The Independent - September 25th 2001

The Times front-page story of a Pasta famine in Italy wouldn’t usually have caused me to panic, but as I was on a plane to Rome for a week’s holiday in Tuscany, I panicked.

I pressed the button for the stewardess.

“Did you know about this before we took off?” I asked accusingly as I pushed the newspaper towards her.

“Honestly, it’s the first I’ve heard of it.” she said. ” Michael, have you heard there’s a pasta shortage in Italy?” she asked her colleague.

“Hasta la Pasta” he shrugged, and walked off down the aisle. I had the distinct feeling he wasn’t really interested.

“That’s typical BA for you isn’t it.” I said to the man in the next seat. “If this was Alitalia, it’s probably part of the usual pre- flight announcement. ‘What to do in the event of a pasta emergency.’

Every time I go on holiday something happens. Why can’t I have a normal stress free break like everybody else?

Recently, I went to Cornwall for a few days.

On the second day, I was lying on a peaceful little beach, miles from anywhere, idly wondering why the cows grazing on the sloping edge of the cliff didn’t fall off into the sea… when an Army Bomb Disposal van drove at speed on to the beach and screeched to a halt next to my towel!

Half a dozen heavily armed soldiers jumped out. “This won’t take long, Sir. We have just got to blow up a bomb that the Cornish Liberation Army left in the road.” the officer in charge said to me.

“Look, Captain” I said. ” I don’t want to appear to be unhelpful, but there must be hundreds of beaches in Cornwall. Do you really have to blow your bomb up on this particular one?” I asked the officer in charge.

“Don’t worry, Sir. It’s only a small one. At least my men think it is.” he said.

“Now if you don’t mind just picking up your towel and moving with the rest of the bathers over to that corner of the beach, we can blow our little bomb up and leave you to carry on sun-bathing.”

“Do you get a lot of bombs in Cornwall?” I asked.

“Oh no… well, hardly ever, Sir.” he said.

“When exactly was the last time?” I asked, as I picked up my towel and bucket and spade. I was with my daughter, Lily.

“Well, come to think of it,” he said, “we did find another bomb a couple of weeks ago.”

We watched as they blew up their bomb by the water’s edge. (I have the photographs to prove it.)

“Enjoy the rest of your holiday won’t you, Sir.” the Captain said as he climbed back in the van.

Two days later, Cornwall had an earthquake. Its first earthquake in living memory!

It was just a small one… like the bomb. I only heard about it over breakfast.

I had slept through it. I was battle hardened.

What do you think the odds are of having a bomb blown up on your beach AND an earthquake, all in one week’s holiday in Cornwall? (Any statisticians among my readers who are having a slow day, might care to calculate this.) But a pasta famine in Italy! Now, this was really serious.

The only reason I was on my way to Tuscany in the first place was to eat my way through mountains of spaghetti.

Until last night, I hadn’t even planned to be in Italy; I had been heading for one of the Greek Islands. When was the last time you heard of a Kleftiko shortage?

But I’d dropped into the Red Pepper Pizza Restaurant in Maida Vale… (Have I mentioned I have been thinking of opening my own pizza restaurant chain? I am going to call it Pizza Rosengard) and I’d mentioned to Luca, the manager, that I was going away for a week.

“Forget Greece! You have stay at my friend Nico’s place in Montpulciano in Tuscany!” he said. “It’s an 800-year-old monastery, and the views are out of this world. Even the car park has a view! It is wonderful!” he said.

“You will like Nico. He was at the Ritz Hotel here. Once he threw two men out for throwing a bread roll at him to attract his attention. He is a character. Of course he is a Sicilian.”

So this morning I found myself heading for Montepulciano.

I kept saying to myself: “I must remember not to annoy Nico.”

After two hours driving North, I was just about to turn off the A1 towards Montepulciano when a couple of dozen pigs came flying through the air straight towards my car. (OK Maybe there were only twenty of them, but at that moment I didn’t have time to count the exact number of pigs precisely. I was too busy swearing, swerving, and breaking, whilst wondering at the same time if the stewardess could possibly have slipped LSD into my glass of wine when I wasn’t looking.)

(To quote the Great Dave Barry: ‘I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.’)

I’m a doctor’s son. I studied dentistry: I immediately leapt into action.

I got out of the car and tried to help the injured.

I tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; but unfortunately the pig died on me.

I looked around. Everywhere, passers-by were kissing pigs; others were desperately thumping them on their chests. Finally we went over to help the driver of the lorry that the pigs had been travelling in before it overturned. (You probably had figured that out already…but at the time…!)

“Don’t worry about me,” he said “I am fine. Help the pigs.”

I know what you are thinking. First a Pasta Famine and now the Flying Pigs of Montepulciano, and Peter’s holiday hasn’t even begun yet.

That night I went for dinner in a little restaurant in the town square.

The menu was in Italian.

The waiter didn’t speak any English.

“Is that chicken?” I asked. He looked at me blankly.

I raised my arms up and down by my sides and said “Cluck! Cluck!?” He looked puzzled.

“Moo? Moo?” I said.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

Finally I said, “Why don’t you surprise me.…La SURPRISO!”

“Ah uno Surpriso?” he said. “Si Signori!”

The Suckling Pig was excellent.

I looked around me… Everybody in the whole restaurant seemed to have chosen it too!



Copyright Peter Rosengard 2001. All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.