Top Ten Tips for a Successful Week with Houseguests

  1. Refuse to let them through the front door until their bags have been searched for Bird’s Custard, Patak’s Curry Paste and trashy magazines
  2. Exhaust them by visiting every single tourist sight – insisting that walking between each one is the only way to get to know the real Rome
  3. Forbid anyone from ordering coffee at the tourist traps on the piazzas but take them to grubby locals’ bars where you can get a cappuccino for 90 cents
  4. Ensure they eat so much pizza each day that they will never visit Pizza Express again
  5. Stock up on copious amounts of prosecco, wine and beer so they spend the week in a blissful haze
  6. Force-feed them plates of lovingly prepared (i.e. stick it all on a plate) antipasti so they go home telling everyone what a fabulous cook you are
  7. Make so many comments about visitors who expect to be waited on hand and food, that they leap to their feet to get the washing-up done the second a meal is finished.
  8. Remind them at least once an hour not to step in dog poo (on the streets, not in the apartment…although, having said that, they did have to watch out for Beyoncé Bunny poo in the living room)
  9. Run compulsory Scrabble and Rummikub championships every night – ‘you will have fun, whether you like it or not‘…
  10. Be considerate enough to wait until they set off for the airport before you collapse with flu

2472-GUESTS-LIKE-FISH (Only joking…)

Another One Bites The Dust

This is before I even start...

This is before I even start…

I’m exhausted.  I’ve been cleaning the apartment in honour of visitors from England who are arriving tonight.  ‘A little ol’ apartment?’ I hear you say.  ’How long can that take?‘  Two days, that’s how long.  TWO DAYS!  This apartment is bigger than my entire house and garden in England.   The worse thing about cleaning isn’t the actual dusting, polishing and hoovering.  It’s every thing else that goes with it:

1) The ‘amusing’ comments I have to endure:   ‘Hoovering??  It’s not Christmas yet you know!’  ‘Are you ill?  Shall I fetch the doctor?

2) Turning into a crazy woman.  Usually I’m pretty laid back about food, paint and mud on the floor.  Like Joey from Friends when Rachel worries about dropping spaghetti: ‘Rach!  Hey, it’s fine!  You’re at Barb’s Joey’s!’  But when I’ve cleaned the place, I turn on anyone I think may be trying to sabotage Mission Housework:  ‘Who dropped this crumb?  Come on.  Who was it?  Right, that’s it.  Christmas is cancelled unless somebody owns up.  Oh, and by the way, we’ll be eating dinner in the street tonight.’

3) If life is too short to stuff a mushroom, then it’s definitely too short to waste time attempting to remove glitter from a leather sofa.  It actually seems to have been stuck on with cement.

4) The salubrious results of all this hard work last for mere seconds.  Every time I turn my back, dust comes out of its hiding place, mocking me as it lands on my freshly polished surfaces.  Stray feathers drop on the floor in front of me as I put away the hoover.  Whirling dervishes dance behind me, scattering Sylvanians, dirty socks and school bags in my wake.

If you can manage this, you're allowed to stay

If you can manage this, you’re allowed to stay

5) Life always conspires against my dream of a clean home.  This time, the minute I’d finished my cleansing ministerings, Beyoncé Bunny came to stay for half-term.  I watched, speechless, as stacks of hay, rabbit fur and little brown raisin poops sullied my beautifully clean floor.

Seriously, what is the point???  But at least today I’ll be rewarded with a suitcase full of goodies – Dairy Milk, Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate, Sunpat Peanut Butter, Pot Noodles.  Mmmmm, hurry up food friends…

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head…or Here Comes The Sun?

It’s raining here – again.  Despite Rome having a reputation as a city of eternal sunshine, it actually has a greater rainfall each year than London.   Rome receives an average of 733mm of rain per year, whereas London only gets 587mm.  The difference is that all this Roman rain squeezes into just 74 days but London sees rain for 186 days of the year.

snoopy rain RomeRome doesn’t do drizzly days; instead the rain comes in torrents, great big bucketfuls that cascade down from the skies without warning.   The roads flood as they attempt to cope with immense deluges of water, often accompanied by extreme thunderstorms.

Of course, the upside of fewer but heavier downpours (for those of you who love a bit of heat) is more sunny days – 291 in Rome vs 179 in London.   But October seems to be a bit short on sunny days this year; instead it’s opted to receive a full year’s worth rain in just one month.  Several times this month, we’ve been woken up by torrential rain, deafening booms of thunder and menacing flashes of lightning.

The trouble is that I have friends due to visit in three days’ time.  Do I warn them that the weather might be dreadful on their holiday so they can pack their brollies and wellies along with the jars of Marmite, Bird’s custard powder and other ex-pat essentials??  Or let them continue to look forward to their trip by keeping quiet and then looking astonished when it rains every day they’re here?

Bad joke alert: What’s a bigamist? An Italian fog.

All stats from

King of the Road…A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, not long ago, the people of Rome woke up to find that some kind Being had left an item called a car on their doorsteps.  Despite never having seen one before, had a driving lesson or been informed of the purpose of roundabouts, traffic lights or STOP signs, the people happily leapt into their cars, turned the ignition on, lit up a cigarette and off they went.

garfield car

The people could see many switches and dials in the car but it seemed easier to ignore them.  Occasionally they vaguely wondered if some sort of indicator would have been useful to inform the car behind which lane they planned to drive in (left, right or both lanes at once).  But, fortunately, each driver had located the horn and this served well as a device for warnings, greetings and ‘ciao bella’ signals.

The car was steered by moving the wheel mounted in front of the seats.  The people thought this was a bad design because it was often difficult to steer with one arm hanging out of the window, one hand holding a mobile phone to their ear and one hand holding a cigarette.  [Ed: hang on, that’s three hands.  How do they do that??]  But the people persevered until they had mastered this important skill.  And if they didn’t, well there was always the horn.

The car seemed to go best when it was driven with the accelerator pushed down all the way.  Occasionally a driver would lift his foot from the accelerator and other drivers would press their horn, shout and make gestures at him, before overtaking, preferably on a blind corner or a roundabout.

Although each car had five seats, it was just as easy to drive with six or seven people squashed in.  Extra children could happily sit on laps or stand on the front seat.  Each seat had a belt attached to it but this appeared to have no known purpose.

new driver

If the people had to get out of the car, they always ensured their car was as near as possible to, or actually on, the pavement immediately in front of their destination.  If other cars were already taking up these spaces, that was no problem; they simply left the car in the middle of the road whilst they picked up their newspaper or enjoyed their morning cappuccino.

Instead of cars, some younger people had been given motorini.  These two-wheeled vehicles allowed them even more freedom.  They could ride in between all the cars, overtaking on both sides and riding on the pavement when desired.  A piece of headwear called a helmet was apparently necessary but the people didn’t want to spoil their perfectly coiffured hairstyles so they gently placed it on their heads without pulling it down properly or doing up the strap.   The main disadvantage of the motorini over the car became apparent in the rain, however, the people overcame this difficulty by riding with an umbrella in one hand.

Sometimes visitors came to the city who didn’t have a car.  The people laughed at the visitors because they still had to walk to their destinations.  They were forced to attempt to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing but the people didn’t want to stop their cars for the visitors.  If they stepped onto the pedestrian crossing, the people would drive their cars at around them whilst making strange hand gestures.

The people liked their cars very much and stayed in them as much as possible. They liked being able to wear leather jackets, without ever breaking a sweat, even when the weather was warm.  They liked feeling superior to the pedestrians and using their cars as mobile homes, offices and heat seeking missiles.   Soon they had almost forgotten how to walk.   Now the people live in fear that one day the Being will return for their cars

Beauty School Dropout

pamper schamper cartoon

The Italian Mammas at my children’s school are all extremely glamorous.  They’re thin – none of them look as though they’ve ever consumed a slice of pizza, let alone an entire Hawaiian washed down with several beers.  They dress in high heels and their designer label clothes are chic and tailored.  Their hair is coiffed, they wear heavy make-up and quite a few of them have an enhanced trout pout.

I am not a skinny Minnie.  I’m happy if my hair has been brushed that week and my idea of full make-up is a slick of lip salve.  I don’t do heels and I live in a pair of slouchy jeans bought on sale from F&F (yes, from the fashion mecca that is Tesco…).  As long as young children don’t run screaming when I leave the house, then I’m good to go.

But, in the spirit of becoming more Italian, I wasted spent a whole morning attempting to bring myself up to the polished heights of these Roman yummy mummies.  I removed dead skin from feet (a Black & Decker sander came in handy), I removed 60% of my body hair (including from strange places that never sprouted hair twenty years ago), I exfoliated, I buffed.  I gave myself a pedicure and a manicure.  A facial.  And at the end of the morning, I look exactly the same and was bloody knackered.  How on earth can anyone call this ‘pampering’?

Why do magazines like Cosmo or Vogue persist in running articles about treating yourself with a pedicure or having some well deserved Me Time* by spending an evening in with a face pack.   The Cosmo website features articles such as ‘Your beach body begins here’, ’10 steps to perfect skin’ or ‘Oy wrinkley!  How dare you show your bingo wings and turkey neck in public?!’   Ok, possibly not that last one.

I’m sure FHM has never written an article for men entitled ‘Why not pamper yourself with a shave’ or ‘Enjoy some Me Time in the shower’ (although on second thoughts…)  But for some crazy reason women are supposed to enjoy this constant effort of making themselves look acceptable to society.

Well, we don’t.  Or is it just me, and you love to spend time ensuring you don’t turn into an old crone with chin whiskers and feet tough enough to walk on nails??  Let me know!

*I can’t bear this expression: Me Time.  I find it incredibly annoying and a bit demeaning that it’s usually used about women doing stereotypical lady activities such as relaxing in a bubble bath with a low-calorie hot chocolate.  Why do men just get to spend time doing the crossword, fixing a car or playing golf without it being given a ridiculous and patronising label?

Now I think about it, there are so many other phrases that annoy me that they deserve a whole post of their own – watch this space.   (Actually, that could be one of them!)

Fat Bottomed Girls…Should Step Away From The Cookies

After a summer of visiting friends and family in England, where every social gathering involved cakes, wine, barbeques or three-course meals, my jeans are now refusing to zip up.

Maybe you shouldn't have had that last pie??

Who ate all the pies?

Of course, I could have refused the gateaux, drunk Perrier instead of cider and eaten salad instead of chips.  But I didn’t.  The final straw was being called a Weeble.  Now I like Weebles as much as the next woman, but I don’t really want to look like one.

Consequently I’m back on the diet.  No cakes, cookies or desserts.  And, (just like when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep) when I’m on a diet, my family is also deprived of delicious home-baked treats.

But, after much nagging, yesterday I rustled up a batch of Vanilla Sundae Cookies and some Marbled Cheesecake Brownies.  Which I’m not even looking at.  In fact I refuse to be in the same room as them.  But I’ve been told they taste pretty scrumptious so if you’re a skinny Minnie or you fancy a treat, dig in.

Vanilla Sundae Cookies

Ingredients (makes 20 cookies): 2013-09-24 12.49.46

200g butter, cubed     325g plain flour

100g caster sugar       3 tsp vanilla extract

2 egg yolks                  100g chocolate chunks

50g meringues, broken into chunks


Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. 

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Rub the butter into the flour to make crumbs, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, yolks, chocolate and merginue chunks.  Bring together to form a dough.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of 1cm.

Using biscuit cutters, cut biscuits out of the dough and carefully place onto the baking tray.  Chill for 30 mins.

Bake the biscuits for 8-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.  Set aside to harden for 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

Just for fun, I iced mine with a ice-cream design (I’m easily amused).  Yummy…

Cheesecake Marbled Brownies

2013-09-26 14.48.48Ingredients (makes 20 brownies):

Brownie Mix:

200g plain chocolate             200g unsalted butter

250g caster sugar                  3 eggs

125g plain flour

Cream Cheese Mix:

400g cream cheese                 1 tsp vanilla extract

125g caster sugar                   2 eggs


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.  Line a 20cm x 30cm deep baking tin with greaseproof paper.

To make the brownie mix, melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.  Stir until smooth then cool slightly.

To make the cream cheese mix, beat together the cream cheese, vanilla extract, caster sugar and eggs until smooth and creamy.

In another bowl whisk together the caster sugar and eggs.  Add the melted chocolate and butter mix and stir until combined.  Sieve the flour and fold into the mixture.

Pour 3/4 of the chocolate mix into the prepared tin and level with a palette knife.  Spoon over the cream cheese mix.  Add the remaining chocolate mixture in dollops and tap the tin sharply on the work surface to level the mixtures.  Using a skewer, marble the mixtures together.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until just set in the middle.  Cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

I gave a tin of these to an Italian friend, who returned the tin later that day as she had eaten the lot – see, they’re irresistible!

It’s Not About The Money

I’ve seen a few blogs recently with a donate button.  One blog was about a family travelling around the world, home educating their kids and enjoying an idyllic existence.  The donate button said ‘help us to continue our dream.’   At first, I felt quite affronted but then I thought, ‘hang on, am I missing a trick here?’  My dream is to have a beautiful, beachside house with a retro VW campervan parked on the drive, two Labradors gamboling happily in the garden and George Clooney* (clothing optional) in the kitchen popping open an iced bottle of prosecco.  Should I expect regular readers of my blog (all 10 of you) to finance this dream??  Is it just a case of ‘ask and ye shall receive?”

press here to donate

I expect to pay for a published book, newspaper or magazine because  – and whether this is true or not is open to debate – I presume them to be written by proficient authors (ok, let’s not include Jordan or Victoria Beckham here) whose work has been scrutinized, edited and improved.  And, hopefully, if when I finish my book and it gets published (crossing all my fingers plus toes for good measure), others will also be happy to fork out money for it.   In exchange for which, they’ll expect a decent return in the form of an enjoyable, gripping or educational reading experience.

However, when I’m surfing the Internet, I don’t have the same investment in a website as I do in a book.   I flick from site to site, looking at the news, checking out Amazon or reading my favourite blogs.  Some blogs are very amusing, thought provoking or informative, written by extremely talented authors and I enjoy lots of them very much.  But any Tom, Dick or Harriet can set up a blog, often complete with spelling errors and ill thought out ideas (as you can see…).   So if I had to pay to go on a particular site, I just wouldn’t bother.

Do you agree with me that blogs should be free?  Or is it right to expect to pay for information, in any form?  Maybe I should just go for it and install a ‘donate’ button and wait for the money to come flooding in?  This time next year, Rodney, we could be millionaires…

* Really do think I need to update my choice of stud muffin for my fantasies.  Am definitely too old for One Direction members (plus my daughters would be mortified) so who else fits the bill?? Any suggestions???

Reunited and It Feels So Good…??

Reunion comic strip

I’ve been inundated with requests (oh alright, one person mentioned it) for an update on the school reunion.   Was it fun?  Did it bring back happy memories?  Or should the past stay firmly in the past?  (Hmm, starting to get a bit too Carrie Bradshaw…)

Well, 10 people out of a class of 30 showed up.  Some had good reasons for not coming – holidays, moving house, giving birth.  Others couldn’t be arsed or maybe never want to meet their classmates again; could the Poking Tunnel™ have something to do with that??

Much wine and cider was consumed (sadly not by me, as I had a 6 hour drive the next day), memories were shared and photos taken.  Even though I hadn’t managed to lose any weight beforehand, I’m really glad I went.  There’s something so comfortable about being with people who knew you when you were 11 and still found Dr Who scary…oh who am I kidding, it’s still scary!  For heavens sake, who wouldn’t be scared by the Blink episode with those statues????  Nope, gotta stop thinking about it.

Anyway, here’s what I discovered:

  • Personalities don’t change.  Those who were quiet at school were still quiet.  The loud, over-the-top ones were still loud and over-the-top.  The funny ones were still funny and the nice ones were still nice.   I can’t decide if this is good or not?  It’s strange to think that it doesn’t matter what we do, where we go or whom we meet, we’re basically the person we always were.   Evidently, leopards really don’t change their spots.
  • Everyone ages.  Doesn’t matter how much you spend on face creams, gym memberships, non-surgical procedures or full-on facelifts, you are not going to look the same as you did at twenty.  Your figure is not going to be as firm, your boobs won’t be as perky or your skin as radiant.  Accept it and move on.  (Unless, of course, you are the one person at the reunion who actually did look exactly the same as they did at 16.  You know who you are.  What is your secret???)
  • By the time you reach 40(ish), everyone has had some troubles in their life.  It might be a bad divorce, redundancy, illness, depression, parents passing away or not being able to have kids, but very few people manage to escape unscathed.  That’s life.  And, whilst I’m not sure it makes us stronger, I do think it makes us more sympathetic and understanding of other peoples’ problems.  Which can only be a good thing.
  • A low-cut dress and a decent up-lift bra can really distract attention away from that extra stone.

Will it be another 27 years until we meet again?  Well, I’ve already met a couple of classmates for coffee and plans are afoot for a Christmas meet-up.   This time, I’m never gonna let you go….

Inside Italy: Make Some Noise

So I’m back in Rome after two months away.  What’s the first thing I noticed?  THE NOISE!  My god, I can barely hear myself think (not always a bad thing).  I’ve totally got out of the habit of apartment living, being surrounded by hundreds of people.   The main culprits are:

The Man Upstairs: while I’ve been away he seems to have installed a basketball court and is practicing for 8 hours a day.

The Cicadas – aka The Tree Cricket: wow, can those bad boys make some racket.  I could hardly hear what Monica was saying to Chandler last night (guess who got the entire box set of Friends for Christmas??)

Car Alarms:  ahh, the sound of Rome.

People:  I’d forgotten how LOUD Italians are.   I’ve just overhead a fascinating conversation in the street, four floors below, about varicose vein surgery.  Or possibly about a holiday to Sicily.  Or what to have for lunch.  Who knows?

Scooters:  can’t beat the delightful sound of ‘motorini’ screaming up and down the road all day and night.

 Photo credit: Animation Library

© Animation Library

Friday Night Disco:  somewhere in the vicinity is a nightclub that gets going at midnight and finishes just in time for breakfast.  Not sure exactly what ‘banging tunes’ are being played but they sure do have a mean bass line.

Saxophone Man: actually, this one is quite pleasant.  Every afternoon I’m serenaded with some delightful songs by someone who is a pretty good musician.  I feel like I’m in some old black and white movie, where the cool cats gather on their New York fire escape to play some hip sounds, man.

Fingers crossed, in a couple of weeks, all this racket will just become white noise and I’ll be able to actually concentrate on what I’m supposed to be concentrating on.  (The book, folks, the book!!)  Either that or noise-cancelling headphones will become a permanent fashion accessory.

Any particular noises that drive you to distraction??

Our Lips Are Sealed


After setting up a blog, the WordPress Website recommends that you:

Bug your real-life friends – encourage friends and family to read your blog: send them reminder emails when you update and talk to them about it when you meet in person. Often having a really small audience of people you care about is better than having a million visitors and not knowing any of them.

But having done as suggested and casually invited all my family and friends (non-Italian, of course) to “check out my blog.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’ve got a blog.  Me!  On the Internet.  With followers and everything”, I’m beginning to see a major downside of not writing my blog anonymously.  Namely that I feel I can’t write anything even vaguely negative about the folks I know.  No moaning, no telling tales, no gossiping sharing my opinion of other people’s life choices.

It’s not that I want to reveal their darkest, juiciest secrets* or bad mouth any of my friends.  It’s more that I’d like to write freely about situations and events without being concerned that I might upset/annoy/libel one of them.  At least if I had a million readers that I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have to censor myself so much.

So how to proceed?  Should I simply change names and hope the relevant person doesn’t guess they’re the subject of a post?  Ask for permission before blogging?  nothing-to-say-so-blogOr just write whatever I want without worrying about offending anyone else?  If I think about it too much, I’ll be reduced to writing only about innocuous subjects such as cheese, cats and dust.

* I am in possession of some really good secrets.  Seriously good.  But I never divulge my information: I’d make a great spy.  Mind you, I  don’t actually want to put this to the test or anything; under extreme interrogation, I will crack.

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