Sunday, 26 March 2017


Khalid Masood went to school in Tunbridge Wells. I went to a boarding school in Wadhurst, a small village just a few miles up the road. At my establishment* we had no contact with the outside world, no radios, no newspapers and our only access to television was during Wimbledon week. Whenever, and for whatever reason, we were at a loss for words,  we were encouraged to make uncontroversial conversation about the weather. So this is precisely what I propose to do this week. Forgive, please. My motives are sincere.

You will be pleased to know that Italians now have Weather just like the British. Despite having more weather forecast apps on their mobile phones than most, they never know what is going to hit them from one day to the next and as a result they talk about it all the time. No more "I'm on the train," or “Do you really put mascarpone in yours?” or “How come the Pope didn’t have anything to say about that?”
Now it's  "I know...when is it ever going to stop?"
Rome, in fact, is a living example of the unpredictability of meteorlogical conditions, a.k.a global warming.
First we had the tropical rainstorms. There was a moment last summer when I couldn't get out of the house for the rain and yet two days later I was at the beach making sandcastles with my grandson in a bikini. No - bad syntax.  I was in a bikini. He was actually wearing a long sleeved vest, a long sleeved shirt, a woollen sweater and an anorak. But only because his father and paternal grandparents are Sicilian.
It was an amazingly stupid summer - thunder, lightning, gales, torrential rain and then a blinding heat-wave. Every now and then it would let up for ten minutes so Beagle and I could make a dash for the woods in our Cath Kidson Wellies (Warning: Romans do not understand pink flowery Cath Kidson Wellies. Do I care? No, I do not) - only to dive back three minutes later with our respective tails between our legs like a couple of drowned rats. Then the sun would come out, the heat reached 48°C in the shade, and the city would return to stinking alternately of dog pee and rotting rubbish with a dash of putrid drain thrown in.
And let’s not forget the winter of 2011 – 2012.
First we had two uninterrupted months of weather as she should be. Crisp mornings with brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the proverbial,  just cold enough to kill off next year’s mosquito eggs and have daily visits from the local robin. Horses snorting with excitement, Beagle’s nose to the ground pretending to hunt for boar and rabbits. That sort of weather. We settled back and enjoyed it. No question of all that “Weather Permitting” rubbish. We knew it would be cold but fine and sunny and so it was.
But then it snowed. Twenty-seven centimetres of snow on my window ledge. I measured it.
I personally was confined to barracks for 48 hours and to the best of my knowledge Beagle only peed twice in all that time and I can’t say I blame her. To open my front door I would have needed a shovel and let me tell you that Ladies that Live in Rome do not possess shovels. Nor would they be seen dead wielding one even if they knew what they were for. Also - Catch 22 – I could not drive to the nearest shops to buy a shovel to dig the car out of the snow until I had dug the car out of the snow.
Finally one morning I managed to free the car from its snow drift with the aid of a trowel and a wooden spoon and head, crab-like, for the nearest supermarket which was closed, together with the bank, the restaurants, all the schools and everything else requiring non-residential staff.
Welcome to Rome.
This was the moment that I, with indomitable British foresight,  flew in the face of much neighbourly ridicule and chose to engage a man to blast a hole through my bedroom wall in order to install an air conditioning unit. The snow drifted happily in as he worked and I had a vague fear that he considered the hole sufficient ventilation in its own right, for I could see no sign of afore-mentioned unit. Plenty of signs of beer consumption, wiping of sweaty brow and consulting with cronies on his mobile phone, however, all of which was most surely added to the bill. Not much evidence of installation of a large ugly cube which, for its doubtlessly limited lifetime, would drip rust stains down the side of my newly whitewashed wall once it was up and running, probably sometime the following December if Sod’s Law were still to be trusted, by which time I would have a raving alcoholic on my hands as he slowly but surely submitted to the temptation of the demon drink.  Unless, of course, his great aunt decided to snuff it or his daughter to have her First Communion or he suddenly remembered he had omitted to apply for all those silly bits of paper permitting him to work here in the first place thus obliging him to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and leave me, oh so regretfully, with the job half done.

There  - another ethnic generalisation before breakfast. A stereotype a day keeps the publishers away. Well, that seems to be working, anyway. 

      * quote from a deadly diplomatic dinner as described in "Sorting the Priorities,"   


*The school had proclaimed itself to be an Anglican establishment for the educating of young ladies, and the laying on of guilt was one of its more successful achievements. One of the fastest routes to hell, I remembered as I reluctantly turned away from my English neighbour and back to the politician, had been to leave a gap in the conversation at table. Controversial subjects were taboo – not that we knew of any, given that newspapers, television and radio were forbidden, and contact with the outside world was minimal.  On Sundays we talked about the sermon – exclusively.

 On Saturdays, it was the school’s performance in the weekly lacrosse match. Tuesdays we were only permitted to speak French. Privately we thanked the Lord in our prayers for the ever-changing English weather.
“They say,” I confided to the politician on my right who aspired to be something important in the next government, and whose anxiety whilst he awaited The Call was rendering him virtually monosyllabic, “they say it’s going to be an unusually cold winter.”