Halley’s Comet must be due

Halley’s Comet must be due

If you have been following my little blog of madness, you will know Mrs Sensible rarely makes mistakes, her most notable mistake was marrying me the episode of The mysterious case of the stolen packet of biscuits…  To this day Mrs Sensible still claims I added the extra packet of biscuits to the shopping trolley hence causing the following mayhem.

Mrs Sensible is currently on holiday in Sicily so I feel relatively safe recounting her little mistake. I may have to delete this post before she returns and this is on a need to know basis, so please don’t go sharing this on facebook where Mrs Sensible or her friends might see it…..

A couple of weeks ago while Mrs S was cooking up some pasta, I noticed an official yellow piece of paper on the coffee table.

What is this?

It’s a parking ticket.

YOU got a parking ticket, how is that possible?

The policeman was not happy with where I had parked my car.

The tone of Mrs Sensible’s voice hinted that it was probably safer not to continue this line of questioning, so I replaced the piece of paper back on the coffee table.

Interrogation

You tell me about the parking ticket and I will tell you who added the third packet of biscuits

A couple of days went by before Mrs Sensible asked me if I would go online and pay the ticket. Although I was very curious how she managed to get a parking ticket, I really didn’t think it was a good time to enquire what she had done to upset one of our policemen so much they had resorted to issuing a parking ticket.

Car 1

It really is almost impossible to receive a parking ticket in Italy

I quickly read how to pay the fine on-line and using google translate I tried to decipher the Italian on the ticket, to see which nefarious parking offence Mrs Sensible had committed.

Pecora Nera trying to understand Italian

We only have 48 hours to solve this, or we will never know what she did!

Anyway, I paid the fine and forgot all about the incident, until I noticed in our postbox an official looking letter addressed to Mrs Sensible with the stamp of the local police all over it.

Hmm, could it be possible Mrs Sensible went on a crime spree and maybe has yet another parking fine or even a speeding ticket, for sure this was a sure sign Halley’s Comet was due to pass close to the earth.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it depends on how you look at it Mrs Sensible hadn’t committed another crime. It appears I had only paid €18.20 ( a lesser parking offence) and I should have paid €29.40 ( a much more serious parking offence) and the official looking letter was a formal demand for an extra €18.00

Obviously I wont mention the parking offence ever again, because if I do, Mrs Sensible might just find out I paid the wrong amount and cost us an additional €6.80 in additional administration costs.

I can make grown women cry, with my singing.

I can make grown women cry, with my singing.

There are two things I am pretty rubbish at, one is learning the Italian language and the second is singing. I always thought my singing was, well quite wonderful really, however Mrs Sensible says I am tone deaf.

In my defense, it must be said, I have sung at some pretty auspicious places, I sang with Craig at the Welsh National Stadium and  I even once sang with the school choir, you notice I said once.

images

Ah the bliss of school.

Craig a friend of mine from Sheffield introduced me to the delights of singing at the top of my voice while standing in the rain with a meat & potato pie in one hand and a cup of bovril in the other. I learnt the words to The Greasy Chip Butty song and sang it as Sheffield United played football.

Craig was a keen supporter of Sheffield United and his enthusiasm wasn’t diminished for his team, when during the match he jumped in the air and landed badly on his foot. He turned to me and calmly said “I think I have just broken my ankle” he then turned back to the football match and shouted “COME ON YOUUUUUU REEDDDDSSSSSSS”. After the match we walked to the pub to celebrate, (admittedly Craig was limping a bit) and the following morning the local hospital confirmed he had indeed broken his leg so they stuck a pot on it.

sheffield2

The lyrics to the Greasy Chip Butty Song (search on You tube for it)

During 2005 Mrs Sensible took me to her church in Sicily, she introduced me to her friends and then walked off with three of them and left me standing with Giuseppe or maybe it was Marco, anyway I noticed people were starting to sit down. As I went in search of Mrs S, I noticed that all the chairs around her were full! I ended up sitting five pews back and on the other side of the church.

As the first hymn started, I noticed two things, of course everyone was singing in Italian and second, none of the words I knew were included in the hymn. Mind you how many hymns start with the words , ‘hello, I like red white and where is my wife?’

Hymn

I knew the tune, just not the words

So I just stood there and listened. I think they were singing the second verse when I felt a little nudge in the small of my back. I thought it was a little strange to be nudged whilst standing in church, so I ignored it. And then I was nudged again. I turned to see a little Sicilian man holding an open hymn book for me, and his wife was smiling and kindly nodding. I took the hymn book, smiled and turned around. Taking a deep breath I joined them.

Pecora Nera Singing

I sang with gusto

I didn’t just mumble my way through the hymn, I sang with gusto, with fortitude and with absolutely no idea what the words meant or how to pronounce them.

I felt at one with the congregation and my maker, well until I looked down and saw a very small and worried looking boy staring at me from behind his mothers legs.

2016-04-18 12.18.40

Please make him stop!!

I smiled at him and gave him a wave, he quickly disappeared from sight. After the hymn had finished I turned and handed the book back to the man and thanked him. I think the moment must have been too much for  his wife, because she was dabbing the corners of her eyes with a lace hanky.

After the exertion of singing I sat down and listened but understood nothing the preacher was saying, it is a problem that still besets me. And then they stood and started singing another hymn and I felt the familiar nudge in my back.

Orangutans Laughing

Give him the Hymn book again

After the service, Mrs Sensible told me I was welcome to visit the church whenever I was in Sicily, at least somebody must have appreciated my singing.

 

 

Pecora picked a peck of pickled peppers;

For the past seven years I have managed to avoid private lessons. My self-taught Italian has fared me well when ordering wine, grappa and pizza, but even a Black Sheep (Pecora Nera) such as I, realises that I need to try to learn more than the 20 words and 3 phrases that are currently in my vocabulary.

Last night I completed my first Italian lesson with a real live tutor.My tutor has excellent qualifications and experience to tutor me. During the day she teaches the Italian language to 7 to 10 year olds at a primary school and is therefore qualified enough to teach to my standard and level of intelligence.  Obviously I checked her credentials and found that she has the patience of a saint and to date she hasn’t gaffa taped any of her pupils to the chair when they misbehaved.

As long as I behave she wont gaffa tape me to the chair

As long as I behave she won’t gaffa tape me to the wall

The English help students to articulate correctly by teaching them tongue twisters, these are little rhymes that become increasingly more difficult to say  as the volume of alcohol is increased. You didn’t know this famous English drinking game?

Here is an example of a typical English tongue twister

Pecora Nera picked a peck of pickled peppers;

A peck of pickled peppers Pecora Nera picked;

If Pecora Nera picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Pecora Nera picked?

The Italians have gone one better, they have included a tongue twister as part of their daily language, it is a word that I am going to try my best to avoid. What is this fabulous word I hear you cry.

It is non other than Gli 

Gli

I hope this chart explains what gli is please feel free to enlighten me

Here is a clip I found of a young boy pronouncing gli

As you can see It is not difficult, unless of course you are an Englishman, here is my pitiful attempt.

Many many thanks to my wonderful tutor….

Read, help and criticise…

Englishman in Italy

Ok girls and boys, I have been invited to submit a post (under 1000 words) to a newspaper and after a long think, bearing in mind I can’t use lots of pictures, this is the one I will send. Unless you have a better idea.

I would love any feedback, you can be critical and I won’t be offended. I might just un-follow you  🙂

Grazie PN

Today is back to school day for most of the children in Italy. My Italian wife, Mrs Sensible is a primary school teacher. This year the Italian education authority thought it would be a good idea for her to teach English, mathematics and music in a school five villages away and English and Italian in a school six villages away. My wife seems to spend half her life driving from one school to another.

While I sit here typing this blog Mrs Sensible is colouring in posters for her new classrooms. The little quip I made about, I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures was almost met with physical violence.

I too have to go to school; Mrs Sensible has forced me to go to the local evening class to learn Italian. I suppose forced is maybe a bit hard, my mum forced me to school by threatening me with the slipper, Mrs Sensible used the “If you want to stay in Italy you need to learn the language or maybe we should just go back to the UK” threat.

I have never found my lack of Italian to be a huge problem, I can order wine and grappa. I can also request the cost of items at the local shops. In fact my lack of Italian has been quite useful, Scusi, io inglese, mi dispiace non capsico, (Sorry, I am English I don’t understand)  has saved me from buying expensive items or helped me escape from street traders trying to sell me bags and belts.

So, as my good wife had become exasperated with being my interpreter, she enrolled me in a basic Italian night class run by the local municipal for stranieri (immigrants). The teacher Maestra Piera is in her late 50s. Her eyes glitter with excitement as she explained to my wife that if I want to learn Italian, all I have to do is listen to everything she says. Oh and importantly attend her class regularly. This seems far removed from the way I was taught in school. I seem to remember it took the threat of the cane and detention for me to apply myself to the lessons.

On my first lesson, I was determined not to draw attention to myself. I quietly entered the classroom and walked to a desk at the back of the room.  As I started to sit down, Maestra Piera pointed at me and announced to the class “Lui e’ Inglese, si chiama Peter.” (He is English, his name is Peter) She then pointed to a desk at the front of the class and shouted “Vieni Peter, vieni qui.”  (Come Peter, come here) The horrors of my former school life quickly returned as I slowly dragged myself to the front of the class and sat down in the desk that is normally reserved for the naughty boy. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to produce a sick note signed by my wife when I decided to skip a lesson.

The classroom is the same as any schoolroom that I have sat or stood in the corner of. The only difference is the desks are scored with graffiti in Italian, Giuseppe Ti Amo Loradana. (Giuseppe loves Loradana) As I sat waiting for the lesson to begin I started to thumb through my new Italian – English dictionary, wondering if my homework would include backing it in brown paper. As I sat there wishing I was somewhere else I become aware of all the different languages that were being spoken in the room Russian, Ukrainian and a lot of French but no English.

We started the first lesson with a simple subject. How to change a singular noun into a plural noun, while remembering to change the article at the same time. We also needed to remember that the rules are different for male and female gender nouns. Not only is it mind-boggling, but all the explanations the teacher gave were in Italian. Logarithms without a table or calculator would have been easier. It wasn’t until I showed Mrs Sensible my notes later that night, that I became aware of what I had been listening to for the previous two and a half hours.

At one point during the lesson Maestra Pierra looked at me and said with a huge smile and a nod. “Peter hai Capito?”  (Peter you understand?) I slowly shook my head no. Huge mistake! She walked to my desk smiled at me, leaned in close and raising her voice to a shout proceeded to give me the exact same explanation, once again in Italian. “Oh ok ok io capisco” (Oh ok ok I understand) I said. I never made that mistake again.

In the early lessons I think Maestra Piera thought I was her perfect student. I never asked her to repeat anything twice and I wrote down almost everything she said. It was only later that she understood how badly I was progressing in her lessons. One of the problems with the lessons, was I didn’t understand Italian therefore I didn’t understand the teacher. The second problem was the class had a massive mix of abilities. There were the French, Spanish and Romanians who with their Latin based language could argue with the teacher over the correct structure of a sentence and then there was me who needed pictures of cats and dogs with gatto and cane (cat and dog) printed beneath them.

I struggled through two years of classes with Maestro Piera and I know it was as much a struggle for her as it was for me. The symbolic certificate she gave me saying I had attained level 2 in Italian was presented more for my dogged attendance and also to make sure I didn’t re apply for a third year.

 

**Thanks for the suggestions, I have updated the post. So if the comments below don’t make any sense, it is my fault.

It is Monday morning and I really need a bacon butty.

Red Cross Parcel

Red Cross Parcel

It is Monday morning in Italy, it is raining, I am sat in my office sulking and I need a bacon butty (bacon sandwich).

Don’t tell Mrs Sensible, but from time to time I do miss bits of England, bits like crisps, real beer or a bacon butty.

During the summer two of my children came to visit me, “Dad, do you need anything bringing” they asked. The above photo shows the goodies they managed to fit in their suitcase. I think the only clothes Lucy managed to fit in her suitcase, were a pair of jeans and a bikini. We spent the rest of the holiday buying her summer dresses. On hindsight it might have been cheaper, to have air freighted my emergency provisions over and let Lucy fill her case with her own clothes.

Back to rainy Monday and life in my office, I have 25 industrial water pumps in Taiwan that should be sat in my stores, money sat in my customers banks that should be sat in my bank and I really, really need a bacon butty.

I really need a bacon butty

I really need a bacon butty

If I was still sat in my old office in England, it would still be Monday morning, it would still be raining and I would be dreaming of life in Italy. But, and it is only a small but. The sarni shop (sandwich shop) down the hill made fantastic bacon buttys.

I could order a pizza from the local pizzeria, if someone was here to phone them for me, last time I tried it was a total disaster. I never realised how difficult it was to mime down a phone line.

Io bisogno una pizza (I need a pizza)

Cosa? (What)

Mi scusi, Io bisogno una pizza Diavola,  mio indirizzo è strada industriale… (Sorry, I need a Diavola pizza, my address is industrial road…)

Cosa, non capisco?

ARGGGHH! IO SONO INGLESE, IO FAME; IO BISOGNO UNA PIZZA, PLEASE. ( I am English, I am hungry, I need a pizza Please)

CLICK Brrrrrrrr

As I stared at the phone that was still brrrrr ing in my ear, Manzo the nice delivery man from Bartolini, arrived with a parcel. He understood that I was hungry and he phoned the pizzaria on my behalf.

Pizza Diavola

This is a Pizza Diavola. Purchased during the summer from a local pizzeria.

The pizza, complete with a bottle of beer arrived. It was very nice, but I really wanted a bacon butty.

UPDATE….

I have just bust my glasses.

EnglishmaninItaly.org

Just bust my glasses

As if the day was not bad enough, I have just bust my glasses.

A mother in law, a pen knife and the airport police.

I was going to do a post about the Easter bunny and how he gave Mrs Sensible a dishwasher rather than a chocolate egg, but the stupid rabbit bunny forgot to give me anything. So instead here is a post about Mrs Sensible’s mum, Gatwick Airport and a police caution.

In 2007 Mrs Sensible and I were still living in rainy England. From time to time visitors from Italy would arrive and the language in our house, quickly changed from English to beautiful Italian, except mine of course. Despite the amazing collection of Italian grammar books and dictionaries I had acquired, I soon found mime was easier to learn and much more universal.

Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau the master of languages

One of my favourite visitors to our house was my mother in law. One evening while Marta was staying, we were invited to dinner by our friends Gary and Joan. Joan created a delicious meal and during the meal Gary gave my mother in law a beautiful bone handle penknife for her husband. Gary said, he had carved the handle himself, he also strongly suggested that we place the knife in our main luggage when Marta flew home. This was duly translated by Mrs Sensible.

Penknife

The penknife was a little bit like this.

When I booked Marta’s return flight to Sicily, I was amazed at how low the cost was, and so I also booked a seat for me. I told Mrs Sensible that her mum shouldn’t carry her suitcase by herself, so I would go with her have a 10 day holiday and would be back in the UK quicker than she could say “questa è una cosa molto egoista da fare. Ho bisogno di una vacanza così”

The security at Gatwick Airport was on high alert following various terrorist incidents, so we had to remove our shoes and pass them with our bags and coats through the X ray machine. I didn’t mind the increased precautions, because 1) I didn’t really want to get on a plane that might have a bomb on it and 2) I had left all my dangerous items, such as my battery razor and tooth paste at home. As I walked pass the security guard and reached down to pick up my holdall. A female security guard pointed to Marta’s hand bag and said “Is that yours sir?”

My Hand bag?

My Hand bag?

Mine!! A handbag! Was she mad? “It belongs to Marta” I said pointing at my mother in law. “Can we look in it please?” she asked.

I shrugged and turning to Marta I mimed, have you got any face cream, bottles or perfume in your bag. Marta smiled at me and shook her head. The security guard was definitely onto something, she was excitedly rummaging through Marta’s bag; the way a sniffer dog might, if it had just sniffed 4 kilos of cocaine in burst bags.

Meet Fleabag

Meet Fleabag the sniffer dog

With a flourish the guard produced Gary’s penknife. As she opened the knife and waved it under our noses there was an audible AAHHH from the other travellers in the queue. I looked at Marta in amazement, this didn’t look like the innocent pen knife Gary had given her, it looked like a Samurai sword, and if the guard didn’t stop waving it about, someone was going to lose an arm.

Policeman with the penknife

Policeman with the penknife

I started to apologise, I explained that Marta was Italian, not used to travelling, not a spring chicken, not a terrorist, blah blah blah.  I asked if she would kindly dispose of the knife and we would be on our way.

Fifteen minutes later, we were still stood in the naughty corner waiting for the police to come and tell us off. When PC Plod and his sergeant eventually arrived, I again apologised and explained that our flight was due to leave in 15 minutes.  I calmly explained the dinner and the gift, it was at the point where I mentioned Marta’s lack of English, that the Policeman asked if we needed an interpreter. It might take an hour or two for the interpreter to arrive, but we need to fill out some forms and your mother in law will need to accept a caution .  We don’t need an interpreter; I am bi lingual I said.

I am bi lingual

Of course I speak fluent Italian

I translated all the questions the policeman asked. Some questions were easy, for example; what is her name or what is her address. But when the policeman asked me to translate, please ask her if she will accept a formal caution or would she prefer to make a statement at the local police station. I resorted to total gobbledygook. I strung as many Italian words that I knew together and kept adding stai zitta (shut up) every time Marta opened her mouth. I am not really sure what Marta thought as I started to say in very very bad Italian “stai zitta, where bathroom? I like kitchen no like knife, no stai zitta, please si si si I said, as I nodded my head.

Marta whose eyes were as wide as saucers, nodded her head. The policeman then gave my mother in law an official police caution. She was warned that if she ever gets into trouble again, this police caution may be taken into account.

Any more trouble from you and...

Any more trouble from you and…

My mother in law and I ran through the airport to the departure gate, while I tried to explain on the mobile to Mrs Sensible why we hadn’t called her and no I wouldn’t go back and ask the policeman if we could keep the penknife and yes I realised it was a gift for her dad.

A little Summer House

In 2009 I left Piemonte and went to Sicily in search of work. This cunning plan, was to find employment in a hotel, or maybe even at the USAF base at Signorella, I could then persuade Mrs Sensible, to move south to be closer to her family, the sun, sea and beaches.

Mrs Sensible thought this was utter madness, most of the Italians were trying to move north in search of work and her crazy English husband was moving south!! However she did see a positive benefit to the exercise. One, she would sleep better without me snoring in her ear and two, I would be forced to learn to speak Italian. Especially if I stayed with Zia E.

Zia E is a wonderful lady, she is the oldest sister of Mrs Sensible’s Dad, and we love her to bits. The only downside was she spoke very little English, maybe as much as hello, goodbye, one, two and three. Which in fairness matched my Italian.

One evening Mrs Sensible phoned to ask me how the job hunting was going. Not bad I told her, Berlitz want me to teach English to Italian Businessmen.  Your joking she said,  you can’t spell for toffee and your grammar is appalling. It’s not a problem I said, I will teach them to spell fonetically phoneticallie phonetically. There was a long pause and then Mrs Sensible asked me, how was my Italian coming along? Cosi cosi I replied, I am working on it. But you should hear Zia, her English is improving in leaps and bounds. She can now count to 30 and can tell me it is too cold for flip-flops in English. Mrs Sensible let out another audible sigh.

I didn’t secure a job in Sicily, however I did hear this wonderful story.

When Zia’s husband was alive, they owned a summer-house near a little village out in the countryside. Every year Zia and her husband would take a holiday, and visit the summer-house on the same 3 weeks every year. Life was fine, until one year they decided to change the dates of their holiday.

They arrived at the little summer-house 2 weeks early to find the front door was unlocked.  As Zia and Zio entered the house, the aroma of fine Italian cooking  wafted through the air to their noses. When they entered the dinning room, Zia was stunned to see a family of 6 sat at her table eating a meal. Zia asked the woman, who was sat at the table tucking into meat balls or maybe even spaghetti bolognaise what she thought she was doing .

Spag bog or meat balls

Do you want to join us for dinner??  (Credit: Walt Disney Alice in Wonderland Brill film)

The woman stood up and said “we live here and are eating our meal. What does it look like; and who the hell are you?” (Obviously it was said in Italian, with a lot of hand waving) 

When Zia told them she owned the house, the woman said you don’t live here, you only come for 3 weeks, and when you do we move back to the village. Why are you here now??

I think it was at this point that Zia blew a fuse and threw them out. She also decided to sell her little summer-house.

I did wonder how the family managed to live in Zia E’ house without her knowing. Zia explained that on her visits, she sometimes noticed the odd cup missing and maybe a rug not quite in the right position, but she just put it down to her memory and age.

Italian Customer Service

Peach

Uttering the words Italian and customer service in one breath is as bad as using King Herod and child care in the same sentence they just don’t go together, except in the case of our local macellaio. Mario knows this particular pazzo Inglese can be forced to buy his wonderful homemade sausages, fillets of steak and other tasty produce, all Mario has to do is point at them and say ancora? And I will nod happily and say si si.

I also receive incredible service from the local corner shop. Maria who serves behind the counter always serves me before anyone else in the shop. It doesn’t matter who is waiting to be served or how many people are queuing to pay she always says prego prego as she gestures me to the front of the queue. No no io sono bene. I will reply. But the other women who are either gossiping about local village life or queuing to pay soon join in prego prego they chant.

So I am forced to go to the front of the queue and using my appalling Italian start purchase my shopping. When Maria and the women first started to invite me to queue jump I initially thought it was due to the respect Mrs Sensible holds as the local school teacher; she is not called Mrs Sensible in the village but Maestra. It took the episode of the peaches for me to realise why they always let me go to the front of the queue.

Mrs Sensible sent me to the shop one afternoon to purchase five peaches, now I know you normally buy fruit by the weight but I am aware of my limitations when it comes to ordering in Italian so I began with Io Bisogno cinque pesche per favore, (I understand that I should us “vorrei” and not bisogno but it never sounds right when I say it) Maria gave me one of those looks that are saved for the village idiot, I hadn’t noticed at this point that one or two of the women were already giggling and snorting into their handkerchiefs, I just thought there was a cold going around.

Maria disappeared into the back of the shop where the freezers are kept. I thought this was really odd as the peaches were in baskets just to the right of me. Stupid old bat I thought. Maria returned with one box of fish fingers, one frozen fillet of fish in a box and what looked like a piece of old shoe leather that might or might not have been dried fish.

Fish Fingers

Fish Fingers

Erh no no!! I said, pesche I repeated pointing at the basket of peaches cinque pesche. Maria grinned and said pesca Peter pesca.

The women behind me were dabbing their eyes and thinking the pazzo inglese never fails to let us down this time he ordered five fish instead of five peaches. With as much dignity as I could muster I worked my way through the rest of my shopping and thankfully left the shop.

Back to Skool

Today is back to school day for most of the children in Italy. Mrs Sensible is a teacher in scuola primaria. This year she is tasked with teaching the little blighters angels English, maths and music in one school and in the other English and Italian. While I sit here typing this blog Mrs Sensible is colouring in posters for her new classrooms. The little quip I made about I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures was almost met with physical violence.

I was first forced to attend school some forty-five years ago and I don’t believe it has fundamentally changed in the last forty-five years for either the children or the teachers. I can say this from bitter experience because Mrs Sensible forced me to go to the local evening class to learn Italian. I suppose forced is maybe a bit hard, my mum forced me to school by threatening me with the slipper, Mrs Sensible used the “If you want to stay in Italy you need to learn the language, I am tired of translating for you maybe we should go back to the UK”

I have never found my lack of Italian to be a huge problem I can order wine, grappa and food and request the cost of items. In fact my lack of Italian has been quiet useful, Scusi io sono inglese mi dispiace non capsico, has saved me from buying expensive items or helped me escape from street traders trying to sell me bags and belts.

So as my good wife had become exasperated with being my interpreter she enrolled me in a basic Italian night class on a Thursday night for immigrants run by the local municipale. The lessons were held in a senior school in Casale Monferrato. The teacher Maestra Piera was in her late 50s. Her eyes glitter with excitement as she explained to my wife that all I would have to do to learn Italian was to listen to everything she said. Oh and importantly attend her class regularly. This seemed far removed from the way I was taught in school. I seem to remember it took the threat of the cane and detention for me to apply myself to the lessons.

During the first lesson I was determined not to draw attention to myself. As I entered the classroom I calmly walked to the back of the room and chose a desk in the corner.  As I started to sit down, Maestra Piera pointed at me and announced to the class “Lui e’ Inglese si chiama Peter.” She then pointed to a desk at the front of the class and shouted “Vieni Peter, vieni qui.” My cover blown I slowly walked to the front of the class and sat down at the desk right in front of the blackboard. The horrors of my former school life quickly returned. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to produce a sick note signed by my wife when I decided to skip a lesson.

The classroom was the same as any schoolroom that I have sat or stood in the corner of. The only difference was the desks were scored with graffiti in Italian, Giuseppe Ti Amo Loradana. As I sat waiting for the lesson to begin I started to thumb through my new Italian – English dictionary wondering if I would have to back it in brown paper for homework.

As I sat there wishing I was somewhere else I become aware of all the different languages that were being spoken in the room. Near the door was a group who were either Russian or Ukrainian. Behind me near the back of the classroom I could hear French and in the middle of the room another language which I later found out belonged to the Albanians who outnumbered all of us.

I started my first lesson with a simply subject. How to change a singular noun into a plural noun, while remembering to change the article at the same time. We also needed to remember that the rules are different for male and female gender nouns. Not only is it mind-boggling, but all the explanations the teacher gave were in Italian. Logarithms without a table or calculator would have been easier. It wasn’t until I showed Mrs Sensible my notes later that night that I became aware of what I had been listening to for the previous two and a half hours.

At one point during the lesson Maestra Pierra looked at me and said with a huge smile and a nod. “Peter hai Capito?” I slowly shook my head no. Huge mistake! She walked to my desk smiled at me, leaned in close and raising her voice to a shout proceeded to give me the exact same explanation that she had given the class less than 5 seconds ago, again in Italian. “Oh ok ok io capisco” I said. I never made that mistake again.

In the early lessons I think Maestra Piera thought I was her perfect student. I never asked her to repeat anything twice and I wrote down almost everything she said. It was only later that she cottoned on to how badly I was progressing in her lessons. One of the problems with the lessons, was I didn’t understand Italian therefore I didn’t understand the teacher.

The second problem was the class had a massive mix of abilities. There were the French, Spanish and Rumanians who with their Latin based language could argue with the teacher over the correct structure of a sentence and then there was me who needed pictures of cats and dogs with gatto and cane printed beneath them.

I struggled through two years of classes with Maestro Piera and I know it was as much a struggle for her as it was for me. The symbolic certificate she gave me saying I had attained level 2 in Italian was presented more for my dogged attendance and also to make sure I didn’t re apply for a third year.

This summer during July, we bumped into Maestra Piera while we were shopping. I did try to follow the conversation between my old teacher and my wife. I smiled and nodded in the right places and shook my head as they shook theirs. I also got the distinct and mortifying feeling that my wife was organizing year three of my Italian education. I caught phrases like dovra’ cominciare al  livello uno and in Settembre. To date Mrs Sensible has not mentioned my date for going back to school so I am hoping against all hope that she has forgotten our meeting with Maesta Piera, unfortunately I doubt she has because she has an incredible memory and is probably waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring my new term date on me.