Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Bilingual Christmas Eve

Teaching Eve to speak a language which is different from the one that most people around her use is an exciting challenge. Everyone told me that bilingual children usually start speaking a lot later than those with only one language so I was quite surprised when Eve started jabbering away at a very early age. Even when she was tiny she used to love making our friends laugh by speaking Italian with an English accent or inventing strange verb forms that she knew were wrong just to see the reaction.
We don’t know many other English children so most of what she knows comes from me or DVDs or books that we read. She has phases of speaking like various characters and at the moment (Narnia phase) she says some really funny things:

‘Mummy, you brute! You’ll never get away with a mean trick like that!’
‘Ooooh, I’m really longing for the day when…when… I can have some Dora the Explorer biscuits!’

I was really proud the other day when she said, ‘Hey, I might’ve fallen over if you hadn’t been holding my hand.’
This probably won’t mean much to most of you but if you’re an English teacher you’ll know that it’s a very complex sentence. But a few minutes later when I told her to hurry up and brush her teeth as we were going to be late for school she said, ‘Yesterday I washed far too much with toothpaste my teeth.’


Yesterday I washed far too much with toothpaste my teeth!!!

Never mind. I’m sure no one else would have noticed… It’s what comes of having an English teaching mummy.

Singing Christmas carols the other evening in church I remembered how amazed I was when, as a child, I finally discovered that Holly Bears didn’t exist and that they weren’t berries either (Who can work that one out?) and that Ory and Tar weren’t mystical biblical lands. Made me think about how much stuff we say when we’re little that we don’t understand even if it is our own language.
Glad tidings we bring, to you and Jo King (as Eve used to sing)
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 12 December 2011


This is a post about cold weather and what to do about it.

When I was young, I remember my mother always saying to me and my brother ‘Aren’t you two cold? Put a jumper on.’ Of course we weren’t and we didn’t. We were young and full of energy and adventures and we never felt cold and our mum was just being a mum. And we never caught a cold…

Then, back in the last millennium sometime, I was at university in Liverpool when THE COLD WINTER came. I was sharing a house with friends (some of them might be reading and will remember!!), it was the beginning of January when the day time temperatures suddenly plummeted to seriously minus zero and Britain froze from North to South. Our landlord (known for various reasons as Pervy Pete… but that’s another story) told us not to light the very dodgy gas fires as the frozen pipes would probably burst. So, no heating. I remember sleeping in a balaclava and gloves in a sleeping bag with a hot water bottle under two duvets but waking up every morning to find ice cms thick on the inside of the window. The only subject of conversation was the cold, lessons were cancelled, trains were cancelled. Life just froze.

And from that dramatic experience onwards I have always had a fear of the cold. It may be one of the reasons why I decided to stay in Italy so long.

Luckily Genova is one of those places that rarely gets too cold. There might be a biting wind one or two days in the beginning of January but usually we don’t complain. Yet, for some reason, as soon as it gets to November, come rain or shine (or 20° like it was last week) all the children in Eve’s school suddenly start to arrive with wooly hats pulled snuggly down over their ears, hoods pulled up over their hats and then scarves wrapped around the whole lot as though they were on an arctic expedition. Eve occasionally has her jacket done up. As we file into school the mothers and grandmothers glare at me in disbelief. Their fingers twitch towards their mobile phones ready to call the child abuse line. They cuddle their own little balls of protected wooliness towards them as if to distance them from the strange English mummy who doesn’t know how to look after her child.

The hatted, hooded children are always ill. The slightest breeze and they start coughing and sneezing and…. horror of horrors… get a temperature. (The next post will explain this very bizarre Italian phenomena) Eve has never had a temperature, never been off from school for a cold and only wears a hat in the snow. I wonder if normal sensible exposure to the weather might not be a good thing?!

Anyway, just so that my friends in colder (and windier) climes don’t hate me too much… I thought you might all be pleased to see that this morning my hill looks like this!

Much more Christmassy. And today there’s another strike so no school for Eve. Dread to think how the children would be dressed.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

'Tis the season to be jolly

Being 8th December it’s the day of the Immaculate Conception and a public holiday in Italy. It is also the day people usually set aside for decorating their Christmas tree and decking their halls with boughs of holly.

I got my boughs of holly yesterday from a neighbor who kindly cut them for me from his beautiful ancient tree. I haven’t got a hall in my house but wondered how I would have decked it with boughs of the wretched stuff if I had. Beautiful but very prickly. I cut lots of ivy too as it’s a bit more twisty and cooperative, and bay leaves which smell nice.

This morning Marco got the tree and the balls and all the other decorations out of the cantina, a sort of cellar under the house. We hadn’t been down there since the flood and were pleasantly surprised to find most things still usable.
Eve was beside herself with excitement and gleefully kept reminding me of how last year I had broken one of the glass balls!!
‘You dropped it off the table, do you remember Mummy! It was the best ball and you broke it into hundreds of tiny pieces.’
‘Yes, and you broke about 10,’ I smiled. I should have known better. My daughter is a bit sensitive and hates being told she has done something wrong.
‘It’s always my fault. You always blame me for everything!!’ she screamed rushing into her room and slamming the door.

In the meantime Marco was precariously balanced on the ladder outside her room trying to fix the Merry Christmas flags that I’d made over the window. He was angry because I asked him to use Blue Tac which, as an Italian, he doesn’t recognise as a major invention.
‘There’ll be little blue blobs when we take the flags down!’
‘Yes but they’ll be 2 ½ metres up. The blobs will be tiny. No one will notice.’
‘Yes but the best way to put up….’ etc. etc.

The day had started in the traditional family way.

Yet, we finally found plugs for all the lights, agreed on where to put the boughs of holly, compromised on what to hang on the tree and Eve decorated her own bedroom too! (see photo!) 

Perfect. It was the sort of afternoon when you want to put the fairy lights on and enjoy the cozy atmosphere with a glass of wine and a happy family…

The ‘problem’ was that outside it was about 20° with the low autumn sun blazing into the house from all directions. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. 20° is obviously better than 10° which is still better than 0°. It just didn’t feel particularly Christmassy and I thought wistfully of all my friends in colder climes who were roasting their chestnuts by open fires.

I decided to have a glass of wine and switch on the fairy lights and meditate on the situation in any case. It worked. Tis the season to be jolly after all.