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Twelve months ago

Every so often Kate and I find ourselves posing the question to each other, "What were we doing this time last year?”, not for any deep or meaningful reason, but simply because in the two years or less since we both ceased gainful employment and began doing other things with our lives, even we are beginning to lose track of where we have been and what we have done. The answer to this question if posed at the present time is that we were mid way through six months of living in northern Italy, for me the longest period I have ever spent outside the UK and therefore an experience of some significance. What is rather strange, however, is that it takes no effort at all to remember our Italian sojourn because a number of rather bizarre happenings are combining to act as reminders for us, things that seem to be stretching the boundaries of coincidence considerably.

The apartment in which we were living, tucked away in the village of Torri at the end of an ‘interesting’ fifteen minute drive from the Italian Riviera town of Ventimiglia, was owned by native English speakers, a fact that became evident when we first glanced at the content of the bookshelves that would sustain us throughout the winter months. It would be no exaggeration, indeed a considerable understatement, to say that our lives were made more enjoyable through having such a library at our disposal. Many a rainy day did we spend in front of our log fire, reading our way through novel after novel, all of which were new to us and most very much to our taste. How could whoever placed these books there have known?

So here we are back in the UK, twelve months has elapsed, and a film based on the Stieg Larsson novel we read in Italy, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, is opening at cinemas across the country. It doesn’t stop there though. At least three of the books on our shelves were written by Henning Mankell whose creation, the Swedish detective Wallander, really got under our skins. So to see him come to life on television here in Britain has been a real treat, as well as taking us straight back to the fireside sofa in Italy. Then as if this wasn’t enough, when we recently heard the name Aurelio Zen this too immediately rang bells for us. Michael Dibdin’s novels featuring this Italian detective have an amazing feel to them, Italian life just oozes out of every word despite them being written in English by an Englishman. Having now watched the TV version we are not disappointed. It is almost as if whoever stocked those now far off bookshelves must have had an uncanny, even spooky, ability to see into the future. Surely this cannot just be coincidence.

The reminders of our Italian living do not, however, start or end on the bookshelves. Being ever conscious of our making best use of pension pounds (or Euros), it was not long before our daily and weekly shopping in Italy had introduced us to a new experience. We have my brother Graham to thank for our initiation to the place – he shops there regularly – and we did have our reservations at first but sooner or later we found we had caught the ‘Lidl’ bug. Now if you prefer to buy your foodstuffs with labels you recognise, Kelloggs for breakfast, Heinz for lunch, Cadbury’s for a snack, then a Lidl supermarket is not for you. The problem is not that they don’t sell any products you recognise (they do) but simply that the brands and labels are not those you will be used to. So for example you may find yourself buying ‘Crownfield’ corn flakes for breakfast, ‘Campo Largo’ is the brand for canned goods and if you are looking for a Mars Bar then you’ll need to find a sweet bearing the name, ‘Mister Choc – Choco Caramel’ which only reveals itself for what it really is when you bite into it. All this was part of the learning experience we went through when we first arrived in Italy so that by the time we left in April 2010, we had become thoroughly Lidl-ised, possibly even addicted.

Imagine our surprise when we first started exploring Yeovil after our arrival here in August last year when we found ourselves within easy walking distance of our own Lidl supermarket. This was like home from home for us and the reminders of our Italian life were everywhere we looked. But there was still one thing missing for us, one product that was a particular favourite of my brother Graham, and soon became ours too as thanks to his generosity a bowl full of these things always appeared before us at the end of our climb up to his Torri apartment. It was not until early December that our local Yeovil Lidl finally started to stock our favourite ‘Crusty Croc’ crisps, paprika flavour. Thanks Bro’ for introducing us to a snack that now takes our minds back twelve months with consummate ease.

Ensuite sink & shower

And what has been happening around the home whilst all this reminiscing has been taking place? Well, I am doing another apprenticeship in plumbing, connecting complex bits of copper together so that water can flow around the shower and the small sink we have squeezed in. Kate puts herself at great risk by holding the pipes together so that I can apply the blowtorch and solder them up; such bravery. She still has both eyebrows so things must be going reasonably OK.

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