Monday, August 11, 2008

What does the jury think?

What does the jury think?

Norfolk Blogger who is a LibDem states the Tories are right on this issue.

Juliet Lyon of Prison Reform Trust states the Tories are wrong on this issue.

What does the jury think?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

[count your blessings] it’ll be worse tomorrow

This photo is of Serbia, not Sicily, hence the greenery. Take out the grass and foliage and throw in half a dozen churches and narrow steps running down the hill and you have the part of town I am staying in.

Let me state right up front that there are some wonderful things here:

1. the friendship of people like Welshcakes and others;
2. a most livable cave I’m staying in where the temperature is about 22 degrees when the outside temperature is about 40 and the wind gusts down one’s throat;
3. a lovely hotel nearby where one can relax.

It’s in this spirit I have to warn the reader that what follows is going to sound like unmitigated bleat. On the other hand, posts like the last two are creating the illusion of an idyll which it is anything but. At the risk of blog friendships, I’d prefer the truth to be known – why, for example, I’ve not answered comments, checked my emails or visited you.

Yesterday evening was a perfect example of cause and effect, illustrating that:

1. it only takes one small detail to go wrong and the ramifications can be extensive;
2. there is a “use by date” for every resource, including, energy, health, money and people’s tolerance of you;
3. with the best will in the world, people just can’t, even if they wished to, understand the cause and effect and real implications of one’s situation plus their own is not too hot either and the longer it continues, the more immune they naturally become to wanting to have anything to do with it, fair enough;
4. in the end, you really are on your own unless you can succeed in garnering help from Above;
5. the only face anyone wishes to see is a bright, cheerful one on the other person, whatever the actual circumstances, which becomes less possible as time takes its toll.

Last evening, I was to be met by a friend in the lower town and taken by car to the far end of the city, where I’d meet up with Welshcakes for a natter, visit fellow bloggers, take care of my site, take care of the current need of my friend in Russia [which I can help with as some form of initial recompense] and assure people all is well.

Bear with this, if you would.

Two afternoons ago, I walked, against advice, the two kilometres from this end of town, down the hillside steps to the river course lower town and then the other three kilometres up the far hill to Welshcakes. The result was the upbeat post about hillside beauty.

The distance was nothing and there was no premium on time, so people’s advice that it was crazy to try that stunt in the afternoon heat did not include the real killer – the traffic fumes in the cauldron of narrow streets of the old town in the river bed. They weren’t to know of any allergy, rhinitis and early bronchitis which meant hanging over railings and losing parts of one’s earlier lunch four or five times along the way.

Every action has an effect and even having allowed that paragraph just now, the justified accusation would be that this post is unmitigated bleat, something normal bloggers would never indulge in, British stiff upper lip being more the order of the day.

Maybe so but I sure as hell wasn’t going to repeat that stunt and made an arrangement that Friday’s trek would be done more intelligently. So there I was in the lower town in the fumes, waiting to be collected and as my lift continued not to appear, the bronchial stuff began.

After half an hour of it, it was up the hill again to get away, keeping to the shadows where it was only about 35 degrees and making it, without incident, to the hotel I know, where the positive sides of cause and effect kicked in:

1. I could buy a lovely cold beer and in Sicily they also serve yummy accompaniments;
2. One of the two ladies I know there, Paula, just happened to be coming to the end of her duty time and let me phone, thank the Lord, as mobile to mobile is apparently the only way to phone, landline somehow causing problems in Sicily;
3. I got to meet the amazingly named chef, Accurso Crapato and saw his cavalier style at first hand, which is why his urging to try his culinary skills is overwhelmingly tempting [but bear in mind the rest of this post] and the moment any good news comes through on the passport I’ll have Welshcakes in there with me and we’ll live it up.

Back to reality – having now used up that phone favour from Paula, I can’t very well go and repeat the dose today without making a pain of myself; it’s something I can’t afford to do as these two friends are my only lifeline at this end of town. So everything is a question of dwindling resources, in the end.

As for being collected earlier, that friend had an issue, apparently and as no one could contact me to tell me, there not being a phone in this place and having no mobile phone which they’ve been urging me to get “to make it easier on all of us”, as another friend urged with a race of annoyance two days ago, not understanding that it does not cost “five euros” as she put it but 87 euros to get set up in this town, out of a total of 500 euros left and wondering why the hell I don’t have a mobile anyway, which necessitates mentioning Russia where all my business was conducted from my landline at one tenth the cost plus the email being my main communication channel and then suddenly I had to leave Russia in May, a mobile being the least of the problems at that time [the main problem being that no overseas money can come in here as it needs an account to send it to which one is not allowed in Italy as a tourist, my friend assures me and my Russian account is not accessible here] but now, as lack of mobile is a difficulty, I’ve promised to get one the moment the passport comes through which would mean I can then deploy resources [which I can’t at this moment as, if it doesn’t come through, I’m going to need every euro possible, which in turn makes me currently look like a sponging freeloader in people’s eyes, which in turn reduces their willingness to be friendly and is so far from the truth, as by nature I am not an ungenerous, mean-spirited person, which in turn depresses me more than I can say and leaves me isolated over this part of town, not knowing if I will be collected on Monday evening or not at the foot of the hill].

So the only thing is to do the up-hill-down-dale walk this evening to post this and let you know why I have not been visiting your sites or answering my post comments and generally making people less inclined to visit this site to find out anyway, as you have your own problems at that end and I shan’t be able to reply, as it is, until Monday evening at the earliest, which in turn is more depressing because blogging is what I love doing and there’s a heap of new material to post on. Plus I can only use the internet a limited amount of times out of deference to the friend, despite her saying I could use it as I wished and that is exacerbated by a second friend telling me I should not use it as she’d feel uncomfortable, herself, doing it and I assured her I would never willingly use another person’s resources except sparingly.

Someone asked on the phone two days ago why I don’t use the bus to the far end of town.

I agree, except for one thing. The buses are not running in the late afternoon when my friend is available to see me over there and having waited around in the morning, they are also not running, except on the driver’s whim [which non-Italians will wryly smile at, considering this stretching the truth, which they would not smile at if they actually lived here and that’s why a motorbike is currently being lined up but that’s another story] the reason being that we are coming up to the national holiday on the 15th, when everything shuts down but the Italians tend to shut down one week either side of that and go to the beach which is where I’d go too if I had any sense, any money and somewhere to stay but I’m not complaining about that.

As it is, the cave I’m in is excellent, cool and relaxing as I write this in the recliner chair and would that it could continue for some weeks except that there’d be no friends at all left if it did. There’s a young man living in this labyrinth who is a cheery soul – works for a bank, has lots of friends but finds this place depressing as it is so dark and lonely and he, as a typical Italian, enjoys big company and “lots of light” as he puts it.

Each to his own, I suppose. When I mentioned that this place was great on a hot day of 40 plus, his olive skin showed that that was no problem for him but what he dreads is the cold and I imagine this place would be chilly in winter.

“Doesn’t that worry you?” he asks, incredulously.

“Don’t forget I’ve come from Russia.”

“Ah,” he nods. “Everything’s relative, isn’t it?”

That’s the last depressing post I plan to write for now as it is … well … depressing and to maintain mental health and everyone else’s remaining goodwill, it will be necessary to return to the “don’t worry – be happy” style of the previous posts and assure you the next will be upbeat.

Have a lovely weekend, as I intend to have a ball.


Friday, August 08, 2008

[rarified air] the view from the top

Church of St George, showing the steepness of the hill

It was a conjunction of circumstances which brought me to Modica in the first place and it was another change of fortune which found me, still impecunious but savouring the delights of the old town, perched on top of the hill, hunkered down in a cool cave away from the burning summer sun.

This south-eastern corner of Sicily is warm, yes, but that’s no reason to swelter. A lady I know works at the Palazzo Failla on via Blandini and so I thought I’d negotiate the picturesque, steep cobblestone and pitch lanes which wind down to St. George Cathedral and the Castle of Counts, an ideal starting point to visit both UNESCO world heritage Modica and the whole area.

The Palazzo Failla at night

There, between those two baroque classics was a beautiful XVIII century building, “a unique jewel” as the owners put it, “refined to the last detail. An ancient home of an aristocratic family, it still preserves its original charm and the rooms, each differing from the others, retain their own particular floor design, their frescoed ceilings, the genuinely antique furniture, combined with the comfort of modern conveniences.”

You might have read such blurbs the world over but I was privileged to see that every word was true in this case – it is indeed one of the landed aristocracy’s old palaces, an oasis in a sun-drenched land.

The owners, Signori Failla and their traditional welcome

The main restaurant, La Gazza Ladra, sports an amazingly named and renowned Chef, Accursio Craparo, whose use of local ingredients doesn’t appear to hold back his quest for new taste sensations but if you crave still more gastronomic thrills, then adjacent to the Palazzo Failla is the Locanda del Colonnello, offering typical Modican dishes, the local chocolate of Modica, sweets and liqueurs, as well as organising, on request, cooking lessons and tastings.

The most typical room - the Blue deluxe room

It’s said that in Sicily, the question is not “what will we do this evening’ but “what will we eat this evening”? The milder temperatures of late evening are when everyone comes out and enjoys the fare on offer – a time when cares and woes are forgotten and bonhomie is the order of the day.

I took a quick look at the room rate and was amazed that a four star establishment of this kind asks so little. I suppose it’s now time to come clean about this region.

The executive room

Quite frankly, they do not have a tourist mentality down this end of Italy. What you get is unspoiled Italy without the long queues outside duomos, without the fleece the tourist mentality, with magnificent scenery and with what I can only see as an absence of crime.

The relaxation room, because of the hot tub on offer

This is a family town, a town of church bells and Madonnas on supermarket walls. Young people tootle around on scooters [or rather hurtle down narrow paths], everyone smiles and when you walk into a place like the Palazzo Failla, you’re made to feel welcome.

Restaurant La Gazza Ladra

I’m on no payroll saying such things – it’s just one of the best kept secret corners of Europe which is still as it was way back when, whilst at the same time offering EU standard facilities at modest prices – quite a combination and a blessed relief, given my current situation.

Try it.

Cafe Blandini - typical of the service

Thursday, August 07, 2008

[up hill and down dale] the best way to lose weight

This is the traditional photo of this part of the world, which shows the steepness of the pathways.

Welshcakes tells me some readers have been concerned what happened in the past few days. I can assure you no one as yet has bumped me off nor deported me – that comes later. It’s just that for bureaucratic reasons I had to move to another part of town, away from the internet until now.

So to today’s post.

By definition, hilltops tend to be quite picturesque when covered with ancient limestone dwellings clinging to the rock face all the way down a multitude of narrow, steep cobblestone and pitch lanes to the central town below.

Different lanes lead off one another, passing under hairpin bend roadways suspended in thin air and every so often giving out onto breathtaking landscapes. Halfway down one set of steps would be a little triangular piazza, where two buildings would meet in an L shape and where old men would sit, sipping on drinks.

Further down, the grand staircase would sweep left and there would be a fruit stall, bar and so on, until the path at the foot of the stairs could split two ways - the steps might begin near the top of the church spire and continue down beside the building to the church entrance.

This is the route I took by chance two evenings ago, eschewing the map in favour of a sense of adventure.

Eventually decanted into the main street in the river bed which could be caught in a torrent should there be a flood, which there won’t be as the climate is too hot and one is more likely to be caught in an earthquake instead, the 37 degrees was beginning to tell and una crema-di-caffe was the only solution. Al fresco, it felt not unlike the way Sebastian Melmoth must have spent the final years of his existence.

A huge heaped bowl of spaghetti later, it was time to retrace the steps, easy enough at the beginning but the tracks spread out like the branches of trees further up so it was going to take more than a little luck and dare I say some divine guidance at these heights.

Made one error and retraced, then, beside a church on some broad sandstone steps, two girls going the other way asked me the way to House Quasimodo.

I explained that I was English and they said it was better to speak English but they weren’t English – they were French so I tried le francais on them, which produced incredulous looks. Further up the cliff, another lady also came up, asking the way to House Quasimodo and I repeated the mantra, wondering if she was French.

No, Italian.

Why had she assumed I was Italian? Do I bear a passing resemblance to a Sicilian? So we spoke in rudimentary Italian [on my side] and parted the best of friends. Every step upwards was a new doorway, some open, with people engaged in interesting pastimes, everyone sweltering in the heat.

And so back to the hilltop cave.

I once climbed Ayer’s Rock in Australia and a very interesting thing happened. We were told we’d need one litre of water to the top and another down again but I’d taken two plastic pint containers by mistake and one of them had been finished halfway up.

Sitting on the ledge, I’d sipped some more and then realized there wasn’t even enough left for the rest of the journey down. Still – it would be OK – that was only a rough guide about water anyway, wasn’t it?

The water finished quickly and maybe forty metres further down, the legs simply cramped and there I was, like a baby, with Japanese tourists in shirts and ties going the other way, politely dipping their heads as they huffed and puffed past and like a baby, I made it to the ground on all fours and crawled the hundred metres to the car.

In hot climates, as you’d know, you have to have constant water and there’s no such thing as not taking it. I’d like a centime for every bottle sold in Sicily throughout a hot summer.

So to yesterday and the adventure of the elegant lunch.

I’d promised a girl I know that I’d go looking for her – she works somewhere near this cave here – and that involved a visit to the tourist office. Armed with a crazy ballpoint line on a map, a brochure for the hotel she works in and a peaked cap, off Higham trotted, only to find the piazza, the palazzo, an airconditioned bar, a cold coffee and her.

There is a tradition in all hot countries [of a certain decency] of the midday siesta but in my case, it’s been refined to prima siesta, [following elevenses] and seconda siesta, [following lunch]. Only right, wouldn’t you say?

In the prima siesta, having traipsed up that hill again, I thought it meet and right to go through the hotel’s brochure and correct the mistakes in English, which would either be welcomed or would brand me forever as a smarta—e in their eyes. Back down the hill to the hotel once more, I met the owners, was shoved into a chair and forced to eat a delish piadina lunch with two young ladies who’d just come off work.

But the piece de resistance was later, around 5 p.m., when the great trek with backpack to the other end of town took place, up hill and down dale, to meet up with Welshcakes and be presented with a flask of her homemade wine – is there anything that lady can’t turn her hand to [?] - before the return hike in the cool of the evening, around 9 p.m. which didn’t actually occur as I was kindly given a lift.

Today the task is to try to get an internet connection again and visit you at the same time. Bet you’re holding your breath in anticipation.

Monday, August 04, 2008

[things] which define who you are

One of the primary differences between Welshcakes and myself, apart from the obvious gender disparity, is that she has virtually all the things she was ever given or ever collected and I don't.

I've suggested she should open a sort of gallery and charge admission but that horrified her for some reason. I found the above pic at the embedded link and hasten to add that this is not WCL's style at all - after all, we're living in the heart of baroque down here and her things are ... well ... ornate.

Mine are functional, compact and there are not many left with me - they tend to be strewn across the globe. Don't know about you but I was never sentimental about "things". There is a rabbit's foot letter opener and a little jewellery box with a friend in Russia plus a Toby jug in Australia. That's about all I'd absolutely have to set eyes on again.

Paintings, electronic gear including a home studio, cars, houses and so on - they're all so many memories now, memories I daren't dwell on.

My goodness how things seem to accumulate. I came down here with one case and a cabin bag and to be honest, a friend did fly down with a second small wheelie pack some time ago but now I'm at the packing stage, somehow it won't all go in the packs. How on earth did that happen?

So once again it's a case of posting things to myself or else donating them to the poor. My PC in Russia at least found a good home with a friend's girlfriend.

To tell you the truth, I'm tired of this Flying Dutchman stuff and just want to buy into a base where they're not going to throw me out of the country, where I can set up and start to earn again. Advancing years put a different perspective on what, for a younger man, would be a great adventure.

So "things" don't occupy pride of place in the bookshelves in my mind but the mindset is to be admired in those for whom they're quite important.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

[sunday cappuccino] and other things

At a time when the special "Home cooking World Music Festival" has kicked off on via Grimaldi in this town, it's time to do the film meme.

It was tough. For a start, are we talking "great" films or just "enjoyable" ones? Are we talking celebrated, historically significant or classic films or maybe those of an actor or actress we admire? The hotch-potch below is the best I could come up with, I'm afraid. In no particular order:

# Snatch - great Guy Ritchie vehicle and a multi-layered example of film making;

# Any Leslie Nielson, e.g. the 1st Naked Gun;

# Some Bonds, e.g. the first Daniel Craig one of 2007;

# Any Max von Sydow, e.g. Condor or Seventh Seal;

# Manchurian Candidate, esp. the original version with Sinatra;

# Either Twilight's Last Gleaming or The Parallax View - great film-making;

# Lord of the Rings Russian Goblin version - takes the p--s mercilessly;

# Di Nero, esp. out of character in a way - e.g. Analyse This;

# Russian "staroye kino" - old feel good films such as Queen of the Petrol Pumps or Little Red Riding Hood;

# Beluchi and Ackroyd - take your pick, e.g. Blues Brothers.
I pass this meme along to the first five people in the Mybloglog pic gallery in the sidebar. Have a lovely Sunday. It's hot here.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

[bits and pieces] while it is still possible

Trouble in the blogosphere

There does seem to be something going on. Today I could not access Sicily Scene [perhaps it's not a problem for you]. JMB had troubles yesterday with posting. There were troubles with accessing Bloghounds some days ago.

Entirely conceivable that the problems could be local server issues or even the computers themselves. There has been an increase in blogs coming up as potential spam also, so it seems. One to keep our eyes on.

The sphere itself appears to be under assault, doesn't it? Look at China for a start but the U.S. is going in for this big time as well. If you were a betting person, how long would you say independent opinion on the web can exist for? One month, one year, one decade?

Trouble in your sphere

I really dislike how some people go in for the Four Yorshiremen Syndrome and feel obliged to respond: "You think you have troubles. You're in paradise, my son. Oh what I wouldn't give to be in your position. Now, as for me, I really do have problems," as if it were some kind of competition.

We can't assume anything about how genuinely bad other people's circumstances are. I happen to know of some fellow bloggers' current woes and though they're different in nature, they're no less debilitating in their own way. I'd not like to be in their shoes and wouldn't swap mine.

What can we do? Help can only go so far, though we'd wish to help indefinitely. If I ever get to find some sort of peace and stability myself, one of the first things I'll do is try to repay the many kindnesses.

Trouble in my sphere

My N1 difficulty is apparent statelessness and so Monday, on current reckoning, will be the last day I can reliably post on my site. I've been able to keep the blog going since late May only through the good grace of Welshcakes, for whom it has been a real imposition, despite her never once complaining and to her go eternal thanks.

A quantum shift in my status sometime next week will bring the current phase to an end and if posts appear, then they will have been due to good luck but at the same time can't be relied on to continue. There is a point soon when they will stop altogether, possibly to reappear a week or so later, possibly not.

Government bodies

Much is written of DEFRA, the NHS and so on but I'd like to mention the FCO. One can only report as one finds and whatever the outcome of negotiations with this body, possibly not to my liking, possibly a blessed relief, I have to say that they have been courteous and helpful to a fault and should take a bow. Our diplomatic missions in other countries really are a pleasure to have to deal with.

Sicilian friendliness

I'm not in a position to judge the Milanese or Florentines but I can report that the people of the deep south here are rather special. It's just been one friendly face after another and my time would have been even more of a pleasure, had the official difficulties not pressed down so on the brain.

The scenery, the panorama and sweeping vistas are a sight for sore eyes and the dusky landscape burns itself into your psyche after a time.

Small pleasures

Today, we'll go down the hill to the Consorzio for our regular Saturday repast. We printed out the post Welshcakes did on the staff and she'll present it to them - the last opportunity before their own hiatus-vacanza. It will be hot out there today, if yesterday is anything to go by - it was 38 degrees - but the olive tree is a boon.

The whole town closes down next week and those who have not already left town for the country will most likely do so.

Readers of this blog

Have as good a summer's end as you can under your current circumstances and I do mean it sincerely. I'll post when I can.

[12 movie meme] hmmmm

Ordo's tagged me here and I'll try to get mine up [no, that didn't come out right] tomorrow.

Friday, August 01, 2008

[restructuring transport] some vision, some willpower, some money

In a BBC article in 2000, Alex Kirby reported:

A £500m revamp of Britain's ageing canal network has been unveiled. The two-stage scheme by British Waterways will restore or build over 300 miles (480 kilometres) of canals and waterways. It has been estimated there are between 20,000 and 25,000 boats on the British Waterways network and a similar number on the River Thames.

The first phase, to open some 220 miles (350 km) of canals and structures, will be completed in 2002 and includes the Anderton Boat Lift. The 115-ft- (35-m-) high Falkirk Wheel in Scotland is the world's first rotating boat lift and will open on 1 May.

A programme of nine further canal restoration and new waterway schemes is being announced by British Waterways in partnership with an independent charity, the Waterways Trust. Covering 100 miles (160 km) of waterways, from London to the Lake District

George Greener, chairman of British Waterways, said:

Canals were catalysts for economic growth two centuries ago, and with our partners we're restoring and opening them as fast as they were originally built. Our current programme is set to deliver £100 million into local economies every year, from Scotland to the south of England, and to create 13,000 new permanent jobs.

The other restorations were:

• Chesterfield Canal
• Huddersfield Narrow Canal. This involved reopening the Standedge Tunnel - the UK's longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel
• Kennet and Avon Canal.
• The Millennium Link reconnecting the Forth & Clyde and Union canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh and coast-to-coast across Scotland.
• Rochdale Canal
The nine new building and restoration projects are:
• Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway
• Bow Back Rivers, a network of tributaries of the River Lee navigation in east London
• Cotswold Canals
• Droitwich Canals
• Foxton Inclined Plane, on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal
• Liverpool Extension to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which will link the national network to the port's spectacular waterfront
• Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal
• Montgomery Canal, an internationally important habitat for floating water plantain
• The northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal
• Sapperton tunnel will reopen in May

Yet Anne McIntosh, Vale of York MP and Shadow Environment Minister, reported something a little different in late 2007:

[There] is growing concern among those who use the canals that cuts to government funding for British Waterways will adversely affect the maintenance and enjoyment of the UK's canal network.

Through no fault of their own, British Waterways, the Inland Waterways Association and other agencies funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have had their budgets cut. This has been largely due to the fact that Defra has overspent by £115m … following animal health crises such as foot and mouth and bird flu.

It costs £125m annually to maintain our canals. Even after the cuts that have been imposed, British Waterways has only 85 per cent of the money needed to fulfil that obligation.

It has been suggested that boaters will shoulder much of the burden, with mooring fees set to rise dramatically and annual licence fees to rise by a third. … Maintenance of the canal network has been further hit by the effect of the flooding this summer. British Waterways has admitted that £3.8m of maintenance this year has been deferred.

This is particularly pertinent at a time when the Government would like to see fewer foreign holidays made and greater encouragement of the holiday opportunities in this country. The canal network is also extremely useful to transport freight. Moving freight by water in this way is several times more environmentally sustainable than doing so by road, and this method takes lorries off the congested road network. Water freight makes a major contribution to the UK's economy and employs more than 200,000 people.

A reader, Keith L, further commented:

Canals and waterways are among various parts of Government which have unfortunately been lumped into the mega-dept of DEFRA and are unjustifiably losing out because of the massive incompetence of the Agriculture part of the dept. Canals would be better classed as Transport, or even Culture, out of the hands of the non-farmers who run farming. They are too important to fall victim to this unfair funding penalty.

Clearly, the canals are suffering from “interesting” accounting at the DEFRA level. Add to this, Gallimaufry’s comment in the last post on the matter on this blog:

The problem is gradient and your photo of a flight of locks illustrates the point. Motorways and trunk roads can have steeper gradients (yet additional climbing lanes are needed for lorries) than rail and canals. Massive areas of land would need to be turned into locks and reservoirs to satisfy their demands for water. It would be easier to flood the whole country. Also the canals (except Manchester Ship Canal)are too small for lighters carrying standard containers and are crammed with leisure users.
… and there is food for thought. I’d be the first to agree that the British terrain, particularly in hilly areas with very steep gradients pose engineering problems but query whether the sum total of water used would necessarily increase if it is using annually renewable sources.

A glance at the map of original canals and rivers shows that water can be diverted and not at any greater cost than laying miles of new motorways. I suspect, from Calum’s comment:

James, the Sicilian sun and/or wine has softened your brain. :-)
… that it is more a case of mind set, of our dependence on the fast, jet powered lifestyle where we can’t bear to be without the things we believe we need for even a short time. Yes, the hilly areas might well be better served by rack rail – if the Swiss can do it, why can’t we? Yes, airship might well be the way forward to transport people over longer distaqnces.

Look, this might be an idea from cuckoo land and yet that’s precisely where we’re now headed with soaring fuel prices and the whole infrastructure of society readjusting to more contained lifestyles.

Just a thought anyway. And how beautifully sustainable such a rearrangement of transportation would prove to be.

[sicily scene] culinary report card

Some readers out there might like a straight-from-the-horse's-mouth, inside report on Welshcakes' cooking after a certain time experiencing same in this sunny part of Sicily.

By way of establshing some sort of bona fides on the matter, I've eaten my way through France, most of Europe, Mexico, the North American continent, Asia and the antipodes and can safely report:

My goodness, this lady can cook!

Sicilian cooking likes strong tastes and uses a lot of sea salt. This latter doesn't particularly agree with me but the other essential ingredient - the olive oil - does and is vital to the success of many dishes, particularly the homemade breads.

Welshcakes does not just produce bread - she produces breads of varying textures and styles, each strictly according to recipe. Whereas you or I might slap in this or slosh in that, our Sicilian chef here measures precisely, times equally precisely and allows pots of comestibles to slow cook or stand as the case may be.

This allows for inventive touches, of course and many is the time that a dab of honey or the use of oranges has added that extra little something to the dish of the moment. If Welshcakes could be called "wicked", it is at these times when she adds the unexpected to the mix with a wry smile.

There is no rushing of any kind allowed. After one particular lunch, Welshcakes opined that she'd have to get a rope to tie me down to the table at lunchtime. You see, I'm one of those eat and run types - most certainly not the done thing in Sicily.

Having said that, I do like the things she just "whips up", such as the chicken and artichoke salad on a bed of greenery last evening. If we need a snack, she might take some prosciutto and greenery and wrap it round grissini or breadsticks.

This evening we are invited into the countryside and will experience Sicilian pizza of a different variety. Though looking forward to this, I am more than happy to stay home and eat what the lady here produces in her ever-planning mind. Wish I had a euro for every time we sit down with a glass of fruit juice and she has the pad out, thoughtfully thinking out which ingredients need to be bought the next day.

Incidentally, I'm not a total drone. As kitchen hand and scullery maid, I'm sometimes brought into the process and have even been known to chop a few vegetables on occasions, on the road to some new culinary masterpiece emerging from the oven two hours later.

Nigella eat your heart out. [Well actually, best to delete that last sentence.] Next report - the hairdresser, the cosmetician and the sheer elegance of Welshcakes' Italian dress style.