are nowhere near as smart as the Carabinieri. I tried playing the 'cancer card' but that cut no ice. Then we told her about Umberto at Piazza Venezia and what a nice carabinere he was. And that was it! We very nearly got arrested! That's why the picture of Rosie is not in front of The Pantheon but from a street just beside the Pantheon.

And then Diana went to visit her mum and I went to Ristorante Abruzzi which is just round the corner. Thank goodness it's not Saturday - Ristorante Abruzzi is closed on Saturdays. But it is August and the restaurant is closed for the whole month and does not open again until Sept 1st. I went to the restaurant next door and was served by a beautiful Romanian lady called, Lavinia. The other waiter, a young man whose name I don't know, was clearly puzzled by the arrival of such a handsome young man on a Vespa with no woman on the back and he wanted to know why. I told him 'La vità è brutta!' and he shrugged a Roman shrug and suggested I take Lavinia with me. Lavinia didn't seem to be totally disinterested! I waited for Diana and then we wandered up and down the Via Corso: I needed a hat because my scalp was burning and I needed 150 stamps for the postcards I had written and braces to hold up my trousers beause we're going out for dinner tonight. I got the braces and the stamps but I think we probably spent an hour too long in the baking heat. Showered, dressed, shining new orange braces on and - off we go to dinner with Diana's sister and the whole family. There was an awkward moment when I was telling them all about the Italian community in Edinburgh between the wars etc... and Diana's sister asked me if I was a fascist. It was a gentle enquiry but I think I did have to put her mind at rest. We are eight of us around the table alfresco and we start dinner at 9pm. How civilized! The supportng cast are me and Diana, Diana' sister, Beatrice, her daughter Cecilia, her husband, Fabrizzio, her niece, Suzie, and Suzie's fiance, the lucky boy, Barney who comes from Manchester, and the star of the evening is Antonia, Beatrice's youngest daughter - she's doing a project on The Beatles' and knows everything that can be known. We swap Beatles stories. I like the one about Ringo Starr. When John lennon is asked 'Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?' John replied, 'He isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles!'

I came home and lay down clothed in the same warm breeze as last night. It has been a long and beautiful day and I haven't thought at all about what any of this means - I mean what I have done - driven from Edinburgh to here on a scooter. What's it all about? And I go to sleep thinking of the surgeon and his wife, who is my GP, and all the people at Addenbrooke's hospital who have treated me and Ali and I fall asleep in a flood of tears and I don't know why but I could drown in the peace and joy that I feel. It's a funny way to say 'thankyou' . There was a piece of kitch at the newspaper stall in Via Corso with the surgeon's name on it. A stupid little notepad that had the word 'Emmanuel' on the front and it was such a stupid thing and it cost two euros and I didn't buy it. Maybe tomorrow morning I'll go back into the centre of Rome and get it. Now that would be a funny way to say thankyou. Buona notte a tutti! Buona notte.

AUG 17th

My few gentle words with the hotel about the noisy kids certainly had an effect. I think they must have been told that they should not go running around the corridors shouting and screaming at one o,clock in the morning so they played football outside instead - right outside the window of my new room in the annexe. It was a particularly noisy game of football because it involved the fountain and most of the action took place in the water. Should I leave the window open and listen to Dante's Inferno or close it and cook and suffocate? Dante's Inferno is the only answer. The fact is I slept well and woke up ready for the penultimate lap. Silvana was on duty this morning and she is the angel at reception and I love the way she calls me Mr Mike. All packed and ready to go and the sat nav has been told to take me to Diana's house. I hadn't gone far when I came to a railway crossing and I get excited about things like that and here is a picture of the train crossing the road. Within a few minutes I was on a main dual carriagway which took me all the way to Diana's house. For once the journey really did take as long as the sat nav said it would and not the two hours longer that I usually take. It only took three hours. I told Diana that I would arrive at 5pm and I turned up at 4.30pm and she was out doing the shopping for our supper. Pasta, aubergines, mozzarella, rughetta. I have landed in a small corner of heaven and tomorrow I will do the last lap and go to the centre of Rome. Diana is coming to take charge of the photography and the sat nav has been 'stood down' for the day. Fortunately Diana doesn't play football in the garden and she doesn't have a fountain. And it is hot - oh lordy! - it's hot. Im lying on top of the bed clothed only in a gentle warm breeze. Good night.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

AUG 16th

I came downstairs to the reception and gently referred to the difficulty I had getting to sleep amongst a pride of young lions and lionesses. I found myself talking with someone who wanted to explain to me the nature of youngsters in a group when I was hoping she might have had more of a moment for an old man who would like some peace and quiet at 2am so I raised the stakes a little and referred to Dante's Inferno which at least was an occasion for some mirth and the offer of a room in the annexe where there were no other guests and I would enjoy complete silence. I suspect there is an inner ring of Dante's Inferno where there is complete silence - a horrifying prospect for an Italian. Why do you think Italians drink cappucino? Because it is the loudest coffee you can get! And if rifles were silent no Italian would go hunting!
So I spent the first hour of the day moving myself and my luggage away from the cheerful noise and into the mausoleum of an annexe which promised the silence of the grave. And the rest of the day? Well I didn't go anywhere and I didn't do anything. I just sat in the sun and read a detective novel. I put suncream everywhere else but not on my head which got burnt. Ho hum! The detective novel was French and delightfully philosohical but the plot creaked louder than a ghost story! I've read it now and don't need it in my luggage any more so I'll send it to the first person who sends me an e-mail with their name and address. It's about a serial killer who goes around spearing people with a trident.
I never went anywhere near Rosie's saddle. We're having a very grown up relationship and decided to have a day apart. And before I knew it, all of a sudden it was supper time. I should have told you earlier how much I love it here instead if moaning about the noisy children. Well, the food is good too. There is no menu. You just get what they're cooking. And tonight it's pasta in tomato sauce followed by roast chicken with paesano sausages and saute potatoes. What a great way to finish a sunny day off. And tomorrow it's only a three hour drive to Rome. Ciao!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

AUG 15th

Today is August 15th which is a big deal here in Italy. It is the Feast of The Assumption and Italy closes down for day. Some go to church and some go to the beach. Don Innocente, despite his 89 years has to celebrate Mass twice - first in a village somewhere else in the hills and then again in his own parish church. When Don Innocente set off for church I set off for the beach. I didn't know where I was going. I just do what the Sat Nav says. Perhaps a more sophisticated Sat Nav would have known not to go near the beach on Aug 15th. Miles of traffic jams along the coast around Viareggio. If you ever want a day at the seaside do not come here. It has all the hallmarks of a cheapskate day out. Spend all day parking for an hour or two sitting in a crowd on the sand - all the fun of the fair. - you know, bouncy castles and stuff. Rosie started overheating in the sun as the traffic came to a standstill and her fan came on. I started overheating too but I don't have a fan. Once we got on a dual carriageway I just opened the throttle and let the whistling wind cool us both down. Then it was another little road through Chianti - hillside of a million vines and otherwise deserted. Rosie went from a quarter full to the yellow light coming on and no sign of a garage. And then just in the nick of time a garage. Like everywhere else it is closed for The Assumption. Why did I choose to go to Rome? But there was a self service pump. It didn't like any of my credit cards but it was happy with a ten euro note. With fuel in the tank - enough to get to Perugia - all my needs were satisfied. And then I came upon a tiny village with a crowded cafe. It must have been the only cafe open in Tuscany. It is so hot everone is sitting inside. Like a mad dog or an Englishman I took my orange juice and fizzy water outside and I sat in the sun. Then after meandering over the chianti hills I fetched up onto another dual carriageway which was going all the way to Perugia. I loosened the reins and opened the throttle and let Rosie go for it. The faster we go the cooler we get. I know my way to the hotel. Can you imagine the thrill of arriving here - not in a taxi - not on a bus - just me and Rosie on our own. We feel like we've come here from Edinbugh - which I suppose we have - but not on Ryanair or Italian railways. And I know it'll feel the same tomorrow driving round Piazza Venezia in Rome - just me and Rosie. And again when I turn up at my old familiar haunt in Manciano where I will be on Aug 20th. There are buses from Manciano to some of the neighbouring villages - sometimes as often as once a day! Can you imagine this new freedom to go anywhere anytime. Independent but entirely dependent on fuel, Anyway, I got ahead of myself there because I'm here in Perugia where I had dinner in the hotel. I didn't even get the chance to discover that all the restaurants in town were closed. What a nice hotel to have kitchen going today. Thank God (but no thanks to his mother!) But the other guests here on the same floor as me - teenage boys and girls who have no intention of going to sleep. The loudest and ugliest is the capo/scoutmaster/leader/ teacher who hammers on doors telling these young lions and lionesses to be quiet. I have decided to keep a smile on my face and ask for a different room in the morning. Good night.

Friday, 14 August 2009

AUG 14th

I set my alarm for 6.30am so I could get up and away before the house on the other side of the road woke up and the residents found a homeless old man asleep in a bivouac on the grass verge. All's well -apart from some more bites. It's a choice between covering myself in insect repellant and putting up with the bites. It's a close call. I'm on my way to Borgotaro. That's where both my mother's parents came from. My grandmother never went back but when she was 95 she became the oldest villager of Borgotaro and the mayor and dignitaries of Borgotaro came to Edinburgh to give her the golden chain and all the other stuff the oldest person gets. You see, Edinburgh may think of itself as the capital of Scotland but it is just a suburb of Borgotaro. On the saddle of a Vespa it seems like a mighty long way. I've come to Strela - a tiny village outside Borgotaro - where my mother's cousin, Don Innocente is the parish priest. He is 89 and in case you think that was a typo I can tell you he was born in 1920. He lives with his sister who is only 83. I got there in time for lunch - tortelli stuffed with ricotta followed by fish and chips in honour of Pietro Gasparini, my grandfather (Don Innocente's uncle) who came to Edinburgh at the beginning of the last century and opened a fish asnd chip shop. At the beginning of this century it is a Chinese restaurant. Same shop - new immigrants. Margharita made an almond cake and I washed it all down with a bottle red wine from Piacenza and then I fell asleep until supper time - chicken soup fllowed by a hunk of parmigiano, bread peaches and grapes. I had intended to record Don Innocente and Margharita but it was too late - we three were too tired - me struggling to understand their Italian and them struggling to understand mine. And wouldn't an English pedant just love to take his or her red pen to the grammar in that last sentence. I was in bed before 9.30 and I tried to read but couldn't do anything else but fall asleep. Buona notte.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

AUG 13th

Woke up in Lausanne and went to sleep in Carrosio. First thing is to find out if the hotel bill in Lausanne is in Euros or Francs. Francs! Hooray! That saved me £50! I was afraid of the bill because of the view. It didn't look like a cheap view. And the house white didn't taste like cheap wine. But I reckon one night under the stars earns me a night in a hotel. I woke up in Lausanne in a two star hotel and went to sleep in Carrosio under a billion stars. I woke up on one side of The Alps and went to sleep on the other. Call me Hannibal! The Alps are huge. They look more like The Himalayas to me! But Rosie took it all in her stride. She coped well with my heightening vertigo. I didn't much care for the narrow grass verges on the hairpin bends which overlook the abyss. Overtaking vehicles forced me near the edge - holey moley!! and then it was The Gotthard Tunnel and the light at the end of the tunnel is Italy. The road on the Italian side doesn't have hairpin bends and grass verges - it flies through the air on concrete stilts and the butterflies in my tummy would't stop fluttering until Rosie got her wheels back on terra firma. I thought I'd head towards Genoa and see how far I got. Vineyards everywhere! No wonder! This is Gavi. Never been here before but I've drunk lots of it. No restaurant in sight so I just kept going. Sometimes I have an invisible friend on the back and I know she wanted me to stop ages ago but I kept going and found a great restaurant and a quiet spot for my bivouac. If you're ever round this way I recommend " il portico". I had a great meal and Lorella who served me has a passion for English - so she wanted to speak English and I wanted to speak Italian. I'm not shy about driving Rosie from Edinburgh to Rome and Lorella took an interest. The bill was half of what I was expecting so thank you "il portico" - I'll put the other half in the fund. After the wine and grappa I wasn't driving anywhere. No problem. Rosie slept in the car park and I slept 100 yards away on a grass verge under a bridge on a quiet road - no traffic at all. You see, Rosie and I don't sleep together. We are professional colleagues and good friends. My invisible friend on the back has been complaining all day about me driving too fast. I try to tell her that it only seems that way. When the dustbin lorry overtakes you how can you be going too fast? Buona notte!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

AUG 12th

The glorious 12th?
Last night it was too dark to put up the tent. The first instruction was to put it up before you left home to famiarise yourself with it so I just put it away and with the help of Rosie's headlamp I sorted out the bivouac and the sleeping bag. A large vehicle came by with a word printed on the side - gendarmerie - or something like that. The nice young chap wanted to know what Iwas doing so I told him in English that I was riding the scooter from Edinburgh to Rome to raise money for cancer charities - that I myself had undergone a major operation, and that I intended to sleep here. (That's wht Colin Steele calls 'playing the cancer card!) The gendarme wished me good night and hoped that I slept well. I climbed into bed and I just wanted to go to sleep. I kept opening my eyes to check that I really was sleeping under the stars and wondered why I didn' feel even the teensiest weensiest bit afraid and when I closed my eyes I just felt warm and comfy and I must have fallen asleep. I woke up once or twice and it was dark. And then it was light and it was half past nine and I had slept in and there was a scooter parked next to mine and a beautiful woman standing next to the lock gate. When a woman parks her scooter next to a sleeping man's scooter in France I'm pretty certain it means something special - but I don't know what it means. It turns out she was the lock gate keeper and she opened and closed the gates for a large houseboat before zooming off on her scooter for another appointment at another lock. I set off for Switzerland. I have now driven through Champagne and Burgundy and haven't seen a single vine until I got to Switzerland. I haven't seen much traffic either or many French people. France is a big farm and the villages are far apart - centres of the vast areas of agriculture that surround them. And then all of a sudden there is the Swiss border. The word 'Stop' was painted in the road and I did what I was told but no one came to welcome me to Switzerland so I proceeded. And here I am in a hotel near Lausanne overlooking the lake. I have no idea what it costs - the money is in Swiss Francs. I hope they're not the same as Euros or I'll be washing dishes here tomorrow instead of driving to Turin.

AUG 11th

Great sleep. Super breakfast. Thankyou Syd and Catriona.
Left Ecoivres late. What happened was... I discovered it was illegal to drive here without an insurance certificate and mine was in the drawer at home. So I called home and got Alex to e-mail it to Syd (thankyou Alex). But Syd's French printer will not communicate with his English computer so we went to the nearest town but there was no internet cafe. A friendly chap in a mobile phone shop let us use his computer and I stepped out of the shop clutching the bit of paper that says Rosie and me are legal. (The Vespa's called Rosie. Maybe I forgot to tell you.) I kissed the bride and we zoomed off together - south east. The sat nav has Dijon in mind. Arras and The Somme - graveyards. I took some pictures of fields of crosses above the remains of the young boys who ended their short lives here. I'm the one going on a big picnic and they hardly lived at all and now they're dying in Afghanistan. Doesn't it just break your heart? On the way to Reims and I'm in Champagne heading towards Burgundy. Getting dark and the only food I can find in Joinville is a pizzeria. Joinville's on the River Marne but just round the corner there's a canal and a lock and a grassy space where I'll sleep tonight.

AUG 10th

We're in the news today, oh boy. Lots of friends came to see me off and Ali and me did an interview for BBC Look East before they filmed me zooming off to Rome. And they recorded Ali playing mandolon and used it as a sound track as I disappeared over the horizon. The Sat Nav did exactly what it was supposed to do and took me to dover avoiding motorways. What a lot of villages there are in Kent. New buildings in the shape of oast houses seems to be all the rage. Rosie enjoyed the ferry (see pic!). And then the Sat Nav took me to Syd and Catriona's house about 100 miles south of Calais. The luggage on the panier is right in front of the headlight and it was getting dark. I didn't have much time to spare and I was running out of fuel. There are no garages. There is no traffic, and there do not appear to be any French people. Arrived at Ecoivres safe and sound. You won't find it on the map. It's too small. But Sat Nav knew where it was. Lovely supper.

Monday, 10 August 2009

AUG 4th

EDINBURGH. Last night Derek and Christine Hoy threw a big send off party for me and lots of friends turned up. The food and drink and music were just great. Derek and Christne festooned the Vespa in balloons and streamers. The wine was plentiful and I left the bike in their garden and got a taxi home. Had to get up early this morning to go and get the bike!

Set off from Edinburgh after a magnificent send off from Valvona & Crolla. Loads of friends came and we all had coffee and pastries. Ali and me talked a bit and performed a wee bit and we sold sweepstake tickets for the guesstimate on my total mileage!

The plan was to take two days to drive the 360 miles but I just wanted to sleep in my own bed so I drove all the way home. It took 12 hours. The sat nav is programmed to avoid motorways and I'm still trying to figure out why it dumped me at the top of the slip road for the A1M at Wetherby. I could't go there - not with L plates on! So I followed my nose to Leeds, Wakefield, and Doncaster.

JULY 30th

Last night I stayed with my dear friends, Pete and Marion, in Colinsburgh, near the Fife coast. The drive from St. Andrews took me through fields covered with the aroma of wild garlic. That's one of the joys of riding on a Vespa. The only countrysde smell that makes it into the car is manure. There is a whole feast of smells awaiting me in France and Italy. Very windy today. On the drive back to Edinburgh thought I was going to get blown off the Forth Bridge. Eyes fixed on the road, I flew over the Forth and drove into Edinburgh windswept and alive alive-O!

JULY 29th

Just arrived in St. Andrews, Fife after a long drive on the bright red Vespa. (thats a pic of me just arrived at a friend's house in St Andrews).
There was a hiccup with the insurance documents and another hiccup with a wee oil leak and I did't get on the road until 6pm. The was no realistic chance of reaching Edinburgh after such a late start but Jock, our technical manager said he'd drive from Edinburgh to the services at Scotch Corner. That's the kind of guy he is! When he called me at 1am he was near Newcastle and had 30 miles to go. I still had 50 miles to go so Jock just kept driving south and we met each other in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Ripon. Arrived Edinburgh 5am. Short sleep and then I set off for St. Andrews. We're doing 'A Funny Valentine' here tonight. Flying over the River Forth on the road bridge with the railway bridge on my left was a thrill forever. Have been showing off with the Vespa all afternoon. Incorrigable! But hey! Who else left Cambridge on a Vespa and arrived at The Byre Theatre in St. Andrews and played a gig? Yours truly, that's who!