I’m thinking of all the things I’ll miss when I have to leave, after all, there’s nothing like rehearsing regrets ūüėȬ† and here are the first seven…

Good Coffee

Not a surprise for anyone who knows me.

Coffee in Verona

In Italy it isn’t a hit or miss whether you’ll get a good cup of coffee – you will. As far as I’m concerned in the UK coffee is brewed to be weak and bitter and going to a new coffee shop is a gamble but in Italy it’s always safe. If I want a coffee in Italy and I don’t want to walk to a favourite place I will go to the nearest one and even if it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had it’ll never give me gut wrench which is more than I can say for some so-called¬†artisanal¬†coffee houses in the UK. And, of course, there are regional joys like¬†caffe triestino¬†which is an espresso with whipped cream on top. Now, where did I put that Trenitalia timetable and can I get to Trieste before I expire from whipped cream deficiency?


I have never understood why they aren’t standard everywhere. ‘Nuff said.


Italian weather isn’t gorgeous all year round and it gets grey and cold in the north in winter but, for me, the springs and autumns are just glorious and I’d take a too hot Italian summer over a non-existent Scottish one any year. My mother says, “grey skies make grey people”, and I feel the truth of that when I live full-time in Scotland. I get very depressed with overcast skies but it only takes a few days of sunshine to make me feel bright and energetic.


Peaches and nectarines in the UK are too often rock solid and tasteless. When I go to Italy I live on fruit – I lose weight, my skin plumps up and after a few weeks I look like 52 instead of 347.¬† Same with veggies. I’ll never forget the little Lancashire lass in Perugia a few years ago, “Mum, what is this? Whatever it is I’m going to eat it for the rest of my life.” She was about ten and¬†it¬†was a peach. Yes, you can live a decade in the UK without ever having had a peach that isn’t like a lump of damp wood.


Italians are on the whole very polite. I have never struggled with bags in an Italian railway station or had an asthma attack in any Italian city without someone (often a handsome young man!) rush to my aid. One day when I am super-rich (!) I shall institute an award for all the lovely young men and women police officers who have been kind to me over and above the call of common decency.

Church bells and Roadside Shrines

I love the romance of shrines. You see them everywhere in Italy, mostly to the Madonna but sometimes to other saints, dotted about in city streets and country roads, set into the walls of houses, nestling in alcoves and colonnades, and generally presiding over all aspects of life. Italy is a much less observantly Catholic country than it was when I was young but as my generation is still fairly devout the shrines will be around for a while yet. When I’m old and¬†nonna-like I hope I can still hobble along to this one in the Corso Porta Borsari in Verona.


I love finishing work and finding a bar (and hopefully friends) to enjoy a spritz or two and a few olives or crisps to fill in the time before a typically late Italian dinner. The idea of aperitivo (ap√©ritif) is to refresh the spirit with fellowship and ‘open’ the stomach to prepare it to digest food which is why the drinks – Aperol, Campari, Vermouth, Prosecco – are based on bitter herbs, the ones that get your gastric juices running. In some cities now you find¬†apericena¬†which is mash up of aperitivo and ‘cena’ which means dinner, in other words, a drink with a little buffet rather than a simple dish of olives. I’m personally not so keen on this, I don’t see the point of taking the edge off your appetite before dinner and I’m cynical enough to think the bars are just charging me extra for my drink to help them use up the leftovers from whatever they served at lunch. Still, I see a lot of people enjoying it and, perhaps, for some it makes things generally more affordable if they don’t have to buy dinner every night but can still enjoy this lovely evening ritual.

(Cisano, Lake Garda, at dusk)

For many women¬†doing what we want can be unnerving. It’s like crossing a road except we’re not looking left and right and left again we’re looking for a child, or a husband, or a patient, or a student… anyone who might need us before we can step forward. Girls are trained to put other people first and professions like motherhood (it is one) or nursing or secretarying hone that training to the point that even when there’s no-one else for a fifty mile radius we still struggle with feelings of selfishness if we do what we like. If that’s you then pretend there’s a Lollipop Lady in front of you holding out a big STOP lolly – call it cognitive behavioural therapy – and say to her, “Fancy a cuppa?” and you can tell her anything you like over that cuppa because she’s another woman so she’s interested and she’s also a figment of your imagination so she won’t tell your sister or cast it all up later. The first step to doing what you want is to have space to daydream, to let your mind wander, and to wander along with it because how else will you know what you really want to do if you don’t dream?

I practised mild aversion therapy on myself. I made a cup of coffee or even, yes, a gin and tonic, and forced myself to sit in the garden or at a window with a view. No thinking. No planning. Just sitting. Then gradually when I got used to having a bit of space and no parent or boss or client appeared I began to think it might be alright to get up and do something. Just for me. That’s how I started making rings and hats. One day sitting in the do-nothing chair watching the jostle and bustle at the bird feeder I began to feel antsy. Surely there was someone I needed to phone? Or ironing to do. I should really tidy the kitchen cupboards before the visitors arrived. What if they needed some brown rice flour in the middle of the night and saw the state of them? I would be mortified.¬†So I grabbed the button box and organised the buttons into piles on the table¬†because it was totally unnecessary and I found a few black and silver glass buttons I remembered from childhood. I had some 14g sterling silver wire so off I went and made a ring that gets an awful lot of compliments.

You can do what you want and the world won’t end.

Unless what you want is to sneak into Mr Putin’s or Mr Trump’s office and press a red button.