Monday, 30 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: Norman Nicholson

Well, the rabbit is out of the hat and in full view of the audience.  I’d been keeping quiet about the subject of the new biography until everything was signed and sealed, but Melvyn Bragg mentioned it in his BBC Radio 4 programme and newsletter - so now everyone knows that I’m writing about Norman Nicholson!

So, who was Norman Nicholson? An obscure northern poet, from the small town of Millom in Cumbria, born in 1914, a protegee of T.S. Eliot and the Lake District’s second most famous poet after Wordsworth.  'Poem' is NN’s working manifesto.


I would make a poem
Precise as a pair of scissors, keen,
Cold and asymmetrical, the blades
Meeting like steel lovers to define
The clean shape of the image.

I would make a poem
Organic as an orchid, red
Flowers condensed from dew, with every lobe
Fitted like a female to receive
The bee’s fathering head.

I would make a poem
Solid as a stone, a thing
You can take up, turn, examine and put down;
Bred of the accident of rain and river,
Yet in its build as certain as a circle,
An axiom of itself.

I was approached recently by the Trustees of the Nicholson Estate to write a Life and Work for the Norman Nicholson centenary in 2014. This isn’t a commercial project, more a labour of love - I’ve always loved NN’s poetry - he wrote about the landscape I grew up in - a working landscape, not the pretty picture postcard views sold to the tourists.  His best poems are probably Wall, Sea to the West and On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks, which is about the brutal de-industrialisation of the north of England in the second half of the twentieth century.  This is an extract:

            ‘They shovelled my childhood
On to a rubbish heap.   Here my father’s father,
Foreman of the back furnace, unsluiced the metal lava
To slop in fiery gutters across the foundry floor
And boil round the workmen’s boots; here five generations
Toasted the bread they earned at a thousand degrees Fahrenheit
And the town thrived on its iron diet.  On the same ground now
Split foundations moulder in the sea air; blizzards
Of slag-grey dust are blown through broken Main Gate uprights;
 Resevoir tanks gape dry beside cracked, empty pig-beds:
And one last core of clinker, like the stump of a dead volcano,
Juts up jagged and unblastable.....
He lived all his life in the house he was born in - stubbornly defending his northernness - always a fierce enemy of Metrocentrism.  When anyone referred to him as a recluse he would say drily ‘They mean I haven’t been seen lately in London.’  People like Philip Larkin denigrated him as a 'Provincial'.  He was emphatic about the truth of Robert Frost’s statement ‘In order to be universal, you must first be provincial’.

I’ve only just embarked on the initial research and will keep you posted.  This will be the first time I’ve ever talked publicly about writing a biography, so it will be a new experience!

For more Poetry please check out the Tuesday Poets at

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Author and Agent - Mitchell and Webb comedy

This little clip made me laugh a lot! I once had a talk with an agent rather like this, though it wasn't as funny.

Friday, 27 January 2012

A Day in London - Flashbacks.

A bar off Regent Street.  Rich kids in clothes that don't come from department stores;  the casual clunk of Mulberry bags, the click of Sophy Lazlo heels, the over-priced economy of Dolce and Gabbana.  Gyozo Dumpling soup.  A blueberry, free-radical infusion. A man eating sandwiches with one black leather glove.  The Nash church is locked against student protest.  A Bond Street jeweller sells diamonds bigger than the Ritz to Saudi princes and unshaven oligarchs.

Newspaper headlines signal the inevitability of Greek bankruptcy - a financial storm gathering over Davos.  The red lines in the street outside the door. No Stopping.   Someone selling consultancy at the next table. "Third party participancy."   People on the pavement walking, walking, clutching their mobiles, bags, mineral water.  A car with smoked glass windows, single numbers on the plate.

The doorman with a blue-tooth earpiece who wishes us a pleasant day.  Standing in front of a Picasso with six noughts after the price.  Underground, a crowded metal bullet hurtling through darkness.  Another bar.  Beyonce on the speaker system, Amy Winehouse - scorched throat music.  Another tea, another wine.  Spaghetti bolognese.

A spat of rain.  The flowering of umbrellas.

This is my day.

(Extracts from  my journal. Now on my way back to Italy)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: More stones from the river

It's been such a busy week my small stones are just observations scribbled in my notebook that haven't yet made it into poems or prose.  A summary of my week in a few images.  Who knows where they might go?

A crow falling away from the wind, like a black rag.

The car waltzes on/water, powered by the wind./A pivotal movement.

What do you do when the switch inside your head decides it's morning, in the middle of the night?

In the pub, watching the fire-light through a glass of wine.  A good place to be on a cold evening. 

For lots of good Tuesday Poems please visit the Tuesday Poets website at
For more Small Stones in the River of Stones check out

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Interviewing for a book

One of the reasons that I'm back in Britain is to meet and interview several people for a possible new biography.  The subject of the book (can't reveal the name yet!)  lived through the 20th century, so there are many people alive who knew them, which is both a blessing and a difficulty. 

When I wrote the Catherine Cookson biography many, many people wanted to talk to me and seemed desperate to give me information, but hardly anyone was willing to be quoted publicly because they feared a backlash.  To a biographer, information you can't reference is virtually worthless.  You have to be very careful of the libel laws in England, because they are much more stringent than anywhere else in the English speaking world.  People's feelings matter too, even if the material you have is true.   So I have to be very sensitive to those who are still alive and may be hurt by something I publish.  That is always a big dilemma for the biographer.

I love talking to people and am always impressed by how kind they are and how generous with their time. This week I'm just having exploratory chats in order to establish the background, so that I know what information I'm going to have to ask for in further interviews.  The most difficult interviewees are often people who work in the media, or are prominent in public life, who may ask you to submit questions in advance, which is difficult if you haven't met them before and don't know how close their relationship was with the subject, or what material they have in their possession.  You simply don't know which questions you need to ask.

There are some ethical rules for interviewing - always ask if you can record the interview, if that's what you intend.  Only once have I recorded secretly - a meeting with a very difficult individual who was denying information he'd already given me over the phone and was threatening to sue me if I quoted him.   I feared he was going to misrepresent my own words in the tabloid press, so I recorded our conversation just in case.  Recording is better than taking notes (though I take a few of those too, just in case there's a glitch) because you spend a lot of time writing rather than listening and it interrupts the flow.

I try always to let the interviewee have a summary of the interview afterwards, particularly the parts I want to quote from, so that they have the opportunity to draw back from publication, and to correct any errors that I might have made. 

I do lots of homework beforehand - reading as much material as I can and trying to make sure I've got the relationships clear.  I once interviewed someone who was a twin and got the twins' names the wrong way round.  Very embarrassing and very unprofessional.   

There's usually a list of questions in my notebook, but other questions come up in conversation and you have to be prepared for them  - like ripples in a pond, you can go a very long way from the starting point!

So, a very interesting week and it's not over yet.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Two Katherines and grey weather

It's grey here in northern England at the moment.  The air tastes of snow and there's what - in Scotland - they call "a lazy wind" - lazy because it goes straight through you instead of going round!  The Mill is very damp, having been uninhabited for a while, and it takes a few days for the heating to get a grip on the thick stone walls.

My trip back home is proving unexpectedly busy.  Before I was even off the train I was being rung up by BBC producers wanting to talk about Catherine Cookson. Not having seen the UK newspapers for a while, I had no idea why and had to Google the subject.   'Catherine Cookson Country' is, apparently, to be abolished.  The inhabitants are shocked and horrified.  The novelist's sales have slumped since her death (inevitably), and she isn't the household name she once was,  but the landscape Catherine Cookson wrote about and made famous is still associated with her, even though the tour buses don't come in their hundreds as they once did. 
Apparently the tourist board in the north east have decided that 'Catherine Cookson Country' is not how they want to market the area at all, that it gives a negative image and they want to advertise their beaches instead.   Catherine would have been furious with rejection. And it does seem to be a curious decision.  The north east of England has some of the most beautiful beaches in Britain, but add in the Catherine Cookson connection and it definitely gives them an edge - beauty and books.    Like the Bronte's Haworth and Du Maurier's Cornwall, Jarrow and South Shields will always be Catherine Cookson's country, even if they take the signs down.

So this morning I'm talking about CC on Radio 4, and then this afternoon I'm 'doing' the Wordsworth Trust's Arts and Books festival talking about Katherine Mansfield and the Dorothy Wordsworth connection.  Let's hope I don't get the two C/Katherine's confused!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Book Review - Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21

Lovely review from New Zealand poet and author Tim Jones, whose work (Men Briefly Explained) I admire, so it makes the review doubly valuable.  Cheered me up on a grey morning. Thanks Tim!    Review at 'Books in the Trees' 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Most Depressing Day of the Year?

This is what it looked like at London Bridge station last night

Back to England yesterday.   A weary journey.  Two ‘incidents’ brought trains to a complete halt between Gatwick airport and Victoria station London, resulting in extreme congestion and delays on the remaining services.  Forcing our way through crowds - like a riot, or sale day at Harrods, having station gates slammed in our faces because there were too many people on the concourse for safety.  Then missing the main line train we could have got on because the doors were locked just as we reached the train (still 2 minutes to departure)  Policemen patrolling the station in threes with AK47 assault rifles in their hands and other weapons slung about their persons, accompanied by sniffer dogs.  This isn’t an England I recognise, but fear I must get used to.

It took less than 2 hours on the plane from Pisa to Gatwick and another three and a half to get from Gatwick to London (normally 30 minutes) then another three to get out of  London northwards.  Hungry, tired, cheated of an evening with my children and grandchildren, I wasn’t in too good a mood by the time I arrived in the midlands.  But thinking about the suffering of  the families of the two people who died after throwing themselves under high speed trains put it all into perspective.   England isn’t in great shape right now.

And maybe it had something to do with the fact that the third week in January is statistically supposed to be the most depressing week of the year, and Monday, 'Blue Monday', the most depressing day.  Obviously Tuesday wasn't good either.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: Kim Moore, The Drowned Fields

Although being without him now
would be like standing on one leg
still everything seems paper thin.

If my foot slips and breaks the surface,
I’ll fall to a land of drowned fields,
where the only language is the language

of the sky and the birds make endless
patterns in the air and the pools of water
are words the rain has left behind.

The birds are like shadows in the corner
of my eye, or silver, as if the sky
is throwing money to the ground.

Next to the path the grass moves beneath
my feet. Hummocks store black water
while his thoughts, impossible to ignore

push their way across the land like large
enthusiastic dogs. The lives I could
have led are silver threads across

the drowning land and birds come
together , then spread apart, as if the sky
opened its hand and let them loose.

Kim Moore

Kim Moore (who just happens to live in Cumbria) is a young British poet who is regarded as one of the bright stars of the future. Kim has won two of the UK’s most prestigious prizes for young poets - an Eric Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2011. She is 29 and works as a peripatetic music teacher, and is also in the final year of a part-time MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has been published in the TLS, Poetry Review, The North, The Rialto and Ambit - all excellent places - and has read alongside Carol Ann Duffy at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

The title ‘The Drowned Fields’ resonates with the weather up here in the northern hemisphere at the moment. I like the way the poem starts in mid-conversation, with images of a fragile relationship - the thin crust we all walk on with the ones we love before our lives become inextricably meshed together. The repetition of the words ‘drowned’, ‘drowning,’ emphasises the feeling of being overwhelmed and adds to the sense of danger - committing yourself to a relationship is one of the most risky things we do.

I particularly like this image:

‘ his thoughts, impossible to ignore
push their way across the land like large
enthusiastic dogs.'

And the way she describes the birds flocking and re-forming in the air,
‘ if the sky
opened its hand and let them loose.’

But somehow the birds, coming together and spreading apart, are another metaphor for the fragility of the relationship.
Kim Moore is one to watch.

For other Tuesday Poems please take a look at the Tuesday Poets' blog over at
There's some great stuff!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A Love Affair with Words - The Etymologicon

I’ve always loved words - can remember rolling them round and round in my head as a child, trying to work out what they meant.  My parents, living in an isolated croft in the Cheviot hills, used to listen to the radio a lot, and I can remember lying in bed listening to the voices in the next room.  One of my favourites was the weather forecast for shipping with its strange litany of place names, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight.

Words had personalities, and sometimes colours, of their own.  Monday was always yellow, Tuesday blue, Wednesday green - I learned long words from the radio without any idea of what they meant.  Meretricious was one - I thought it sounded like being deliciously rewarded for being good.  Only when I grew up did I find out that it means ‘befitting a prostitute’!

Being brought up in the North of England also means having a rich resource of Norse dialect to draw on - wonderful, strong words like pebbles in your mouth - ‘thrang’ meaning to be busy, ‘lowp’ meaning jump, and ‘nithered’ which meant shivering with cold, which we were - often.  You didn’t fix things, you ‘fettled them up’ and if you were feeling well you were ‘in good fettle’.

The origin of words and how language changes over time is fascinating.  English is such a hotch-potch of Anglo-saxon, Latin, French and other borrowed languages it often results in crazy connections - many of them logged in Mark Forsyth’s hilarious scramble through the dictionary - The Etymologicon (currently only £1.99 on Kindle). 

The connection between chickens and snooker?  A French ‘poule’ (chicken) which becomes a ‘pool’ of money in the centre of a gaming(chickens again) table - hence anything held in common - a gene pool, a typing pool, a car pool, not to mention the game of pool, billiards and snooker - and back to French hens again.

Anyone guess the relationship between male body parts and the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, and to detest, protest and contest? Apparently you once (well, men anyway) used to have to use essential body parts to guarantee veracity.    And Avocado is the Aztec word for the same thing, since the Aztecs thought the fruit were shaped like gonads - so they should really be called Aztec Balls.

So many words came originally from eating and sex and, of course in English, the weather.  No surprise to anyone living in the north of the country that the word for Sky comes from the Viking word for Cloud, since they’re often one and the same thing.   Also no surprise that the word Dream comes from the Anglo Saxon for Happiness.

The expression ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ comes from a way of cheating someone who was trying to buy ‘a pig in a poke’.  And sometimes it was a dog that was substituted, which meant they were ‘selling you a pup’ instead of a pig.

I laughed a great deal when I read this book and it reminded me how much I love words, just for themselves.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

How to use Social Media to Promote a Book

This is a really brilliant blog from ex-marketing manager turned author 'Rose Red', about using social media to get publicity for your work.  She really spells out the do's and don't's of the medium.  Especially Twitter. She has excellent advice for both self-published and mainstream published writers. Apparently the knack is to be understated, funny, friendly and definitely not needy!  Advertise indirectly and don't bombard people with requests to buy/read/look at your books. It definitely struck a chord with me -  I've been put off several authors because they are tweeting every five minutes about their work.  Do take a look at her blog, which is called Sprig Muslin and you can find it here:-

Also some excellent advice on E-publishing and marketing at The Writers Guide to E-Publishing which you can find at

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: The River of Stones

At the beginning of the week I joined 'A River of Stones', which is a project that lasts until the end of January, and is a way of using the Buddhist concept of 'Mindfulness' in our creative lives.  it was one of my students at Lancaster last year who introduced me to the idea of 'Mindfulness', which was the subject of her Ph.D.  She pointed out that our lives are too fast and heedless and there's not enough time to sit quietly and observe, or just simply 'be'.  Ted Hughes was a great advocate of sitting and looking too.  He would sometimes spend over an hour observing something with furious concentration, before writing about it.

I'm never going to become a Buddhist (or Ted Hughes!) and simply don't have the self-discipline to become a disciple of  mindfulness.  but 'A River of Stones' simply asks you to commit to spending a few minutes a day sitting (or standing) quietly, observing and thinking, to focus on one thing and then write about it in as few words as possible.  Then you can Tweet your 'small stone' if you're a Twitterer, or put it on your blog, or Facebook, or post it on the main River of Stones blog.

What you produce every day does vary in quality - sometimes you can't come up with anything - and it's difficult (impossible so far) to get beyond description in such a small space. Everything I write seems to have a romantic, rather sugary taint to it, which I'm trying to eradicate.  But in the middle of my stressful life, I'm finding the exercise very therapeutic.  Next week's aim is to try to get closer to the bare bones of things.

Here are this week's small stones.

1.  Cloud curved over the sea like a shell hinged at the horizon, where a golden pearl is radiating light.

2.  Deserted House:
Cracked walls and fallen tiles
the hanging gutters
but one mysterious light
behind blank shutters.

3.  The swaying blind cord ticks away the moments to the beat of the wind.

4.  A quiet room.  Only a thought disturbs.  A pulse of blood, a breath, the sunlight crawling across the wall.  The pen on the page.

5.  Haiku:
Olive leaves reflect
the sun like slim, silver fish
swimming in bright shoals.

6.  The bells, nodding from rival belfries across the piazza, do not agree with each other.  The clanging bronze vibrato tolls discord.

*The photograph is of a particularly beautiful, ancient wall on the road to Capezzano Monte where I live.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Of Cats, Polenta and more Etruscans

The starving wild kitten we began feeding in July and christened 'Batcat',
is now a fully grown-up feline of the female gender.  She no longer hisses and spits and will allow us a brief stroke when putting out her food, but attempts at further intimacy are furiously rebuffed and often result in disappearance at escape velocity!

Woke up this morning to cats yowling in the olive groves and suspect that Batcat is on heat, though she turned up innocently for breakfast with scarcely a hair out of place.   When she is tame enough to catch we intend to take her to an animal charity for neutering, but at the moment that seems a distant prospect.

Meanwhile I'm trying to increase my repertoire of Italian cooking.  Friends told me that Polenta is easy - you simply need a non-stick pan and the patience to stir for 30 minutes.  So I made the attempt and produced something that should have looked like a golden mound, crisp at the edges, but actually resembled a pale yellow breast implant when it flopped out of the pan, and tasted of nothing much.  Hey ho!  Back to the recipe book.

I'd like to share some more pictures from Orvieto, if you can bear it?  This is Civita di Bagno Regio, a few miles from where we were staying at Lake Bolsena.

Civita is miraculous - a pillar of rock rising up from the centre of a huge volcanic crater (which reminds one of  pictures of Colorado) topped with a very ancient walled town.

The front gateway is Etruscan, as are the chambers hollowed out of the rock beneath.  This is a staircase cut into the rock to go down to a water cistern.  And yes, we did go down!

  Most of the buildings inside the walls are medieval.  The streets are very narrow and shady, so not good for taking photographs unless you have special lenses.   This was one of the little bars.

Earthquakes destroyed parts of the town in 1349,  1695   and 1764,  though the ruins of many houses are still standing.

 Erosion has since caused many of the outer buildings to collapse into the crater.   This house and garden (inhabited) were overhanging the edge and someone had inserted wooden props into the rock under them. But I wouldn't have spent a night there for any money!!

 Only 5 families now live there permanently, though there are shops, B and Bs (all safely in the middle!), and some lovely small restaurants.  It's one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Italy.  Utterly unique.  This is a cactus on someone's garden wall overlooking the canyon.


Friday, 6 January 2012

The Italian Witch and D H Lawrence

It's Epifania here - Twelfth Night in the UK - the day everyone takes their Christmas decorations down and when, in Italy, La Befana - the witch - flies abroad with her broomstick and a bag of presents for good children. Bad children get charcoal in their stockings instead! 

Mine arrived on my Kindle (La Befana may use archaic forms of transport but is definitely into new technology!) D H Lawrence's 'Etruscan Places', out of copyright in Australia and available from the Gutenberg project, is a book I read as a travel struck teenager and am now re-reading with the benefit of having visited the places he's writing about.  I'd forgotten how good a travel writer Lawrence was and also how political his viewpoint.  The Italy he travelled through was ruled by Mussolini and he seems to have regarded Roman rule as just another brand of Fascism.   He describes the Etruscans as 'the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days and whom the Romans, in their usual neighbourly fashion, wiped out entirely in order to make room for Rome with a very big R - expansion with a very big E, which is the sole raison d'etre of people like the Romans'. 

Lawrence was in love with the Etruscans and writes about them in the full romantic flush of his intoxication with their imagined lives.   I don't believe the half of it, but I'm enjoying wandering about Etruria visiting tombs and museums and examining wall paintings and eating goats cheese in wayside taverns with taciturn, faun-like youths and listening to Lawrence's persuasive voice.  Have made a note to read 'Twilight in Italy' and 'Sea and Sardinia' - neither of which I've read before.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A bit of Etruscan Tomb Raiding

If a genie popped out of a bottle and offered me three wishes, my first wish would be to be with Howard Carter when he first entered the tomb of Tutankhamen.   So, crawling about in 3000 year old Etruscan tombs has to be a brilliant way of passing the afternoon.  True, most of the grave goods have already been legally looted by archaeologists, and the tombs were situated in a very muddy wood,  but there was the odd sarcophagus and a few scraps of wall painting left.  And we didn’t have to queue, or pay to get in, and we were the only people there.  
A funeral urn
No one really knows where the Etruscans came from, but they arrived in Italy a long time ago with a language that looks a cross between hieroglyphics and Viking runes. 

They knew how to build walls and buildings like the Egyptians, and they made bronze statues (which the Romans melted down) and objects like the Greeks.  Their tombs are like the Egyptians too - sloping entrances cut  into the ground, subterranean chambers with wall paintings and marble topped sarcophagi surrounded by a collection of objects designed to equip the dead for life after death. It's all very personal.  Their funeral urns, like the one above, and their sarcophagi (below), have images of the dead person on them.

Small, bronze religious figures.

You can find the tombs anywhere there’s a rocky outcrop.  Some of them have been converted into sheds and storehouses by more recent inhabitants, but others remained buried and have only just been discovered.  Heksana, near Orvieto, is only one of a number of known necropoli in this area.  We found this tomb beside a farm track only partially concealed by ivy.

Walking through the woods we, quite literally, stumbled on these.   There were about seven in all, though the roofs had fallen in on some.

The largest and poshest was closed off with a glass door,

 but this is what it would have looked like inside, had we made an appointment to view with the local office of antiquities.

The rest are protected only by tarpaulins - often rotten and full of holes.  One of the most interesting tombs was flooded, but we could see a series of tempting chambers opening out beyond the entrance.  Next time we’re going equipped for tomb raiding with wellingtons and a torch!

Italy has more history than it can afford, which is a pity, because these beautiful, historic places need protection from the elements and from less scrupulous human beings. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year in Orvieto - with Jazz

Just back from Orvieto and thoroughly exhausted from having such a good time. I haven't been able to put up anything on the blog for five days because the small hotel out in the country didn't have Wi-Fi.  There was an old computer you could rent by the hour in the foyer, but I was never in the hotel long enough to use it - what was going on elsewhere was just too tempting!   Over the next few days I'll be posting a few photographs to give you a glimpse of what is one of the most beautiful and historic areas of Italy. This was my first visit and I was completely knocked out by it.  Even on a grey day (and we only had one) it was wonderful.

Orvieto is in Umbria, on the border with Lazio, south of Tuscany.  The area has a violent volcanic history and the scenery is spectacular.  Orvieto itself is a walled town sitting on top of an outcrop of volcanic 'tuff' - a pale rock which is soft and looks a bit like pumice.  Winding your way up the rock into the town takes a long, long, time - better to leave the car outside and walk, but it must have been ideal for defence against invaders.  

Inside there are the narrow streets, piazzas, and that mixture of Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Napoleonic buildings that make Italy so beautiful.  No photographs can do it justice.  The Cathedral - taller than any other building in the whole town - is really spectacular in white marble.

The town is in the centre of the Etruscan area and was first settled by them more than 3000 years ago.  Everywhere you go you stumble on Etruscan temples and walls.  The rock under the town has been tunneled out to make tombs which you can visit. And there are other tunnels used by medieval despots fleeing their critics! 

Orvieto hotels were completely booked out by the Jazz Festival - a winter edition of the famous Umbria Jazz Festival - and so we had to stay about 20km from the town in a place called Bolsena.  It's the largest volcanic lake in Europe - the result of a volcano that exploded a hundred or so thousand years ago.  The area is still thermal and there are a lot of Etruscan sites there too - perfect for anyone who loves landscape and history all in one package.  Our hotel (built for the summer trade)  was almost empty, on the edge of the lake, with the most beautiful views. 

In Italy people spend their New Year's eve eating with their families and then they take to the streets for a grand 'passaggiata'.  We watched the sun go down in Lake Bolsena before eating in a local Osteria and then drove into Orvieto for the fun.  It was very hard work fighting your way through the crowded streets.  Here, everyone was watching a group of fire-eaters performing in the Piazza.

At midnight there are the fireworks.  I'm a complete child when it comes to the bangs and flashes - I could watch them for hours.  Italian fireworks aren't like anything else - no health and safety issues here - they just let them off in the piazza in the middle of the crowd and you have to get out of the way as best you can.  This year, in front of the cathedral, they were wonderful.  Lots of noise and exploding multi-coloured fireballs.

Afterwards, fueled by hot punch,  we went to the theatre for a  jazz concert supposed to start at 1am, which didn't get going until about 1.45.  It was an Italian programme.  The Lydian Sound Orchestra comes from Vicenza, near Venice, and they are brilliant.  They were playing with a Sardinian trumpeter called Paolo Fresu who was equally good, though I was struggling to stay awake by about 3.30!!

Left the theatre about 4am and then made the 20km drive back to the hotel (guess who drew the short straw for that one?) to fall into bed about 5 absolutely shattered!  Worth it though.    Tomorrow I'll put up some pictures of the Etruscan tombs we found in a wood and were able to crawl into.  It was unbelievable!