Why did I say yes? Promising to officiate at Harborough RUFC 7’s competition on Sunday, I duly turned up on a bitterly cold morning at 11.00 am to do my duty. Jim Hankers had also been persuaded and we both agreed to run the touchline for all the matches on the 1st team pitch. We ran up and down those touchlines from 11.30 am until 5.30 pm until the final of the competition took place. We had no break, managing to snatch drinks and snacks in the interludes. When I eventually arrived home, I had a quick bath and then helped Jamie write a letter on the study computer before packing my bag for the following day’s journey to Italy. Feeling shattered, I crawled into bed at about 11.30 pm.
I rose at 5.00 am and rang Roger Woolnough to make sure he was awake, then made a cup of coffee and waited. At half-past Roger arrived and after shouting goodbye to Sue who was still snug in bed, we began the drive to Stansted airport. To guide us I connected my phone’s SatNav to his car’s cigarette lighter to discover that it had no power. Relying on my phone battery we got there anyway. Our RyanAir flight to Ancona left on time (9.55 am), and we were staying with Joan and Phillip for a week. A couple of hours later we met the pair of them waiting in the Arrivals Lounge. They didn’t seem to have changed much since last year, I suppose that is what Italy and red wine can do for you. It is quite a long drive to their home in Santa Vittoria and on arrival we were greeted by an alsation, Wags the dog, she had been left in Joan and Phil’s care until her owner (Luke and family) returned from the UK.
The weather was much better than the last time we stayed a year ago. This time we were fortunate to have some very warm days. They had made their own red wine from last year’s grapes and on tasting, we agreed that it was very quaffable and indeed each evening we did so. During our stay we were introduced to an Italian lemon liqueur mainly produced in Southern Italy, traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestive, called Limoncello and made by Joan. It is quite moreish and I suspect easily confuses the brain if you drink too much. I have the recipe and intend to make some of my own.
We were treated to a few days out, visiting a nearby blue lake, snowcapped mountains and a few picturesque hilltop towns we hadn’t been to before. Unlike last year the visibility was good and we could see the beautiful scenery of Marche. While we were there, Phil had one of those significant birthdays that annoyingly crop up now and again, in celebration Roger and I treated him (and Joan) to a very nice meal in the town and commiserated with him. Despite our hosts both being vegetarians, Roger and I pigged out on the meat course. One evening, friends Rob and his wife came to dinner. They are an interesting couple, Rob earns his living as a BBC/ITV cameraman, but is now semi-retired. Quite a lot of wine got drunk and by the end of the evening, we were all feeling the effects of Joan and Phil’s vintage offering.
After running up and down a rugby pitch for six hours prior to flying, it took me a few days for my legs to recover and I struggled to be fully mobile. However, Roger and I managed to spend many a pleasant hour in our Italian garden; planting vegetables, moving soil and practising our hunting skills as we stalked the dreaded wine weevil. Wags the dog got taken for quite a few walks, and on one particularly hot day, she returned completely exhausted, falling fast asleep on the gravel outside the front door. Not to be outdone I snuck off to bed and had two hours of sleep! Don’t know what Roger did, but I think I can guess.
During our visit the previous year I remember being pleasantly surprised to discover that despite Joan being vegetarian, she is a fine cook (I knew she could take assembly and staff meetings). The meals were delicious and I was nearly converted to the same pagan practice. However, after another year of practise each meal presented on this visit was a gourmet’s delight and I am sure would have attracted a Michelin star or two, if the critics knew about ‘Villa Waggalino’. Usually, after sumptuous starters and the main course, most meals would be concluded with ‘Cheesy Heaven’, with at least six different varieties to choose from. I felt sorry for the others at the table as they usually had to be content with a sweet dessert (I believe it rots your teeth!)
Unfortunately, though the ash cloud was threatening to close Italy’s airports, at the end of the week we flew back to a very chilly UK. We thought it might be a nice idea to return in September and experience an Italian autumn. The return journey was uneventful, though we did see Bob and his wife at the airport who were also returning home.
Since returning from sunny and warm Itlay, the weather in Harborough has been cold, cold, cold! Plants in the garden don’t seem to have grown at all, and warm evening shadows creeping across the Marche landscape seem a distant memory.