Nope. This one I really, really couldn’t.

As you may remember I’m not very picky about food and am willing to try anything once.

Ice-cream I like, especially Italian ice-cream but this I could not eat under any circumstances.

I’m sorry but there it is. The very thought of it makes me want to retch. There’s one thing when it’s your own mother and you’re, say, 2 months old, another thing entirely when you’re an adult and it’s your mother or not! How can people eat this stuff? How can people sell it??

Thick, thin, bushy or not. Why do they want to make mine different?

Facial hair. For men, it’s something you either like or don’t. For women, of course, it’s different.

But, there’s one bit of facial hair that, without them, it looks strange and so most people leave them although most people, it seems, these days, make them as small as possible.

I’m talking eyebrows.

To be honest, what is the point of them? Other than allowing other people to tell when you are surprised or angry or thoughtful. Unless you’ve been botoxed up top, in which case it’s not possible to move them, which I always find quite amusing.

But, other than giving indicators of your mood, they seem pointless.

But they are there. And, love them or hate them, you would look pretty odd without them.

However, why is it, when I go to the barber’s, they always want to ‘trim’ mine? It’s not like mine are so bushy as to seem like overhanging rocks. They’re quite flat, really, though thick ….. ish.

I suppose the only strange thing about mine is that there are certain individual hairs that grow quite long. You can’t actually see that normally, since they flatten out along the brow. But, if I pull them down, sometimes the odd one will reach my cheek. But mostly you’d never know this.

These days, for both men and women, the art of plucking or shaving your eyebrows so that there is a thin line or, at least, less than was originally is widespread. But these are, generally people under 30 or those with huge eyebrows. I am not under 30 and mine aren’t huge.

So why does the barber ask me? Worse, why does he feel he should make sure that I really, really do want them left alone?

They may have no specific meaning or use but they are a part of the character of your face and I like mine just the way they are. It’s bad enough that I have to shave most days and have my haircut once a month. I don’t want to be worrying about whether my eyebrows are too thick and need trimming. Bah!

Move along. Nothing to see here.

There’s a disturbing thing about polls.  The results will depend on the question asked.

There’s also a disturbing thing about the media. The headline will not necessarily reflect the actual truth. After all, it is a headline and they want you to read it.

There’s another disturbing thing about the media. Or is it about people, in general? It seems that the media, far from reflecting public (or even popular opinion), seem to have taken on a role that was, at one time, the role of the church. They ‘encourage’ certain thinking in their readers.

Take the Daily Mail. Sometimes called the Daily Hate Mail. If you can stay above the overall hatred that is not reserved for anyone in particular but is directed at all people at some time or another, it makes for an interesting read. They hate ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘gay people’, non-white people, white people, Christians, non-Christians. In fact, they hate everyone at some time or another. However, apart from those people who ‘cost the taxpayer’ they seem to hate Muslims most of all.

So, it would be fair to suppose that most of their readers (I say most as I am one of their readers – who disagrees with most, if not all, of their ‘reports’) also hate Muslims.

And so, their article about the latest ‘poll’ has a headline that is quite astounding. Half of people would support a right-wing party if it gave up violence. Except, if you actually read the article and look at the question posed, the headline should read ‘The majority of people don’t want an English parliament, don’t want more controls on immigration and don’t want to challenge Islamic extremism’. Of course, that wouldn’t make you read the article, would it? The reality is that 48% of people said they would support a right-wing, fascist party that didn’t use violence. But, history has shown that they do use violence, since that is part of the fascist make-up. And so, the result is that MOST people wouldn’t support the normal fascist party.

And, anyway, it’s the Daily Hate Mail that is always banging on about how it’s terrible how English people are treated in England; how there is never enough controls on immigration; how Islamic extremism is in every British city whereas, in fact, none of these things is true for the MAJORITY of people. In the same way that MOST people who clam benefits are not low-life, work-shy, scroungers – but every day they have an article about someone that they have found who is like this and readers would think that EVERYONE on benefits is like this.

It disturbs me that so many people can believe the headlines without thinking about the reality.

So, move along now. Nothing to see here.

Italian or British? Who is which?

“Have you two had a fight?”

I explained that no, as yet, we’ve never really had a fight (apart from last summer, at the start of our holidays). I explain that he’s just stressed.

We had been there a little while, waiting for him. He had had to wait for his washing machine to finish. It leaks from a hose somewhere and so he has to stay to mop up from time to time. So, it was almost 9.30 before he arrived. And, when he arrived, he was on the phone and seemed angry and didn’t say anything to me and so they thought that we had fought.

But I know him well enough now and know he is not pissed with me. When he comes back to the table he tells me who was on the phone. They were talking about the funeral in the UK that will be held next Friday. He tells me he is not going to go. I have mixed feelings about this and none of them selfish. On the one hand, he should go as I think he may regret it later. This was, at least for 11 years, his father-in-law. On the other hand, he is so busy right now, that even a two-day trip to the UK will throw everything into disarray for him.

He tells me it is because S would feel like he would have to look after F and S will be busy himself, given that it’s his father’s funeral and so he will be unable to look after F as he would like. But it is more complicated than that.

Next week he has several places to go and one is Venice, so a night away. The following week is a full week in Germany. So a trip in the middle of this to the UK would just add to his feeling of stress.

In the lift, on the way back to my flat, he informs me that he is working both on Saturday and Sunday.

I say how sorry I am. Again, there is nothing selfish in this. I am sorry for him. He really needs the rest.

During the meal, last night, for some reason I now forget, it came up about the end of him and S. Apparently it was not a good ending. And it went on for some time. It’s part of the reason that he doesn’t want to ‘go there’ again. And I do ‘get it’ even if I don’t agree with it. And I don’t. But it explains some more things. It explains the way he is.

At one point he tells the colleague we are with that he keeps home and work seperate. He doesn’t talk to me about his work – good or bad. He doesn’t take his personal life into work, he says. Although, of course, he does, he just doesn’t realise it.

But I thought about him and how stressed and uptight he gets about things.

I thought, “but this isn’t what I expected from an Italian.

An Italian should be more relaxed and easy-going. An Italian shouldn’t get this uptight”.

And I wondered if, in fact, this uptightedness was more of a universal thing and not just confined to the British. Or if, with me being more laid back than he is, we hadn’t, somehow, got trapped in the wrong country when we were born. Is he Italian or British? I mean to say, is he more British than Italian? Am I more Italian than British?

As one could say he was a little more anally retentive than your average Italian (unless they are all like this and I just didn’t realise). But, perhaps, the British shouldn’t be portrayed as they are?

He says that “the problem with English people is that they don’t tell you the truth”. I am included in this. It’s not that we lie, it’s just that we don’t say it like it is and nor do we give our true feelings.

I think we call them white lies. These aren’t true lies, of course. These are things said so that you don’t hurt people’s feelings. Like – “you look lovely in that dress”, etc.

Perhaps they don’t have them in Italy? White lies, that is.

Do they?

It just is.

It happens sometimes and it’s difficult to explain, really.

Last night, following a telephone call on Monday, I went to see the old man with the book. The book that has taken, apparently, nearly 40 years to write.

I did enjoy the time editing it but I don’t like having to visit him to do editing. I’m not sure why. It might be because I think that, if I live that long, that’s how I will be – living alone, in a faceless, tiny flat, in a huge block, rarely going out (because there’s nowhere close to go to), reclusive but not through desire, etc.

I looked at him last night and thought of Rufus. I wonder if he sits and stares at the walls like Rufus does?

Someone asked me about him the other day. I said I hadn’t heard from him for ages. “I guess the book is finally printed and finished”, I said, “Or, he’s dead!”

I had even moved his contact details out of the briefcase and put them ‘somewhere’. He phoned as I was driving. I said I would call back within the hour. After I had disconnected I realised that I might not have his number. Stupid me, I thought, for not adding his details into my phone.

Luckily, I know myself well enough. It was not filed anywhere, just sitting on top of the filing cabinet, under the laptop.

I left work and drove there. I had had such a headache during the day and it was still making my head feel like someone was kicking it soundly and, so, I was not looking forward to spending an hour or more with him, on an uncomfortable chair, in the lighting that he has (which is not good), hunched over a laptop and trying to interpret what he wants. Still, I thought, it’s extra and unexpected money and every little helps.

Plus I had my ‘late night’ English lesson at 9 p.m. following that. No, this was not going to be a great evening and if the bloody headache wasn’t going to go it would make it one of the worst evenings.

As I was driving, M, my late-night student texted to say his daughter was ill and he wasn’t coming. To be honest, I was grateful.

I got to the place where the bookman lived. For me, it has to be one of the most depressing areas of Milan although I am sure that there are far worse. No, I know that, really, it is not that bad. It’s just the thought of ever having to live somewhere like that. I couldn’t do it. I would rather go back to the UK.

He had a new ‘print’ of the book. To be honest, it was much better than the last one. This time the pages weren’t falling out. He seemed pleased to see me. I think he is. After all, I don’t charge him a fortune and he knows that he can trust me now – well, almost.

We start through the changes he wants. He wants to change a table. I do my best. It’s not as he wants, exactly but he knows that these tables are a real pain. He wants to check everything I do on the screen. Except he can’t read it so well, so it takes longer. I really want out of there but I am unable to leave. I cannot do less than my best for him. I am annoyed with myself for trying to make everything right. Why can’t I be like other people? People who really don’t care. Grrrr.

He asks me more often about whether he has used English correctly. Yes, he trusts me much more now. He uses “reception”. He is concerned that the reader will think he means a reception of a hotel or something similar. I explain that it’s fine. After all, the readers of his book will be highly educated people and will understand the correct meaning. Of course, what I would have liked to say was that the only (few) people who will ever read this book are, to be honest, geeky freaks. I didn’t say that. You ain’t going to be seeing this book in the airport, that’s for certain.

Weirdly, I kind of hope that he will tell me when it has been published. Even more weirdly, if he were to ‘give’ me I copy, I would be really pleased. I think of this and decide that I am quite strange myself. For certain, even if I had this book, I would never, never read it.

We finish, just short of two hours. I wish him good luck and hope that I don’t see him again – but in a nice way – in that the book is finally finished now. I don’t really think it is. I have a better understanding of him now. there will be some other ‘small things’ that need to be done. Still, I suppose if you have been writing this book for 40 years, you might as well make it perfect.

And then, on the drive home, it happened. This thing that happens rarely and at strange times and, seemingly, for no reason at all.

I come to a traffic lights and have to stop. I look the other side of the canal (which runs by the side of the road). There is a shop or, maybe a restaurant or a bar. It doesn’t really matter which. I suddenly become aware of the talk on the radio. I look at the sign on the shop.

“I live in a foreign country”, I think.

It’s the feeling that comes with that thought. The feeling of wonder at being here, of pride at having ‘made it’, of fear of knowing that I will never be ‘of this country’. It’s almost like a shock.

“How strange”, I think, “that, after all this time, this feeling can still come to me and at such unexpected times?”

It was the sign that did it. It wasn’t a special sign just a normal sign with an Italian name or word. I see these every day. Many of them. Why now? Why at this particular time? I don’t think there’s an answer to that. It just happens. It just is.

A brand new day!

I feel much better, thank you for asking.

OK, so you didn’t actually know I wasn’t feeling so good. It’s not that I’ve been ill. It’s just that, if F isn’t around, I get angry, frustrated, panicky, etc.

But last night he came round, even if it was very late. I slept well and feel so much better.

He makes me feel calm and the issues/problems or whatever just seem to disappear when I am physically with him.

It’s annoying, really, that he has this much effect.

But, now that I’ve spent time with him (even if nearly all of it was asleep), I feel like it’s a brand new day.

Which it is, of course :-)

There is no truth in any of this, whatsoever.

Warning: None of the following may be true, real or ever have happened. If you are incensed, angered or just slightly annoyed by it then STOP READING.

He had mentioned that he would like to go and see it. The problem, for me, was that I too wanted to see it but I didn’t want to spoil my enjoyment of it by watching it in Italian and understand little, to have to watch it again, in English.

So, someone gave me a copy ….. in English. I watched it over a few nights. Now, here, I should give you some background.

I don’t really like them. They are German, after all (with apologies to the Germans at least one of whom is a friend). I think it’s more that they are German and think they run the UK which they don’t, quite obviously. I mean, they even had to change their surname from Saxe-Coberg and Gotha so that people wouldn’t confuse them with Germans (which they were). This was the First World War.

By the second one, they were quite happy to court Hitler. ‘He seemed to have the right idea’!

When the old father died the succession passed to Edward. But Edward was having a not-so-secret affair with a married American woman. He loved her so much he gave up on ‘his duties’ and so his younger brother became George VI. His wife, so it is said, hated both Edward and ‘that woman’, Wallis. Not because they were horrible (although they might have been) but because they were the cause of her husband being put in an impossible position and, eventually, dying rather younger than he might have, ordinarily.

After George’s death, his eldest daughter was next. There was a small snag, however. His daughter would be Queen. His mother, still alive, was the Queen Mother (Mary, wife of George V). So what would the title of George VI’s wife be? You couldn’t really have two Queen Mothers, now could you? OK so officially she died of ‘gastric problems’, being an euphemism for lung cancer. Or, of course, given the scheming of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, she could have had the old Queen Mary, the Queen Mother, done away with?

I plump for the last option.

So, I go to watch the film with a preconceived idea of QE, the Queen Mother (being played by Helena Bonham-Carter) as a rather wicked old witch who ruled her husband and, when he became King, the household, with quite an iron fist. Of her husband being a bit of a wimp. Of the politicians of the time being rather stupid, etc., etc.

But, this is a film. It is made ‘nice’. Actually, I found it quite heart-warming. HBC was wonderful as the Queen as was Colin Firth as Bertie. For me, Geoffrey Rush as Logue was the best of them all. Actually, it made me almost cry at the end (because I am such a softie and just love happy endings in films).

So now I have told F that I will be very happy to go and see the Italian-dubbed version of The King’s Speech (Il Discorso del Re) at the cinema. In fact, I said we just HAVE to go. The only thing that ‘worries’ me is that I like it so much because it is also a story of Britain (and a Britain we like to think of as ‘Great’) and a man overcoming all odds and a woman who loves him – and will an Italian think of it like this also or will missing the Great out of Britain mean that it is much less of a good story?

And, F replies that we should go this weekend. I am happy.

The Internet and democracy.

There’s been a lot of ‘talk’ about how the Internet (and, in particular Twitter and Facebook) have helped bring about the move to democracy in the middle east/North Africa.

I think we should hesitate for a moment before passing judgment on either the Internet role and whether there is a real move to democracy.

It’s all to do with perception and we should be careful that what we perceive turns out to be the reality.

Let us first take ‘democracy’. Democracy for us is one thing. But, much like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. If a foreign country’s democracy doesn’t fit our picture, then we consider it not to be democracy. But democracy is different, even between countries in Europe. The idea is sound, the reality something different. Many voters in the UK, for certain, often feel disenfranchised, feeling that ‘their vote’ is worth nothing.

More importantly is that these uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere leave a vacuum. Take Egypt specifically. The army has run the country for years. The army are running it now. Sure, the top man may have gone and some of his cronies but, much like in the UK, the Government isn’t actually run by the Government but by the people in the civil service (or, for Egypt, the army) and regardless of the top figures, they are the people who decide what actually happens and, more importantly, how it is implemented. In other countries, we are equally likely to see one dictator replaced by someone similar even if his/her views are slightly different. We should be careful what we wish for. Change may not bring about the change that we actually want.

I’m sure, when books were printed for the first time, there was a feeling by those in power, that this was ‘dangerous’. This meant that the people get to know too much. And people knowing things is always bad – at least for the people in power. Then there was the telephone. It was said the the loss of Vietnam by the Americans was down to television and how quickly things were beamed into people’s home, showing the reality of the war. And now there is the Internet.

Did you know, for example, that in spite of our headlines in the West about how China restricts access to sites they don’t like the US does it too! OK, so that was a ‘mistake’ but it does show how easily they can do it. More importantly, they DO do it. It may be for good reason but how do we really know? To whom are they accountable? And the Wikileaks thing, where they advised that no governmentaly employed person, nor their families should access Wikileaks?

As usual, it all comes down to fear. It’s not the Internet that’s really the problem but that the Internet allows things to be distributed to a larger audience faster, even, than television. It’s better than a phone call because it includes video. It is proof of a terrible thing (even if, in reality, it is not actual proof at all, since it can be faked).

And have you noticed what most of these uprisings seem to be based upon? It is the young people who say they have no work, no chance of bettering themselves.

And, in the West, we think we’re immune from this? Why? We don’t have young people? We don’t have huge amounts of unemployed young people? We don’t have these young people with little sign of things improving soon?

The student protests was one thing. The tax evasion protests another. I predict there will be more. I predict that, sooner or later someone getting beaten by the police when on a peaceful march, will die. Sorry, just in case there is doubt, I mean in the UK. It has already happened in Egypt and Bahrain. Fro the UK, remember the video footage of the guy in the wheelchair getting dragged across the street by the thugs? Ooops, sorry, the police. And the guy that was badly beaten and ended up in hospital? You may think it’s a far cry from Egypt or any of those other countries but it’s the same really.

If we continue to pound the young people with this unemployment or, when they are employed, we tax them so high as to make life too hard for them, you think they won’t, at some time, rise up against the ‘regime’?

Coming soon to a town centre near you – rioting and unrest!