Posted in comedy

The Naked Family

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.

Photo Credit: (c) Andy Hollingworth Archive

Posted in childhood, comedy, Uncategorized

The Kids With Matches

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, so I 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.

The Italian.

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 then  put 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 for orange 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 Rascals wristbands. We climbed up a ladder and crawled through a glow-in-the-dark tunnel. 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 genuine  shock 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 three  nodded. 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 see Linda frantically looking through a drawer. I shouted her name, and she 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 five minutes. 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.

AE19A6087 (c) Andy Hollingworth Archive

Photo Credit: (c) Andy Hollingworth Archive

Posted in childhood, comedy, Uncategorized

Hitler the Goldfish

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 Passeris shouldn’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. 

Posted in childhood, comedy, social commentary

Brownie Camp

‘Mummy, what happens in there?’ I said, pointing out the window whilst wearing my nightie.

I was six years and 10 months old and very nosey about what happened in the little hut over the road. Little girls wearing yellow and brown would gather there every week for big girl stuff. Secret stuff. 

My mum said –

‘They’re Brownies, when you’re seven you can go’.

 I watched them every week desperate to join in. One week my little brother beat me to the window and instead of just watching the Brownies gathering outside, he stood on the windowsill, pulled down his trousers and had his willy out. It was the ‘willy on cold things stage’. I ran into the kitchen in a big huff and said to my Mummy –

‘Well that’s it Mummy, I can never be a Brownie. They know we’re a strange family already!’ 

He was only five at the time so it was all very innocent.

Not your average problem. 

Two months went by, I was finally seven, and  the whole thing had been forgotten about. I was officially a Brownie. Turns out the things going on in the secret hut were not that exciting. I didn’t get many badges and within a couple of years they all hated me when I announced I was going to a drama club in town.

Soon after joining there was a Brownie camp, we were all off to sleep in tents and eat beans. I’d seen this in the films. 

The first night of Brownie camp didn’t get off to a great start. I wasn’t allowed to attended the camp fire night with songs and marshmallows because I wasn’t eight. I was old enough to wash up everyone’s dinner plates and watch them having a lovely time out the window though. 

A girl that I hated was stuffing her annoying little face with marshmallows. I scrubbed the plates harder. I hated her because she had a pony, a desk tidy and she pronounced spaghetti bolognese as ‘esketti bologs’. I’m sure she’s grown up to be great but she was very irritating. She would try and make friends by having lots of fancy mini rubbers. Mini rubbers that totally won everyone over. She’d have every single glittery gel pen and a biro that had a feather on the end. A total pain in the arse.

To ease us into camping, the first night was indoors on bunk beds. I was one of the youngest so I had to go on the top bunk. The bunk beds were metal and hadn’t seen an Allen key in decades. They were squeaky and I’m a wriggler. One of the older Brownies sighed repeatedly until Brown Owl , the Brownie Leader , asked her what was wrong. She was a posh kid, named something like Portia, spelt properly. Portia sighed again and said – ‘Oh Brown Owl, there is just so much squeaking coming from Ilaria’s bed’

 Brown Owl quickly said ‘Ilaria, no more moving. Just stare at the ceiling and let Portia sleep’ 

I was fuming. 

No marshmallows, having to do the washing up and now this! Sod you Portia. From now on you will be Porsche. For the purpose of this blog your poshness is revoked.

Night two was when the camping went up a notch. We were staying in tents. My mum was worried they wouldn’t feed me because every time I came home from a sleep over at a friends house I’d say – 

‘Mummy I’m starving! Their mum made us share a tin of soup. Share!’ 

So she packed me lots of snacks that I immediately ate as soon as the tents went up. Within the first hours the tent was filled with ants because of my crumbs getting every where. I was made to share a tent with a little girl who had the snottiest nose I have ever witnessed. I was now officially a proper Brownie. I had regrets about joining. 

This doesn’t happen in all the books. It’s songs, sausages and nature. Not washing up, ants and snotty noses.

When you’re a fully fledged Brownie you get to go to big national Brownie event. There’s Cubs, Beavers, other Brownies and the one after Girl Guides and Scouts for when you’re a proper grown up. By that point I just think they should get a shag and stop trying to get badges for knot tying.

On reflection grown up Ilaria has learnt many things from Brownie camp. One major thing being, a badge for sewing doesn’t define you. Yellow and brown is a terrible combination and always carry an Allen key. You know, for just in case.