What IS your problem?

One of the main problems with learning English, is, I believe, a weird idea that you can speak and write it in Italian! What I mean to say, is that people think, if they do actually think about it , that it’s enough to use Italian grammar systems, translation ( Google and Reverso and all the other sites that give advice have something to do with this!) Probably the very worst thing that happens is this: the student used to instant gratification meets a word s/he doesn’t know, looks it up, and bob’s your uncle! There is no guessing through context, no deep processing of the vocabulary item, seen and immediately forgotten! I know this because if the student finds the same word later in the lesson S/HE LOOKS IT UP AGAIN. SEE? I am still seeing kids with Vocabulary word lists….. which mean? I asked a student once “What are you supposed to do with this?” “Learn the words” Yeah,well……a word by itself with just a translation, IS WORTH NOTHING, there are so many other things you need to know before being able to use it

There is also a belief that you can simply transfer spoken English onto an Italian intonation system. And why is the English spoken by the majority of Italians so ugly, although I have to admit that this is now beginning to change and I meet many first-class speakers. Strangely, they are the ones who are so worried about their own pronunciation. The majority however, are basing it on their own sound system, syllables, not stress and that gives you that awful choppy language full of gaps, hesitations or “er’s”. I remember a future teacher of English ( with a university education) telling me what an ugly language English is ! Red rag to a bull! I couldn’t contain myself I’m afraid and lost all my British aplomb “Well quite sincerely the way you speak it, it is!” Friendship ruined forever, but you can’t always take things lying down, especially if your language is one of your life’s great passions! Listen to Sir Ian McKellan reading Wordsworth and you’ll have to agree!



This is really weird! My students seem to like the sound of my voice and I do too I must admit, so added to the fact that I love poetry and find there’s always a moment in the day that reminds me of a line or two………the other day I went for a walk in the meadows behind my flat and at a certain point I came across a fork in the grass where it had been trodden by someone who had been there earlier than me. “The road not taken” came to mind and I went home,looked it up, and recorded it. I thought it sounded ok and I had a good picture so I asked my techie young friend Davide to overlay the pic with the words and my reading. I was pretty pleased with the result! But my being pleased was hardly enough! So I sent it both to my daughter and my son. Clare’s reaction was immediate and unexpected ” you sound like someone in an erotic call centre” she said ;

Matthew sent me a pic entitled “the pen is on the table” and enunciated the words very carefully like a beginner -learner of English. Now what does that mean? Doesn’t he think my reading is spectacular? So I’m in a bit of a tizwoz (quandry) and I think I’ll let you decide!



We British are obsessed with the weather. Of course. It’s exciting, variable from minute-to- minute because it’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope. I remember calling my cousin and asking if predictions were good for my summer holiday in England. “Well”, he said ” we had summer last week on Wednesday afternoon”. Here in Italy we don’t actually have weather; just two “seasons”, hot, cold. You can’t squeeze much cover from that can you? but along with no seasons there are no skies. And we all know how delightful cloud -watching is! Ask any baby! They’ll watch the sky and the changing cloud formations for hours! In fact it’s so absorbing that Gavin Pretor-Pinney founded The Cloud Appreciation Society with over 50,000 paid-up members in 2005.

I remember my first Smart car had a glass roof and I had many a near escape because I was cloud watching. Far more interesting than a trafficked road actually! And who has not played the game with kids about cloud shapes? Hands up! I once toyed with the idea of joining the Cloud Appreciation Society but I was a bit put off by the fact that I could see ’em without actually paying! And what do you say of that stupid business jargon term “Blue sky thinking”?

Tell it to the people who live in desert regions. Most importantly (perhaps) is the wealth of skyscapes and cloudscapes that this love has given rise to. Some of our greatest painters have devoted their canvasses to the sky. And in England I lived in the Fens, a particularly flat area with BIG skies.

J.M.W.Turner The Slave shipJ


Wakey wakey! Absolutely not “woke”

When you think about it isn’t it wonderful. The way you gradually come out from that longing for hot heavy food and drink and emerge like a newborn into a world of salad and fresh- picked fruit? Suddenly the snug scarf round your neck and up to your nose can be shed and you come out of your chrysalis and show the world some skin. Oh for heaven’s sake shut up about the rolls of fat round your waist and the idea that you’re less than beautiful! Personally I could weep when I see the faces, yes some old, not all beautiful without make- up, unshaven, yes I could weep at the beauty of you all! What’s that? Well for starters you’re still alive dammit! You’re making it past this sludge and hate and terror- time of the virus. And another thing: I don’t want a tropical island or a never-ending sun! What a bore! I want Autumn with those glorious colours, I want the sound of the leaves scraping across the shining wet asphalt, I want the sound of the rain and maybe some thunder.

Eternal summer I’m letting the stupid celebs keep it. We’re all born for change believe me. Look at your kids your grandkids; what could be more exciting than charting the course of these drooling shitting bundles of joy into toddlers and eventually creatures like you with opinions to fight over and love. No no I’ve gotta have bulbs to coddle and to watch over, buds to wait for with bated breath, change in all its forms. I’ve gotta see how my garden is maturing, how my family is growing up, how my students are improving and the little thought “that was me, just a little”.So, off to your paradise islands if you must but beware! Autumn will come (and go) Winter will arrive and I’ll be pulling up my cuddly fake fur collar and eating truffles in Alba. My goodness, how many Pina Coladas have you had to drink today to drown your homesickness? Poor you!

Gardening, Seasons

But I always thought we ENGLISH invented roses….

Yes, well along with everything else worthwhile: cricket, all dressed in white on the village green, bucolic!; afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches (no crusts) and scones with raspberry jam and whipped cream; a proper breakfast with cholesterol-busting bacon, eggs beans, hash browns, fried bread; the weather with information on the best places to experience it published in magazines; messin’about in boats; beer warm and flat, not this continental joke of lager; gin and tonic which kept Elizabeth the Queen Mum alive well into her 100’s; my goodness I could go on forever , the list is endless. But I’ve just had the most terrible shock! I wanted to write about my glorious golden yellow rose and I find that it was bred ….in Germany! So after this dramatic wakeup call I decided to research the origins of my other roses. You won’t believe this! I nearly didn’t ….and they’re mine, in my garden, loved under the illusion that they are all English roses! Loved and pampered under false pretences! One is German, two are French, one is Spanish and only two are English roses! We could’ve stayed in the European Union! And I am always so careful, trying to re-create my little bit of home in my backyard! I drive the poor bulb man from Rome crazy insisting on only English bluebells, I order Spring daffodils from England, and clematis England’s second favourite flower? That too.

You never,ever know enough do you? Because the information is all there at a tap on your phone. MAIGOLD (Kordes 1953) The Kordes family is based in Schleswig-Holstein (I thought that the Grimm brothers invented this name for a fairy tale!) and is an innovative breeder responsible for early flowering roses.

FELIPE KIFTSGATE (Murrel 1964) This one was developed by Hilda Murrel, a rose grower and campaigner against nuclear energy. Her rose was popularised by being grown in Vita Sackville-West’s famous Sissinghurst gardens.

SOMBREUIL (Robert 1850) but unfortunately I can find nothing about him though he sounds French.

GHISLAINE DE FELIGONDE ( Eugene Turbat 1916 )Another mysterious Frenchman, but Ghislaine was a nurse in the great war who married a wounded soldier the Count of Feligonde.

MME:GREGOIRE STAECHELIN (Dot 1927) a breeder who put Spanish rose growers on the map famous for his shrub variety.He has been likened to Gaudi as a kind of expressionist because he “consistently chose roses with a wilder and more extreme character than their parents.”

MALVERN HILLS (Austin 2000) breeder of English style roses and one of the fathers of the modern English rose.