Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Attila the Honey

You know you ought to start worrying when you discover that your daughter's nursery school teachers have nicknamed her la peste (the pest/plague), la tempesta (the storm) and Attila (umm, that one's just plain embarrassing).
'Do you think she was just born that way?' I hesitantly asked them one day, 'or have I done something to make her slightly, um, livelier than the others?'. I don't know if they were just trying to make me feel better (and God knows they should with the amount I pay them each month), but they assured me that Isabel was just born 'spirited' and that I wasn't responsible. At least not entirely. Damn - there was I hoping they'd just tell me to just switch off the wi-fi at home or something and she'd calm right down. No chance.
'You just have to be firm with her' they advised, 'oh, and make sure all your cupboards are shut with scotch americano.' Scotch americano? Italians call sellotape 'scotch' so it must be a super-strength American sticky tape. Unless scotch americano is some kind of magic child-repellent substance, in which case I want to order a truck load for the toilet, the bins and my mobile. Of course, quite often what I really need in order to deal with Attila is just plain scotch. Ditto a truck load.

In all honesty, she's sweetness and light most the time. She might be the nursery bully/tough nut/chief dummy thief, but she's also by far the smiliest child there and, at 15 months, she can understand everything you say to her in both Italian and English (except 'no' - which, oddly enough, is the same word in both languages). She'll happily take on a kid twice her age and size. Also, I think she may have Womble blood as she's obsessed with picking up litter and then making sure I put it all in the bin. Oh, I get in trouble if I just pretend to put something in the bin. It takes 3 minutes to walk to her nursery to pick her up and then 40 mins for us to walk home as she has to pick up every last scrap of paper and cigarette butt, climb on every little ledge, sit on every step, go into every open doorway, wave hello to every passer by, examine every drain, chase every poor pidgeon... you get the picture. Basically, if you own a dog then please spare a thought for the parents of curious toddlers and use a poopascoop.

There is only one way to calm her down and distract her from drawing all over the radiators. Only one way for me to make dinner without her clinging to my ankles like a sobbing clam. It is unmentionable in the 'right' parenting circles. It is the devil itself for many middle-class yummy mummies. Dare I admit to using it? TV. Two very little yet highly loaded letters. The saviour of many a parent. My saviour. I love it. I'm not a yummy-mummy, I'm a telly-tubby. I'm getting quite into kids programmes now. I could write a thesis entitled 'Why it's never night In The Night Garden' and can talk at length about how Raa Raa the Noisy Lion is the most egotistical little prat in the jingly jangly jungle. Isabel thinks Baby Jake is her brother and even I slip into a trance when Baby Einstein is on. God bless TV.

So Isabel/Attila and I rub along quite nicely in the end. A little telly now and then and some scotch americano on the loo and we'll be just fine.

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How do I know if I exist? Go to desk no. 5

I've officially been living in Italy for 11 years, hurray. I celebrated by diving head first into the bureaucratic jungle that is the Italian health authority offices. Of course, my first attempt to re-register with my GP was rebuffed, but I defied the odds, went back home on the tube, got the seven hundred zillion documents allegedly required plus a few extra for good luck, back on the tube, back to the same woman behind the same bullet-proof glass, slammed everything on the counter, which groaned under the weight, and watched her face fall from sneer to panic as she realised that she was actually going to have to turn on her computer and do some work. Result.

This, however, is nothing compared to my next challenge which is to apply for Italian citizenship. This has to be the mothership of all bureaucratic nightmares. Nonetheless, I remain positive that it can be done and I'm confident in the knowledge that I've already done the impossible by changing my surname and National Insurance number- two things that leave my Italian friends quivering in awe and disbelief. The real question is: once I'm Italian (in a couple of years: the ancient wheels of the vetting process are on the rusty and creaking side, especially for someone who has changed their name and NI number) can I still moan about Italy? Can I still blog about crap loos and people never moving out of the way on the pavement? Why am I the only coglione in Italy who actually moves to one side when I see someone coming towards me? In my mind, in a normal day, at least one person should make space for a pregnant woman with a pushchair. Apparently not. Maybe once I become Italian, I won't move out of the way either - problem solved.

G and I recently went to get our daughter's first Italian ID card. Again, at the first attempt we were sent home with our parental tail firmly between our legs because, guess what? we had forgotten to bring our daughter with us. Opps. School boy error that one. Rather embarrassing. While we were in the cavernous government offices though, I couldn't help but notice through the gloom the queue for certificates proving that you are alive. They're called certificati di esistenza in vita. Either there are a lot of Italians out there pretending to be dead people, or that is the most pointless example of spaghetti bureaucracy I've ever heard of. Neither option is particularly comforting.

In the name of balance and fairness, I should also confess to my recent head-on collision with a British public office. Namely, the Passport Office. Did you know that you have to pay to get information about UK passport applications over the phone? And I don't mean just the network charge, I mean an astronomical fee per minute charged by the private company who take the calls. All I can say in their favour is that they replied extremely promptly and politely to my prompt and polite complaint. Terribly British, what what. You'd never get a reply from a letter of complaint over here. I remember teaching Italian students how to write a typical letter of complaint for a part of their English exam and they had never even heard of such a thing. They thought it was a hilarious and pointless thing to do. For them it was up there with wall-to-wall carpets and instant custard. They were quite right of course, I wrote my letter of complaint but I still had to pay.

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