I don’t want to tempt fate but, so far, the two’s have been anything but terrible.
I mean he’s had his moments like we all do, but largely it’s been all rather jolly. As usual, this is due to a combination of circumstances but the main driver behind this new wave of optimism is based around successful communication. Over and above preferred foodstuffs, he can now specify what he wants to wear and when he wants to wear it, chronicle the finer points of what he wants to do in terms of playing, staying or going and, most recently, tell us directly when he wants to go to bed, even if he doesn’t want to.
The main issue of discontent is the phone, or ‘own’ as he initially calls it, usually before shouting ‘own, own, own’ over again in increasing intensity before shrieking ‘OWN!’ in a flood of crocodile tears. I must admit, he’s very good. It’s very easy to say ‘no’ and distract him with one of those new-fangled books but, to our shame, far easier to give in and let him have it while we carry on with our lives in peace.
The phone is especially useful when we’re travelling, on a flight, on a train/coach/car to-and-from airport and all the hanging around associated with budget-air travel. Note ‘budget-air travel’. Reading back, you’d be under the misapprehension that we’re permanently sunning ourselves in foreign climes (with unlimited resources) and this needs to be addressed, here and now.
For a kick-off, the frequent sojourn to Italy is family-based: we’re staying at the family home so there are no accommodation costs involved. It costs less to fly to Bergamo Milan from Stanstead on Ryan Air than to take a train north of Watford and the to/from airport costs at either end are kept in check by both our location in East London and family/friends once in Italy. And, if you really know what you’re doing, you can eat for next to nothing if you know the right bars in which to order aperitivo.
This fantastic invention probably has its origins in Ancient Greece before arriving in Ancient Rome but wasn’t quite the drinkies-with-friends-before-dinner (or lunch) as its know today. Until the invention of Vermouth by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in the 18th century, aperitivo was more about the higher echelons of society whetting their appetites with nibbles and drinks before a big meal. Vermouth popularised aperitivo, not only was it delicious and complex, it was affordable; now anyone could enjoy a snifter before their tea.
The modern version of aperitivo began in the 1930’s with, essentially, a brilliant advertising campaign by Campari, it became fashionable and bars and restaurants began to serve their cocktails with ever-more fancy finger foods to woe patrons into dining and, well, show-off a bit.
These days aperitivo consists of spritz, typically Campari or Aperol mixed with soda water and sparkling white wine, served with food that can range from some crisps or nuts to plates of meat, cheese, sandwiches, tarts, pizza and anything in between and beyond. North Italy, especially Milan, is the best place to go but between roughly 11am and 2pm, 5pm and 9pm anywhere in Italy is fair game.
Stating the bleein’ obvious, drinking in Italy isn’t like drinking in a British boozer (though somewhat ironically, the Romans brought wine bars to the UK some 2000 years ago, these became alehouses and so on) for a start, parents with kids aren’t regarded as a fodder for social services and in spite of the craft-beer thing making tiny ripples, it isn’t all about beer; aside from the spritz, wine is cheap, plentiful and delicious and the constant dribble of complementary savoury snacks fortifies one’s resolve.
“So why not fuck off to Italy then?” Said the bloke stood waiting at the bar. “…And that’s another thing, you order at the table and they just bring you all this stuff, and they don’t expect a tip either. Pardon?”
There’s the thing, you see. It’s only when you get out of the UK you realise the pub is unique, whether it’s technically ‘better’ or ‘worse’ isn’t the issue, there isn’t anything like it in the world because it’s a rooted institution that has grown from the ground up over centuries…. For example, about the same time that Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in the late 1300’s, King Richard the 2nd himself introduced the pub sign making it easier for passing travellers to stop for a beer and a chinwag/punch-up, firmly establishing the pub, as Samuel Pepys said some 300 years later, ‘the heart of England’. The Dutch and the French had their coffee houses, the Spanish and the Italians had their wine bars but only England (spreading to Wales, Scotland and Ireland) had the pub.
That said, pubs aren’t for kids, the bars of Italy and Spain are much more family orientated (some more than others, of course) and therefore a lot easier to plop the little fellow down in front of the ‘own’ and feed him little snacks while his parents get gently pissed on spritz (pristzed) but, all said, nothing beats the good old pub and I don’t know why.
Returning to Italy, the better half bought me a ticket for the MotoGP at Mugello. A few years ago, I used to write about MotoGP but hadn’t actually seen one live. You see, the British leg of the MotoGP is at Silverstone in Northamptonshire so, in addition to the fact that it’ll be raining all day, I’d rather save the hundred odd quid for a ticket, plus the cost of fuel getting there and back from London, and not get pneumonia in the process. It’s £30 to see British Superbikes at Brands Hatch in Kent, a pleasant hour there and back and it never rains there, ever… Apart from the trackday I did in early spring when it pissed down with such ferocity the rain was going up my pipe and the marshals had to stop the session. So, what better way to pop my cherry than at the Italian GP in Mugello, without question the best round of the lot.
We’d planned the trip a few months in advance, fly to the better half’s gaff in North Italy, stay there for a few days of sibling rivalry (another story, I’ll spare you) before driving to the east coast for three days on the Adriatic, passing through Mugello on the Sunday and back to the homestead the same day. The car, a sort of off lime-green Ford Ka, had recently been fitted with a new black bonnet following a collision a few weeks earlier so it resembled Mr. Bean’s mini, and wasn’t that much larger too.
How on earth we managed 800 kilometres and 12 hours plus is beyond me, especially when we factor in the little boy strapped in at the back.
Apart from a little sick-up following some particularly stunning but undulating, twisting roads in the Tuscan hills just outside Mugello (there were bikes flying past us, having experienced a similar ride a few years ago my envy realised itself in a stream of swearing) he either slept or watched endless streams of Peppa Pig (or ‘Pip’ as he calls it) to such an extent I had to buy more data for my phone. And I couldn’t have cared less, if he was happy then we were over button moon.
The only time he sort-of got the arse was when we arrived at Mugello and were forced to shoehorn him into a pram (once again Pip came to the rescue) after he’d been sat in a car for the best part of four hours.
Factor in our having just spent the previous three days frolicking under piercing blue skies in warm, crystal clear waters that chewed at a castor sugar shoreline then it’s a wonder he didn’t eject his screaming tongue. He just loves playing in water, his auntie got him a little bucket and spade and he couldn’t have been happier, especially as when he/we were done there were half a dozen little beach play areas -complete with slides, swings and his favourite, wendy houses- all conveniently located by pretty little beach bars that sold half a litre of ice cold prosecco for 4 euros, with complimentary snacks, of course.
We’d parked about half kilometre from the track on the kerbside as we were keen to avoid getting stuck in a car park after the race. The queues out of Mugello are a legend in their own right. It was almost 40 degrees and the walk with the pram mainly uphill, in certain sections the gradient was so extreme I was virtually parallel to the Tuscan earth as I pushed onwards, gasping for air like a dying fish
In 1999 I was at Brands Hatch to see Carl Fogarty win the World Superbikes championship amid 100,000 plus spectators, there was the same amount at the sixth Round of the 2018 MotoGP at Mugello but I don’t recall a medieval fog of yellow flares, bellowing fans and blokes with engines attached to sack trucks that’d be randomly fired up on mention of the GOAT that is Valentino Rossi. This was adulation on a scale reserved for megastars of popular music or evil cult leaders. For the entire time I was there the word ‘Valley’ was a constant in the breeze, when he appeared on screen, when his name was mentioned over the tannoy and most especially when he rode past, vast chunks of the assembled congregation would erupt in beatific praise, This adulation was matched only by the spleen-venting venom directed at world champion Marc Marquez which was actually rather shocking: I didn’t need any translation when it came to the extended middle-digits, caterwauling or boos that followed his every public action, but when I learnt they were shouting ‘you should die’ at the poor bastard I became concerned at the likely prospect of him actually winning.
Having secured a space overlooking the corner at the south-west aspect of the circuit (Correntaio) and as we were due to discover, slap bang in the middle of the Valentino Rossi fan club (a more intensified version of the shenanigans taking place elsewhere, worryingly) the little boy decided that the nearby standpipe was a far more thrilling prospect than boring old two-million-dollar motorbikes (or ‘booms’ as he calls them) and there he remained. Oh.
Thing is that he genuinely likes ‘booms’ but the GP bikes weren’t doing it for him, probably because they were some way off and punctuated by a screaming smoke-engulfed sea of Italian nutters. I had envisaged him on my shoulders clapping in explosive delight every-time the bikes shot passed, instead he was goofing around the standpipe by the bins at the top of the hill, laughing his little head off as he gleefully threw around handfuls of water while his mum, she who had bought the tickets and driven around half of Italy to get us here, stood by with a face like a wet weekend in Clacton.
Early on the race Marquez went down right under our noses, he was physically uninjured (mercifully) but the cheers of abuse from the Italian fans must have caused him harm emotionally. I cheered too, relieved he wasn’t going to get torn limb from limb if he won. In the end Rossi came a commendable third, though I was slightly disappointed because he was in pole and it would’ve been fantastic to see the crowds’ reaction had he won. The Italians weren’t too miffed mind you, Lorenzo (himself once just as hated as Marquez) won on a Ducati (an Italian motorcycle if you didn’t know) and to ice the proverbial torta, Italian Andrea Dovizioso’s brought his Ducati in second.
The long, hot slog back to the car was once again saved by Pip, when we finally reached la macchina we were relieved to discover that the traffic wasn’t too bad, I guess it took maybe an hour in heavy traffic before we were back on the freeway which isn’t bad, I’d heard of tales of people being stuck in their cars until the following morning. Not that I gave a shit, what an amazing day.
Back to then terrible-two thing, I’d forgotten to note that, suddenly, he hates going to nursery and has to be dragged out of my arms by the staff as he screams ‘daddy, daddy, no daddy’ (which is fucking horrific, by the way) and he’s grown a taste for soap. That is all.