Posts Tagged ‘children’

Big and small boys’ toys

June 12, 2009

Pestered with the usual impressive application by my four-year-old son, we stop at a bar next to the Cerbarra petrol station for a pasta, and there meet Mario and Carlo from nearby Agrisystem, out on a coffee break. Of all the people I know who run businesses in the area, I think I like Mario and Carlo the best.

Why? Because they take responsibility for the stuff they sell. When you buy something from them, you know that if something goes wrong they will sort it out.

We pop over to get a can of pre-mix for the strimmer; it costs more but I find the petrol/oil mix from petrol stations highly corrosive of the plastic tank and tubes on my strimmer. The machine doesn’t consume much fuel, even with our large garden, and it starts first time with the stuff Mario sells. Since we are there, he invites Luca, 4, to select a tractor-mower he would like to drive from the large assemblage outside. Moments later, Luca cruises by in the biggest tractor there is. I get to stand around pretending I wouldn’t be interested in driving it myself.

Luca pronounces himself impressed with the number of buttons on the machine, which far exceeds the complexity of our own ten-year-old bottom of the range affair; focusing, as ever, on the critical issue, he informs Mario that we need a tractor with headlights for ‘night-time work’. Mario agrees that his father is indeed a fool for not having one.

A couple of days later, I get a reminder of why Mario and Carlo (the mechanic) are people who make life easier. The tractor-mower’s ignition is broken. The grass is long, and growing. Mario would come out if asked, but we can get the machine on the back of the pick-up  truck (tied up, with the back door open). So I call him. He says he has every part that could go wrong with an ignition in the warehouse and he will put a new battery, which I have been avoiding buying (by jump starting when it is cold) for a year, on charge. I say I’m in a hurry and he says that if I come down the next morning, they will do the work while I wait. In the event, it isn’t necessary as I have other things to do in town. So I leave the tractor and pick it up in the afternoon. Carlo, as a matter of course, has sharpened the cutting blades and set the tire pressures.

Before we leave, there’s just one more thing: ‘Luca — which tractor?’ He goes for a mid-size yellow one, again with a lot of knobs and headlights, and loads of gears. I try to do my not-interested face.

Living the caricature

April 6, 2009

The time of great garden busy-ness is upon us. In the space of a couple of weeks, the garden has switched from winter deadness to a condition in which one suspects that plants – particularly grass – can be seen to be growing. The full range of weaponry, led by strimmer and tractor-lawn mower, are mobilised to beat back nature’s onslaught.

It is a bunch of work. The last week was particularly full-on. Fortunately, Italy offered up a couple of her exquisite absurdities to remind one that in the end ‘Why bother?’ is the most rational approach to life.

First, the postwoman arrived with one of those threatening, pale green, registered-post envelopes. It was a demand for payment of a parking fine from Pisa that was written on 23 February 2000.

A quick trawl through my files revealed that the Commune di Pisa already demanded payment of this fine in June 2004. At that point, the Pisa municipal police demanded I pay them Euro135,77 to reflect the original fine of just over Euro56, plus four years of late payment. Today, I am delighted to discover, they are offering to settle the whole thing for Euro111, 55 — a reduction of almost 20 percent on the 2004 figure.

This is most welcome, but leaves a difficult choice: should I settle now, or should I wait another five years in the hope of paying Euro90? A momentary reflection on the fiscal condition of the nation convinces me to cough up. I will, at least, hold my chin high about town, sure in the knowledge that I have both been dealt a bargain and that I have done my civic duty.

 Unfortunately, I now remember why I never paid the 2004 demand. Neither of us was even in the country. But the wife suddenly figures out the answer. In 2000, we had just bought — brand new — the car that incurred the fine and, for some bizarre reason, decided to leave the keys with our hippy neighbour. The hippy’s family, we subsequently learned, comes from Pisa. So, it seems, the hippy borrowed our car and took a trip home. (What was wrong with his own wreck?). When he got a parking fine, the hippy presumably ate it, smoked it, or tore it up into decorative shreds and tried to sell it to a tourist.

I had been thinking that the lesson of the demand from Pisa was that one should only pay Italian parking fines when fully convenient, if at all. But that is only the smaller of two, separate lessons. The second, bigger lesson is to never, ever, ever leave your car keys with a hippy.

Liberal parenting I: teach them the classics

March 18, 2009

Leaving Cambridge, I pop into Blackwells and purchase two books about the Greek legends. What better way, I am thinking, to entertain and educate one’s young children than to introduce them to the original mythology of western civilisation? Moreover, this is a nice little saver, since I get about 800 pages of stories for a two-book total of 18 quid, compared with about a quid a page in the larcenous children’s department.


There is just one problem. Like most people who think it a good idea to educate their young in the Greek mythos, (and in our case even name the eldest child after the Greek goddess of the earth), I have never actually read the material. On so doing I quickly discover that the legends are not the child-sanitised morality tale I had in mind.


It is an initial relief to discover that Gaia is indeed the earth, can be construed as its goddess, and was the first thing to come into the Greek world after darkness — a poetic reference, I decide, to our first-born after all those years of waiting. Reading on, however, things quickly become rather less poetic. Gaia had a jealous husband: Uranus, the sky. He was a) addicted to sex and b) unwilling to have any child enter the world to compete with him for attention. So Uranus kept his dick permanently inside Gaia in order to prevent any of the children he sired from being born. Gaia, naturally, didn’t much like this. So she persuaded the youngest child in her belly, Cronus, to castrate Uranus while he was shagging. You can imagine that this came as a hell of a shock to Uranus, who jumped off Gaia and up into the sky. His dick fell into the ocean, where it floated about in a foaming mass of sperm and gave rise to Aphrodite, [sic] the goddess of love (ho, ho, ho). Meanwhile blood from Uranus’s wound splattered on the earth and produced the Erinyes – the furies, or avenger gods (this at least sounds plausible). Cronus and the other ‘titan’ kids escaped from Gaia’s womb, but Cronus grew up to be a ‘wrong ‘un’, imprisoned most of his siblings in the underworld, and ate his own children.


In the end, Zeus came on the scene and sorted out the big issues. But then Zeus himself got hacked off with (mortal) man, and sent down woman in the form of Pandora as a form of punishment. Pandora was good looking, but also sexually rapacious, gluttonous and pathologically deceitful, so that man’s life became miserable. ‘This is the dilemma now,’ observes French Greek-legend guru Jean-Pierre Vernant: ‘If a man marries, his life will pretty certainly be hell, unless he happens on a very good wife, which is extremely rare. Conjugal life is thus an inferno – misery after misery….If he marries it is a catastrophe, and if he doesn’t, it’s another kind of catastrophe.’ (pp61)


The children, all teed up before I read the text, are greatly excited at the prospect of hearing daddy tell them the story of Gaia and the Greek gods. They snuggle up on the sofa in baited anticipation. Daddy must now scale a new peak of judicious paraphrasing. He does his best: ‘Once upon a time, Gaia had a very naughty son called Cronus, who even stabbed his daddy with something a bit like a knife – which is something you must never, ever do… then there was Aphrodite, the beautiful goddess of love who, would you believe it, was discovered one day floating about on something a bit like an upturned canoe on the sea, but without a paddle… while cheeky Cronus became naughtier and naughtier and even swallowed his children – but without chewing, mind – until Zeus made him sick them up; not that one should ever try to make anyone sick anything up… and then Zeus created the first woman, who was very beautiful and had lovely clothes and jewels, but was, frankly, well, a bit of a handful… not at all like mummy, so just think about how lucky you are…ooh, is that the time, well lights out, good night… yes, of course I will…


Next day, the eldest child is heard to tell her brother, who happens to share his name with one of Christ’s disciples: ‘You are a friend of Jesus. That’s very good. But I am a God.’ Once again, liberal parenting has broadened the horizons that other parenting cannot reach.  

%d bloggers like this: