3 February 2016

Umberto counts down to Steam Lift-off

Umberto with his Countdown Calendar

You'll already know from my last post that we've done a lot of "quick flit" travelling in the past few weeks; that is, all of us except Umberto, my 16 year old autistic son, who is acutely aware of having been "marginalized" on this score. Umbi's year holds two highlights: Christmas, and flying to England in the summer where he can enjoy (amongst other things) travelling on steam railways. Our perfect English day out is to take the steam train on the North Norfolk Railway, along the coast from Holt to Sheringham. Then, after watching the might and majesty of these engines as they're uncoupled and shunted for a bit, we amble through the town down to the beach where, whatever the weather, we eat the fish and chips we bought on the way down and wait for the tide to go out and reveal SAND. That's the cue for Umbi and his brother Filippo to swim (Oh, to be a bloke. They just strip off and in they wade). 
By now it's probably raining, so we head up to the Funky Mackerel Cafe for the requisite cup of tea, before meandering back to the station to catch the last steam locomotive "home". Perfection!!!
So, although I've wrung every last drop out of Umbi's beloved Christmas this year, eeking it out right up to today when I took this shot of our tree ...

... bowed but unbroken, (here you can see us decorating it back in mid December). Of course my Mother wouldn't approve, and usually I do stick to the tradition of banishing every last piece of evergreen from the house by midnight on the  Feast of the Epiphany, but living in Europe exposes you to other, equally "reasonable" traditions which cause you to question your own. For example: decorating a Christmas tree is a relatively new (dare I suggest, Pagan?) custom in Italy, and many families instead stick to their tradition of creating the most exquisite and complex Nativity scenes, with functioning water mills and respect for perspective  etc. The figure of the baby Jesus is placed in the manger on Christmas day and in the same vein, the three kings only arrive on the scene on January 6th (just at the moment we in England are dismantling our decorations). My friend Silvia always builds an extraordinary Nativity, which she adds to yearly, and while visiting one Christmas, I noticed that the three kings were up on the top of her kitchen dresser. Next day, they'd been shifted to the bookcase. The penny dropped ... they were "travelling" towards the manger and they would arrive in perfect time on the Feast of the Epiphany!!! "What?", Silvia remonstrated, when I explained our English tradition. "Pack the Kings away when they've only just arrived?? No chance!!!" 
Usually I'm only too happy to chuck the tree out of the first floor window and get down to the task of sweeping up needles, but it seems I bought a "miracle" tree this year. Oh, it's real alright, and it has no roots either, but the needles aren't coming off even when I tug at them! Blooming Marvellous - I think I'll keep it for next year and really get my money's worth. It's already come in useful again, providing ambience lighting for another party Camilla held on Saturday while I was in the UK at the weekend for my Uncle's funeral on Monday. Just as an aside, it was my 55th birthday on Sunday. (My sister surprised me with a gift from my birthday list. Her choice depended on whether she felt I'd be "able to run for a bus" in it or not. I think she wanted me to be capable of a proper sprint, rather than the "strot" - that stiff-legged strut/trot habitual to hurrying women in tight skirts ...  

.... so this is what she chose for me. It's been joyfully added to my "To Sew" list - but first I'm going to HAVE to tackle making a corset!!!)  
As we were all staying in the same hotel, I was able to celebrate my birthday together with my Mother, brother, sister, Godmother (and all the other members of my family who were there to attend the funeral). It was the first time in 32 years. We'd last been together on 31st January, in 1984. It was SO special - thanks Mum.

No, Umberto definitely needed an event of his own to look forward to, so I booked flights for us both to coincide with the North Norfolk Railway Spring Steam Gala at the beginning of March, and he got on with the job of creating his Countdown Calendar.

The passage of time is an abstract concept, and it's a difficult one to explain to Umberto, but he CAN count the diminishing number of "sleeps" leading up to an event. Umbi loves art, or rather "manipulating colour", and I've created a space for him to have fun with colour up in the roof. 

Umberto's Attic Art Studio

He happily shares it with the washing lines. I did this block pre-shrink of my stash when the first dress I sewed after 20 years was reduced to unseemly snugness after its first wash. 

He loves Marzia, my friend and his Art Therapist who comes weekly. It was she who took these pictures of the various stages in the creation of the Countdown Calendar

The artwork is finished

Once the artwork is complete, he just has to clean up. Then we calculate the exact number of sleeps left to go and Umbi carefully creates the "countdown" by himself.

In this close-up shot,  the happy plane passengers are every bit as disproportionate as Giotto's Madonna di Ognissanti in the Uffizi Gallery

But don't be fooled. That's me with Umberto, and we're on our way to England. No Madonna exists with such luxurient orange tresses fountaining from the crown of her head!!! 

This Blog is pro-autism.
Thank you, Sallyxx


  1. That is one serious miracle tree! Every year when we had trees the needles would start falling off as soon as we brought the tree in the house. In fact, you could usually follow a trail of needles from the car inside the house.

    My husband's family is all in France and they also do the creche.

    I cannot wait to see your new dress once sewn! What did they have? 18" waists?

    I love that your son drew you in his picture with your red hair.


    1. Hi Suzanne, god I know. Usually the warning would be "DON'T TOUCH THE TREE", in the hope of keeping it from shedding everywhere - but needles would scatter like dandruff despite all attempts to the contrary. But not with this old darling; it's so weird - but great, I try to prise them off, BUT I CAN'T :D
      Ah, the dress. I keep wondering about that. It's true womens body shapes have changed (and this is a Size 18, Bust 36", so a modern size 14, which adds to the confusion), but I'm not going to kid myself that the waist will fit just because the bust does. I'm sewing at the moment almost exclusively for what the process can teach me rather than for the finished article, but I'd still want it to be as successful as possible. I really was thinking of making a corset belt just for the hell of it, so to be on the safe side I'll only start on the dress once that's done.
      baci Sxx

  2. Norfolk steam railway is back on my activities list; a new generation of youngsters to take now. Your days out mirror many happy memories with my two sons and I'm sitting smiling as I read your blog.

    Good luck with the dress, I adore the glamour of those 50's dresses, but am simply not that shape. Corset or not, I'd wouldn't reach those proportions without displacing vital organs.

    I look forward to the next instalment and perhaps a cuppa at the Funky Mackeral in March ? X

    1. Great to see you here Kass. Yes, I was thinking I should get in touch just in case we can rustle up some of "the girls" for when I'm over; at least we could meet for a drink in a country pub if not for a full-blown lunch. Can't wait.
      love Salxx

  3. I love Umberto's artwork! And I love his studio. And I love how you are both in the plane on the way to your holiday adventure. I need a countdown calendar, but I suppose more than that, I need something fun to count down for.

  4. Ah, that plane! It's so orange!!! And can you see how I'm positively BEAMING as I gaze towards a horizon thick with steam trains?
    MMMmmmmmmm, something fun to countdown for! What about a trip to Italy? :)
    Baci Sxx

  5. Ah, that plane! It's so orange!!! And can you see how I'm positively BEAMING as I gaze towards a horizon thick with steam trains?
    MMMmmmmmmm, something fun to countdown for! What about a trip to Italy? :)
    Baci Sxx


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