Note Number 4…Getting Involved with the Story…


BBC Radio 4 ‘The Archers…’


What makes us become so involved with a story? I’m thinking here of the recent events in The Archers between Helen and Rob Titchener. Even if you don’t listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4, there has been much talk on the Internet about Rob’s ‘coercive control’ behaviour, Helen’s stabbing of him and subsequent trial by jury which found her not guilty of Attempted Murder or Wounding with Intent. I got to the point earlier in 2016 when I had to stop listening because I became so emotionally involved with the storyline and began to hate Rob so much (I’m not really a hating sort of person) and wanted Helen to speak up for herself even though I understood why she wouldn’t. I worried about her son Henry and baby Jack.  I couldn’t bear to listen to the lies Rob told and just desperately wanted someone to remove him from storyline and I didn’t care how they did it. He could have been run over by a slow moving rubbish truck or cornered in a field by a flock of maggot ridden sheep and trampled to death. I’ve always maintained that whatever the circumstances, I could never bring myself to kill anyone but…Rob must have stirred something deep in my psyche…

If this had been a novel, what would I have done? Stopped reading? Turned to the back of the book to see the ending or skipped a few pages so that I could see how the story might be trending? What I did with The Archers was to read the twitter feed and check the the full synopsis on the BBC website. All this before I dared listen to any of the episodes, and, if I thought it was going to be too horrible then I would give that one a miss.

As a writer, I do not have the same fear for my characters even though I become inextricably involved in their lives and I care about them. I get excited about what they might get up to. I don’t mind getting them into awkward situations, killing them off, having them lie, becoming murderers and all number of other horrible things. I know where they’re going and I know their motives and I can control them – to a certain extent. But, have I got the knack to move my readers to the extent that I have been moved by The Archers? Is it the acting, the script or the storyline that are pulling me apart?

I do know people who can watch/read/listen to pretty much anything fictional that’s scary/disturbing/ghastly etc., and not be concerned. ‘It’s only a story, what’s your problem?’ they say as I hide behind a cushion, run out to the bathroom at a crucial moment or distract my mind by checking my emails on my phone or making a cup of tea.


What are you like? Do you become drawn into a story to the point of screaming at the book/screen/radio, throwing the book/TV/Radio, in total frustration even though you KNOW it’s just a story and that the people aren’t real? That’s the bit that worries me about The Archers. I know it’s all fiction but I can’t help worrying about Helen and getting exasperated with characters who can’t see any wrong in Rob and worst of all I want Rob DEAD and he’s not even properly alive! I wonder how much hate mail he has received? I’ve only written a couple of letters…


Note Number 3. Neighbours, Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

Click on the link above and hear the title song


…That’s When Good Neighbours Become Good Friends…

I’ve moved a good few times in my life and therefore I feel qualified to write about neighbours because over a period of greater than sixty years I’ve had a variety of them. Some I remember with fondness, some with exasperation and some with a mild sense of distaste in my mouth but on the whole they have been a pretty good cross section of society.


Our Row of Little Cottages

Right now, we have the most splendid people living in our small terrace of three cottages and the farm opposite and of course the lady in the big house…
Last night we were treated to the most wonderful dinner party at the end terrace. Eight of us round the table; our two lovely neighbours, three of their family members and a friend. The food was bloody marvellous, well the lady that cooked it was a professional chef so we felt quite spoilt. The South African wine was delicious and the company exhilarating. How lucky are we? These neighbours are friendly, helpful can’t do enough for us but at the same time are not knocking on the door every five minutes…well not most days anyway. I feel blessed to have met them. Must ask for that potato dauphinoise recipe it was fabulous…

The people in the middle terrace are a young couple with two small boys but it’s a holiday place so they’re not here all the time but when they have been around they’ve proved to be excellent neighbours. The farmer and his wife are friendly and welcoming but extremely busy. I had forgotten how hard a farmer’s life can be and all for very little reward. Twenty-four seven, all year round. The cows always have to be milked even when it’s Christmas. I suppose I should be a good neighbour and offer to help but…

As for the lady in the big house…well she’s no problem at all…except, you’d want her on your side in any dispute!

In my late 20s with two young children I found myself homeless and a single parent. I ended up on a pretty rough Council estate in Weston Super Mare and for the first week I was devastated. But, life throws shit at you and you have to get on with it. I was given a maisonette and below us lived an old lady who could not have been sweeter to my son and daughter, they were about six and three years old at the time…we can count her as a good neighbour. But best of all was a young mum who lived with her husband and young baby in a house a few doors away. She became one of the closest friends I was every to have. She made my stay on the estate bearable and helped me see all the good things that were happening in my life. We had a good laugh, we cared for each other and we learned from each other. I could not have got through some of the bad times without her. Things were rough, money tight but she stopped me from hitting rock bottom. The sad thing is, this wonderful woman developed a non-malignant tumour that was wrapped around the top of her spinal chord. It was not possible to operate. An intolerable situation. She became paralysed and died quite quickly in her early thirties, leaving behind her husband and two daughters. What a loss. My beautiful neighbour, I think about her often and will go on missing her forever.

Now for a bad neighbour- I’ve had a few but I’m going to tell you about one we had in Italy. She was in her eighties and had lived at the house next door FOREVER…I could understand her coolness at having foreigners move in. I could have done so much to help her, shopping, cleaning etc., but she would not consider any friendly offer. She even called in the Carabinieri when we were doing some work in the garden and halted the proceedings saying that we had taken half a metre of her land. The powers that be came to measure and said, ‘Yes you have taken a little, it’s not too clear but in any case she has taken a metre and a half over your boundary at the top there.’
‘What should we do about it?’ I asked.
A shrug of the shoulders and he said, ‘Nothing, she’ll be dead soon.’
We were allowed to carry on with the work but she was such a nasty neighbour she pulled up our plants and stole some big stones that we had set out as ‘garden art’ and proceeded to bash them up in her own garden. Very strange. The Man thought she was practising some kind of voodoo…I must admit she was very thin and scrawny and little bit witch-like. She swore at us in Italian in a very high pitched voice and The Man would swear back in English, she couldn’t possibly understand. She did die – eventually but not until six years had been spent spying on us from her window and we’re sure, putting spells on us…creepy. We asked the family who sold us the house whether she’d always been a meany. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘She had a row with my grandmother and since then has always been really nasty to all of us and I suppose she’s just carrying on the feud with you.’ Thanks for not telling us before we bought the house Giacamino…Italians eh? Family feuds eh? Fortunately, she wasn’t able to actually enter our house so nothing nasty found in the bed…that episode in The Godfather brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘neigh(bour)’ hmmm…


Another good neighbour lived (and still does) in a small house at the bottom of our rather long driveway where we lived in West Buckland. She was a teacher in the local primary school, Filleigh. When we first arrived, Thomas was six and the twins were three…she was brilliant with them. The boys were always knocking on the door or more likely barging in, and she never turned them away. She welcomed them and taught them so many wonderful things about animals and plants. There were always tadpoles and frogspawn in the spring, flowers in the summer…she made these lovely sweet, battered, deep fried elderflowers. She had cats and dogs and she loved children and animals. Her mission in life was to educate, in the best possible way. She was an outstanding teacher and not just in school. The boys adored her for all the ten years we lived there and still speak fondly of her now. You know who you are – Julie.

I could mention more neighbours but I’m saving those for my memoirs…

Those of you who know me will recognise that the song quoted in my title today was written by my bro Tony Hatch.

Note Number 2…Where Did You Get That Hat…?


Last night, Saturday 10th September, I attended the Vittles and Verse poetry evening in Lyme Regis. I did read a couple of my own poems and they were well received (I think!) The event is held every month and I’m going to miss a couple while The Man and I travel back to Italia for an autumn visit but I’ll be returning again for another session as soon as I get the chance. There are some amazing poets in Dorset.  I’m talking about the others Not Me!

Being in the poetry mood – I thought I would write Note Number 2 in the theme of rhyming couplets…Well – the Panto Season will soon be upon us!


Charity Shop Window – Most of the shop windows in Bridport featured hats on the day.

Bridport Hat Festival Saturday 3rd September 2016

In Bridport one fine Saturday
The residents, their hats display

Of many colours, styles and shapes
It’s lots of fun and jolly japes

Roger Snook from the hat shop in town
Gave a knowledgeable talk at the Rose and Crown
(actually it was The Bull Hotel but that doesn’t rhyme)

He told us stuff about hundreds of hats
So much, that I’ve forgotten the facts

I’ll share some interesting bits with you
If my memory is able to drag up a few
(see further down post)

The Man and I were unprepared for the day
So improvised quickly – let us just say…

I favoured a fascinator with feathers so chic
He bought a luminous chicken – minus the beak

Music and dancing buzzed in the street
The atmosphere was festive ‘twas all such a treat

In Bucky Doo Square as the clock struck one
A group photo is taken – it’s jolly good fun (not)

The rain held off ‘til about half past two
So events ran smoothly – as they usually do

Next year the festival will be with us again
And I’m already designing the hat I’ll wear then!


The Man as a Chicken…me in my Fascinator only Mr Snook said thay were orginally known as a ‘TANTALISER’ which I think sounds far more interesting.


Mr Roger Snook with his array of hats…..

Snooks hat shop has been in business in Bridport since 1896 and although the town is known for Rope Making the hat making industry was also significant in the town because they used the flax for weaving them.  Mr Snook wanted to point out however, that the family are not hat makers but hat retailers.  He can pretty well get you any hat that you want, at a price though!
Roger Snook’s other job, apart from running the family shop, is to look after the town clock which he asures us chimes 13 times at midnight every New Year’s Eve. I’ll have to pop along this year and make sure he’s not telling porky pies. The shop holds a large selection Fedoras which I do believe The Man is going to check out as he rather fancied this blue one. Although he might choose the Al Capone style with the rolled edge Hmmm.

Al Capone on the left…blue Fedora on the right

The Panama hat originated from Equador and we were given a demonstation as to how to correctly fold one.  They are rolled up and kept in a tube but should be ‘let out’ at least once a year.  They must ocassionally be hung up in the bathroom whilst a shower is being taken so the steam will help to keep flexibility – don’t let it drop in the bath, this was not recommended.  I’m not sure I have a picture of a Panama hat…what a shame but I think this rather large pink and white ladies hat is an example… (not traditional I know)



A Few Facts from Mr Snook…

A Deerstalker is also known as a Fore and Aft. (I think this is also the name for an army/navy hat that can be worn either side to side – athwartor fore and aft).
The Fez was banned by the Turkish Government in 1925 as part of modernisation reforms.
The Hat Pin was invented in Gloucester, England.
There are 4 pints in a Ten Gallon Hat…and the name is derived from Route 66 in America because it takes 10 gallons of petrol to get from one petrol station to another on Route 66. (I’m still not sure why they would name the hat after this unless everyone driving  on Routee 66 wore one)
In 1896 Mr Bowler, Lord Cobham’s game keeper invented which hat? You guessed it…the Bowler Hat. Originally from cow hide stretched over a post but devloped from that point.
In 1910 it was the most popluar hat in Bolivia. Sold to the people as a hat which would increase fertility if they wore it.
A Pith Helmet is called thus because it was/is made from reeds. They were orginally white and were dyed using tea to camouflage them in the desert during the Zulu wars.
Poirot is the only person who wears a white bowler hat (is this true? I may have got that wrong).

Lots of pictures of hats now….




And finally….


Note Number 1…The Great Fire of London…

Note Number 1…The Great Fire of London…

“In sixteen-hundred-and-sixty-six, London was burnt like a bundle of sticks”

Did you learn that rhyme at school?
Today is the 350th anniversary of that great fire and I think it fitting that I should start my new look blog with a mention of this disaster.

I remember being taught that although the fire was a terrible thing, it brought an end to the plague in London. There is an exhibition at the Museum of London see  here  for details and they have also launched an easy to follow website full of interesting facts and figures.

The fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane and although many buildings and most of the city was burnt down, there is some controversy as to how many people lost their lives. The Guardian Newspaper has written a number of articles on the fire and this one says that only a handful of people died, less than a dozen in fact. However, this comment seems to have fired up a debate with a a reader’s letter suggesting that several thousand may have died.

As I look out of my window right now at the torrential rain, I can’t help thinking that if September 3 1666 had been like this I would not have been writing this blog!

Just for fun (with the help of The Man) I’ve compiled a timeline of interesting things that happened every 50 years since 1066. . .

1066 – William Conquered Harold at the Battle of Hastings – the start of our love/hate relationship with our neighbours across the way?
1116 – The Chinese start printing Books – well stitching the pages together anyway
1166 – Willem the Bad, King of Sicily died – Obviously a good thing for his subjects and Genghis Khan is only 3 years old – not such a good thing perhaps?
1216 – King John lost the Crown Jewels in the mud in the East Anglian fens – careless work John – see me!
1266 – Battle of Benevento. Effectively established the power of the Papacy in Southern Italy (not much else doing in 1266)
1316 – Great European Famine begins because of climate change and lots of rain – 2016 has been a bit like that in Dorset.
1366 – Rumblings of discontent in Southern France about English occupation and taxation lead to the restart of the Hundred Years war between England and France.
1416 – Dutch fishermen started using Drift nets – aren’t they trying to ban them now?
1466 – George Skanderberg from Albania defeats the Ottomans and becomes a Christian Hero – not many of them in Albania these days
1516 – Portuguese Explorers heading towards China from Indonesia
1566 – Chinese Emperor Jaijing accidently poisons himself in a search for an ‘everlasting life’ potion
1616 – Death of William Shakespeare. Dirk Hartog discovers Western Australia by accident.
1666 – Great Fire of London (3rd September)
1716 – The Austrians are drawn into the seemingly everlasting war with the Turkish Ottomans and defeat them at the Battle of Belgrade
1766 – First stirrings of “no taxation without representation” in the American Colonies and look where that led!
1816 – The ‘year without a summer’ because of airborne dust from the Tambora eruption which had occurred in 1815 reached the Northern Hemisphere, causing the worst of the 19th century famines. Krakatoa also erupted in 1816 adding to the problem
1866 – A Russian student tries to assassinate Tzar Alexander II, his government introduces repressive measures and strict control of the universities leading to a loss of respect for the Tsar and the Russian revolution 51 years later
1916 – Battle of the Somme
1966 – England won the World Cup in football…a disaster for Germany – for which they have taken revenge many times since.
2016 – Brexit . . . another love/hate situation? (see 1066)



A Change is as Good as a Rest….

A Change is as Good as a Rest….

A quick post to let  readers and followers know that I’m changing the name of my blog from olivespastavino to Ninette’s 90 Notes. I don’t know how long the process of change will take – so please bear with me.

As some of you may well know, I am now spending more time in England than Italy and am likely to spend even less time in Italy in the future, so the Bel Paese theme, as a regular feature,  will be redundant.

My plan is to write 90 posts in a year, some long and some short but the subject matter will be diverse and interesting for all to read, I hope. I find if I don’t have a deadline I’m nowhere near as productive so I’m giving myself a target.

If all goes to plan, you will need to do nothing as when I post, then followers should get an email alert as before.  Any problems…let me know.  I will also post on Face Book and Twitter each time I write.

Look out for the first post!

Tea at the fete

The Man and I enjoying a cup of tea and cake at the Whitchurch Canonicorum Flower Show on Bank Holiday Monday. A lovely English afternoon was had.