Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Let's backtrack a bit. When we moved into the flat, most things were in order, except for the kitchen which was, in all honesty, a bit of a dog's breakfast. It looked like this :-

The cooker was spanking new, but the good news ended there. The only work surface was an orange picnic table that required me to bend almost double. I improvised by balancing a chopping board on the sink as a workaround. And then there was the mustard-yellow fridge. It wasn't nice to look at, and its best days were clearly behind it as it no longer kept anything cooler than lukewarm. The landlord, fortunately, agreed to replace it.

It left the kitchen looking like this :-

Better, yes. Not so much of a preponderance of yellow. It still left me with nowhere to work, and the nearest thing to a kitchen cabinet was a cardboard box of pans under the sink.

So we ordered a budget set of cabinets from IKEA in Padova. Caroline spent pretty much the entire summer working on this : what was affordable, how much space it would leave us and - crucially - how to get it home. Because if you order stuff for delivery to Venice, they will hit you with a delivery charge of at least 198 euros. However, if you order your parts in discrete packages of thirty kilos or less, you just pay a courier charge of 10 euros each. A logistical nightmare and a mathematical problem of Hawking-like proportions; but nevertheless she worked it out.  The courier was sympathetic, although after the penultimate delivery a note of desperation entered his voice as he asked me if there were many more to come.

Flat packs then. Older readers will remember the time when you bought flat-pack furniture with MFI. Everything fitted together with screws, dowels and glue. You swore at the doors when they refused to fit, and six months later everything started to come apart anyway. But IKEA stuff is a bit different. There's a bit of weight and solidity to it. And, in the case of a kitchen, you can't just fit it together with an Allen key. Proper DIY, and proper tools are needed.

Still, I'm a bit of a whizz at flat-packs. I can put together a Billy bookcase in twenty minutes, so this held no fear for me. Until I looked at the instructions and came across the dispiriting first sentence First ensure your wall is straight.

A cursory check revealed that the wall was not straight. I have no idea how you go about straightening a wall. It would therefore have to remain defiantly un-straight.

Putting the cabinets together was straightforward enough although, interestingly, you still need to give the doors a good swear to get them on. 

The next step was to hang them on the (un-straight) wall. Not so easy as it involved drilling through tiles into masonry. A friend lent me a drill - not a hammer drill, not a masonry drill, but better than nothing. It worked up to a point. All tiles remained uncracked, but it took approximately 30 minutes per hole. Ten holes were needed. It was a long day...

That just left the work surface. Now, if you want a made-to-measure surface, they have to order one in from abroad. Leading to a delivery cost of another 198 euros. No. We weren't going to do that. We'd order the standard size one, and I'd cut it to size. I'd no real idea how to go about this, but I figured I could just take it along to Ratti or somewhere and ask them to do it. 

And then it arrived. Two metres in length, two centimetres thick, and thirty kilos in weight. It nearly killed me just getting it up the stairs. No way in hell was I going to be able to transport it across town. And cutting it with a handsaw would be physically impossible. It needed a power saw

Fortunately our neighbour lent me a jig saw. Two centimetres was pretty much at the limit of its tolerance but, after nearly ninety minutes I emerged triumphant. The kitchen stank of burning wood and sawdust, which had settled over every last surface in the flat. The blade of the saw was almost worn smooth. The thought of the amount of clearing up involved could have reduced me to tears. It would have to wait until the next day. Right now, Strong Drink in Copious Quantities was called for.

Still it's done now :-

Not quite perfect perhaps but any imperfections, I thought, could be blamed on The Wall That Is Not Straight.  There's still the question of what to do with the sink - a chipped and battered old thing that badly needs replacing - but in the meantime, we have a perfectly functioning kitchen with a splendid new work surface.

The only question now is - how do we keep the cat off it??

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A New Day Yesterday

In 1971, the rock band Jethro Tull released the album Aqualung, one of the highlights of what would become a near forty year career. At the time, the headline "Jethro - now the world's biggest band?" appeared in the  New Musical Express (and everybody believes what they read in the NME). It has since sold over seven million copies. Not bad for a concept album where the central figure is a slightly-more-than-sleazy tramp, which compares the positive aspects of religious belief against the bad things that happen when such belief becomes institutionalised, and - perhaps most significantly - is performed by a band who would not be allowed on television today for fear of frightening the children.

   Drummer Clive Bunker left the band shortly afterwards. He was getting married and, rather sweetly, wanted to spend more time at home instead of being on the road constantly. It's a fair bet that he never envisaged that, one day, he'd be the special guest star in a Tull tribute band in front of an audience of a couple of hundred Venetian communists.

   The annual festival for the Refounded Communist Party is, I think, my favourite festival in Venice. It's in Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, the loveliest square in the city,  and you get a serious discussion followed by a band. Chances are you'll buy a bottle of wine for 5 euros as well. There's even merchandise - The Struggle needs to move with the times, after all - so I get a Gramsci fridge magnet, and Caroline a Bella Ciao t-shirt .

   Friday night is a leaving do for one of our teacher colleagues, Chris, returning to the UK after two years in Venice. He was young when the Tull were old, but doesn't object to going along. And the band - for an old Tull fan like myself - are somewhere between fantastic and magnificent. What we get are the best bits from the albums Stand Up and Aqualung along with a suite from Thick as a Brick and, wonderfully, my favourite ever track, 'Hunting Girl' from Songs from the Wood (at which point, I must confess, Extreme Pint Dancing might have occurred).

   The musicians are all first-class, the singer makes a pretty good attempt at Ian Anderson's voice, and Clive - well Clive is a better drummer now than he was when he was famous. I haven't seen him since the Tull's twentieth anniversary reunion in 1998. Today he resembles a dapper Spike Milligan, if you can imagine such a thing. At the end of the gig, he engages in a ten minute Battle of the Drummers with the band's regular batterista  (a very good young lad who, at the end, bows down before the wise old master). I have to be honest and say I enjoy the evening far more than the last time I saw the actual band themselves. All those old, old songs seem fresh and new. Most importantly, there's the feeling that everybody is having the time of their lives.

   I'm trying not to be too much of a fanboy, but I wait for him to come off stage and shake his hand. "That was fantastic, mate" I babble. If he's surprised at my accent, he doesn't show it. "Well thank you very much sir!" he says. And with that, this modest man of Rock makes his way into the night.

Mi chiamano Mimi

'Mi chiamano Mimi, ma non so il perchè' (they call me Mimi, but I don't know why)  - Giacomo Puccini, La Boheme.

Of course, we go for the sad cat.

There was a temptation to go for one of the kittens, but they wouldn't be ideal in a flat where one or both of us might be away for hours at a time. Similarly, it's tempting to go for a rescue cat from the Dingo charity - but a street cat is unlikely to settle to being an indoor cat or to be your pal.

So we bring her home from Campodarsego. She whinges just a little bit on the way but, on the whole she's good as gold. She hides behind the washing machine when we get her home, but not for long.

Anyway, the name. At the cattery they tell us that the previous owner had got her gender wrong, and called her Pippo. A perfectly good name, of course, except that it's a boy's name and the diminutive of mine. To name a cat after yourself would seem an act of extreme egotism, and we'd have to explain the gender mix-up every time we introduced her. So we try to come up with something that sounds just a little bit similar that she'll get used to. I think of Mimi. The sad heroine of La Boheme seems appropriate for a slightly sad cat.

Anyway, here are some pictures.

This is a luxury kitty villa :-

This is a lovingly-crafted piece of art by an Edinburgh artisan :-

You can probably guess where she prefers to sleep.

Here's a picture of Caroline peering out from behind Mimi on the table on our balcony :-

And here's me, with one of my lovely girls :-

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Blood on the cats

There's still a fair amount of work to be done in the flat. Try to get the kitchen sorted, make the spare room usable, put my Doctor Who DVDs into chronological order. And we want to get a cat. Now there are various ways of doing this (La Nuova used to run a "cute cat in desperate need of a home" feature every week) but we eventually settled on Subito.it, an online equivalent of the Exchange and Mart which led us to a cattery in Campodarsego, a small town on the outskirts of Padua. A town, it seems, that is almost impossible to reach by public transport.  They also seem to have no bus service at all. As we trudge the last two kilometres on foot, on one of the hottest days of the year, I start to think that these cats had better be suitably grateful.

We want a black cat of course. Not for any particular nefarious or sorcerous reason, but just because we wear a lot of black. However, the only one on offer - a kitten of 3 months, described as furbo ('crafty') - really doesn't want to know us. I pick him up, he scrabbles away furiously, I let him drop before any major arteries can be severed. Frankly, he's blown his chance. His brother, however, is possibly the nicest cat in the world. He just wants to be cuddled and have a good old purr. But he's still a kitten. He wants to be running around doing mad stuff and breaking things. He's not ideal for a flat.

Elsewhere, Caroline finds a modestly friendly older kitten. He shows no objection to being picked up. He seems to love it. In fact he seems to love it so much that he never wants to let go and his claws are locking on. Caroline is oblivious but I notice that he's actually drawn blood. Her upper arm is bleeding. In fact she's bleeding on the cat. Not just on a dark part either, but on the white bits. We detach him, and set him down; hoping that nobody will notice.

The final one is an adult of 18 months. Her previous owner has died so, from being an only cat with an elderly lady owner, she finds herself in a relatively confined space and surrounded by a host of strange and noisy felines for the first time in her life. She seems gentle and good natured, and yet terribly sad...

It has to be one of them...but which one...?

And so it was that I found myself this evening walking to the Festa di Liberazione, the annual celebration of the Refounded Communist Party, resplendent in my best Che Guevara T-shirt and carrying a shocking pink cat basket. I think I cut a bella figura.