How to Veg out in Sardinia.

I am no stranger to sunrises and in fact I am much more likely to see the sunrise, than I am to welcome night time. I am indeed a chronic insomniac, however this is much alleviated when I leave the house with a torch, walk along the beach and listen to the waves as the crack the rocks and wait for sunrise as it chinks through the purple mountains. In fact I was so determined to find the optimum spot to watch it, that I dawdled along the coastal road, swinging my torch in the soupy darkness, when I failed to notice a cats eye in the road and tripped, just as a car came roaring around the coastal bend as I nearly stumbled beneath it. Recommendations for dawn watchers, pick a road with a pavement and even if you are cold, avoid wearing Southern Italy’s requisite black outfits. I always see the same fishing tug out at sea and after a hard nights fishing I wonder if he has time to marvel at the sunset as the sky turns an angry pink against the sloping purple mountains, that look like giant turtles backs bobbing far out at sea? Perhaps not, he is probably shattered, weather worn and pungent with the smell of netted fish, dreaming of a cosy house further inland, one that has not been used as a holiday let.

The coastal road is a haven for farmers produce. The high price tags of British middle class farmers markets haven’t crept in here. The little piaggio vans pluckily park in front of supermarkets and sometimes in their car parks. I like this enterprising spirit. The vegetables are neatly stacked into brightly coloured pyramids and don’t have the plastic sheen or supermarket lights to lure in the customers. Parking however is another matter. This requires expert timing and nerves of steel. The other drivers whip up the side of the coastal road, despite the chatter about speed cameras, most people agree that they can’t afford to maintain them and so there is a general agreement that 8o miles an hour is a reasonable speed. I noticed this when I saw several locals overtake policeman. So first, you need to spy the Piaggio van, then slow down and prepare for wild beeping and gesticulating, sometimes the car windows will come down ( I have foreign plates) this is sometimes an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage. The advantage is that sometimes people keep back a bit ( I mean 3 foot or so) believing you are an irritating tourist who has no idea where they are going. The disadvantage is you are subject to a game of beep the foreigner, which is pretty similar to the game of beep the local. It involves a lot of tailgating and beeping, as one might imagine.  Anyway, the trick is to find one that is not on a bend, whack the hazard lights on, slow down, hazards off indicator on, by now they know what you are up to and are furious that they were duped into believing there was something wrong with the car, when really you were after fresh parsley and fennel bulbs.

Cue hand signals and rude language. The problem with this approach is it generally involves driving at the Piaggio van and hoping the farmer or green grocer can hold his nerve until you park at the side of the busy road. I did experience the full whites of a young mans eyes as he waved his arms convinced that his protestation might save him from being squashed between fresh vegetables and a heavy old Mercedes.

I started to visit other vans after that. Nobody like to see their green grocer shaking.

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An epiphany.

So winter brought with it, a hole in the conservatory, a freezing cold house and a showering experience that made me feel like I was an extra in Doctor Zhivago, without the glamour and only a fraction of the fur. It did however confirm my suspicions that I might be a good Siberian wife, with the ability to move an outrageous amount of wooden logs and build excellent fires, as well as doing a nice sideline in baked potatoes. Work became a sword of Damocles and although I loved getting up at dawn and seeing flamingos fly over the natural park by my house, the ten O Clock finishes had nearly finished me off. Christmas came and went in a splutter of self pity and ever lasting flu and I prepared to leave the house for the first time on New Years Eve. A restaurant would be nice, I mused 4 hours before dinner, because between hot lemons, honey and an unhealthy relationship with my bathroom, I hadn’t really had much time to plan it. It seemed relatively cold outside, but having been holed up in what I now referred to as the ice temple, I didn’t really have a good comparison of indoor and outdoor temperatures- besides which I had a a temperature that had really become as well acquainted as a long lost friend, who should have remained polite enough to stay lost. Still in Cagliari, the bars were closed, but the street food stalls were open, there were stages anticipating music and revelry was in the air. At least until a wide eyed bedraggled gentleman, who found his own muttering Arabic conversation fascinating, decided to start letting fireworks off in the street.

Having lived a considerable amount of time in London and a Garrisson Town, uncontrolled explosions tend to have a slightly different reaction, than the local populous who put their fingers to the side of their heads indicating that they thought the man was borderline insane, as he roared with laughter. No snipers on the roof tops, no Kalashnikoved police man nodding politely and no health and safety Simons making a citizens arrest armed only with a clipboard and a sense of civic duty. No, the well heeled families of Cagliari were making their way into the restaurants, which they had had the foresight to pre book. * Mistake number one, assuming that family orientated Sardinians would all be staying in for a cosy family meal. The evening ploughed on but there was no room at the inn, try as I might there were no spaces in any restaurants. I spied a small table in a bar, it was crammed into the corner and almost impossible to get to, but I resolved to make it mine. Looking around the bar, I had a very strong feeling that I was in fact at a private party, everyone seemed to know each other and as a blue eyed, blonde wearing fur, people started to mutter something about me appearing to be Russian. I combatted this by nodding randomly at people as if I knew them. Soon the gawping stopped and the bar suddenly emptied out. All eyes were on the sky, for the first time in thirty years it was snowing. Not much but enough, that every restaurant disgorged jostling inhabitants into the square. People danced in the street and camera phones were held aloft

like butterfly nets, trying to catch the moment forever. People laughed, kissed and shouted as they stared up at the sky.

Shortly before midnight and as everyone was on the street, I tried to creep into a few more restaurants, hoping against hope that the snow watchers would have eaten, but sadly they hadn’t. A strange man brandishing a golf club approached me, he was holding it up in what seemed a very aggressive fashion, he was in fact trying to sell a cheap Chinese lamp that was attached to the putting end but it was concerning nevertheless. People were letting off their own fireworks in the street and the city let off ground shaking fireworks until 5 a.m Tired of the crowds and envious that most of them had eaten I stormed my way through the crowds and down the backstreets of Marina until I found my hotel.

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A Winter’s Tale

August and September stretched on for longer than the beach outside my house, offering fresh lemons and limes, sultry nights and swimming in abandoned coves. December however offered an altogether different experience. My idyllic apartment villa has thin paned glass and shutters instead of curtains. Its cool white interior suddenly seemed clinical and the hole in the balcony window seemed to be letting more of its fair share of night air into the house. The sea no longer shone turquoise and seaweed muddied where crystal waters had lapped at the old sea wall. Magnificent storms, graced the skies and thunder literally shook the house. But most of the days were resplendent in abundant sunshine, a far cry from the school-sock grey skies of England. The lanes around the seaport that hubbed with tourists in the Summer were pleasingly quiet. The restaurants had beat had a retreat and resigned their old wood furniture to the inside of their restaurants and even in 21 degree heat by day, waitresses smoked quickly outside their workplaces bedecked in coordinated scarves and hats, shivering and staring at the sky. The sub Saharan salesman boarded the bus without their usual optimistic high fives or back slapping greetings and everything was a little more subdued. At least thats what I understood, however in the week my bank card was swallowed, I got ill, got bitten by a stray cat and went in search of a pharmacy. I only brave driving here in emergencies. I found myself completely lost in what looked to be a respectable rural mountainous area and got out to ask for directions. I was immediately assailed by two dogs, I hightailed it to the vehicle. Feeling queasy and unable to open the window, as I now had a dog at my window and a dog at the passenger window jumping up baring their teeth and inbetween biting the car tyres. I beeped they saw this as a revallie and before I could blink other dogs were barking and following the car down the road. I checked my mirrors could shunt forward two inches and then back two inches. Rabid or not I really didn’t want to run over a dog. Nursing my stray cat bite, I made a determined shunt to the side. More dogs! It was like a Hundred and One Dalmations gone wrong. I ploughed on with this very slow process until I made a break for freedom at a blind bend and whacked down the accelerator, hoping that Chappie and chums were not underneath the car. I checked the rear view and they were coming fast, but not fast enough. I left the area unscathed and remarkably pleased that I had managed to evade my canine aggressors. After winding my way through the mountains I picked up the coastal road again and saw my street swing into view. Too exhausted to search again for the pharmacy. I grabbed every duvet I could find and sunk down, feverish and ill.

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.

CagliariOldTown_SardiniaSo, this mornings faux pas started when I asked my lip- locked fellow flyers if I could get past them to sit at the window seat ( note to self, if claustrophobic on one hours sleep- book the aisle.) Schoolboy error. I smiled at the female couple and brightly enthused “Excuse me, ladies.” It turned out that the slightly butch woman with curly hair that mushroomed out from beneath her Belinda Carlisle hat, was in fact a young man; who spoke good English and was now wearing a frown that was more distinctive than his hair. Cue 2 hours of the enraged couple feigning sleep, after I had drank 2 teas and a litre of water. There was no way this window seat girl was getting out to the loo.

It was warm when I disembarked andI quickly located the ladies ( bathroom- not the couple). I had been up effectively all night worrying that I might miss the flight. I was delighted to be greeted at Hotel Miramare, by one of the lovely hosts and the design boutique hotel did not disappoint. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom all dark granite chic and a modern painting of a curvaceous woman with a cascade of green hair black gloves and a small plate of cupcakes was painted on the ceiling. Every room in this hotel is unique and branded with its own style. I stayed in a room previously, that had all manner of items stuck to the ceiling as part of an installation and whiled away the hours deciphering what each piece of the installation was- one item included a small fire engine sprayed gun metal grey.

Impossibly tanned, thin women were crammed into the marina district’s restaurants eating copious amounts of pasta. I am convinced that they only eat in the tourist season to annoy Brits and Germans- in the same way that they rock around London looking chilly in puffa coats during a London heatwave.

My wavy hair had adopted its usual triangular mop look, giving me a sort of Bojo crossed with a sheep dog look. A far cry from the glossy raven- haired tresses of the inhabitants, who can still wear high heels at the age that most old ladies are in the UK are nodding at Dame Thora Heard -as she agonisingly makes her way up the stairs in the good old Stena Chair Lift.

I stopped for coffee and smiled remembering the Italian chap at the airport who was ignoring his girlfriend for the attention of two young teachers from Cork. One of them seemed quite enamoured, until he mistook her sing- song lilt and asked her which part of Germany she came from?

I spent hours, wearing my “respectable clothes” which felt a bit like wearing an antique diving suit and sitting on a sun bed, as the temperature soared. I had also forgotten my sunglasses, so the dark circles under my eyes were set off by manic squinting as I climbed the Castello district looking for somewhere to live.

After four hours of estate agent hunting, I surrendered to dinner. The heat had abated and I happened upon a delightful restaurant at a crossroads. The adjacent nightclub, started to soundcheck and as the bass switched on and off, I noticed another sound and on the other side of the street, sung mass had begun. It was all sounding quite gregorian and then the nightclub rocked out some Slayer. The Priest however, who had flung open his doors welcome in the sheep among the wolves, defiantly found a microphone and proceeded to sing louder. I was stuck in the crossfire of the would- be canonised and the would be Anti- Christ, as a Marilyn Mason track shrieked out from the club. The waiter’s pretended they could hear neither. A scowling widow in black appeared outside the church door, looking ready to do battle with Satan himself and then whipped out a Samsung phone from somewhere in her black garb and stood at the open doors of the church making a call. Various tourists passed the church and peered in, some taking photographs. I noticed that once they had taken Communion the old folks left. Perhaps sensing their time was precious, they didn’t wait until the end of the service. They had had their blessing and were off out the door, some of them hanging around to have a chat, some disappearing off for a game of dominos.The faded glamour of The Valencian – style buildings, cast shadows in the evening light and women hung out their washing on old fashioned washing lines beneath impossibly high wooden shutters. The buildings looked as if they had wilted in the heat, as the plaster eagerly escaped the walls.

I meandered back through the streets and down past the colonade where a man has mice run over apparently happy cats, as a spectacle. Having been up all night, I decided to turn in with the green haired lady and good book.

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The Lion The Ditch and the Microbes.

The Masaimara stretched before us in its green and purple rolling glory. The rainy season had hit the hills and water streamed down the escarpments deviating from the river’s natural courses, saturating the lush green fields. The gentle hum of bull frogs rose up from the side of the roads as our driver tried to face our Landrover away from the driving rain. Thunder rumbled like concealed dragons through the valleys and lightening slashed the looming clouds. I felt very small. Our driver Akatch was keeping it a secret that we in fact, had no windscreen wipers and were stuck in a storm the like of which I had only seen on ominous beginnings to films with even more ominous endings. I certainly was in no hurry to get out of the vehicle to find out what was wrong. Landrover after Landrover passed us, like old work horses at tea time.The guests were heading back for warming drinks at various camps. Our party of four huddled close in huge plastic ponchos, the rain now driving from both directions and our driver remained silent. Putting his head down beneath the open cab he took a breath before announcing that we would have to weather the storm as we had no wipers.

The rivers were swelling and breaking their banks and knowing the danger of being stranded in the open, he lowered the entire windscreen onto the bonnet and valiantly struck out across the water logged roads. He laughed without the heartiness of earlier, previously laughing at his own joke, it was as if the red dust of the Kenyan roads had coated his throat and gravelled his stomach.

Then I saw a tail flick from behind the torrents of water and a large female lion called down to the valley below. Separated from the pride, the only way back was to cross the waterlogged bridge where we found ourselves stranded between two flooding rivers. She was a predatorial beauty and after narrowing her eyes, she stretched into the rain and stalked down the side of the bridge. I was now approximately one foot from a creature capable of ripping apart a wilderbeast. The last time I was this close to a lion, was a safe five foot from a High Definition television set. David Attenborough in a soothing voice says something like. ” and with the rainy season the hungry lionesses luck was about to change.”

Cue close up shot of a struggling impala with long eyelashes limping across the Serenghetti. My safari trainers and I are probably a much slower combination than the doomed antelopes from “When weak creatures die.” Or whatever the programme is called.

Suddenly, the low bars on the side of the stranded truck seemed very low indeed. She stopped next to me, my heart was now racing as she half sat and half stood next to me. My camera beeped, it was out of batteries and the chattering honeymoon couple behind me shifted to the left.I stared down at the lion, her shoulders twitched in the rain, as she stared back at me. I looked away after some time to register the look of panic on the other passengers faces as the lightening pierced the skyline. I had definitely lost the stare out and was in no hurry to reinstate it. I was convinced my eyes screamed broken down prey. The rain started to abate and after a few false starts of the engine, our driver ploughed through the flooding plains of the Masaimara. A mere three more minutes and we would have been stuck until midnight, when the rivers would start to empty and calm. We were the penultimate truck to make it back. The other truck was packed with Japanese tourists, who seemed more concerned with catching airborn diseases in one of the most pure reserves on earth; than they were about the floods and the predators that sought out prey across the plains. This was apparent, as they all had their faces covered with masks as if we were in a state of chemical warfare and not in fact in a remote and foreboding part of Kenya.

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Brace yourself for not- so- good vibrations.

There is nothing sexy about lying semi dressed on a vibrating plate surrounded by a football team. The media might have lead you to believe otherwise. I however, not looking like Eva Mendes on a good day, found myself in the most levelling of positions, in the gym yesterday. The woman at the reception, with impossibly well- arched eyebrows, told me the vibrator was included in my membership. I smiled (Being British, with no comprehension of what this meant) and secretly hoped never to have his conversation again. I soon began to have a vague comprehension, when faced with the reflecting mirrored wall of doom.

“This does not feel like exercise, but wait until tomorrow…” chirped the gym instructor. I was then asked to hold a series of utterly undignified positions. For yoga aficionados incidentally, they made the downward dog, look socially acceptable.

I am not sure I ever want to see the build up to an earthquake ,but it can’t be as terrifying as watching your entire body being shaken at break neck speed with one leg in the air, in front of a hall length mirror. Not unless you lift your eyes to the right and see that the whole of the gym has been swarmed by young men all wearing the same coloured tracksuits. Oh did I fail to mention they also train footballers here? Oh right…the hotel had failed to mention that to me, as well. Not only did the machine make an incredible amount of noise, but there was no getting away from the fact that I was lying upside down watching people do normal gym things, like use exercise bikes, pull weights or go on a cross trainer.

I however was like an experiment for a new blender, with a vibrating platform, holding aloft my five year old trainer at the end of my flexed foot. Yes, amongst the footballers and gym bunnies, not only was I short and unfit, but the instructor had decided to make me look like a freak of nature, at the same time. Incidentally, anyone endowed with an hour- glass figure should not attempt this without the structural support of the Eiffel tower. Lying with my left foot in the air (you have to change feet , to even out the embarrassment- might be something to do with the chakras…I’m not entirely sure) the rest of my body was shaken with incredible force. Imagine the mandatory photos you have taken inadvertently on roller coasters at theme parks. They capture nano -second of unflattering horror, now magnify that by half an hour, with a very public audience. I think somewhere in my public school upbringing, they would have called this character building. I was relieved when the machine finished and I could blend in with the ageing ex pats on the cross trainers. Why did the personal trainer keep having to repeat my name so loudly?

I can honestly say this was nearly as embarrassing as my worst ever teenage moment in history. I had waited what seemed like a lifetime, for the boy I venerated to sit opposite me at lunch. He did this, because there were no other spaces. I flashed him a brace constrained smile and made sure my elbows were not on the table. I ignored flipping a floured bread roll onto my kilt and struck up a conversation, as I did so, the rubber band from my tooth brace, flicked and ended up on the Shepherds Pie, on his fork. I saw it, he saw it, I ignored it ,(outwardly) he put down his cutlery. The three minutes that followed were in slow motion. If I had thought the fork sharp enough, I might have contemplated stabbing myself in the throat with the offending item of cutlery. I, in some kind of nerve related, good –looking, boy, Tourrettes manoeuvre- elbowed my cup of tea, off my tray. It was difficult to ignore the steam rising from the parquet floor. It was the unsaid in the public arena that was the cruel judge. I left the gym grateful that although I had been shaken in a most unbecoming manner, at least I hadn’t suffered any dental related blunders.

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Whats worse than a fat German in Speedos? A fat German without them!

Fitness and I have had a tempestuous relationship. I either loathe it or feel addicted to it, but mainly, I loathe it. In my attempts to rekindle the flames of passion between myself and physical fitness I have thrown myself into the relationship, with no concern for personal safety or dignity. In fact, it has very close echoes to my romantic liasons, which are frequently doomed. Still, a gym membership is less costly than a failed engagement for example, so I battle on.

Being terminally clumsy is neither cute or cooky, as portrayed by Hollywood. It is embrarssing and could end in litigation.

David, a suave young Italian that comes to pilates and circuit training was busy on the Swiss Ball doing press ups. He secretly harbours a bit of hatred for me. Being the only native English speaker in the class the instructor uses him to correctly demonstrate the more complicated excercises and he frequently has to hold positions for prolonged amounts of time.

The Swiss Ball I was given was larger than anyone else’s and my limbs are certainly shorter than my classmates. Incidentally, the classes happen in the middle of the gym, so you always have an audience. I was mid press up when Swiss Ball gate occured. Somehow the ball slipped from under my feet and my body shot to the left. I landed on David and kicked him in the head. This is not the first gym calamity that has befallen myself or my fitness buddies. I try and apologise and he gives me the look. The look that says he will never train near me again. I am quite relieved to be honest. At least we are all now on a level playing field.

After 3 hour of classes I am unable to move and hobble out to the sauna. I hang around for sometime in a towel. Then the steam clears in the sauna and I realise that the two men housed within what is effectively a hot shed with two cramped shelves are in the all together, together. I am British and a lone female. I drew the line at the naked Turkish Baths with two of my most trusted friends, when visiting Istanbul. In an amazing feat of British reserve, we all managed to have an eye locked conversation, as if we were about to take high tea. A far cry from the reality that we were about to be slung on marble plinths and have the bejesus battered out of us, by burly female massueses.  Still, they were good friends, these people were naked Germans and so I turned tail, hopping with my bruised foot, that may or may not have marked the lovely David’s face, and limp off to the female only steam room. There are after all, some English sensibilities that I hold as dear as a very large beach towel.

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