We had our annual local Community Barbie today, in the local Community Garden at the bottom of the road, which is a delightful local asset tucked unobtrusively between some ugly lock-up garages, the railway, and an inspirational view of the grey wall of the local Lidl. Here’s a picture I took just before people started to arrive, which doesn’t do it justice but gives a flavour:
You can’t see the wildlife pond behind me (which I helped to dig fifteen years ago), the free allotments at the railway end where locals grow and share every conceivable kind of vegetable, from runner beans to exotic Caribbean squashes; nor the kiddies’ swings, doll’s houses and slides which over the years have been – I was going to say ‘donated’, but that doesn’t capture the true spirit of the place – let’s just say ‘put there’, by local people (some of them probably long moved away), just because they wanted to.
The barbecue was a great success, of course, they always are: but that’s not what I really wanted to tell you. This is uncanny.
When I’d arrived at about half-eleven to help with setting things up, there were already a few people who’d decided to have a family picnic and were doing their own setting-up further down the garden from where we’d installed our barbies and tables. I went over and introduced myself, explained what we were up to and suggested they’d be welcome to come and join in, mingle and use some of the cooking heat. The young man I spoke to told me they’d come to England last year, loved Reading, were settling in nicely but thought the streets were too dirty… So they did all that – cooking, mingling, kids interacting – over the next few hours, but I didn’t actually get to talk to any of them. For some reason I’d assumed they were from Poland.
Anyway, as we were tidying up at about four o’clock, someone told me this extended family (there were over a dozen of them by now, spread over at least three generations) were in fact Italian. As you may know, I never pass up an opportunity to practise my rusty (arruginito) Italian, so I went over again, and introduced myself again, rustily.
Naturally, I was asked how I’d learnt Italian (‘parli ancora molto bene!’), so I explained how I’d lived in Milan for three years in the late sixties, been in a band, etc etc. (Here comes the uncanny bit.)
A lady at the far end of the table, who’d been listening with interest to the conversation but not saying anything, looked up.
“You lived in Milano?” I nodded. “Where did you live?”
“In a pensione, in Via Lamarmora, near the Duomo,” I told her. Her mouth opened silently for a moment, then she said:
“I lived in Via Lamarmora before I came to England.” I didn’t want to ask, and I didn’t have to. “Number seventeen.”