Tuesday, August 30, 2005

One Small **** For Man...

I love Black Grape, and I love Shaun Ryder. Seriously, anyone able to piss that much fame, fortune and talent down the drain so quickly is deserving of some sort of award. And if it takes the form of a track on the new Gorillaz album, then so be it.

First Born likes Shaun Ryder too. Not from a musical perspective - at 8 years old, her taste swings wildly from the Oompa Loompa song in the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory film through the Kylie Minogue. Who, now I come to think about it, is about the size of an Oompa Loompa. No, First Born likes Shaun Ryder because it means she gets to ask me about naughty words.

Here is an actual conversation that happened in the car today:

Shaun Ryder (on CD): "Neil Armstrong, astronaut, he had balls bigger than King Kong..."
FB: "Dad? What does that mean?"
Me: "Erm, that Mr. Armstrong was an astronaut?"
FB: "No - the balls bit"
Me: (deep breath - FB knows lots of medical terms) "He's saying Neil Armstrong's testicles are bigger than those of a giant gorilla. Its a figure of speech - he means Armstrong is very brave"
FB: "Well that explains that then"
Me: "What?"
FB: "Why astronauts walk funny on the moon. It must hard for them to move around with such big testicles."

(I change the CD for something totally unintelligible by Bob Marley)

I'm sure she isn't making fun of me. I'm 99.9% sure she isn't making fun of me. But still...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ignorance Is Scary

I sat in my favourite pub (I'm blessed - I live within vomitting distance of 4 pubs, and projectile vomitting distance of 8) and gazed at the Dalek which had thus far failed to show any signs of moving.

Every now and then it barked a threat of extermination and exhorted its place in the order of things in a voice that said more about the BBC's special effects budget than anything else.

The Bear was suitably impressed. At least I think she was. She can be a bit inscrutable at times.

By leaving an empty chair at the table I attracted the attention of the local drunk. Tonight was lecture night.

"Fuggin' muslims. I'd fuggin' send 'em all back. Bastards."

Ah. It was to be a socio-political discourse.

"Why?" I asked, stupidly. "We're all English. You'd punish a whole community for the actions of tiny minority?"
"Thats it!" he said, waving a finger. "Bastards. You can't talk to 'em. Little fuggers."

I had a whole range of witty replies ready for reasons why anyone, let alone a Muslim, would not want to talk to this individual. Self-preservation cut in and I said "You're entitled to your opinion" before attempting a subject switch: "Do you like cars/alcohol/women?"

My punishment for cowardly not engaging him in a debate on immigration and naturalisation was to hear about how his wife had left him 5 years previously (at least thats what I think he was talking about.)

Could I ever get this bitter and twisted? And quite so frighteningly intolerant? The scary thing is that we have major political parties in this country spewing the same vileness. Just without the stained t-shirt and whisky fumes.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bear Meets Tower

Do you know what the problem with a flakey internet connection is?

No, its not having one's pornography supply cut off. Nor is it the lack of email offering everything from free viagra (got that already, thanks) through free money, to free companionship of a normally more negotiable nature.

Nope, its not knowing that Blogger has started ignoring one's attempts at writing. On the plus side, it means that I don't have to repost some of the more whiny entries...

But the photo. The photo is The Bear in Pisa. I felt rather proud as I stood amongst the tourists, festooned over the walls in front of the glorious failure that made Pisa famous. I was being Unique.

Unlike all the tourists, who stood in still-lifes that would make even the most ardent mime puzzled until he moved to a certain angle and realised that the individual was attempting to push over/hold up/simulate a sex act with the leaning tower, I was taking a photo that I'm pretty sure had never been taken with the tower in shot.

So, rather than the stereotypical shot of "Overweight Man In Shorts Slightly Misaligned With Tower" (I still can't believe people really take those photos) I give you my souvenir shop of Pisa. Bear And Tower.

I thankew.

Oh, and Pisa? Utter crap-hole. Allow exactly 30 minutes to get off the train, see the tower, get back on train and head on to Florence.

Tomorrow's post: when The Bear met The Dalek.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ta Ra To Tuscany

As my time in Italy draws to a close I'm going to let you in on Italy's dirty little secret. No, it isn't the fact that they are the worst drivers in Europe bar none. Nor is it that most of the men prefer to dress and behave as though they were in a 70s porn film. No... Italy's secret is that, like the Germans and David Hasselhoff, they seem to be obsessed with Cindi Lauper

Seriously - everywhere I go, Ms Lauper's music is playing. Be it Girls Just Wanting To Have Fun at the Pizzeria or True Colours Shining Through from the knackered Binatone at the back of the bar.

So now you know.

There's just one thing left to do now. A bear and a leaning tower. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 05, 2005

We Like Ice Cream

Weather nice. Found a place that sells the best ice cream in the world ever. Pizza Porcini is horrible. Pizza Diavola is tops.

Thus concludes today's guide to Italy.

Instead I want to talk about a couple of films I saw recently with First-Born. The first came from the house of Shrek and was called Madagascar. This, my friends, is a terrible film. I can't work out if its just because of the bad story or the appalling voice acting (and I thought Ben Stiller was bad at live action; I was unprepared for the sheer woodeness of his delivery in this.) When the high point of the film are the bit-part comedy turns (the penguins and monkeys) you know you're in trouble.

Irritatingly, First-Born loved it. The child clearly has no taste.

And then we saw Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. If you've enjoyed the book, you'll love this film. Unlike the Gene Wilder aberration, this film looks like the director has flipped open my skull and taken a snapshot of my imagination (well, the bits that would get a PG certificate anyway.) Aside from a few liberties taken with the back-story of the chocolateer this is highly recommended.

And First-Born thought it was better than Madagascar. So there's hope for the girl yet.

And the scooter? It is actually a portable pump.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lard In Translation

Whenever I go abroad, I like to try and learn a little of the local language. Just enough to stop the waiters from spitting in my food, that sort of thing.

Usually though, I make use of helpfully translated menus to ensure I know what I'm ordering rather than the hit-and-miss translation in the Lonely Planet phrasebook (which scores by having the Italian for "Fuck Off" helpfully provided phonetically.)

Last night's menu was a good one though. Those who know me well will appreciate this one: "Florence bread with tomato and a slice of lard" - Mmm, tasty. Or "Stale bread, Tuscan style, with lard and oil". Doesn't get much better than that.

But I'm being petty. The food here is absolutely superb. And beer at 13p for a 60cl bottle can't be sniffed at. Lucky I picked up some paracetamol at the airport.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Caught In Cortona

Cortona - a beautiful walled city clinging to the side of a hill that looms over my farmhouse. The culture vulture in me obviously had to visit it.

After some faintly alarming hairpin turns and negotiating drivers clearly as confused as I was about the correct side of the road despite they being resident and me being a lowly tourist I made it to the gates. The Lancia was abandoned and I proceeded by foot, cheap flip-flops failing to make much of an impact in the "stop the cobbled streets hurting my feet" stakes.

Yes, it is a beautiful place. Yes, the guide book lied when it claimed the church at the top of the town is accessable via a short walk up a hill. It should say "There'll be a fuck of a steep mountainside to climb, and half way up you'll wish you were dead. Nice bar at the top though."

A bit like Mont Blanc, which also features a bar at the peak.

The landlady at the bar was in that meditteranean transition phase where lithe young women transform into wizened old ladies seemingly overnight. Usually as soon as the wedding ring goes on the finger - some sort of rip-cord gets pulled on the wedding night and the groom is in for a shock in the morning.

Nice beer though.

One thing did strike me as odd (well, aside from the giant watermelon slice in the photo above) was the content of the plethora of souvenir shops that festooned the town. Rather than the usual "Someone went to Cortona and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" type of thing there were Popeye t-shirts. Why would you go to Italy and come back with a Popeye t-shirt?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


So what is it? It squats outside my little house, showing no signs of purpose other than to be a thing to put flowers on.

I speculated that it might be an early prototype for those little scooters the Italians love to kill themselves on. Or maybe a Heath-Robinson-style olive press.

My host, Dimitry, gave a Tuscan shrug and concentrated on the more important task of preparing supper. A couple of glasses of wine from the vinyard next door took my mind off the prehistoric Vesper with little difficulty.

The tan is coming on a treat. But where does the phrase "brown as a berry" come from? Are there many brown berries in the world?

Ah, there's that pesky pool again. Its so demanding.

Ciao, baby.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Papa's Got A New Pool

You know, I may have to emigrate out here. It really is quite beautiful. The quality of life seems excellent. The Italians themselves are generally cheerfully incompetent in much the same vein as the Spanish (see posts passim) which after the surliness of the British and the arrogance of the French is a welcome change.

In truth, my two favourite countries in the world are Holland (which lacks the climate) and Canada (which is too far away from First-Born.) Italy will certainly do though...

The only fly in the ointment are the drivers. Firstly, the speed limits are so low (20km/h in places) that nobody pays any attention to them. Secondly, there is no hard and fast rule on which side of the road they drive. Thirdly, being a catholic country, most of these guys know that a fatal crash will be accompanied by a choir of angels and eternal paradise.

It probably explains why the bottom-of-the-range hire car I have is festooned with more airbags than even the most plastic Hollywood actress.

The car itself is cool. Its a titchy tiny Lancia. The interior is covered with velour. Even over the dashboard. Puts one in mind of being in a very plush padded cell...

...mmm, the pool's calling. Please excuse me for a second... later I shall reveal the earliest known scooter found in the area...