Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - The year that was....

2013. The year that was a rollercoaster!

I started the year with very bad January blues and it didn't get much better, what with the 30 contact hour weeks I was working, work was taking over my life. It did however persuade me to accept a new position when it was offered to me again, for the following academic year. 

The only trouble was that it meant I ended up preparing for the new job (meetings, demos etc) whilst doing a rather intensive qualification on top of my full time job. If I thought work was taking over my life in January I discovered just how far work could take over my life in March, April and May, when a stomach bug and then a family funeral felt like a lifeline to escape from the chaos for just a moment. Rest in peace uncle Don. It wasn't the same without you this Christmas.

These three months were very difficult, as A was pretty busy too with his new job, and I still had to do the majority of the housework. In July A managed to bill a record 270 hours. When summer camp started the end was in sight. I had handed in my notice a month early when I found out I had to work 12 hour plus days. If ever there was a sign I needed a holiday - that was it! I actually had a blast working the summer camp, but it was, unsurprisingly, knackering. 

In July I headed back to my parents' house for a total rest and it was fantastic. I took photos, I painted, and saw a few friends. I got up early for bike rides. I revelled in not wearing a watch. 

When A and I got back to Milan at the beginning of September (officially engaged!) after our very energetic and exciting holiday (climbed two mountains!) in the Dolomites I was in the form of my life.

Unfortunately I crash landed rather at the start of the school year as I went straight into lessons with no time to prepare, but worse I was totally unprepared for the culture shock that awaited me. I  then proceeded to get ill constantly. I think I've had everything going around. I really hope I get the Primary School Teacher's Immune System in 2014. It's been a struggle, but not working weekends and evenings really helps you to rest. I feel, mentally, much more resilient, if not physically.

I've made so much progress though. If someone had told me in September that by December I would be the school 'expert' in Interactive Whiteboard foibles and would have prepared 24 six year olds for the Christmas show I would never have believed them.

My family, friends and A have been my rock this year. I'd like to say thank you to my Mum and Dad, A, Marta, Giulia, Ester, Marco and Andrea in particular. I'd also like to thank everyone who left kind or interesting comments on this blog.

I'm really hoping next year will be more serene and relaxed, but since A and I have a wedding to organise and want to move house at the end of the year it seems somewhat unlikely!




I wish all you readers a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014. 

Buon Anno!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

How much is too much for fruit bread?

It's FESTA in Milan. Although, sadly, what with Sant' Ambrogio being yesterday on a Saturday and today being a Sunday and the Immaculate Conception there is no real difference to a normal week. The streets are heaving though due to the reduction in days to shop. We're staying away from the O bej O bej market and the fiera dell'artigianato at Rho because its just too crowded.

Instead this morning we headed for Brera, which was much much quieter for a trip to a famous pasticceria in via Montenapoleone.

It is tradition to eat panettone during the Christmas period and Milan is the spiritual home of the panettone, so many who work in Milan but have families in other places take home large beautifully packaged confections of fruit bread.

A is no exception and each year he gets a kilo panettone from a different artisan pasticceria. The first year I was totally incredulous as to how much this stuff costs - "20 euros for fruit bread!!" - but I've become acclimatised. This year's was the most expensive fruit bread yet, a what-the-hell 34 euros a kilo.

Still, I got to enter a shop on the same street as the 1% and their ferraris which felt somewhat glamorous.*

At least the bag is nice.

I considered getting one for my family, but the ones from the co-op are very nice too and I'm not sure we're expert enough to be able to taste the difference.


So how much is too much for a panettone? I'll let you know if they open it in our presence!


*A trip to The Rich Kids of Instagram suggests, that the 1% do not spend as much time shopping for panettone as I assumed.

Monday, 2 December 2013

One Wet Wedding


On the way to the airport...

Me: I'm going for a wedding
Taxi driver: In November? What will the weather be like?
Me: It's supposed to rain.
Taxi driver: I really hope it's inside.
Me: Oh it'll be inside.
Taxi driver: I hope so.
Me: Don't worry, I'm sure it will be inside. Nobody plans an open air wedding in November!
Taxi driver (still dubious): Well, I certainly hope so for your sake!

What about "sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata" and all that?!

I didn't continue trying to reassure the kind concerned man, that there was no way the wedding was going to be held outdoors. I suppose he's never been to a winter wedding or indeed any English wedding. You'd be mad to hold it completely in the open air... In Italy the vast majority of weddings are held in May, June, July and September since the weather is somewhat more predictable here. You also get two weeks off by law for your honeymoon, which makes this time of year popular if the newlyweds wish to travel anywhere in the northern hemisphere!

I don't have strong preferences myself but this Autumn wedding was beautiful, romantic and almost... cosy! If the bride had to wait half an hour to enter the church because it was raining so hard, well nobody minded. After all we were the ones waiting in the dry!

Granddaughter

rose bokeh

The Second Dance

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Yogurting

Yogurting, so they say, is what the French call singing along to a song that you don't know the lyrics for, and that's what my blog is all about today.

As a young child I remember singing along to Pocahontas in Spanish, not real Spanish of course, but well enough to convince my cousin that I could speak Spanish. So as an experienced yogurter myself I'm always very impressed by my students ability to pick up songs in the classroom or otherwise. Thursday class in particular were very good at turning up singing Abba songs in almost English. Others are less able and successfully muddle heads, shoulders, knees and toes, but I let them off as it wasn't so long ago that I used to sing Frere Jacques with no notion of individual words. My mother also confesses that she spent a very long time reciting the Lord's Prayer without ever realising it had any particular meaning.

However I was particularly astounded yesterday when I found myself surrounded by three eight year old boys singing Rihanna's Rude Boy. Of course they don't know what it means, but it was a bit surreal to hear them singing "Come on rude boy, boy, can you get it up?"

Or do they? They certainly understand some English, as I discovered when we moved on from Rihanna to discuss Beyonce and Lady Gaga in their latest video together.
"Beyonce is a better singer than Lady Gaga isn't she?" they asked.
"Definitely," I said, clear to establish a little bit of discerning musical taste in my pupils.
"Beyonce tells Lady Gaga she's a very naughty girl!" they agreed triumphantly.

So evidently me disciplining them in English is not as problematic as I had previously thought it might be. I'm not their only source of authentic material, (which also makes me wonder if it's particularly responsible of Lady Gaga to wear sunglasses encrusted with smoking cigarettes on prime time TV - but that's another story).

"But who's a better singer, Lady Gaga or Madonna?" was the boys' next question.

Lady Gaga?! Beyonce?! Rihanna?! Madonna?! They are going to be so embarrassed when they are older. At that age, the only bands I knew were the Beatles, the Hollies and Queen! Mind you, it's not like they have any Italian artists to copy either. Italy seems a bit devoid of musical talent suitable for eight year old boys. I can't really imagine them singing Figaro.

Fortunately it's not a complete talentless void. I decided to spice up a 1:1 grammar lesson with a bit of Haiku. I wasn't really expecting such an enthusiastic reponse from a 13 year old for poetry, but incredibly she'd just read a book on Samurai.

I leave you with what she wrote.

It's just stopped raining.
I don't know why it has stopped.
Maybe there's no water.

I quite like it. Perhaps I'll have my students composing songs next lesson.

Stuff Just Works Differently

Do you remember before school trips abroad your mummy and daddy would receive a long list of insurance figures detailing how much you would get if abroad you lost an eye, or an arm, or a leg? It turns out that there is a reason that you have to buy insurance before applying for a Russian Visa too. It costs an arm and a leg if you don't.

And yet, I somehow still naively thought that when in the EU my EHIC card would be a magic pass if I ever needed it, and I wasn't exactly planning on using it. Then when I fell from the mezzanine in my flat in Belgium my friend couldn't find my EHIC card at the hospital (although it was in my bag all along) and so ended up paying a hefty bill. I even had insurance, but the excess was too high. I thought I had learnt my lesson. The EHIC card is ALWAYS in my purse these days.

But even in emergencies your EHIC card wont cover you for everything. There's a catch. It only covers you for what that government in that country covers its citizens for. In Belgium it wouldn't have paid for the ambulance for example. In Italy I'm still not really sure what it does pay for...

My tooth flared up again a few days ago. Just like when it happened in Belgium I already have an appointment with an NHS dentist in two weeks. Just like in Belgium the infection got really bad and I was forced to seek an emergency appointment before, but eek, it's all private here too. "Still," I thought, "I just need antibiotics, how much can it cost?!" "116 euros" was the answer. Ouch. That's nearly five times what I paid for in Belgium.

Then there's the doctors. In Feltre I was lucky enough to see a nice doctor for free, but you still have to pay for your prescriptions. Partly my problem is my residency-less status. Other friends who have residency can access Italian benefits and health care, but even they come in for unpleasant surprises. Blood tests aren't free for Italians and man are they expensive. You get a fattura but does anyone know what to do with it? (A. does but he has an accountant).

The only part of Italian bureaucracy that I have managed to fathom is how to pay my taxes. (They make that very easy for you!) I tried to get residency but my contract I'm on means that I have to provide all kinds of documentation of self employment and stuff that I just don't have. Hell I'm even paid in cash! It's perfectly legit, but it's hard to give much official evidence of it, when all I have is a receipt and an envelope.

Next year, if I come back to Italy, which I hope I do, I am buying travel insurance before I come, ladies and gentlemen! It doesn't really fit in with my dossing-around-Europe-ideal that I had post uni, but should allow me to eat more ice cream without worrying whether it will exacerbate my gums!

It's not just the bureaucracy that baffles me at times either. Today I had the long dreaded but ultimately quite fun "English Quiz Show" for students and parents. At the end of the quiz I asked the teams to tot up their marks and asked "How many out of nine?"

Team One said, "one," Team Two said, "two," so I started again in Italian.

"Quanti?" They must have got more right! I had heard them say the right answers. I had primed them with animal vocabulary and the ingredients to make an English Breakfast.

They gave me the same answers: "one," "two," "two," "two". I was confused and embarrassed in front of all the parents and starting to sweat a bit.

Then I saw their sheets. They had added up all the ones they had got wrong!
PHEW.

That made me laugh. I really took it for granted that they would add up their correct answers.

Stuff just works differently here.

Another photo walk



Click on me



After work Lu and I met near Cadorna and did a proper photo walk. We were out for over an hour photographing, we got quite carried away. We tried all different white balances and shutter speeds and it was a lot of fun. Now I can't wait to see her pictures.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Not a Museum


City of the Future


The Space Ship

Stripes

I've kept these three photos separate from the last lot. They didn't really feel like the same city, but that's Milan all over, different area, different face. It would be unfair to seek beauty only in the parts tourists want to see.

It's easy to forget that the north of Italy is primarily concerned with industry and finance, and with these comes kilometres of warehouses. When I first came I found it depressingly industrial, but now I think it was perhaps my attitude which was wrong. The country is not a museum, no matter how much we visitors would like it to be one.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Street Light City

I took these photos after work. It had been the greyest day ever. Really flat, soft boring light that white outs your photos. Then as I was coming home, the sky got really interesting and the street light came on and the whole atmosphere changed. I got off the tram a few stops early and got out my compact.

These are some of the things that caught my eye.

Evening Ice Cream


What's She Taking a Picture of?

The Only Clients
Hidden Courtyard


Only in Milan!


Stand Still.

The Storm is Coming


Monday, 30 September 2013

Culture Shock round II

Is it even still possibile to get culture shock after being in a country for four-ish years? To my surprise, I think it is!

Til now I've been working in quite international English speaking environments but I recently started a new job in a school in the city. The work's very interesting and providing lots of personal and professional growth, but... it's just so so different from the schools I went to in England.

Firstly, like in most private educational establishments in Italy there are nuns. Before I came to Italy I always imagined peaceful saintly beings showering the world and everyone in it with Jesus's love. So I was quite disappointed when I arrived at my first nun-run school to do a cover lesson. The nun at the door was not happy to see me and told me off for being 10 minutes too early!

Nuns!

To be fair a couple of the nuns at this school are smilingly serene, but mostly they can silence a room of children, or even teachers, with one glance. I'm still getting into trouble regularly :)

Secondly, I spent four hours in meetings on Friday afternoon and by the end of it I was SO CONFUSED. It's not totally the fault of not speaking Italian well enough. It's mostly that the concepts and terminology are totally foreign. A 'settimana bianca' is apparently a ski trip and I've still not figured out what 'laboratori' are, but they're starting next week. Also it doesn't help that all the teachers are either talking over the top of each other or shhhing everyone like mad depending on whether it's their turn to speak or not. For my part I can't yet get my sentences out without hesitating and so get constantly interrupted. Maddening!

Church services and prayers are also a disaster. I can't understand what's going on at all and I can't do the Catholic sign of the cross thing, so I can't even make a pretence of following.

Thirdly I have well over 200 students' names to learn and Italian parents really like the names Giulia, Giovanni, Beatrice and Leonardo. So far I've only learnt the naughty ones. Only about 170 more to go then!

They all sit in rows.

On the plus, although things seem to be organised at the last minute or even thirty minutes after the last minute, the staff seem to be pretty friendly, and very flexible and good at what they do.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Get thyself to the Dolomites

Chewing the Cud

The Three Peaks and the Three Men

High up on the border grow flowers

Follow the red and white lines

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lago Di Braies

It's back to school already, and although we've only been back a few days the holidays are already receding into the past as we (I and 200 new faces) discuss notebooks, write names on everything and tweak seating plans. At break time the noise almost rises to a jungle like cacophony and I wonder if I will ever get used to it. The Lago di Braies has never felt so far away!


Lago di Braies

This lake is at 1500m up in the Alto Adige or Sud Tirol as you may know it. Another series of Un Passo Dal Cielo with Terrence Hill was filmed there this summer and it's always popular with tourists. We were able to walk there in the evenings though and the place had a magical feeling to it. Absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I can totally recommend it if you are ever in the area on holiday or on your way to Austria (it's very near the border) or Bavaria.


The Boat House

The holiday was great. I've always wanted to see these Dolomites and they didn't disapoint.  We went hiking everyday and got quite tanned, but by the end of the week we were starting to feel like maybe we needed another holiday we did so much.

Instead of course, I got to start a new job, but I think all the climbing was worth it because there are a lot of stairs at the new school and I'm constantly going up and down them looking for things like classrooms, soap and paper. Oh man, I can't wait to know where stuff is!


Competition Entry

Thursday, 12 September 2013

How to dress like the Milanese

Where I come from clothes are practical items for keeping you warm and dry. People may spend half the year in wellie boots or more than that if the weather is bad as the countryside turns into a sea of mud with a few tarmac interludes. Umbrellas are useless out of town when you are exposed to the wind so people use waterproof raincoats and even waterproof hats and trousers. Since things are casual, getting dressed up is seen as something to be savoured and so happens when you go to the pub in the evening, to church on Sunday or out for dinner.

For men, this means you either do jeans-black shirt-black shoes, or chinos-blue shirt-brown shoes. I once saw my neighbours in negotiation on the drive because all three brothers had opted for the second choice and someone needed to go and change.

For women, on the other hand, this means jeans-sparkly top-probably heels or little dress- probably heels. Both  are accompanied with more makeup than usual.

In short there is a clear distinction between normal clothes and 'going out' clothes.

The Sartorialist's blog is a good place to go if you want to feel inadequately dressed or like an inadequate photographer.

Here in city centre of Milan it couldn't really be more different. Casual Friday has been embraced by quite a lot of companies, but as far as I can tell involves looking very smart without a tie. Even in the non ultra smart work places people seem to spend most of their time in a state of perpetual smart casual. Going out in the evening people seem to actually dress down if they have time to change, though still it's hardly dressing down by English standards.

The consequence of this is that I always feel shabby, except in August when the place is full of tourists and people are back from their holidays and drop their standards a bit because they want to flash some suntanned flesh. Even in July in 35c and more girls will go out in jeans rather than wear more casual summer wear.


Can you guess where this was taken? Find out here.

Here are a few observations and things I've learnt since moving to Milan about getting dressed, but be warned, emulating Milanese style can be quite exhausting and expensive! The attention to detail is endless.

You still want to know how to dress like the Milanese? Well ok, the first thing you need is a full length mirror....


1. Check your shoes. Are they clean? Are they immaculately polished? Have you carefully maintained your trainers' brand new white?

2. Oh, it's Summer, so you're wearing sandals. I hope you cut your nails (seriously, I have witnessed people comment on this and seen it written into a contract). Also, flip flops are for the swimming pool or home. Men don't wear sandals all together and neither do they wear shorts in town.

3. Your legs. Are they tanned? Then it's ok to get them out, but probably only from July- early September. Oh and they must be perfectly hairless. Some of my students, male and female, also wax their arms!

4. Your clothes need to be spotlessly clean. Not even a tiny grease spot or toothpaste splash is permitted.

5. Iron your clothes. All of them. Starch your shirts. (Pay someone else to do it if you want to be really Milanese).

6. Natural fabrics too. Silk ties, gentlemen. In winter it's all about 100% wool (preferably cashmere and most certainly bobble-free) and in summer it's all about 100% cotton or linen. Leather shoes and bags only, unless it is Luis Vuitton in which case that is apparently OK.

7. I've talked about weather appropriate dressing vs calendar dressing before, here, and ever changing fashion trends, here and here, which are always useful to bear in mind, but up to a point because if you take a coat you have to wear it and not throw it over your bag or tie it round your waist and the past years have seen everyone wearing shiny bin bag puffa jackets which are hideous, proving that even the Italians can get it wrong wrong wrong.

8. Now check the whole ensemble. The type of neutral palette you choose depends on the season but remember don't mix black leather with brown. A refuses to wear black socks with brown shoes even and wouldn't be seen dead with the mismatching belt at work. He also feels uncomfortable wearing his black leather gloves when he's wearing brown shoes and prefers to have cold hands. For women, bags also need to be matched to the outfit (I try to get round this by using an orange bag which doesn't go with anything and I hope therefore makes it a statement piece!) Oh and do carry a handbag no matter how heavy it is. Someone told me that they felt duty bound to inform a new foreign colleague with a rucksack that "ladies carry purses."

On a side note men should only fasten 1 button on their jacket and 3 buttons on their jacket cuffs leaving the fourth undone to subtly prove to the world that their suit is bespoke.

9. Also your hair. When I came here I just assumed the women had superior follicles but then my hair dresser told me some women never wash it themselves and always pay for it to be blowdried professionally. This means that unless you wish to spend a lot of money you will never quite cut the mustard.

10. Are your labels tucked in? You have a loose thread, fetch the scissors! Ok now you may go, but I can't guarantee that you won't fail someone else's scrutinous gaze.


Monday, 26 August 2013

Photo Shoot with Kiaki

It's so much fun to have a photography assistant/model. Kiaki asked me to take some photos of her out on the balcony so I was trying out some classical poses, but then along came a thunderstorm which drove us indoors.

That's when the idea came to me to make a mini studio. I'm very pleased with the results, although they aren't perfect so I wanted to share because I've never done it before.

It was pretty easy to set up. We drew the curtains and got a table lamp and angled it almost parallel but slightly away from the curtain, and positioned it quite close to the face. Then I put the camera on a fast shutter speed - 1/100 - for the chiaroscuro effect (although I'm not sure that was optimal). So simple!








Friday, 23 August 2013

She wants to give me a heart attack

Che attitude!
I've always been scared of heights but as I get older I feel increasingly mortal. I should have expected it though.

This is the girl that sat on the edge of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

My palms still sweat thinking about that.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Momenti Torinesi

The Mole - icon of Turin (The view from the top is out of this world)
I love Turin.

 It's so chic, yet so rough. The city centre's architecture is far more elegant than Milan's but at the same time A freely admits there are places at night where he would very much not like to catch a red light.  Italians make most places sound like Lagos, so it's good to be sceptical. (when I got here well meaning friends rather unecessarily  put the fear of god into me about places like San Donato Milanese). However I saw some of these places after dark on the bus from Malpensa and I can assure you that they are well dodgy. I kept anxiously looking out the window everytime we stopped to see if one of the gangs was just going to open up the bottom of the coach and nick all our luggage. They didn't of course. They were busy smoking and bickering.


Piazza Vittorio - tram lines everywhere



Prostitutes are also people I don't see so much in Milan in town, but I see them everytime we go out for a night in Turin, although I thought at first they were just going out clubbing (they were more modestly dressed than most british lasses on a night out) until I realised they were a bit too evenly spaced out for that to be the case.


Evening in Turin

The above picture really demonstrates what I like about Turin. There are plenty of places for strolling and nattering complete with cobbles and balconies. It also hints at my pet peeve with Turin which is the lack of parking. Every street is always really full and has resulted in circling for hours only to arrive at the aperitivo to find the food has already been eaten, travel sick AND hangry.
The people are also one of the best things about Turin. It's A's home town and I have friends there so obviously I'm biased but they really are way more laid back and less concerned about impressing people than the Milanese. The night life feels far more chilled out and people seem to be in less of a hurry. They have style but they are not distressingly well dressed.


Look at this lady! You cannot find people like this in Milan. It's a rubbish photo but it does have matching dogs.


Anyway, since I'm not a native of Turin, so who best to tell you about their city than A's sister who's here to practise her English...


L: What's the best thing about Turin?

K: Piazza Vittorio, Via Roma.

L: What's on Via Roma?

K: It's the main street with the most popular shops like Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel. Like Via Montenapoleone only there is also H&M, Zara and Stradivarius. In the middle there is Piazza San Carlo where there is a statue of Carlo on the horse. Piazza Castello because there is Palazzo Madama.

L: What's that?

K: It's a palace who lived the royal family.

L: The worst thing about Turin?

K: No, I like so much Turin. Turin is better than Milan because it's more Baroque and the buildings are very beautiful.




You see... she's so loyal she won't even admit to there being a bad side!

Beautiful Architecture

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What shall I do today?

What shall I do this fine summer's day?

 Everyone's at work or on holiday

So I think I'll stay in front of the fan

And stare at the ceiling.


It's August after all. Sometimes it's good to do nothing.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Puppies and Kittens

In what may be about the girliest thing I have ever posted I am going to share some very cute photos I took last week with you. If there is one thing the internet needs it is more cat photos!

Meet Pinot

Pinot is named for the wine Pinot Grigio because he is the right colour.

Pinot is also good at puzzles and jumping at your legs with his sharp little claws.

This sleepy pup is only two months old.

It agreed to open its eyes if its owner would carry it.

And here's a donkey which made a very alarming noise just because I know my mum will like it.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Piazza Duomo


Click to see it's full size... it's worth it!

Piazza Duomo. It's the very centre of the city. Stop walking at your own peril. You may find yourself covered in bracelets or pigeons and a few euros poorer.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How we won the race and saw Hugh Grant

The many wonders of Glendurgan Gardens

Other than Kayaking, there were two other major highlights of the trip to Cornwall for me. The first was our trip across the foot ferry to Glendurgan gardens, owned by the National Trust. A friend had recommended them and someone in the cottage's guest book had written that they were THE SECOND BEST GARDENS IN BRITAIN so we knew we had to go.

I gather it's more of a spring garden, but it looks excellent in August too. It has all kinds of plants you would never see in England normally like banana trees, tree ferns and agaves. It even has it's own small fishing village and beach, but the best thing about the garden is the maze. It's very pretty to look at and even more fun to explore.

On a school trip to Longleat, I had rather a bad experience getting very lost by myself in the maze (THE LONGEST MAZE IN THE WORLD) and I wasn't old enough to see over the tops of the hedges. I'm not sure how long I was in there for but I never found the centre and eventually had to give up. The only problem with mazes is that it's very easy to get in and very hard to get out. I saw some very relieved teachers' faces when I eventually got back out.

I have to say though that that attempt only made me more determined this time round, as I had the benefits of of experience and being taller. A and I did the obvious thing to do which was to challenge my mum and dad to a race to the centre and very magnanimously let them have a head start. Fortunately for us they immediately took a wrong turn at the start by trying to head for the centre. Novices!

That's a nice maze.

Top tips for mazes:

1)The maze designer is determined that you shall see every corner of their design so it actually makes sense to head away from the centre at the start.

2) Or if you want to complete it quickly, look at the design from a distance and work your way backwards from the centre, but that's just cheating really.

3) Do the maze with someone else, who is preferrably carrying water and snacks, to avoid mental breakdowns if you get totally lost.


You're going the wrong way!

So we won and relaxed by watching them find their way to us and were very gracious in victory I must say. So it was a bit of a surprise when they announced they had won a second race of the day, which was the one to get out the exit of the maze, and since they didn't tell us about this race it hardly seemed fair.

I realise this story is disappointing if you thought we were going to see Hugh Grant in the maze but it was poor title choice on my part. No that is a different story... but before you read it you should know that my dad just can't stand Hugh Grant films.

The evening of our trip to the gardens A and I went to the pub with my mum to hear some local band play. The pub was great, people were mooring their boats to it's jetty and the music was celtic, the kind that makes you tap your feet, and business was booming. We had already reserved a table for the next night.

Walking down the steep hill into the village in the drizzle the following evening we had to make way for a middle aged geezer coming up the hill. He looked a bit miserable and hungry in his rain coat and walking boots. It was only when he had gone past that my mum and A started whispering excitedly that it was himself, that I had another look, but all I could see were two hairy legs in shorts disappearing up the hill. It was too late and a bit annoying, but I wasn't really convinced they were right because my dad hadn't recognised him either.

It was only when we got to the pub that it got very annoying. The bar staff were very excited at having had to turn him away as they were fully booked and confirmed that yes it was he, Hugh Grant we had just seen.  I was lamenting for probably the tenth time that I couldn't believe I'd had a good look at Hugh Grant and not recognised him when my dad replied even more annoyed, that he couldn't believe he'd missed the chance to

"invite Hugh Grant to eat with us?" I interrupted, imagining the fun.

"No, to walk past Hugh Grant and exclaim how much I'm looking forward to my nice pub meal!"


And the more I though about how much my Dad hates his films, the more I thought option two would have been the better outcome.