Friday, 29 November 2013


It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks...

It had started so well. The book was due to come out and the only problem was that Amazon had credited it to "Mr Philip Gwynne Jones". I liked the the fact that it made me sound like an elderly gentleman Victorian novelist, but it also sounded more than a little pompous so it had to be changed. But the main feeling was one of excitement.

And then, nine days ago, the boiler started making one hell of a racket. Shortly followed by lack of any heating and hot water. I got on the phone to our landlady who arranged for someone to call the next day.

La festa della Salute is not the ideal day to find oneself in need of a plumber. Still, I took a telephone call from one who talked me through how to restore pressure to the boiler. Success! For about thirty seconds. Followed by an ominous KERCHONKACHONKACHONKA sound. He advised me to bleed all the radiators. I did so. Three times. I discovered ones I didn't even know we had. Niente.

A plumber came round on Saturday morning. He looked the boiler over for perhaps thirty seconds and told me it was knackered. He phoned  our landlady and explained they might be able to start work by the end of the following week. No, they couldn't do it any quicker. If there were any children or elderly or infirm people in the house, they might be able to speed things up but - and at this point he stared at me for just a few seconds longer than I thought necessary - that didn't apply in this case.

This left us facing temperatures plunging below zero during the night with no source of heating whatsoever. We borrowed a two-bar electric fire from the Anglican church in the hope we could at least keep one room warm. The trouble is, the entire flat is open plan. The only room that can be closed off completely is the bathroom, and given the lack of hot water we were unlikely to be spending much time there anyway.

On Tuesday, a different plumber arrived and managed to restore a modicum of heat and hot water to the kitchen by cranking up the pressure to a possibly inadvisable level; and gave me a stern warning not to turn the heat up beyond forty degrees or it would pack up again. Or possibly worse.

On Wednesday, our landlady came to see the situation for herself, in the company of yet another plumber who took one look at the temporary fix before using the words molto pericoloso.

I didn't think it was possible to get any colder, but, on Thursday, the existing boiler was removed. This left a circular hole, perhaps 9" in diameter, in the outside wall.

At the time of writing, two guys are working away installing the new one. It is bitterly, punishingly cold, and the two-bar fire, perhaps six inches away from me, is keeping my left foot warm but little else. If I stop typing I worry that I will lose all feeling in my hands.

I honestly don't know how we would have managed this past week had it not been for the incredible kindness of a dear friend who is putting us up in her flat and looking after us. I'm not going to embarrass her by mentioning her name but simply have to say a very heartfelt thank you.

And yet, it's been a good week in spite of everything. I arrived at school on Tuesday to find the kids had written "We Heart Teacher Philip" on the board. One of those money-can't-buy moments. And, of course, there's the book. It cracked the Amazon UK top 10 for books about Venice, and, for one glorious day, it actually outsold Jan Morris. Things have calmed down a bit now, and Ms Morris is now back in her (let's be honest) rightful position; but, for one day, I felt like a street musician who suddenly finds himself outselling the Beatles.

It was the best of weeks, after all.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Book

Hi everyone, it's Shameless Plug Time.

When I started this blog, two years ago now, I did so for two reasons. One was to let friends and family back home know how we were getting on. The other was simply that I thought the experience would be worth recording. I had no intention at the time of writing a book.

At the start of this year, however, I decided that I had sufficient material to start putting a book together, with the intention of chronicling the Project from its inception up until the end of our first year in Venice. That book is now available from Amazon as a paperback, with an e-book version to follow shortly.

It's impossible for me to be objective, of course, but I'm very pleased with it. It's the book I wanted to write. More importantly, perhaps, it's a book I would have wanted to read.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Smoking Frenchwoman

People of France, your attention please. We know you to be a civilised and cultured people; with a fine history of music, art, literature and philosophy. Your culinary tradition ranks amongst the highest in the world, and your national anthem is perhaps the fourth best in the EU. However, it has come to our attention that - of late - the quality of your tourists has been, shall we say, disappointing. Please do try and do something about this, such as sending them to Eurodisney instead. (Oh, and please stop voting for people like Marine Le Pen. It really doesn't look good.)

Caroline and I were returning from a party in Mestre last Saturday night (yes, a party! with real Italians!). The weather was still warm enough to sit outside on the vaporetto, the Grand Canal quiet and almost empty. Then one of the two French women in the adjacent seats lit up a cigarette. OK, I can imagine a time when I might have enjoyed a late-night cigar on the back of the vaporetto, enjoying the silence and watching the city slide past. But you can't smoke on the vaporetti any more, and the rules exist for nice people as well...

Caroline asked her to put it out, initially in Italian and then in English. The woman half-apologised and tried blowing the smoke away from us. But that's not the point. So we rattled through every combination in English and Italian that we could think of - non è permesso, è vietato, è illecito, è contro la legge, è illegale...but nothing seemed to work. Annoyingly the one phrase that wouldn't come to mind was defense de fumer. I don't think she'd have cared anyway. She obviously understood what we were saying, but by now she was openly laughing at us. Then Caroline snapped, walked over to her, grabbed her cigarette and chucked it into the canal; before stalking off to the front of the boat. I followed, open-mouthed in admiration and not a little fear.

People of France, one day you might just find yourself sitting next to my wife when you decide to treat the city as your own personal fiefdom. And trust me, you don't want that to happen...

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Bah, this was just going to be a short post about Cantori Veneziani's last concert, but it ended up being a little more complicated. The reason is that Google changed the way you embed music within Google blogs back in July. Which means I found out this morning that none of the previous concerts I linked to would play. It's taken a bit of arsing around but I think I've got there now - personally I think it looks a little clunky compared to the previous solution, but it will have to do. When I get time I'll go back and update the other musical blogs.

Anyway, here (hopefully) is the concert.Vivaldi's Gloria at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (Orchestra Barocca di Bologna, conducted by Paolo Faldi) . I think it's pretty good. There's a bit of coughing during some of the quiet bits, and the sound of the soprano and mezzo walking on and off stage (I don't know why they didn't just stay seated on stage throughout but, hey, I'm not the maestro) but nothing too noticeable. I can actually identify my voice at times...I'm never quite sure if this is a good thing or not!

Et in Terra Pax
Laudamus Te
Gratias Agimus Tibi
Domine Deus
Domine Fili Unigenite
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi
Qui Sedes Ad Dexteram Patris
Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus / Cum Sancto Spirito