One of the first lessons at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, is “how to be on time”. This lesson is considered of such high importance that (at least in my day), this skill is taught in Week One, alongside “how to iron a shirt”, “how to make your bed” and “how to hold a knife and fork”. Being on time is a basic life skill for military officers.
Of course, I already knew how to be on time. I am the daughter of a Royal Air Force Officer, the granddaughter of two Royal Air Force Officers, and the great granddaughter of one too.
Being on time, you could say, is in my DNA. But I do still remember that lesson.
Being on time, you see, is all about Prior Preparation. And Prior Preparation, you see, Prevents P**s Poor Performance, according to the rather terrifying Flight Sergeant who delivered the lesson.
Being on time also means being at any appointment five minutes early. Because on time is actually late.
So nowadays, I still use this rule of thumb when planning my days and weeks. In Italy, being on time is an adrenaline sport.
My morning commute is a thing of true beauty, starting with the view from my front gate (above). It is, however, also a source of incredible frustration.
Allow me to tell you about one commute last week.
On my way home from work last Monday, I realized that I had insufficient petrol to get back to work the following day. It was cold, wet and late, but nonetheless, to ensure that the following morning’s commute was worry free, I stopped at the cheapest petrol station for miles around to fill up.
It was closed due to a “guasto”: a breakdown.
So I continued on the the second cheapest petrol station, inserted a credit card into their prepay machine thingy, and watched the machine thingy tell me that my card was unreadable. And that they didn’t accept my second credit card. So I shoved a €20 note into the machine thingy, and watched it spit the money back at me. I gave up, and resolved to leave for work extra early the following morning, to fill up on my way to work.
Next morning, I stumbled out of bed and into the shower, and vaguely noticed the dogs barking, but thought nothing of it until the shower spontaneously stopped running, and I remembered that The Plumber had recovered from his latest malattia (toothache this time), and was expected back at work.
Out of the shower, but not quite as clean as I wanted to be, there ensued that standard Long Discussion with Scott, The Plumber, The Builder and The Builder’s Workers. This week’s subject was connecting the little gas hob that we have bought for the kitchen (in case of power cuts).
My morning commute takes 40 minutes, but, because it’s Italy, I leave home an hour before my start time, which generally has me arriving at a time to make my Flight Sergeant proud.
Of course, Tuesday I desperately needed fuel, so I should have left earlier than ever. But thanks to The Plumber, I left late.
Hazard One only delayed me by five minutes, as the local farmer brought his sheep in for morning milking. I actually love being held up by the sheep, as they are a cheerful bunch of ladies (much bigger than their UK equivalents), and they live with a couple of very friendly Maremma sheepdogs, who protect them from wolves.
Off again, and on to the rather expensive petrol station, to join the queue. This was rather unnerving, if I’m honest, as although nowadays I speak decent Italian, my knowledge of Italian hand gestures is still rather rudimentary. Cinzia, the owner, appeared to be threatening to slit the throat of each and every customer as they reached the pump. They were clearly as alarmed as me, as having been threatened, they drove away without refilling their tanks.
When it was finally my turn, I approached the pump, and Cinzia fixed her gaze upon me, lifted her right arm, and drew her finger from left to right across her throat, with menace. I went to boarding school, so I’m not easily reduced to a quivering wreck, but she did have me rattled. So, in that rather British way, I grinned from ear to ear, and made a gesture that I hoped would be interpreted as “what on earth are you doing, please put petrol in my car.”. Cinzia responded by banging loudly on my windscreen, and shouting that she had run out of petrol. And diesel. And methane… Obviously.
So I drove to the extortionately expensive petrol station, whose credit card machine was broken, and finally, some 10km later, spluttered into a little station that I had never noticed, about two teaspoons of petrol before I ran out completely. As the kindly old boy put 50 litres of fuel into the 45 litre tank, I did some distance time calculations, and texted my boss to apologise in advance for being late.
Somehow, at this point, I actually still had a good chance of making it to work on time, but only if I didn’t meet a green fiat panda en route.
The green panda (sometimes navy blue, occasionally silver) is the spectre that we all fear, whenever we are driving in the Sabina. Always driven by Mr Magoo, they putter up and down our country roads at speeds sometimes approaching 30 km per hour, but more generally between 15 and 20. If the road is wide enough to have a white line down the middle of it, they can drive slightly faster, as they can sit astride the white line and use it for guidance. These cars have no mirrors (apparently), so Mr Magoo will be entirely unaware of your presence. Sadly they are also without indicators, so you will never know where they plan to go. They do however, generally have brake lights, which will be on permanently, in order to prevent the car going faster than a carthorse at a gentle trot. And they are everywhere. It is a rare day when one does not get held up behind a green panda …
Tuesday was, however, my lucky day. I passed a bar which appeared to be holding a Green Panda Convention ( I can only presume that it was full of old boys knocking back a quick morning grappa), and whizzed into the car park at work on two wheels, ran up the stairs, and burst into the office three minutes before the hour.
Sorry, Flight Sergeant