No matter what the days are like – and most have been middling-good to superb – in this April that feels like June, the evenings are always special: clouds part, winds drop and the whole landscape explodes in a burst of raking golden light. It always comes at the very moment when I’m thinking “right, that’s enough: I’m downing tools and going inside now.” So I don’t.
There’s so much to do out there, most of it hidden beneath piles of bloom by a Nature which is kindly helping to disguise any inadequacies on my part. Lack of rain is helping too: the weed situation would be far worse had this warm weather come with a supporting casts of frequent showers. I’m trying to set aside two hours or so each day for pottering; so far, I’m managing most days. It’s such a delight – even my slow-moving weeding.
UK gardening luvvie Bunny Guinness painted a bleak picture last week of gardeners condemned to a life of weeding by a Europarliament which has finally seen a little bit of reason on the glyphosate issue and banned it for use in gardens. Condemned? Weeding is my time for fantasising and philosophising. I question her choice of verb. I also question her viewpoint. Douse my garden in something which is ‘probably’ carginogenic, poisoning the soil, my plants and the ground water; or spend a couple of hours every now and then pulling up weeds while mulling? I think the choice is straightforward.
Comfortingly, I’m absolutely not alone. The Guardian reckons two thirds of Europeans hate the horrid stuff.
I needed some keys cut, so went to the great barn of a hardware shop down in the retail wasteland of Po’ Bandino. The usual laconic man was behind the counter, working his way through a huge bunch of keys which a customer was having duplicated. The five I needed paled in comparison, so he decided to share the pain by working simultaneously for both of us, dedicating one of his two cutting machines to each.
His father, the Old Bloke, had abandoned his usual perch in the white plastic chair across the aisle from the counter, and was busy engaging.
“Keys,” he mused to me. “Everyone always wants to lock everything up. In my day, if you had a key, you put it in the lock and left it there. You never turned it or took it out.”
Altri tempi, I said: different times, then defended myself telling that I never locked the car at home. “Friends who come up from the city and notice this think I’m crazy,” I told him, which was just enough for him to ask where I came from.
“I know you’re not from these parts. You’re too tall,” he said. I don’t think he was being tactful about my accent: he’s too simple a soul for such sophistication. I told him.
“The English: wonderful people. You know they liberated us?” Yes, I did know. “I was in CdP,” he said, which turned out to be not quite true: he was in some god-forsaken hamlet down towards Moiano, cut off from any civilisation there was, and certainly pretty close to starving as war raged through.
“We really loved potatoes, and we didn’t have very much to eat,” he told me, with understatement that the English officers might have appreciated. “We kids used to run after the English soldiers, asking for potatoes. But they didn’t mind us bothering them. They were always kind. Not like the Germans, they’re quite another race.”
I told him I believed that there were good and bad people everywhere, that their having won might have helped us to remember the English as being particularly ‘good’. He thought about that.
“There was one German soldier. When he came to our place and talked to my father, he wanted to give him money,” he told me. I tried to picture the kind of abject, numbing misery that might prompt a soldier to do this. “But my father told him he should keep his money because his family in Germany must need it too.”
There were all sorts, he told me, with the kind of glee that must have occasionally dulled the edge of his childhood hunger, “even Indians. With cloths wrapped around their heads.” But liberation was tough. The Allies pushed ahead quickly around CdP, while the Germans struggled to keep hold of the railway hub at Chiusi. “They hid their tanks in grottoes,” he told me, “and just shot at anything.”
And they mined all around the station. “You see over there, where that fence is?” It wasn’t so much a fence as a tatty bit of plastic which for years has been marking an area destined for yet another ugly retail shed which mercifully hasn’t materialised. “There was a man walking along there with his little boy but no one had told him about the mines. They were both blown sky high.”
It’s odd to think that for some people – ever fewer, of course, and soon to be gone – the most banal local landmarks are loaded with such stark memories of things which for the rest of us are so utterly unimaginable.
My doctor never fails to make me chuckle. I still haven’t quite got the measure of her. She has been a doctor for ever but she always treats me as if I were the first and perhaps only patient she has ever had. (I’m not, I know.) I think she has spent much of her career as a locum or on emergency calls. But now she wants patients of her own. And as she’s willing to second my no-medicines, you’ll-be-right approach to healthcare, she suits me fine.
The other day I was meant to take her the results of the MRI scan of my shoulder, damaged in a bike mishap. I got her surgery times wrong. On the phone, she asked me gingerly if I could scan it and email it. Of course, I replied.
Having established my bona fides as a computer user, she selected me for an experiment – a great leap by the local health authorities into some recent century. I needed a prescription to book a physio appointment. “I’ll send you one; it’s been dematerializzato.”
How I love that word. It’s popping up all over as things get computerised. All it means is that rather than having to fetch a physical piece of paper, it comes to you through the ether. Car insurance comes that way (though in the case of my insurance company I have to go to the office up in town and sign a piece of paper before the email arrives, somewhat defeating the purpose.) And now the health service is dematerialising too. It sounds excitingly sci-fi.
Twenty minutes later, she rang back, hugely excited. “Did you get it?” I checked. Yes, I got it. “Hang on, hang on, I want to listen as you open it.” In fact, I could already see the whole thing: there was nothing to open, but I humoured her.
“You’re the very first!” she said, hugely pleased. The first? “They’ve only just got it up and running. And most doctors can’t see the point of it.” Which may mean, of course, they simply don’t understand how it works. “You’re probably the first person to get one in the whole district,” she said, and her thrill at the idea was quite contagious. I always like to be a ground breaker.