Tiara wearing wordsmith Lady Ilaria is a storyteller and writer.
Like chocolate with chilli - sweet with a touch of 'what the fuck?!'
Drawing on her bizarre childhood, her varied experiences and her magnetic attraction for very strange people with tales to tell. She definitely has 'one of those faces.'
Her stories are funny and warm with a touch of nostalgia and a pinch of pepper.
I’ve spent this past year doing countless re-writes with my lovely producer and good friend, Micheál Jacob. We are so happy with how it’s looking and we’re excited to show you all what we have been up to.
I’ll be back with my chest of drawers filled with weird and wonderful things. Everything from a rubber chicken to a Kwik Save carrier bag.
So, what’s the show about? well, here you go…
In her northern village, little Ilaria lived bang in the middle. Turn right and she could ride on a lawnmower and have high tea. Turn left and she could bounce on a mattress and chew bubblegum. It was the best of both worlds, and the worst, because where did she belong? Even now that she’s a grown-up, she’s still uncertain.
This is a show about identity, dead guinea pigs, a Scottish mum prone to naked cooking, an errant Italian father, a chicken fetishist, a near-death experience, and a woman pooing in Ilaria’s cup-for-life on a bus.
Ilaria Passeri is a storyteller, writer and actress who has written for Huffington Post, performed at literature festivals, featured on BBC Radio Manchester and has recently been storytelling in a woodland yurt.
Micheál Jacob, producer, is a former creative head of mainstream comedy at BBC Television.
I’ll be doing a couple of previews at Gullivers in the Northern Quarter, Manchester on the 13th and 14th July. I’d love to see you there
There’s times I know I should say no, even have to say no and still…nothing.
Not so long ago a bloke knocked on my door. He was holding a paintbrush and had a strange look in his eyes. He said he was painting yellow squares on peoples houses and could he paint ours? I knew I should say no. but I just couldn’t. And before I knew it a strange sound had escaped my mouth. It wasn’t a yes but it didn’t sound like a no. Before I knew it he’d put up scaffolding and was painting the bricks yellow. I stood there with a cup of tea watching and knew it was too late.
I think my neighbours shared my problem in saying no too, their houses were also painted yellow. A constant reminder of our weakness.
No no no.
Not as easy as it sounds.
This isn’t a recent problem though. Saying no has always been an issue, it all started way back when I was little Ilaria.
Let me tell you all about the ice cream van fiasco.
Villages are rife with gossip and the talk of the village I grew up in was that my errant father, The Italian, was now an ice cream man. Juicy gossip indeed. He didn’t pay maintenance but he had an ice cream van! This was better than new school shoes and heating.
When most kids in the village just had crappy unbranded choc ices in the freezer we had fancy Magnums and Soleros. I thought this made us posh.
We’d seen him and his van a few times but not for a while. He’d disappeared for months, to heaven knows where. He said this new job was a great way to meet women, so maybe he’d run off with an ice cream lover.
Turns out The Italian would charge my Mum for the boxes of ice creams…and not just what he paid for them. He’d charge her the full ice cream van price.
A Sunday night was usually us kids sat with wet hair watching The Darling Buds Of May whilst tucking into a Magnum my Mum couldn’t really afford.
This Sunday was different though.
We were settled down with our chamomile teas with the candles on getting all cosy in preparation for the school week ahead. The Darling Buds of may had just started. We heard an ice cream van tune, THE ice cream van tune, a bit of swearing in broken English and bits of Italian and a thud against our garden fence.
My Mum pulled back the curtains and muttered ‘Oh crap, it’s The Italian’ under her breath.
I ran to the window and immediately put my hand over my eyes, this didn’t make it go away but at least I couldn’t see it for a moment. This was embarrassing, I hope none of the Brownies see this.
With our hair still wet and our baggy nighties on we pushed our feet into wellies that were too big for us, my Mum was always getting us things to grow into. I’ve said it before, she’s lovely but very stingy. We went outside – this didn’t feel nice but it was kind of exciting. We didn’t like the Italian but he did have an ice cream van, plus, we were running low, so I was kind of glad about his timing. My Mum’s purse wasn’t though
The fence was all smashed to bits and he didn’t apologise.
My little sister said to me ‘Maybe he’s bought another pet with him?’
I’d been waiting on a pony or a monkey for a while, but all he’d bring were confused cats and guinea pigs that were ready for death. One time a rabbit, but an ugly one with red eyes.
Instead he just opened up the window to the van and stuck his head out. His beard had grown since we’d seen him last, and a new medallion necklace hung from his neck.
I asked him if he was going to say sorry for breaking the gate. He explained that if you have an ice cream van and are Italian then you never have to say sorry.
My sister and I rolled our eyes at one another and she whispered ‘He’s a twat isn’t he?’
She’d recently got a telly in her bedroom and would wake up and watch all sorts. Mainly the filth on channel 5. That must be where she’d heard the word.
In normal circumstances my Mum would have told her off but in this case the word was so accurate. In the right context swearing can be fucking brilliant. One day I’ll learn how to do it like she did.
My brother sighed and loudly asked if we could have an ice cream.
The Italian replied ‘Well-a that-a all-a depends on your Mamma’
My Mum gave him a look fit for a crime documentary and said she’d go and get her purse.
The second she went inside it all felt very awkward. We didn’t like the Italian and he didn’t like us. He knew we didn’t like him and we knew he didn’t like us. So what on earth was he doing here?
To fill the silence I asked how the Mr Whippy machine worked. He looked at me with boredom in his eyes and said ‘It doesn’t’.
He then says ‘Allora, get in the van’
A very creepy sentence, even with bits of Italian thrown in.
Surely I should’ve just said no but this wasn’t really a question. The Italian would say something and you just sort of got swept along and had to do what he wanted. I couldn’t say no, could I?
‘We should wait for Mummy to get back with her purse’ I said, nervously.
He laughed, waved his hand dismissively and said ‘Non badare a lei, andiamo’.
Which basically meant, sod her, we’re going.
I still didn’t say no. I should’ve said no.
He winked and opened up the ice cream van door. Our wellies squeaked as my sister, brother and I climbed into the van in our nighties.
It wasn’t magical at all. The sprinkles looked congealed in their tubs, the chocolate flakes were smashed to bits, covering the floor and everything seemed faded.
As the engine started up we saw our Mum coming out into the garden with fistfuls of loose change. She ran past the broken fence to get us. We waved as we sped off.
The Italian drove around the village as though he was desperate for a wee. Us kids were swaying in the back, crashing into boxes of plastic ice cream spoons and cones.
The van was knackered and even the music didn’t work. Normally the sound of an ice cream means sunshine and laughter. But not this one. It was a slower version of the classic tune, very fitting for a horror film. Was this how I would die?
We drove around the village for what felt like hours.
He stopped the van and and handed two pretty young women some ice creams. I remember thinking it was strange they didn’t have to pay but we did.
We turned a sharp corner and a squeezy bottle of raspberry sauce splashed all over our faces and nighties.
‘Can we go home now please?’ I said.
The Italian ignored me.
My little sister stood on a big box and shouted ‘TAKE US HOME NOW YOU TWAT’
The Italian switched off the engine and let out a cough. The slow creepy music stopped.
He seemed genuinely terrified by this teeny little girl. Wet hair, wellies, nightie, face covered in raspberry sauce and wild eyes. It was a compelling sight.
He switched on the engine and the music started up.
This was all very overwhelming.
My sister climbed back down from the box and gave my brother and me a thumbs up.
She still, fucking terrifies me.
She was successful though, the Italian drove us home.
Rescued by my little sister.
I was so relived to see our cottage on the corner with the broken fence. And there was our Mum, so worried and upset. As we got closer her face changed to relief.
‘My wee babies!’
We climbed out of the van feeling bewildered. The raspberry sauce covering our faces looked like blood. It was like on the news when they find people that have been living underground for years.
Why didn’t I just say no? If someone says ‘Get in the van’ then no is probably the best response.
Saying ‘No’ just doesn’t come naturally to me. Saying ‘no’ Makes me nervous.
A time I really should have said no was when my nutty Irish neighbour approached me with a request.
She’d drink a bottle of vodka and knock on the door to ask me how to use her CD player.
Fast forward a few minutes, I’m on my hands and knees sorting out wires for her CD player. I say bye to her as she slumps back on the sofa, pours herself another vodka and taps her foot out of time to Fleetwood Mac. As I’m leaving she says ‘I’ll knock on your door in a bit when I want the CD changing’
This would be a great moment to say ‘No’ but instead I say ‘Yes, that’s fine’.
That was a long Friday night. With each knock and each CD change my Irish neighbour became more and more drunk…the following week the same request was made and I still didn’t say no.
I justify not saying ‘No’ by ‘Oh, it’s my way of gathering material’ and ‘bad decisions make for great stories’ but really is it because I’m weak and trying to compensate for things that I feel inadequate for?
The ice cream van, why didn’t I say no? Was it because I wanted everything to be okay so took the easier way out, desperate to be loved?
Nah, I just really like ice cream and danger. My sweet tooth is always getting me in trouble. Just look at the size label in my dresses.
We ran over to our Mum and she cuddled us tightly. This had not been a relaxing Sunday.
The Italian slammed the van door shut and drove off. The creepy music blasting out.
My brother looked up at my Mum and said ‘Are we getting that ice cream or not?’
‘Not tonight love. Right ma we cabbage flowers. Let’s go inside. You three need a bath again’
And in we all went to our cottage.
We’d missed The Darling Buds of May but what a story this would be for everyone at school tomorrow.
I grew up in a naked family. I thought this was a completely normal thing.
One night, when I was about 8 I couldn’t sleep, went downstairs for a glass of water and saw my Mum stark bollock naked making a papier-mache dolls house.
She looked up at me casually and said ‘hello ma wee toots’
Stark bollock naked is probably the wrong phrase. She doesn’t have bollocks. Not physical ones anyway.
The microwaved pinged, punctuating the odd atmosphere and she said ‘ooh that’ll be my lamb chops. Do you fancy one?.
I sat on the squishy sofa eating the lamb chops with my naked Mummy and wondered ‘When I’m a grown up will I wear clothes?’
As an adult I strongly admire my Mum’s attitude to many things in life, nakedness being one of them, but sadly I’m not quite as liberal as her. There’s something comforting about layers of clothing. Even as a child I flitted between ‘FREE THE NIP’ and ‘oooh a lovely cosy jumper”. When my family and I moved from Italy to England I was at school shivering in a cardigan and scarf and said to my teacher ‘Do we have summer in this country?’ She replied with “Yes Ilaria. It’s July, it’s summertime now’
I’ve been a fan of layers ever since. My Mum’s Glaswegian, she doesn’t feel the cold.
But one day I was feeling all hippie and free. In the safety of my childhood bedroom the real me came out…I wasn’t alone though.
A young lad called Wayne cleaned everyone’s windows in the village. I was convinced I’d grow up to marry Wayne the window cleaner. The way he’d carry the bucket, overcharge the old ladies and whistle a tune as he made the windows sparkle – ‘what a man!’ I’d think. He wasn’t a man though, looking back he was probably only about 15 at the height of my crush.
I don’t think he was an official window cleaner, just a lad with a bucket. He’d clean everyone’s windows every couple of weeks, whenever he could be bothered. He didn’t have a schedule, he just turned up.
And so I was in my bedroom dancing naked. I was in the zone. Tragedy by Steps was playing loudly and my gangly limbs took on a life of their own. Was I a good dancer? No. Did I care? Not yet.
I caught Wayne’s eyes just as Tragedy was ending and Agadoo by Black Lace was starting. The remix from hell. I locked eyes with Wayne and panicked. I covered my nipples with the first thing I found, some toy cooking pans from my sister’s play kitchen.
Wayne looked horrified and disappeared down his ladder. My beloved Wayne.
You might be thinking, well why was Wayne horrified? Surely a naked dancing girl would’ve been an exciting thing to witness in such a small village. Well, to shatter the illusion, I was wearing a knitted bobble hat I got from the market.
A knitted bobble hat and a bare arse shouldn’t be a thing.
I think the music also put him off. He was more into rap and burning stuff.
After that I saw Wayne the window cleaner everywhere. Well, the village shop and duck pond. It was a small village. He pretended to not know my family. For 10 YEARS!
My Mum never did finish that papier-mâché doll’s house. I’m scared to remind her in case she takes off her clothes.
You know that feeling of completeness? The feeling of everything slotting into place and just being, I don’t know, ‘right’?
Neither do I.
People talk about it all the time. How they found something or reached a stage in their life when everything clicked into place. Even if it was just for a short period of time.
I can honestly hand on my heart say that I have never experienced that. And it’s not for want of trying, believe me.
I think I’ve almost, very almost felt shades of it, but then it disappears before I get a chance to grab it.
People say crap like, ‘Oooh when you know, you know’ and ‘it just, well, all fell into place’.
Oh did it now? Could you just piss off, please. Always say please.
I’m not a miserable person, I’m either the life and soul or I want to run away. I think we all feel like that from time to time, but that doesn’t get as many likes on social media. Pretending the sun coming out cheered you up is something you might say but secretly you couldn’t care less. The sun coming out won’t close the extra 15 tabs I have open in my brain. Only two of them actually matter but the others are there, jabbing away. Will I always be upset about what my art teacher said to me when I was 14? Tax return. Am I giving enough to charity? Is my Mum proud? Should I have achieved more? Tax return. Am I too old to be this clueless? Will that rat I saw in my garden be waiting for me in the morning?
So there you go, I’m a bit scrambled. More than rough round the edges. But so are you, right?
The thing that usually defines an adult is the company they choose to keep. I spent my teenage years feeling slightly behind the glass, there but not quite. Looking in. But I’d always read and heard that university is where you find your people. That wasn’t the case though – within the first few months I’d already become the last to leave every party but also the one to never miss a lecture the next day. This meant wearing several different metaphorical hats. Good student hat and the hat you wear to never miss a social occasion. House party, club night, extra rehearsal, early seminar. I was at every single one of them so this meant different people in my life. People who didn’t cross the paths of the people in my ‘other’ life. All these identities were exhausting.
My friends now are in two very distinct categories. The Tits and Lips, and The Arty Ones.The T&L girls are opinionated, fashionable and gorgeous. A flurry of constant messages, memes, diet tips and ‘which selfie shall I upload?’ Suggesting ‘the one you look happiest in’ is not taken as good advice. If you take your eyes off your phone for a couple of hours then you’re lost. A scroll for the highlights includes the odd dick pic, an overly edited full body shot in a mirror, and a picture with a fully made up face and the caption ‘I hate my skin without makeup’.
There’s an argument every day in this group but we make friends again just as quickly so it just kind of adds to the drama. I’m more of a watcher than an active participant in the arguing. I sense a storm brewing and that’s my cue to switch to my other beloved group of weirdos.
The Arty Ones have shared interests in theatre andwriting, we havesimilar political views, andare avocado toast enthusiasts. We all have a reusable coffee cup and wear dungarees. I always feel secretly judged when I say, ‘I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen the film’ and if they say, ‘love your dress, where’s it from?’ do I say, ‘oh this, it’s vintage’ ,or do I tell the truth and say ‘once again I increased my carbon footprint and got it from a cheap website’? These are the friendswith whom I’d watch a play, reminisce about old sitcoms and share chickpea recipes.
I don’t fit into either of these completely comfortably. Each group sees me as more like the other one. Which can leave me feeling like I’m either a weak version of both or a complete freak. A fraud perhaps.
Being a member of The Tits and Lips is fascinating. It’s so much more than friendship, it’s low level detective work. The sassiest member of The Tits and Lips crew was sent a borderline psychotic gift in the post from one ofhermany admirers. She had no idea which one had sent the present, and couldn’t outright ask, ‘Was it you that sent me the creepy moon lamp, or one of the others?’
She had to keep up the pretence that putting on her lipstick and wearing off-the-shoulder tops in her FaceTime dates to look naked was just for them. The Tits and Lips gang spent days trying to figure out the manbehind the moon lamp. It’s been weeks and we still don’t know.
The Arty Ones leave you feeling intellectually stimulated with five books added to my ‘will read this year’ list. This group has been the reason I embrace my bohemian upbringing and ditched the fake tan. The most vintage clad member of the group suggested we all try laughter yoga. We booked our place on the workshop and all met up outside the venue wondering what on earth we were letting ourselves into. After ten minutes it became very apparent it was some sort of sexual cult thingy, the touching, the breathing in time, all that swaying. I half expected Sting to walk in part way through and say ‘right, take your clothes off’. The ticket price included a buffet so I wrapped up some of the flapjacks and hid them in my rucksack. I couldn’t look any of The Arty Ones in the eye for a few weeks. That’s maybe where having another group is handy.
I love both groups equally, but the two cannot be mixed. It would go from the best of both worlds to the worst of both worlds in one evening.
They both have laughter and lots of substance but I’m made up of something different and I haven’t found that mixture in anyone yet.
The closest I’ve ever had to almost being ‘In’ was a few years ago when I went to a creative residential course in a beautiful village outside of Barcelona. The course was called ‘The art of comedy’ and it was brilliant. We stayed in a big farmhouse in the country, wherepeople from all over the world come to live, create and just be together. It’s a gorgeous experience. No one fits in because everyone is such an odd bod. One night we were all chatting after dinner, the table was cleared and most of us were onto our second glass of wine. I felt it coming…almost…almost and then gone. Was that it? Had I almost found my home? Or was I just getting tipsy?
I spent the rest of the week trying to recapture that feeling. It showed its face, but mistily, and disappeared before it came into focus. I was sad to leave and as I packed my suitcase I hoped I was taking back a teeny tiny bit of that feeling. When I got back to Manchester I unzipped the case slowly, hoping against hope. But no – I couldn’t see it, couldn’t feel it and couldn’t smell it. Maybe It doesn’t last well in a suitcase, or maybe it’s always a moment rather than a permanent feeling.
The Tits and Lips girls wanted to know if the men were hot.The Arty crowd wanted to discuss the theory behind the practice. I was definitely home.
It was a cold and rainy day. I held onto my little sister’s hand. We were both in a bad mood, and my brother was annoyed he’d not been able to watch the end of The Bill. He had a thing about watching the end credits of tv programmes. The Bill was his favourite, he liked the legs in tights walking along the concrete. We all have our quirks.
We were waiting for our errant father to arrive. The Italian was always late. Lateness wasn’t his worst quality though. He was only allowed to see us once a week and the courts said it had to be in a public place. He was- and there’s no other way of putting this- dodgy.My Mum softened us up for our weekly ordeal by taking us for a coke float at a cafe in town. We really didn’t want to see him. He made us feel nervous. I watched the ice cream make the Coca Cola cloudy knowing that once this delicious treat was over it was time to see the Italian, soI made sure I took forever to drink it. My mum is a woman of the world and she couldn’t be fooled. ‘I know what you’re doing you wee monster.’ There was no escape.
He was even later than usual. I looked up at my curly haired Mummy, clad head to toe in tie dye and said‘He’s not coming, let’s just get the bus home.’ My brother and sister nodded excitedly. They didn’t like him either.
‘Sorry kids, you have to wait’ she said. Shattering my plan.
All of a sudden a dark shadow appeared and my heart sank.
Here he was.
Not Daddy, not Papa.
He looked hungover and pissed off. He was holding a gift bag. My brother and sisters faces lit up when they saw the bag. ‘Presents!’ They said with their eyes.
I had a feeling my gift wouldn’t be something to get excited over. I’d recently started to see through him. One day I looked at him and it all become clear. The man was an arse and I made sure he knew. The older I got the more I realised what a bad egg he was, the worst egg. Imagine that egg being a bit of a psychopath. The more my dislike for him became apparent the crapper my gifts were and the nicer my siblings gifts were.
This week he handed me a very creepy clown doll, so scary looking that even our friend’s boxer dog wouldn’t go near it. He gave my sister a beautiful fluffy teddy bear and my brother a hand painted train set. I wasn’t really that bothered but to be honest a decent gift would’ve slightly softened having to see him. Especially because me and my siblings had seen him take the money out of my mum’s purse the week before. She’d nipped of for a wee and he very smoothly slipped a £20 note out of her purse and thenput his finger to his lips saying ‘shhhh, our secret’. He could’ve at least spend it on something good.
Us three kids gave my Mum a cuddle and waved goodbye to her as we followed the Italian into Rascals. Rascals was an indoor play centre. We were feral kids but the brilliant thing about Rascals was that we were never the naughtiest.
We got to the front desk and a bored looking girl with an orange face said ‘Three quid each.’ The Italian tried to charm her to get in for free. He attempted this every time. It never worked. He had plenty of money, stood there in his designer shirt and leather slip on shoes. You know the type, with the little chain on the front. I apologised to the girl and rolled my eyes, I thought I was so grown up. My little sister put her hands on her hips and said ‘That’s it, I’m getting mummy!’
The three of us marched outside, my teeny sister leading the way. My mum was still there, holding her purse. She knew this was going to happen. She handed us a £10 note and some extra pound coins fororange squash. This day was getting expensive for my mum. Bus tickets, coke floats, Rascals entry. His kids were not even worth £9 in his eyes. We said bye to our Mum again and went back inside. The Italian had left the counter and was already sat inside on a white plastic chair. He was chatting to a young woman who was breast feeding her baby, handing her a pen and a napkin to get her phone number. We’d only been gone a couple of minutes and he was already pulling. Fast work indeed. He spotted us and loudly said ‘My children, I missed you!’ He made sure to look at his new girlfriend as he said it. She fluttered her eyelashes at him and gave us a smile. I look back now and find it typical that out of all the women in there he chose to speak to the one with her tits out.
My sister, brother and I dived into the ball pool. We thought we were VIP’s with our Rascalswristbands. We climbed up a ladder and crawled through a glow-in-the-darktunnel. The tunnel made everything sound you were under water and it smelt of warm socks. Normally it was empty and was our secret hiding place. Not today though, today the tunnel had visitors.
We could see four shaved heads and tracksuits. At first we thought they were grown ups but once we got closer we saw that they were about our age. We were very intrigued by them. They were not like the children in the village we lived in. They were town kids, which was a different breed altogether. I bet they got the bus on their own and had televisions in their bedrooms. I wanted to know more about them but was too nervous.
My brother and sister pushed past me and crawled towards them. My siblings asked if they had tried the Rascals orange squash. That’s probably the equivalent of adults talking about the weather. I’d been warned about the naughty kids at Rascals, I thought this might be them. I had a feeling they were bad news. I crawled further into the tunnel to join my brother and sister.
One of the shaved head kids introduced himself as ‘Bad Baz’ and pulled out a box of matches. My siblings and I gasped. In genuineshock I said ‘You’re too little for those and you’re not allowed things like that in Rascals. There’s rules.’
A great way to make friends, remind them of ‘The Rules’.
Bad Baz replied with ‘Yeah? So what? We do what we want’. The other matchstick kids nodded in agreement with Bad Baz. Baz was definitely the leader, he did most the talking whilst the other threenodded. I thought carefully and in my most annoying voice said ‘Yeah well, I’ll tell the people who work here.’ My little sister, four years younger but much more street wise elbowed me in my tin ribs and whispered ‘Shut up, they have matches’.
She was right, they had to be in charge. I backtracked and said ‘Only joking, I love matches’.
The smallest member of the matchstick kids asked us if we’d ever set fire to anything. My brother told him that it was on his list of things that he wanted to do but at the moment he was more into chopping worms in half. All of the matchstick members laughed loudly and said we could be in their gang. My little sister agreed immediately. She loved danger.
Did this make us cool? We were part of a gang, a gang not to be messed with. It had all happened so fast and I was torn. Do I go along with this or do I tell Linda, the lovely lady that makes the drinks? Linda always felt sorry for us having to spend our Saturdays with the Italian. She fancied him at first but then realised he was more like the baddies in the Godfather films than an Italian stallion. He’d always kick off that they didn’t serve good quality espresso and that the food was rubbish. He’d wave his hands around shouting in his thick Italian accent ‘The food a in England is a disgusting!’ Us kids would bury our heads in our hands, apologise to Linda with our eyes and then run and hide in the tunnel.
I think he saw the indoor play centre as a place to pull women and shout at people. Linda gave us extra chicken nuggets so in our eyes was God. It annoyed us when the Italian was rude to her. Surely extra nuggets meant I had to tell Linda about the naughty boys?
Before I could give it any more thought the matchstick kids handed my brother, sister and me a match each and taught us a very simple secret hand shake. We slipped the matches into the front pockets of our dungarees. It was official. We were in the gang. I couldn’t wait to tell the kids in the village about this. ‘What now then?’ I said with big eyes, looking at my fellow gang members. Bad Baz said ‘Erm, we just sit here and that’.
Being in a gang was slightly underwhelming.
All of a sudden there was shouting and banging. Every gang member’s eyebrows lifted. I crawled back to the tunnel opening and peered through the coloured ropes to seeLinda frantically looking through a drawer. I shouted her name, andshe beckoned me over. I mouthed ‘we need to go’ to my siblings. We did the secret handshake with the gang and said we’d be back. Then we climbed down the ladder and ran over to Linda. She said that The Italian was locked in the toilet and that she couldn’t find the key. She was trying not to laugh. This was golden. The four of us giggled, all huddled together.
We could hear The Italian, kicking the door and swearing loudly. He was huffing and puffing, shouting over and over again that ‘The lock is stupid because it is a English’.
Mums held their children closer and sipped their coffees. The wanted to know what would happen.
As funny as this was we had a reputation to uphold, we were part of a gang now. We even had matches. Something like this could effect our newly found street cred. I was sure Bad Baz’s dad had never been stuck in the lavatory, and if he had been then he’d have fought his way out.
I glanced back at our beloved tunnel and saw the gang staring. They looked like a skinhead totem pole. My little sister said ‘Ilaria, let them know to stay there’ I put on a big smile and gave the gang a thumbs up. ‘We’ll meet you in the tunnel next week!’ I shouted. They smiled, waved their matches and went back into the tunnel. Phew, we were still cool.
Looking back, they were odd kids.
Linda sent the orange faced girl on the front desk over the road to the mechanics to see if any of the men would come over and sort the toilet door. Linda sat us down and gave us extra strong orange squashes and a Jammy Dodger biscuit each.Everyone was staring and whispering but we didn’t care. This was brilliant.
Through mouthfuls of Jammy Dodgers, my brother said he’d be up for seeing the gang again. My sister and I agreed. This was great – orange squash, we had a gang, and The Italian was making a tit of himself.
Eventually two grubby, smiley mechanics sorted out the lock and released the raging Italian from his toilet hell. They tried to make a joke but The Italian was having none of it and kept shouting how this wouldn’t have happened in Italy. We slurped the last bit of our orange squash and watched him. What was he going to do next we wondered?
He hungrily put a cigarette to his lips and looked in his pockets for a lighter. He couldn’t find one in his expensive trousers, or one in his designer jacket. Linda shook her head, she didn’t have one either. He looked at the mechanics ‘Sorry fella, you didn’t laugh at our joke. See ya pal’. And they went back to the garage.
He needed a cigarette desperately after being locked in the toilets and being with his kids for more than fiveminutes. He was waving his hands around in a way only an angry Italian in need of nicotine can. ‘I need a match’ he said, ‘just one match’.
We looked up at him sweetly and shrugged our shoulders. What did he expect? We were children, and children aren’t allowed to play with matches.
As he stormed off to go round the tables in search of a light, I winked at my brother and sister, then tapped the front pocket of my dungarees. We did the handshake. No one messes with the Matchstick gang.
When someone holds a hot glue gun to your crotch and makes an unsavoury joke it usually doesn’t end well. The average person may think ‘how did this happen?’ Not to worry though, it’s just my Mum in the kitchen and we’re making fairy costumes.
We had been booked for the Burnley Literature festival. We were going to be telling stories to local families. The brief asked for ‘woodland fairies.’ My mum’s immediate response was ‘Do they know I’m short, fat and nearly 60?’ I was surprised she’d said her real age. She went from 46 to 48 and forgot about 47 one birthday. Ever since her late 50’s she’d been trying to reclaim 47. I attempted to explain to her that wasn’t how it worked but she’s Glaswegian and often holding a glue gun. Some things are best left alone.
We got on the train dressed as fairies, our outfits complete with flowers laced through our Doc Martens. The venue was a giant inflatable toadstool, the more we stared at it the more phallic it became. It only stayed inflated for the amount of time it took for 2 kids to get in through the narrow zip up door, which meant as the other people were squeezing in it actually deflated on the kids. Screaming happened. People got annoyed but we’re fairies, who could be angry at fairies? Turns out all of Burnley can.
We’d had a brilliant day full of laughs but we were shattered. Good job I’d booked a lovely little guest house for my mum and I to stay in. I thought I’d treat her so we could have some proper time together.
The guest house was only a few minutes walk away so off we set on the short journey, still dressed like fairies. We got a few odd looks but we didn’t really care. All we wanted was a lie down and a cup of tea.
We arrived at the Guest house and I got a strange feeling in my tummy. It didn’t look as cute as it did online. Had I made a mistake?
It was 5.30pm when we knocked on the door. An emaciated woman with a strong North East accent answered the door. She asked us how long we wanted a room for. ‘One hour? 2 hours?’ I was a bit confused and looked at my mum. ‘The whole night please’ her eyes widened. ‘We’ve booked a room, the name’s Ilaria’ ‘ahh okay girls. Someone has just left your room’.
She gestured for us to come in. She made us a coffee that worrying tasted of salt and asked us to wait on the stairs. ‘I’ll go up and clean your room now. I’ll just be a minute’ she said. ‘TAKE YOUR TIME’ my mum quickly shouted.
A young girl with what sounded like she had pleurisy told us how she was in charge of making sure the pillow cases are clean. Lovely. She asked how we knew each other. When I told her we were mother and daughter she said ‘You could make a fortune tonight.’ I was confused and then the penny dropped. My mum clocked my expression and said ‘bloody hell love, have you only just worked it out?’
You could book rooms by the hour. Surely this wasn’t a knocking shop. No place for someone dressed as a fairy and her mother. What had I done?
We were put in a room that felt like the inside of an ashtray. We sipped on our salty coffees as parts of our soul shrivelled up and died. Sod this we thought. Let’s go out for dinner. We walked around the streets nearby in the pouring rain, still in our fairy outfits. With rumbling tummies all we could see were 1 star hygiene rated places. We spotted a man so far past the point of drunk he was trying to cook a frozen pizza with a lighter. The odd thing was that it wasn’t actually the first time I’d seen that particular culinary technique. Living in the north is very colourful.
The strange thing about Burnley was that everywhere closes at 6 o’clock. It suddenly turns into a ghost town and the only things available to eat are from the newsagent. The good thing about being a grown up is if you want crisps for tea then no one will stop you. I’d rather it was a choice though. We went into a newsagent and picked up a big bag of Poland’s answer to Wotsits. As a kid a giant bag of crisps would be my absolute dream and would be up there in things to make me ecstatically happy. Right now, stood there with wet hair and fairy wings I thought what a fool I was. Sometimes the things we want are not the things we need. What I need is to not be spending the night in a knocking shop with my mum and a bag of cheese balls.
We headed back to the guest house. We heard terrible things, we smelt scary things. We walked up creaky steep stairs to our ashtray room. Nothing works from the door handle to the window. A pair of knickers hung from the radiator and a very worn pair of slippers with the words ‘sexy mofo’ embroidered on the front sat at the end of one the beds. These items did not belong to me so they made me feel very uneasy being in the room so casually. This is something I hate. When I stay somewhere or move into a new house I don’t want there to be any trace of the previous occupant. I moved into a flat years ago and found a miniature sand timer and nail scissors in the kitchen drawer. I knew instantly that the previous occupant liked to cut their toenails in a set time frame whilst cooking. I shouldn’t know that.
Back in the knocking shop there was a canvas on the wall with ‘dance like no one’s watching’ printed on the front with a cat holding a balloon. That cat knows sod all but still somehow seemed to be laughing at us ‘you thought you’d stay in a cosy quaint guest house with your mum? Haha, enjoy your Polish cheese balls, bitch.’ Every where we walked to in the room I could see the cat’s eyes looking back at me. Like one of those spooky Victorian paintings where the eyes follow you. Smug twat.
Even the bathroom told a story. It smelt of stale cigarette smoke and old spice. It surprised me to see this was an air freshener so the scent was a deliberate choice.
We got into our pyjamas and decided that the best thing was to put the lights out. The smell would still be there but at least our eyes would be spared. I wriggled around to get comfy but my mattress was covered in plastic. For easier wiping perhaps? I was relieved at the wipe-ability but It sounded like I was sleeping on a giant crisp packet.
I stopped wriggling. Ahh, silence.
And then the builders started drilling downstairs.
We both laughed loudly.
‘You’ll have to put this in your book of stories ma wee toots’ my mum said.
We giggled ourselves to sleep.
Thank goodness I have my book of stories. Without it I probably would’ve cried. If I’d have stayed there with anyone other than my mum it wouldn’t have made me laugh. Without her I’d never go with the flow. She makes me chase the stories.
Hope you’re all having a smashing start to the new year.
I’m going to be doing a Manchester show. It’s all been rewritten and reworked. I’m now working with a wonderful producer, Micheal Jacob. We’ve been friends for a long time and have always wanted to work together on something exciting.
The show will be on the 25th and 27th Feb at Gullivers in the Northern Quarter. You can get your tickets here
Dead pets, rubber chickens and a kids party gone wrong…very wrong.
I’m a grown up but I still don’t have the answers. It’s okay though, I have a sneaky feeling that the other grown ups are also clueless. ,
I’m so excited. This show is in preparation for Camden Fringe.
It’s the day we’d been waiting for. It was the village Christmas party.
Us Passeri kids are dressed up in Christmassy outfits. My little sister is wearing a velvet Burgundy dress with puffy sleeves, she has a ribbon in her hair and she’s wearing patent boots the same colour as her dress. My Mummy strokes her hair and says in her Glaswegian accent “You look so cute ma wee toots.” My sisters face turns from sweet to evil and she looks us all in the eyes and says “These boots are good for kicking people.”
She has aways scared the shit out of me.
She’s a vet nurse now and is very good at it but I’m sure the animals get better out of pure fear.
There’s jelly and ice cream. There’s kids crying. There’s pissed off dads. All the makings of a typical village party.
The village hall smells musty, like an old coat whose home has been a lonely damp shed for 3 too many years. Lengths of sad tinsel are strung up on nails that were already there. There’s a piano in the corner with a sign on it saying “I’m here to be played but only if you know how”. At every village event a psychotic almost teenage boy would sit on the ancient stool and tap away at the black and white keys. Resident busy body Dolly would always shout “Oi! can’t you read? Look at the sign.” The psychotic almost teen would come back with “I’m playing a lovely tune.” This would be too much for busy body Dolly and she’d bang her walking stick on the floor and shout “I’ll play a nice tune on your backside!” Every village fundraiser, coffee morning, party. Without fail.
For this particular party some of the Mums from the posh end of the village had clubbed together and paid for a clown from the nearest town to come and entertain the kids. A very mediocre clown. Not the local creepy, pervy clown my Mummy said to avoid eye contact with and not Oodly Doodly, who was the creme de la creme of the children’s party clowns.
This poor bloke was somewhere in the middle. His outfit was okay, the make up was fine, the jokes were forgetful and vanilla, kids half giggled and parents talked amongst themselves. This annoyed The Clown. I would personally rather be hated than just “Ilaria? Oh, yeah, she’s okay.”
As an adult I wonder if The Clown (I’m sure he had a name) always wanted to do this? Or if his parents were proud? Perhaps they thought this clown stuff was just a phase?
The Clown is gesturing towards a pile of brightly coloured balloons. A little boy with fat red cheeks excitedly shouts “I want Batman in the Bat Mobile!” The Clown replies “How about a sword?” The boy looks at The Clown’s scuffed shoes and mumbles “Fine.”
His show is so unoriginal and lacking dynamism that when the village’s snottiest kid starts picking her nose, the other children watch. The Clown must want to die inside. I remember being in the school nativity, I was the narrator and wore the worlds ugliest hair band. As I was delivering my lines about the wise men following the star to Bethlehem, I heard two women on the front row talking about the cauliflower cheese they were going to have that evening. Were they rude? Yes. Was I that boring? Also yes. I blame the material to be honest. But this poor clown can’t do that as easily, it’s his material.
To give credit to The Clown, he’s giving it his all. Despite the unglamorous setting. He’s telling his jokes and performing cartwheels as if the room is a jam packed beautiful theatre. As an adult my heart goes out to him but little Ilaria was bored shitless. He was desperate for the approval of the grown ups but they were not arsed about him, they were just tucking into the left over sausage rolls.
This clown wasn’t a patch on our favourite clown. His name was Oodly Doodly. The greatest clown ever.
We were out in a shopping centre and we saw him performing outside an over priced stationary shop. A giggling crowd had gathered around him. Even the parents were engaged. His jokes were silly and rude in a way only grown ups understood. The children looked at him all sparkly eyed as he made sausage dog balloon models, threw sweets into the crowd and performed carefully rehearsed magic tricks. He was wonderful. I tugged on my my Mum’s arm and dragged my brother and sister over. We weaved our way to the front and sat cross legged and looked lovingly at Oodly Doodly. Our clown.
We spoke about him non stop on the bus home. My Mum had sneaked one of his cards into her pocket and booked him for my little sister’s 3rd birthday. Every kid on the street came round to our house, even Nathan on the end, the one we didn’t like. Kids from the posh end and the ‘other’ end were there. Kids and parents were sat on every step of the staircase and the carpet was covered with children. Laughter filled the house.
Oodly Doodly had been on top form. When my Mum made him a coffee I remember running into the kitchen to make sure she used the mug with the pink teddy on. That was my mug. I very carefully handed Oodly Doodly the mug and told him at great length how I didn’t let just anybody use the pink teddy mug. He pretended to care and asked for his cheque.
Oodly Doodly, in my house! What a treat. This needs to happen again. It’ll be my brothers birthday soon and the perfect occasion to have our clown back.
My Mum held the phone to her ear and dialled Oodly Doodly’s number. She was holding onto the card, it’s edges all curly.
My younger sister, brother and I were sat cross legged at my Mum’s feet. Waiting in excited anticipation. She was phoning Oodly Doodly! She was about to speak to Oodly Doodly!
She smiled at us, winked and said in her Glaswegian accent “Hello, I’d like to book Oodly Doodly again for my sons 6th birthday. On the 12th June.”
“He can’t? Oh thats okay, the following weekend?”
Another agonising pause.
“Okay, erm when is he free?” She said. She knew how excited we’d be, the date almost didn’t matter.
My Mum’s face dropped and she loudly said.
My sister, brother and I glanced at each other, looked at my Mum then back to one another. There was 3 second pause and then we all burst into tears.
Oodly Doodly is dead.
This was heartbreaking and something I wasn’t ready to deal with. Little did I know but this prepared us for multiple dead pets in the coming years.
Back to the crap clown in front of us. He’s dead behind the eyes and the kids are getting restless. He shouts in his own voice that he needs a coffee and a cigarette.
A big titted mum from the posh end of the village starts a game of pass the parcel. Laughter and chatter fills the room. This annoys The Clown even more, he’s now puffing angrily on his cigarette. Not appreciated in my own time, he says quietly. To himself.
The Clown comes back into the village hall. He waves a big hello to everyone and asks if anyone missed him. It’s silent but he has a smile on his face.
The village hall door slams loudly and everyone looks over to the doorway. We see the silhouette of a tallish man in a chunky coat. In my head I hear the Eastenders theme tune as I work out who it is.
“Ciao, sono tornato” The Italian Del boy announces.
It was our errant father. The Italian.
He stepped into the light of the hallway and all the kids ran to their parents.
The Clown saw this as an opportunity to play a game that involves the parents. Christ knows why he thought that would be appropriate.
The Italian helped himself to a plate of jelly and sat down on a teeny chair at the back of the hall.
The image of an Italian psychopath eating jelly on a children’s sized chair will always be funny and terrifying in equal measures.
We’d not seen him since he gave us a rabbit called Tom. He dropped of the scared looking rabbit that he’d Gaffer taped shut in a shoe box and then he disappeared.
The Clown gathers the children and playfully shouts “Run over to the grown ups and bring me their shoes!”
The kids quickly disperse throughout the room, giggling and grabbing at the grown ups shoes.
A little girl in a pink tutu stupidly takes one of the Italians expensive leather slip ons. She runs towards The Clown and hands the warm shoe to him. The Clown carries on joking around and says “Wow, this is a smelly one! Yuck! Which stinky grown up is the owner of this shoe?”
The Italian slowly rises from the child sized chair. It took a while, the chair really was tiny. He stands, all 6ft something and says in a booming voice “MINE.”
The Clown’s make up seems to melt off his face out of sheer horror. The Italian walks towards him. Everyone is silent apart form a baby that starts crying.
When The Italian gets to the front he is almost nose to nose with The Clown. I was genuinely embarrassed to share DNA with this man. A little girl next to me whispered “Ilaria, is that your daddy?”
I considered lying to her but there was no mistaking it. The curly hair, big brown eyes and massive nose. Sadly, the Italian was my Papa.
“Ermm, not really” I said.
The Clown wouldn’t give the shoe back and the kids were in fits of laughter. The Clown thought ‘FINALLY’ he revelled in the laughter getting braver and braver. The Italian puffed out his chest. The parents were glued to this…it was more intense than the Bakeoff finale.
The Clown danced in front of The Italian, teasing him with the shoe. The Italian started to clench his fists and he made a strange sound, a sardonic noise escaped from behind his gritted teeth.
The Clown looked at the crowd and said “Ooh look, the Italian man is getting angry.”
The kids laughed again.
The Clown asked the Italian for his name. The Italian told him in broken English and bits of Italian to “F**k off because he was a red nosed mother f**ker”. Italian is such a beautiful language.
The Clown then did something very stupid. He mocked The Italians accent. This was a step too far. The children laughed again. The Italian went red, puffed out his chest once more and in what seemed to be almost slow motion, punched The Clown so hard he fell backwards into his suitcase of props. A rubber chicken squeaked and he squished a bottle of red face paint as he fell. The kids screamed thinking The Clown was dead.
Everyone was speechless and was left open mouthed in shock.
Busy body Dolly assertively made her way over to The Clown and took the leather slip on out of his hand. She looked up at The Italian and said “You horrible sod, you’re not getting this shoe back until you start behaving yourself young man. Now sling your hook.”
The Italian, for once in his life did as he was told. He turned around and hobbled towards the door wearing one shoe. An image I’ll never forget.
Everyone gave Dolly a round of applause. The Clown said thank you to the crowd. My brother piped up and said “The clapping wasn’t for you.”
My sister, brother and I looked at my Mum and asked if we’d get a present from the Italian. My Mum replied “Go and say thank you to Dolly. She’s given us the best Christmas present. She’s made sure the Italian won’t be back for a while.”
It’s 1999 and the fair is in town. Us Passeri kids can barely contain our excitement. Hot dogs, rides, and personalised hair bands. We’ve got weird names – you couldn’t buy an Ilaria hair band in the shops then.
This day ends well. We won a Goldfish and named him Hitler. He had a little dark mark above his lip, hence the imaginative name. We won him on one of those stalls where you win a prize every time. My Mum wasn’t silly, she knew us kids well. We had/have no coordination and we’re deeply sensitive. Anything that required even limited skill was out of the question.
My Mum guided us over to a stall ran by a bloke who had aged horrifically due to a lifetime of cigarettes and regret. He had a tattooed face, too many piercings to count and an odour that could strip wall paper.
He handed my brother three darts and said in a gruff voice ‘Throw them at the dart board lad.’
‘’You might want to stand well out the way” my Mum said to the fair man in her Scottish accent. It was more of a warning than anything else. She knew what would happen. It’s partly the reason I have crooked teeth, but that’s for another story.
‘It’ll be all right’ he said, naively.
My brother threw the first dart.
The bloke running the stall lost the last remaining drop of colour in his already grey face.
The first dart went straight through a teddy bear’s face, the second dart pierced through the man’s discoloured canvas shoes and the third, well, the third one was ripped out of Adriano’s hands and replaced with a goldfish in a bag and the direct instructions to leave and never return.
After that ordeal we ran over to the Waltzers. My sister and I loved this ride the most.
My Mum used to say to us that the way the fair worked was that you walked around and looked at the rides and could only go on one thing. She saved a fortune. This particular year we all decided on the Waltzers. My sister and I thought we were extra tough and said the lad working the ride could ‘spin us around as much as he can, we’re well hard’. He really turned that comment into a challenge. Biggest mistake of our lives. About 20 seconds in and we were crying and begging him to stop the ride. I remember at one point shouting ‘Please, I’ll give you my Christmas presents’. It didn’t work…he obviously wasn’t a fan of glitter pens and fluffy slippers.
My bargaining abilities improved a few years later when I grew boobs.
We staggered off the ride soaked in tears, nauseous and shouting about taking the man to court. ‘You’re a horrible man’ we said loudly. My mum was in hysterics and had no sympathy for us. She just said ‘Right kids, you’ve spent your pound. Let’s take Hitler home’ . Which must be the weirdest phrase ever.
Adriano spent the whole bus journey swinging the fish around, so poor little Hitler was bouncing off the sides of his plastic bag. He must have been terrified about coming to live with the Passeris
So that’s how we got Hitler the goldfish.
He survived a long time considering his background. If you read my blog post Dead Pets,then you’ll know that the Passerisshouldn’t have pets and can probably work out what happened. He died. We woke up and found him in his bowl not having fun. We got over it very quickly – not to sound cruel but he was a sodding goldfish. A psychopath’s pet, that’s a fact by the way. I read it in the Metro on the bus so it must be true.
Years later we were all having a family dinner and my little sister said “It’s a shame Hitler died”
My brother chipped in and said very earnestly “Well he wasn’t a very nice person.”
Bit of an understatement.
I then went on to say that “I don’t care how much he was bullied, how little pocket money he recieved or how crap his hair was, nothing is a good enough excuse to be that much of a twat.” –
My sister interrupted a little too late and said she meant the goldfish.
Explaining this to the people we had over for dinner took longer than anticipated.