24 August 2021

Molto pericoloso

Reading a recent post by Yorkshire Pudding on his blog about the mishaps that occur while on holiday, I was reminded about an incident that occurred on our first trip to Italy. At the time, Greg and I were newly married and living in Cologne, where he worked as a journalist for a radio station there. We had decided to buy a two-man frame tent for a holiday and drive down through southern Germany and Switzerland to northern Italy. Greg had a basic knowledge of Italian and I'd done Latin up to A-Level, so what could go wrong?

On our way down, we stopped overnight in a swish hotel in Bern and then continued the next day through the Alps, arriving in Italy after dark.  In those days and I'm talking here about 1977, we had no satnav or mobile phones or internet, just old-fashioned map books, so we randomly picked Savona as good a place as any to head for. It was on the coast and therefore must have a beach and be beautiful. We arrived at a crowded campsite just before midnight and, much to our neighbours' annoyance, pitched our frame tent, collapsing into bed, tired after a long journey and after having to build our "home" as well.

The next morning we woke early to the sound of running water. We had pitched our tent literally right next to one of the main water taps for the whole campsite. In the dark, we had failed to see that the night before.  There was a queue of people alongside our tent waiting to top up their water supplies. Even worse, when we surveyed the panoramic view of the surrounding landscape from our hilltop campsite spot, it seemed Savona was an industrial town and we had endless views of factory chimneys, dockland cranes and a concrete jungle. Needless to say, after one more night there, we decided to cut our losses and move on again. 

I should also add at this point that Greg's boast that his Italian would be fine soon met its test when he stopped to buy two ice creams and asked for ghiaccio, which is in fact ice. Suffice to say we were handed two lumps of ice which I teased him about endlessly for months after. 

It did not help that we were driving a car with German number plates and Italians were still hostile to Germans at that time, so that we often encountered people who would mock shoot at us, as we drove along.

Eventually, we found a lovely resort with a much nicer campsite further along the coast called Levanto, near La Spezia, and set up home all over again there. We did trips to Pisa and along the coast to the Cinqueterra region such as Portofino and Rapallo. We relaxed and enjoyed the sun, the lovely food and the sparkling beauty of the region.

On our very last morning, we went down to the beach for one last swim and a sit on the beach.  We were planning to leave the campsite at about lunchtime to do the drive back to Cologne all in one go. Greg went into the sea for one last swim and, as he walked back up the beach, he noticed some seaweed caught in the elastic of his swimming trunks. He went to pull it out and it was then that he realised it was not seaweed. It was a scorpion, about two inches long. He threw it to the ground and tried to bludgeon it with a rock. An Italian woman sitting nearby showed interest at this and Greg went over to her to show her the dead scorpion. This was the point when she told him it was "molto pericoloso" (very dangerous) and drew a finger across her neck.

We didn't know whether to laugh or cry,  but we had more pressing things to deal with, as we still needed to pack up our tent and belongings to head back to Cologne. We started to put all our belongings in the car and then dismantled the tent,  so the car was absolutely full to the roof. All that was left was an old cardboard box that we had kept some tinned food in over the two weeks we were there. Having used up the food, Greg started to tear up the box to put in the rubbish bins. As he was doing so, a scorpion crawled out from a seam of the box. An identical one to the one on the beach.

By now the sun was at its height of midday and searing. We still had a very long drive home ahead, but we could not know if, having found two scorpions that day, there were more amongst our belongings in the car. To take it all out and examine every bit of it would take hours. It was far too hot and we didn't have the time to spare.  We started the drive back, but with every tickle on the back of our necks, we feared the worst. We arrived back in Cologne at 2 am, exhausted, hungry and nervous wrecks

Rather than unpack the car there and then, we left everything in it. Slowly and meticulously over the next few days, we took everything out of the car and examined it with a fine tooth comb to ensure it was scorpion-free. We never did find another one, but every tickle on our skin had us checking for weeks on end afterwards. 

07 August 2021

Sad news

When I had a dog and cat, I used to visit a local vet called Brien - an Australian who had a very no-nonsense approach to life. If he thought a particular form of treatment was unnecessary he would say so.  For example, he would not always shave the animal pre-surgery as he said the antiseptic would sterilise the fur just as well and avoid hair having to grow back irritatingly stubbly. I trusted him implicitly and he treated me more like a friend than the more formal vet/pet owner relationship.  He even once did a house visit on a Sunday when my dog was taken so poorly and I couldn't lift it down several flights of stairs into my car for an emergency consultation.  Brien was there sympathising when eventually I had to have both my cat and dog put down in their old age. 

To my horror I recently learned that a couple of years ago, just as he was on the verge of retiring, he was bitten by a feisty cat which set off an infection and sepsis.  He was hospitalised for over 6 months, could barely move, wasn't able to swallow and therefore unable to eat. His wife was forced to sell the veterinary practice and, although Brien came home again, he was a shadow of his former self and was wheelchair-bound and feeding through a tube.  I also gather that the vet who had taken over the practice was given strict instructions not to say why Brien had left, other than that he was very ill so as not to reach the ears of (and upset) the lady whose cat had attacked him.  In this day and age where people are encouraged to sue for every little thing that goes wrong, it struck me how noble it was of Brien not to blame the cat and seek compensation. But what a way to end a career and start retirement. 

Sadly I found out today from a friend of his family that Brien died earlier this week. Such a sad story and a sad end to a whole life dedicated to animals.