Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The monk.

Let me take you back a week or two, to Italy, where it’s the middle of the night and something is moving outside. It’s not the earth, at least not yet, it’s feet, falling faintly on gravel. Definitely. I decide it’s a person and he’s staking the joint. I sit bolt upright in bed.

“Listen to that,” I say. “There's someone out there.”

“There really isn't," says Husband. "I looked already, everywhere, with a torch.”

“You won’t be able to see him with a torch,” I say. “He will hide, or run away.”

“If he runs away I’ll hear him,” says Husband, “on the gravel.”

“He’s still out there, then,” I say.

“He’s not,” says Husband. “There’s no one. It’s not a person.”

It sure sounds like a person to me, and if it’s not a person, what on earth, or heaven, is it?

As it happens I don’t believe in heaven, or ghosts, or ghouls, or anything much, only in people. I sit firmly excluded from conversations at dinner parties and in coffee shops about God/spirituality/spirits/souls/star signs/something bigger than we are/more than this. As far as I’m concerned this is it, mate. We shuffle off this mortal coil and get eaten by worms, or turn back into stardust. So when Husband leaves the room to look again, I’m alone with my rationality, bathed in sweat.

After a few minutes, he returns.

“And?” I say.

“Nothing,” he says. “Absolutely nothing. Definitely. Must have been an animal, maybe a cat.” And he goes back to sleep, with the light on.

I can't go back to sleep. I stare up at the ceiling, listening to HIM, out there: his feet stealing round the house, his hot breath wheezing outside the window.

I get out of bed and go downstairs to the kitchen. There’s a full moon but still I turn the lights on, all of them. I sit at the table with my laptop, and then I remember.

Directly above our casa, on the hill, is an ancient tower dating from the 13th century. Once part of the monastery, it was built to house Santa Vittoria’s remains. We were taken inside it the day before to see the frescos in the chapel, which, incidentally, keep on looking as fresh as the day they were painted (see above), and we also saw a hole in the ground in the middle of the floor.

“What’s that for?” one of us asked, (I can’t remember which one). I thought it was a well, perhaps.

“That,” said our guide, “if you must know, was for the dead.”

“The dead?” one of us repeated (again, I can’t remember which one).

“They used to throw the dead monks down there,” she said. “They didn’t bury them; they threw them down the hole. Until recently the cellar was deep with bones, all the way up to the ceiling. A few years ago, they were removed.”

Her words echoed round the empty chapel, as we peered into the pit.

Anyway, I remember all this just as the wind, or maybe the fridge, or possibly a dead monk, makes a deeply eerie, truly howling sound, right behind my head. I click the laptop shut and leg it back upstairs, where I shiver madly under the sheet: an illogical, superstitious, mess.

And then… across the gravel, there are those faintly falling footsteps again, softly circling: the monk, with his hot, heavy breath, just, outside, my, window. Definitely.

Somehow I sleep, eventually, and fitfully, and night passes into day and in the morning, when I wake, I go straight to the window and open the shutters and... there’s nothing. Nothing at all. Except… after some moments… a wasp, vanishing under a broken tile.

“I think it might be wasps,” I say to Husband, at breakfast.

“A wasp?” he says.

“Plural,” I say.

Later, I Google it, and sure enough wasps make a strange crunching noise when they’re building a nest. It’s wasps, then. Wasps!

What a blessed relief. It’s not a burglar casing the joint. It’s not the ghost of a dead monk. It’s wasps making a noise exactly like that of a man walking on gravel, as they make themselves a nest on the roof. Definitely.

Love E x


P.S. I have to stop reading about the earthquake - too dreadful. Pity poor Italy, where the bones of its dead lay deep beneath its beautiful ruins.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Words right out of their mouths.

Three conversations with my boys on holiday.


“I’ve got a Canadian friend,” I say, as we're tucking into supper, “she goes back to Canada every year with her partner and they do this wild camping thing. They kayak across the lakes, lifting the kayak between them, lifting all the gear between them, skinny dipping in the crystal clear water together, and the entire time they never see another soul. No one else. At all. Isn’t that amazing? I think that's the best thing. I would love to do that.”

“I have two words to say to that, Mummy,” says Youngest.

“Oh yeah,” I say, “which two?”

“No,” he says, “and WiFi.”


“I can’t believe you said that,” whispers Middle One, as we say goodbye to the lovely Italian biology student, who just gave us a private tour of the tiny village we were staying in, in Le Marche.

“Said what?” I say.

“About those bones,” he says.

In the quiet crypt of a church we were shown a saint’s bones, in a series of jars. Santa Vittoria, she was called, a Roman martyr, devoted to God. She wouldn’t marry her boyfriend so he had her stabbed through the heart, in 250 AD, which is not alright. As a matter of fact it's a bit rough.

“Remind me,” I say. “What did I say about the bones?”

“You said, ‘are you really sure there are bones in the jars?'” he says.

“Yes, well,” I say. “I think it’s a valid question. I was born sceptical. I want to know. They might be pickled gherkins in there.”

"It was disrespectful," says Middle One.

"Okay" I say. "Well, I also don't believe that drinking from a blessed fountain can make an old lady lactate, and I never said a word about it."

Looking through glass darkly, at those jars in the tomb (really, they are in there, apparently).


“This place is full of posh people with villas in Tuscany and an air of entitlement,” I say, plonking a plate of croissants and three cappuccinos down on the table, in Perugia airport restaurant. “They don’t look you in the eye, they talk incredibly loudly, and they push to the front in lines.”

“Wait,” says Youngest, “you do realise you just described yourself?”

"How?" I say, because that one really is unfair.

“Come on, I wouldn’t queue jump on purpose. I will look people in the eye, if they have good eyes, and I particularly don’t have a villa in Tuscany,” I say, loudly.

Love E x


P.S. But I’d really love one.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


This blog is taking a break. In the meantime here are some snaps from paradiso…

easy does it

down in the village

a long road to our casa

view from upstairs

But maybe not paradiso for the young, with youth unemployment here at 36%.

Then I thought, musing, of the 
Sweet songs which still for Italy
From older singers' lips who sang not
Exultingly and purely, yet, with pang
Fast sheath'd in music, touch'd the heart
of us
So finely that the pity scarcely pain'd.

Paradiso perduto, perhaps. On the bright side the gelato is amazing. 

gelato - and the boys tried all of them

Love E x


P.S. Back soon.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Dress It Up.

And nowhere to go.

I’ve always been crazy about dresses, since I was a little girl. The prettier the better. I love them, and have lots of them, in two wardrobes. You might even say I have a dress addiction, and if you did, I would answer that there are worse ones to have. It’s one of the reasons I love summer. Nothing compares to getting up on a warm day, throwing on a dress and a pair of heeled shoes – but not too high – and knowing that’s it, you’re dressed.

Currently my favourite one is blue, with tiny yellow and pink flowers and pearl buttons. I’m wearing it to death. On Friday, late afternoon, I’m wearing it when I meet an old friend for a drink, and she starts to tell me a story...

“I was meant to be going away on business,” she says, as we sit in a dark and seedy bar, in Soho. “But my flight was cancelled so I went back home."

I take a little sip of my beer. “Uh-huh,” I say, smoothing my dress down over my knees.

“As I was getting out of the taxi,” she says, “something caught my eye.”

“What?” I say.

“A woman,” she says. “A big woman, in a dress, running through our apartment, from one side to the other. Blonde.”

“Right,” I say.

“Then,” she goes on, “when I get in the apartment, there is no woman, only my husband - my ex-husband - coming out of the bathroom.

“And so,” I say, trying to catch the bar tender’s eye with a ten pound note, to order another beer. “Where was the woman?”

“I don’t think there was one,” she says.

“How come?” I say, dropping the tenner back into the lap of my pretty blue dress. 

“A while later, I found this zipped bag full of women’s clothes and comedy breasts and a blonde wig,” she says.

I accidentally spill the remaining dregs of my beer down my dress. “Why have you never told me this before?” I say. “This is mega.”

“Forgetful, I suppose,” she says. “Couldn't believe it, or buried it, too hard to handle, until now."

I think about this... for about thirty seconds.

“You think?” I say. “Let’s get this straight. There is this locked corner of your mind - a cupboard, essentially - and you just opened it and all these women’s clothes and a pair of comedy breasts and a blonde wig fell out.”

“Um…” she says. "I don't understand it either."

“Wow,” I say. “Maybe you were waiting for the right moment, sexual politics-wise?”

“Yeah," she says.

“If you think about it," I say, "transgender is all the rage now."

“I know,” she says. “I never could understand why he shaved his legs.”

“Okaaaay,” I say, thinking about this for a minute, but only a minute. “Each to his own. I suppose you let it be at the time, it was years ago, you’re not married to him any more, so...”

“Yes,” she says, “I mean, no. I think.”

Some like it hot.

“Let’s catch a bus,” says Husband, later that same day as we walk down St Martin’s Lane, trying to get to Kensington Palace Gardens to watch Some Like It Hot.

“I’m really not keen on buses,” I say, still thinking about my friend and her ex-husband. “You never know where you are with a bus.”

“You know exactly where you are with a bus,” says Husband. “Just look out of the window.”

“You know what I mean,” I say. “You never know when they’re going to turn up.”

“It tells you on the electronic display,” says Husband.

“Yeah, right,” I say. “Like you believe that.”

“Er, yes,” says Husband.

We wait at the bus stop for the number nine. The electronic display says it will arrive in five minutes.

“It will never arrive in five minutes,” I say.

“It will,” says Husband.

It does. It’s a Boris bus, hot as hell because the air con is struggling.

“Now we’re going to get stuck in traffic.” I say.

“We won't,” says Husband.

We do get stuck in traffic.

“I told you we’d get stuck in traffic,” I say. "Plus it looks like rain."

"It won't rain," says Husband.

The bus moves again. I’m losing this argument, I think, as we make it to Kensington Gardens in plenty of time.

The movie is sold out. There are loads of families eating picnics. I forgot how great it is. Really funny. Line after line of sharp, witty writing. Of course, the comedy entirely rests on Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis pretending to be women, in dresses and high heels, and it’s still funny for that reason, even if they aren’t very convincing women. We just suspend our disbelief.

“This movie has really stood the test of time,” I whisper, as beautiful Marilyn Monroe sings I Wanna Be Loved By You, in a dress so revealing it’s pornographic.

“You’re a guy!” hisses Tony Curtis to Jack Lemmon at the end, when Jack Lemmon tells him he's engaged to Osgood Fielding III. “Everyone knows a guy can’t marry a guy!”

A high little voice rings out across the grass, a little girl. “Oh yes he can!" she says.

Love E x


P.S. "Hey Libby,” says my sister-in-law, when she’s round for lunch with my brother and two nieces on Saturday (Libby is the name my family call me). “I picked this up for you in a charity shop.” She pulls a gorgeous silk flowered dress from her bag. “It's from me. Check it out. I think it's your size."

It did rain but only a bit.