We had no idea, when we booked a week’s holiday in Italy, that it would coincide with the classic car race, the Mille Miglia, passing close by us.

As Geoff and I are both of a petrolhead persuasion, this was a thrill we had no intention of missing: hundreds of the world’s most astonishingly beautiful old cars roaring their way along stage 2 of a 1,000-mile circuit from Brescia to Rome and back.

Friends invited us to join them on their balcony to watch the cars as they roared past below. No thanks, we said, we want to get close and inhale the fumes and play ’let’s identify the marque’.

We studied a map of the route and chose our viewing point beside a traffic-light controlled crossroads that we hoped might afford us the best views of cars both stationary and racing.

That was the theory. In practice, the junction was actually being controlled by a bouncy little chap in a peaked cap and overlong trousers with two deadly weapons, a piercing pea-whistle and a sort of lolly-stick for pointing at vehicles and waving them through.

He practised his technique a few times on the normal local traffic (if there is anything ’normal’ about any type of Italian traffic) and there were only a few near misses, no actual crashes, so by the time the race cars started appearing, Carlo the Controller was confidently in command.

Cars, lorries, scooters, motorbikes and pedal cycles bore down on him from all directions but Carlo could halt them in their tracks with one well-aimed flap of his stick.

A few of the local drivers, unaware of what was happening and how huge and significant this day was in their village’s history, noticed nothing untoward and drifted over the crossroads in the same heedless manner they had probably done for the past 60 years. Carlo remained calm, shrugged a bit, and turned his concentration to a row of heavy-breathing pantechnicons that he would not allow to pass until he gave the drivers the nod. Oh Carlo, the power vested in you, your hat and your lolly stick!

The simmering chaos on the road was replicated beside us on the pavement, where grown-ups, children and, inexplicably, dogs, threaded around each other as they sought the best vantage points.

At last, everyone settled down and the first cars started to appear. Carlo seemed so vulnerable out there in the middle, alternately flapping, bouncing and whistling like a furious football referee. I worried for him as wave after wave of Ferrari supercars bore down on him, their thunderous roar splitting the air and making the ground shake. These were the glamorous outriders, leading the way like overdressed, noisy, show-offs.

Carlo got them all through unscathed, and then the classic cars began their more sedate but no less thrilling passage past us.

After two hours they were still coming, wave after glorious wave of them, their occupants waving to us, their adoring, starstruck admirers.

By the time Geoff and I left we were sated with the thrill and spectacle of it all. And Carlo? I reckon he must have got home that night a dust-encrusted, fume-raddled wreck, his nerves strung to the point of exhaustion, his lips sore from blasting that whistle, his arm aching from flapping the lolly-stick.

What a good job well done, Carlo. I do hope we weren’t the only ones to appreciate what a hero you were.

It’s bold, I know, and probably a little foolish, but Geoff and I are making an assumption about the weather. We think we may have more than one day of proper sunshine this year. There has been one, we know, and it was that glorious experience of being warm and having an inner glow that made us suspect another could be along in, ooh, say two months’ time.

Based on this, we have made a decision to upgrade our garden furniture. For something that gets precious little use, it is having much thought devoted to it. In fact, I would say we are probably thinking more about garden furniture than we are about the EU referendum and the future of space exploration. Yes, that much.

We already have garden furniture – metal table and chairs that live out all year round – and boy, are they showing their age (and years of neglect). Hitherto, in my life, anything that lived out in one of our winters at least had the comfort and protection of a New Zealand rug and a good warming feed, but this furniture has never had so much as a caring pat.

The consequence of its neglect is that is not looking its loveliest. It needs a body tuck here and there, a serious rubbing down and repaint, and even a few limb transplants. In short, its better days were too long ago for it to recapture any good bits of its youth, so we are planning to relegate the table to a place beside a wall where it will live in retirement as a slightly lop-sided stand for pots.

The chairs will have a few screws tightened and I’ll administer a lecture about smartening themselves up in the hope that the rubbing-down and painting fairies will overhear and will surprise me by paying a visit.

This, we have cleverly worked out, will leave us with seats to sit on but no table. A table is necessary for those long balmy evenings when we eat our supper outside and talk long into the night with our friends, just like the adverts show us we all do through summer in England.

The cynic in us knows that it is more likely to be one borderline-mild night with a disappointing chilly breeze that will send us scuttling indoors, but we’ll still need a table if we are even to contemplate being sociable in an outdoors way. But what sort of table and where do we get it?

We’ve looked and failed to find anything that fits the bill. Those that fall within our budget are either too small or too ugly, or both. We’re not asking much: just a table with legs that don’t wobble or buckle, with a flat surface and with a love of the outdoors, in all weathers.

I’d prefer it if it didn’t have a name. I’m up to here with looking at fancy things called Riviera, Tuscany and Calypso. I mean, for heaven’s sake, this is Dorset not Cap d’Antibes.

Just show me an anonymous table that looks the part and I’ll be happy, and then we can bring it home and it can gradually acquire a name, in the same way that all our possessions do. Indoors, we have two tables, Tyrone and Ivo, so it might be nice to have a girl-table for once. I just hope she’ll be up to the job and not make a fuss, stuck out there in the wind and the rain. And after that she’ll have to face up to autumn and winter.

I hear that plates are out. Plates for eating off, that is, not the tectonic variety or the sort that dentists might fit in our mouths for eating with.

So if not plates at mealtimes, what do we use? Bowls, apparently. Ah, bowls, those useful containers from which to eat soup and cereal, foodstuffs which would otherwise seep over the edges and make a mess.

Keeping porridge off our laps is no longer the purpose of a bowl, it would seem. They are terrifically trendy nowadays for all types of food for two main reasons, though I bet there are more, such as the fact they remind us of the days when we were strapped in a high chair and everything tasted bland and mushy.

Rocket scientists on a day off have made the startling discovery that bowls make life easier if you are eating while slumped on the sofa watching telly. No mention of the fact it would be easier still if the eating was done at a table before slumping in front of the telly, but I am obviously missing the point.

Most of all, though, bowls are trendy because they apparently make food look so much more attractive when we’re all obsessively photographing our meals to post on social media.

I can’t help thinking this regression to toddlerhood is going to cause a bit of a blip on the chart of Man’s evolutionary progress. It could take some explaining, too, but I will leave that to the experts in 50 years’ time.

What doesn’t need an expert to pontificate upon is the move away from silver cutlery, especially the bone-handled variety. Who needs that in their daily lives? Probably only someone who has a butler or a housekeeper with time to spare and penchant for polishing.

Even so, even with the understandable turning away from drudgery in the scullery, I have a friend who deplores the decline in use of what she terms ‘proper’ cutlery. She is talking of the Sunday-best knives, forks, spoons and various unidentifiable prodding things that luxuriate in the silk-lined comfort of a wooden box called a canteen.

I doubt she and her family dine off every day off bone china and tackle their kitchen suppers with bone-handled knives and rat-tail design silver forks and spoons, but I do know they have one of those canteens and I also know she is the proud owner of her parents’ Wedgwood 12 place-setting dinner service, complete with lidded tureens.

They even travelled to London to buy two replacement teaspoons for the canteen from Mappin & Webb. Now there’s a claim to fame.

The china and the cutlery are well into their 80th year now, having been wedding presents for my friend’s parents. Who among the next generation is going to want the burden of inheriting such items? Whose homes can accommodate such space-fillers? Most of all, whose lifestyles, featuring as they do the aforementioned telly-watching while eating from bowls, is ever going to be suited to formal table-settings. Always assuming people even own a dining table in years to come.

One day the market will flood with orphaned canteens of cutlery. Children will turn to their parent(s) and ask what they are. “I’m not sure,” will come the reply, “but I think they’re a sort of old-fashioned graveyard for knives and forks. Now eat up and clear your bowl.”

I spent last weekend in grannyland, an all-too-rare overnight stay with my daughter and the grandboys while their daddy was away working.

Naturally, I needed to sleep for a week on my return home, but I had a wonderful time and we all made the most of the welcome spring sunshine.

Being able to get out into the sunny garden meant the shed was raided for cricket stumps and bat, tennis gear and the box that says Hoop-la on it but which I insist on calling quoits.

Whatever the game is called it’s a terrific pastime as it tests both physical and mental agility. Each of the four targets for the hoops has a different value, so it isn’t just a case of adding up each player’s score in ones. Fours and threes and twos are in the sums, too, and as the totals neared 200 this became quite challenging. For me, that is. Not so much for savvy young Joe, aged six, who didn’t seem to find any of it a problem, nor even the throwing of quoits, as he won both the long games we played.

Joe outsmarted me at cricket, too. His small brother, Zach, aged four, unwisely asked “What is cricket?” and while I launched into a convoluted explanation of the game, which is actually beyond description, Joe cut to the chase and simply said, “Someone throws a ball at you so you whack it.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Our game of tennis suffered from too many obstacles, such as the apple tree and the washing line and a ball that didn’t bounce, but in spite of this, Joe and I both showed Wimbledon potential. I was particularly pleased with an overhead backhand which had my opponent scuttling into the berberis. The game ended when one of Joe’s more feisty forehands sent the ball into a perfect parabola over the garden fence.

Our games of It, or Catch or Tag, call it what you will, usually degenerated into giggling heaps. Standing still and just swerving when a boy came hurtling towards me didn’t work more than once, and I was ordered to “Run, run”. This from tireless boys whose legs seem longer than mine already.

Indoors, while their mummy toiled in the kitchen, the boys and I continued our hedonistic pleasures with card games – I carry the wounds from Snap – and board games. Last time I visited it was all about bagatelle, this time I teamed up with wriggling Zach to play Joe at Connect 4. We probably played, ooh, a dozen games, and Zach and I won precisely one. That victory might have come when Joe shot off to the loo, but it was still a victory and surely we deserved one tiny moment of celebration,

It was all pretty humiliating, to be honest, but of course the boys thought it was great to have a granny who was such a total pushover.

I am not sure if it was a good thing that I was so hopeless at everything. I know it’s good for children to experience competition and to be gracious in defeat as well as in victory, but I was hardly giving them much idea of what defeat feels like.

It’s a fine line. Try too hard and I look like a zealous spoilsport, crushing their enthusiasm, but continually fail and I come across as a loser who’s not worth playing with. A whole weekend in the latter category and I’m beginning to wonder if I was ever cut out to be a granny.

Say the word ‘dove’ and you think soft, white, pretty, coo-coo, love, weddings and all that stuff. Not to mention a gentle flutter of wings.

What you don’t think is flaming nuisance, poo all over the place, incessant loud cooing and the irritating and surprisingly loud flapping-slapping of wings.

Here at Hill Towers we are suffering a plague of doves, not unlike an infestation of rodents.

Our pesky doves, collared doves to be precise, are the winged version of mice that never, ever leave you alone. We’ve encountered mice in the past which would turn their noses up at cheese and chocolate and keep coming back in the hope we’d put out bait of an altogether more epicurean nature.

The doves are similarly demanding. I almost said ‘discerning’ but there is nothing like that about these maddening birds which won’t flap off and leave us alone.

We look out to the garden to admire the signs of spring and what do we see but pairs of doves lolloping about all dopey and distracted like languid teenagers newly in love, which I suppose is what they are.

They coo and preen each other, hop about on the garden table, indulge in silly lovestruck dances and glances, and all the while they exhibit an unfortunate disdain for the niceties of potty training. Not a nappy between them, as is only too evident.

Last week, one of these love-struck couples decided it was time to put down a different kind of deposit. They plonked a couple of twigs on to the bracket of our satellite dish without so much as a by your leave. They hadn’t even sought planning permission for their new home. As their nearest neighbours we registered our objections, mostly by flapping our arms and also, from time to time, by Geoff wielding a yard broom in their direction as they assumed ownership of the dish.

Of course, we are happy for anything to nest in our garden but we draw the line at a pair of incontinent oafs who want to reside on the wall of the house, creating a poo-spattered runway over the car and the front doorstep.

Our crude tactics eventually worked. The lovey-doveys decamped and took their twigs to a neighbour’s satellite dish where they quickly established a very des res, we were relieved to see.

We felt smug. No longer our problem. Job done, the war over, we could relax until next nesting season’s call to arms.

We were wrong. Another pair appeared, twigs in beaks, to build their love nest in exactly the same place. It seemed an impossibility to create anything big enough to hold Mrs Dove and, in due course, her eggs, yet small enough to balance on a single metal strut less than 2cm in width.

Geoff and I flapped about again, but to little avail. We were obviously dealing with a canny pair here, a couple of doves wise to the ways of weird humans.

We became weirder in our effort to outwit them. We cut strips of cooking foil and hung them from the strut, Geoff gamely balancing on a ladder to do the fixing and me holding on to him and it, pointlessly but in solidarity.

Job done, again. We retreated indoors to watch what might happen next. Affronted, Mr and Mrs Dove flew to the nearest roof and stared at their building site. Then they stared some more. And then they flapped away to try their luck elsewhere.

The triumph was ours. We had finally foiled two bird-brained doves. We hope.

I should obviously know better by now, but it still shocks me when people display bad manners. I don’t just mean the oafs of both genders who get a kick out of shouting foul language at each other when normal mortals are mere inches away. They will presumably grow out of that kind of pathetic showing-off at some point in their lives.

I mean the people who work in situations where politeness should be an absolute given, where their livelihoods should depend on their aptitude, their training and their pleasant dispositions.

I’m talking in particular of shop staff, or customer service assistants, or consumer store operative. It really doesn’t matter what their job title is: if they’re the other side of a shop counter, literally or metaphorically, dealing with customers then even the most basic requirement for employment should be a pleasant smile and decent manners.

Not so, it seems. I have had cause in the past week, in fact on successive days, to go back to two shops – one a health food chain and the other a small supermarket – to point out, quietly and politely, that I’d been overcharged.

Quite by chance, I’d not only kept my receipts but had actually read them. How often do I do that, or do any of us do that?

In the case of the shop I’d been overcharged for an item by £4.49 and at the supermarket a mysterious £2.49 had been rung up for something I hadn’t even had in my basket.

Did I receive an apology? What do you think.

At the shop, where I am a regular customer, the manager spoke not one word to me as I showed him the discrepancy on my receipt and, of course, apologised for troubling him. I didn’t dare risk inflaming the situation by pointing out that I’d had to drag back into town to get this sorted.

He glanced in my direction only once and that was to take my card so that he could perform some till-magic and refund the £4.49 into my bank account. In the final second of our transaction, as I was turning away from the counter, I caught his mumbled “Sorry about that.” Well so am I, and you can manage without my custom in future.

It was hardly any different at the supermarket, where three young members of staff crowded around the till to witness the excitement. Between them they failed to muster a single word of apology as my £2.49 was refunded – not even an attempt at an explanation of how it might have happened.

Contrast this sickening indifference with the perfect customer service I’d experienced the previous week at an independent clothes shop, which has branches in Sturminster Newton and Blandford.

The trousers I’d bought needed taking up (story of my life) so it was arranged for them to be sent away and attended to by a hemming fairy. When I got them back I wasn’t over-impressed by the handiwork so I took them into the shop and asked the manager if she agreed.

She did. In fact she not only agreed but she apologised profusely, had them redone at her expense and at high speed, and gave them back to me with a generous gift voucher nestling in the bag as well.

This says all one needs to know about independently owned shops. The customer comes first. Alleluia. Not rocket science, is it?

Sadly, it is clearly a concept way beyond the grasp of some of the chains and their staff.

In keeping with the current trend for transparency and confessions I thought I’d pre-empt any inquiries and come clean about my own habits.

Financially, I have nothing to hide. Nothing to invest, either, so that should keep the sanctimonious brigade from braying at my front door.

I’ve a squeaky clean record with the Inland Revenue, too, and I intend to keep it that way. I really don’t want to be grilled by a tax inspector, hence my assiduous filling-in of forms months before deadline and the searing honesty evident from the stains on those forms of my blood, sweat and tears.

I know there’s a serious difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance, and since I am not in the business of indulging in either, I feel I can safely shrug my shoulders and move on down my list of other things I don’t do and have never done.

  1. I’ve never drunk tea. Never have, never could. As a lovely chimp said so winningly in one of those classic PG Tips telly ads, ‘It’s the taste’ – and I can’t bear it. Or the smell. Sorry, chimps.
  2. I’ve never eaten cream. It’s the consistency, as no-one has ever said in any ad.
  3. I’ve never watched The Voice. Pathetically, I didn’t even know it existed until there was a great fuss about a grand final last weekend.
  4. I’ve never been on a cruise. Many reasons, but most of all it’s the unnecessary excess of everything, especially the gluttonous possibilities created by so much food. I’m more at home in a tent in a rainstorm.
  5. I’ve never watched Britain’s Got Talent. I’ve seen enough glimpses on trailers of screaming audiences and robotic judges to know we were not made for each other.
  6. I’ve never watched Strictly Come Dancing. Again, the trailers are enough to deter me. Why is everything so frantic and loud? Whipped-up hysteria may have found a happy resting place on the TV screens of millions, but not here at Bell Towers. Quiet and dull, that’s us.
  7. I’ve never ridden in a point-to-point. I longed to when younger, much younger, in the days when I could spring up after falling off at speed, heedless of the cracked ribs and a mouthful of mud. Very different now, when springing up from anything has to be thought about for a while.
  8. I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon or been sky-diving. I’m not even relaxed in a comfortable transatlantic Airbus, so to contemplate being transported in anything as flimsy as a wicker basket or suspended from a flappy bit of silky material would be out of the question. My son has done a lot of skydiving and says it’s wonderful. I’ll take his word for it.
  9. I’ve never written a novel. They say there’s a novel in all of us. Well, if that’s true, where’s mine?
  10. I’ve never played a musical instrument. This is a great regret. My father had such a miserable time being forced to learn the piano as a child that he declared almost as soon as we were born that my sister and I should be spared the same fate. He may have been right, but the world will never know.
  11. I’ve never been outside to hear the dawn chorus. I’ve only ever heard it while lying in bed, wishing I was outside and preferably in a wood. I’m told May is a good month for this, so here’s hoping this year I will actually do it – and so turn one of my negatives into a positive.

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