Archive for September, 2009

…I don’t like Mondays… Actually, it’s looking all right this morning – even though it’s raining, cold, all the shops are shut…

We had a fantastic weekend. I used to find weekends in Acton really frustrating – I’d want to be outside but there was nowhere to go without getting in the car first or taking trains or buses or tubes which would turn everything into a ‘trip’, and getting the kids out of the house would be impossible.

Here there are so many trips we can do from our back door.

On Saturday we bought mountain bikes for the kids (we are spending money like water here – but they had grown out of their bikes and we left them in London) and on Sunday morning we set off through the gate, onto the path through the woods, onto the Carso. We can cycle for miles through the woods – no cars! Lots of gravel and rocks and sharp stones but the kids navigated those well enough. For Micky it was her first time using gears. A bit ambitious on the way out – nearly 5k and lots of uphill – and Micky at some point locked her bike up and took a ride on Stef’s, only to decide it was easier cycling, return to her bike, and make the final stretch to the trattoria in Grapado, just as the skies opened up…

We cycled past a couple of professional-looking cyclists, one of them said something like “You’ve got it on backwards” (in Italian). I thought there must be something on Stef’s bike ( a light fitting, perhaps? ) that was specific to left-hand driving or something – but no, his front wheel was on back to front!!! He’d been cycling it for miles like that without noticing. English bike shop had put new handlebars on for him – and fixed the wheel on back to front!!!  We joked a lot about that (English quality engineering etc.) – especially since they recommended buying bikes in Slovenia (because they brought in a lot of English bikes…). Anyway, they fixed Stef’s bike there and then. Funny, how so many people (even Triestines) comment on the bad humour of the Triestines – they never smile, they’re impolite, it’s hard to make friends… Very definitely not our experience so far. 

Coming home was miles quicker downhill and the kids were really enthusiastic about their bikes.

In the evening our neighbours (unfriendly Triestines??) took us out for trip on their motor boat. He is a speed fiend and has just bought this massive motor boat with loud American engine (“all the police in the bay are after me..”) – and we saw the Triestine coastline from the sea. Sabrina pointed out an oval shaped rock looming down into the water – ‘E la Madonna del Mare’ – and it’s true, she looks like a woman wearing a veil. They say she jumped into the water to kill herself, and her body remains there, in the rock on the cliffs..Davide reckons the sea between Duino castle and Miramare is the most beautiful- like Sardinia, you can see everything underwater.  Stef and the kids jumped off the boat for a swim – I was about to but saw a massive jelly fish and lost my nerve. Anyway, it was cold and late..


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So I DID move the bookshelves round again today. It took me 1/2 an hour to dismount (?) them and an hour and a half to put them back together again. 2 hours to go nowhere. But I persuaded myself into a Zen sort of state and I thought – for the nth time – about  decision-making in general, and classification in general, and whether or not either of them are important. I am actually a nerd. 


Version no. 2

Version no. 2


I remember visiting Stef’s cousin’s house (he’s a historian – written loads of books and been on the telly here in Italy as a sort of Simon Schama figure even though he was absurdly young). You can imagine, he has loads of books. So many he had bookshelves (very nice Italian ones) made to measure, ceiling to floor and double width so he could stack them in two rows. He asked us if we could work out how he’d classified his books (I’m not the only nerd). His job should have given it away: in order of date of birth of the author. He was really excited by some of the weird and wonderful juxtapositions such a system threw up. I wish I could remember some of the examples (but I’m rubbish at history and any guess I make will be wrong but let’s say, just to give you an idea, Freud next to Zola, whereas an alphabetical order would have put Sigmund after Esther Freud and Lucian too, who actually just happens to be the novelist’s father…)…

Anyway, as well as agonising over whether the module with 3 slots should go next to the module with 5, or whether I should leave a gap, thus maximising the ratio of books to shelving but thereby potentially weakening the structure…I agonised over the implications of putting a novel as naff as The Nanny Diaries next to a novel as sublime as The Buddha of Suburbia, just because their author starts with the same letter. These decisions don’t seem to me trivial – they seem seismic – although I do keep trying to keep some very sound advice in mind from my mother-in-law – that most decisions we make just aren’t very important – and we just have to accept them once they’re taken, and all the consequences that arise from them. Because there is no perfect decision (I think that’s the revelation for me) – every decision is a compromise (and thereby a loss) of sorts…


Let's take it all down and start again...

Let's take it all down and start again...


hmm..alphabetical order or date of birth?

hmm..alphabetical order or date of birth?

The final version - maybe...                                                                       Could this be the final version???

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By popular request here’s a brief (!) summary of  some events that overtook us this summer involving 15 Ukrainians and a cat…

Most of the following shenanigans were caused by our cat, Minty. She just lost her lovely sister Silky before camp [see earlier post ‘Jaded and Blue’] and the kids were devastated so we really needed to bring Minty to Italy with us. But because of our very complicated summers we couldn’t bring her straight away. And we thought it was too risky for her to go and stay with someone else cos she might run away. Sooo….we decided to get tenants who could look after the cat just for the month of August, then I’d pick her up and fly her back to Trieste, and we’d get permanent tenants from September. 

Stef sees an online ad on Gumtree for people looking for a house at exactly the dates we needed. Ukrainian guy – Orest – comes to visit with his wife, says the cat is fine, some friends of his with seven kids studying English would like to come and stay. He’ll arrange everything.  Okay. Meanwhile, estate agents who have our house on the market find the perfect tenant who wants to stay forever – and move in straight away BUT is allergic to cats. Stef decides he can’t let the Ukrainians down (even though they had not finalised the contract) – so he suggests a compromise – they can stay for 2 weeks and in the meantime find somewhere else to stay for the remaining two weeks. Orest hands over money for two weeks’ rent (at very reasonable reduced rate because of cat sitting), Stef hands over the keys.  I will come back straight from camp earlier than planned and rescue the cat (Stef and the kids are driving from camp to Genova in Italy to stay with his parents).

So that’s what we did – I turned up at our house on the agreed date (10th August) BUT the Ukrainians refused to leave. Actually, there were 15 of them staying in the house. The neighbours were intercepting me in the street complaining about the noise and the rubbish.  Ukrainians (Irena and Alex) said they had been promised a month and they (and the 12 kids plus assistant) had nowhere to go. Middle man (Orest) had not told them about the change of plan and in the meantime had kept all the money they paid for the month (which was of course way more than the rate we agreed). I phone the police for advice. They say “Oh oh. Ukrainians eh? This is a well-known scam. They say they’re coming for a month – and they just stay without paying rent. There’s nothing you can do. Tenants’ rights. Could take 6 months to get them out.”

I stay with lovely friends and rally all the neighbours. We are going to create an “Acton possie” and raid the house at midnight, camp on the floor, etc etc. But of course this does not happen, we feel sorry for all those kids…

To cut this very long story short. One way or another I manage to persuade very dodgy middle man Orest to pay me the rest of the money for the month (although of course he hangs on with dear life to his inflated percentage) . We meet at night outside our house and walk to a dodgy garage in Acton and he hands over the cash….he’s wearing a black suit….my lovely neighbour Ian has been offering English hospitality and we’re all drinking tea on the street). I agree that Alex and Irena and all kids can stay till the end of the month. Arrange for new lovely tenant to postpone her arrival. All this is a massive and very expensive pain in the derriere cos now I have to fly back to Italy, can’t clean and prepare the house, can’t pick up the cat. 

So, back in Italy have to pay loads of money for professional cleaners to come and do the house, move furniture, etc. Stef makes overnight trip to pick up the cat (she has her own passport which he has to pick up by 5 at the vet’s with the cat, plane lands at 3….etc etc…)    

It was a crazy time….

Now Minty is here and loving the garden and the long grass. And even if she is only a cat, she’s part of the family – and worth it!

All 15 Ukrainians did move out at the end of the month, new tenant has moved in.

There have been many hiccups since they left. We discover the kids were walking on the conservatory roof (!) and many of the panes are now cracked and leaking (over new lovely tenant’s new lovely furniture), toilet is irreparably blocked from having lawd knows what stuffed down it, prof cleaners were aghast, finding breakfast plates with breakfast still on them…

You live and learn. I am just grateful it wasn’t even worse…

Now I just have to go back to Acton at the end of September and do some decorating/ fixing of a few things in the house/ chase up a few errant Ukrainians…

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Meant to post this before I left London for my mad summer. But for one reason or another I didn’t. But I’ll post it now anyway cos it’ s still relevant. 

As I count down to leaving London, thought I would write a series of posts on ‘Things I will miss about Acton’ (should probably add – ‘things I won’t miss on leaving Acton’-  too but hey, the place has had its fair dose of negative publicity).

The list (of things I’ll miss) might cover any of the following:-


Vanilla cafe (too late, already gone)

The Rocket



Acton Park

Churchfield Road


Acton Central station

All of these places might get a post. But in the meantime I feel the pressing need to tell you how much I’ll miss Boot Camp (or Urban Vitality as it’s known outside the inner circle).

[N.B. Would put links to all of these places but my internet connection has just crashed and apart from losing half this post, it’s too slow to get the links. Will sort it later.] 

I started Boot Camp last November. And I’ve been turning up to Acton Park (or nearby Southfields Rec when the pitch was waterlogged) twice a week since then. Come rain or shine. Or snow. I’d been wanting to do it for months.

Here’s what we do. We turn up at 9.30, most of us having just dropped our kids off at the local schools and one or two of us having stopped en route at Estoril to get a cup of coffee and (one of us) a rice cake (as in Portugese with flour and butter and eggs not as in health fanatics’ sandpaper breakfast). Consequently I am usually last to arrive. Then I have to do extra star jumps.

I leave my bike propped against all the others, dump my jackets (always overdressed) and water bottle (If I’ve remembered it) and join the gathering group. John Limpus (our coach and one man Urban Vitality band) is there, smiling, eager to get going. There are gentle instructions to jog to the cones and back, then “high knees” or “the Londoner” – I love these expressions. When doing the Londoner I resist the temptation (though not always) to sing ‘My old man’s a dustman’. As we stumble along, we giggle and chat – who’s been camping for the weekend, who’s been for a run, who’s got a hangover right now…

We work hard. Really hard. We might do some endurance work – like the ‘Fahrtlich’ – running very fast for say 3 minutes, then jogging slowly for 3 mins, then running fast for 2 mins, slow for 2, etc etc. John will have to correct me on the timings. I never was any good at numbers…But you can always work harder in this group than you would on your own. And we play lots of games – alongside some tough exercises. We do “burpies” and “Turkish get-ups” and “karaoke”. Sometimes we are followed by a woman and her dog, or by young men training for the Olympics.  We always look impressive.

Anyway, the real plus about this form of exercise is it’s fun, it’s outside – and it’s effective. I so love being outside. The rain even doesn’t bother me – or the cold. And there is no better place to be than Acton Park on an autumn morning. It’s a mile away from being in a sweaty gym.



This is hard work

This is hard work


Back here in Trieste I haven’t been to Boot Camp now for 2 months – and I miss it! But I can vouch for the long-term benefits. This summer, I was a counsellor on a 4 week International children’s camp. This is a 24/7, going to bed at 2, getting up at 7, running around all the time sort-of-job designed for 17 year olds. It is full-on. I can safely say my energy was fantastic – and I even beat all the campers at sprinting. That made me prouder than you can imagine. 

And now, here in Trieste, I feel super lucky to have woods on my doorstep – and instead of gazing at them longingly as I would have done in my pre-Boot Camp days, I am out, running, loving the wind on my face and feeling better (fitter and thinner!) than I have for ten years. 

That’s a legacy to be proud of.

Thank you John!!!


John - and Fergus

John - and Fergus

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So here we are then, truly installed in Trieste (Via Sigmund Freud don’t ya know?  That has to be the best address ever – depending on your past experiences, of course.) I have been putting off and putting off getting back to this blog (in the same way that my kids leave the best bits till last on their plates). Main reason  – no reliable internet connection –  I was waiting for the wonderful (heavy sarcasm) Telecom Italia to install our landline and internet yesterday but…they screwed up, we have to wait another week, so I’m writing here anyway, stumbling along with this little gadget conected to my laptop…

Blog…twitter…facebook…website. This is all such a challenge! How do you all keep up??? I can barely operate the remote on the telly!  

So…kids started school yesterday…


the route to school

the route to school


Success – so far….they are happy, relaxed, enthusiastic. For Fran a less daunting experience than starting at Acton High I think, even though we have moved country and language. I’ve just spent 82 Euros buying stationary for them both – notebooks, pencil cases, folders – all have to be a certain size, lines a certain width (depending on age), glue sticks, crayons, art paper. Then there are the brands that are ‘di moda’ – GURU and GEKO and Hello Kitty.


hmmm...anyone for tennis?

hmmm...anyone for tennis?

There’s a reason why Italians are organised, neat and tidy  (and a bit anal) – they invest in it all from an early age.  


Meanwhile I continue to build and unbuild the bookcases in my study in the basement. You will not believe the time I have wasted (or invested if you want to see it positively) in getting my books back in order. I have this modular system of beautiful hardwood units that Stef picked up 20 years ago from an auction room in Leamington Spa – and whenever we’ve moved I’ve had to invent a new configuration for them. Harder than you’d think. It involves a lot of maths, but more importantly, a lot of stretching and lifting and balancing shelving in precarious positions in limited spaces as I change my mind yet again….I think an espresso is in order before I embark on that this morning..

Last night I started an African drumming course. I am so happy! 18 years ago I did the most amazing African dance course here in Trieste down by the sea at the Hotel Europa as the sun set – and I’ve been looking for a class ever since. When we left Trieste last time I managed to find an African drum course in Leamington Spa – then we moved to Acton and even though London has everything I couldn’t find anything near enough.  I’d still love to find an African dance class though – the best workout ever.

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