Sunday 18 December 2022

Approaching Christmas


And here is Christmas as busy as ever. My schedule is full: cards to send, presents to prepare, people to visit, social events to attend, things to pack for Italy where I will spend Christmas with my mum and my parents in law. Every year it seems crazy and exciting at the same time. I am looking forward to it but coping with all the deadlines is hard. Austerity looms on the horizon and Christmas seems to shrink in the context of the global crisis. I hope that the social and political situations will get better in the new year though inflation, the cuts on public spending and the cost of energy bills are expected to rise. The government doesn’t seem to give a positive solution as strikes hit and chaos approaches. Sometimes I feel the world is collapsing slowly and quietly. We grasp at some ephemeral certainties watching them failing and wondering if there is anything we can do to make a difference. Maybe we can in our small way. I care for my family, of course, and some dear friends. I try to save money in this crisis buying less of not-so-necessary stuff, saving on food more than what I used to do and saving on energy bills too, especially on heating. I wear extra layers at home and thick socks. Spending time with people has become a priority for me. I like to be present when I meet friends and family and focus on the time I am spending with them. There is so much to learn from others and ordinary events are important sources of inspiration for me. 

On the news, not much is happening lately. Apart from the weather, which is getting colder as it is winter, and Harry and Meghan’s saga, newspapers struggle to deliver something really new and engaging. There are some protests but stagnation prevails. The only positive result I find is the fact that Donald Trump and his supporters did not win in the midterm American elections and the Republicans did not do as well as they expected. However, the after Biden is a question mark for the Democrats while the Republicans have a new candidate, Ron DeSantis that might beat Trump and run for the presidency in 2024.

In Italy nothing special is happening either. Meloni’s coalition has issued the financial budget praising Italian creativity that might make the difference in the economic recovery. But the left does not agree and thinks that the government is penalising the poor. On the whole, it is an unremarkable kind of time, an economic lockdown of sorts that reflects the aftermath of Covid. The message of hope and peace connected to the birth of baby Jesus in the Christian tradition seems to be silenced or even contradicted this year by the Ukrainian conflict and the economic crisis. However, I am looking forward to Christmas all the same. I wish to see friends and family, spend free, leisure time with them, binging on food and chatting, and I have new art and writing projects for the new year.

The World Cup has been a thrilling but also a disappointing experience. Italy did not qualify, then I supported Portugal and England and both teams did not reach the semi-finals. I didn’t like France and I thought it was unfair that it would win the World Cup for the second time in a row. I supported Argentina with the superb Messi. Somebody called him ‘source of hope and pride’, an inspiration. The whole team, and nation, relied on him as they did with Maradona. I was just worried that if he had got injured the team would have been lost. But finally, they made it! It was a spectacular victory; Argentina beat France on penalties after a 3-3 draw; Messi was the protagonist as ever.

I have read extensively, especially magazines I am subscribed to, such as Neon, Pennine Platform, Acumen, Ambit, ESC, Artemis Poetry, Poetry Review, British Journal of Canadian Studies, Tears in the Fence, Poetry Wales, Shearman, Dreich collections and Myra Schneider’s entire poetry work that I would like to review in an essay (See her website: She is one of my favourite poets and has been a great tutor and a source of inspiration for my writings. I will also be the new stanza representative for the Woking stanza group taking over from Rodney Wood who stepped down last October. The meetings will be on zoom once a month, on the third Tuesday in the evening at 7.30, starting from the 17th of January. The meeting will start with an introductory writing prompt and will be followed by feedback and comments on the poems that the participants are happy to share in the group. 

I am planning to apply for art competitions and exhibitions in the new year and I will take part in the Woking Art Society’s and Surrey Artists Open Studios’ events in spring and summer. I will also be the artist in Residence for The High Window next year, an exciting experience in which I will explore the intricacies of textiles in poetry and paintings with examples from all over the world. ‘Only Connect’ is the theme of the Summer Exhibition 2023 at the Royal Academy, a perfect inspiration for my project. In the meantime, I worked on commissioned paintings of my British Mania series and sketched some textile-inspired watercolours for a large, commissioned picture I am going to complete in January. 

Being in a Christmas spirit, here are two of my favourite Christmas poems:

Various Portents
by Alice Oswald 

Various stars. Various kings. 

Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights. 

Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers, Much cold, much overbearing darkness. 

Various long midwinter Glooms. 

Various Solitary and Terrible Stars. 

Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers. 

Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars. 

More than one North Star, more than one South Star. 

Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems, Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thicknesses of Dark, Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth. 

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens, All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes: 

Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk, Works of wonder and/or water, snowflakes, stars of frost . . . 

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes, Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness, Various 5,000-year-old moon maps, Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in braille. 

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze, Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains, And all sorts of drystone stars put together without mortar. 

Many Wisemen remarking the irregular weather. 

any exile energies, many low-voiced followers, Watchers of wisps of various glowing spindles, Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac, Seafarers tossing, tied to a star ... 

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights. 

Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall. 

Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow. 

by Carol Ann Duffy 

The year dwindles and glows to December’s red jewel, my birth month. 

The sky blushes, and lays its cheek on the sparkling fields. 

Then dusk swaddles the cattle, their silhouettes simple as faith. 

These nights are gifts, our hands unwrapping the darkness to see what we have. 

The train rushes, ecstatic, to where you are, my bright star. 

And here is the link to the fabulous results of the Forward prize: 

Recipe wise, I had a go for a Panettone of sorts and to the Christmas yule log cake. Here are the recipes:

Panettone buns

You need: 400 g of plain flour, one egg, 7 g of dry yeast, 50 g of melted butter, grated zest of a lemon, 100 g of sugar, a pinch of salt, 50 g of raisins and sultanas (or chocolate chips), some lukewarm water.

Prepare the dough mixing the flour, yeast, egg, butter, lemon zest, salt and sugar. Add the water and knead the dough until soft. Leave it to rest in a warm place for 2-3 hours. Soak the raisins and sultanas in warm water then squeeze them and add to the dough. If you do not like sultanas, you can have chocolate chips. Prepare some buns and set them on a greased tray, cover with a plastic film and let them rise for another hour. Remove the film and bake at 180C for half an hour or until ready. 

Nuts and Cranberry tart

For the dough you need: two eggs, 200 g of self-raising flour, 50 g of melted butter, 100 g of sugar.

For the filling you need: 50 g of raisins and sultanas, 50 g of dry cranberries, 100 g of mixed nuts roughly chopped, the grated zest and juice of a lemon, 100 g of soft brown sugar, 2 eggs, some liquor. Icing sugar to dust.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and let it rest for half an hour. Prepare the filling soaking the cranberries, sultanas and raisins in the liquor. Beat the eggs and add the zest and juice of a lemon. Add the sugar and the nuts and finally squeeze the dry fruit and add it to the mixture. Roll out the dough and set it on a greased tart tin. Pour the nut and dried fruit mixture on it and bake at 180C for half an hour or until ready. When it is cool dust the top with icing sugar.

Chocolate yule log cake

For the cake you need: three eggs, 150 g of self-raising flour, 2 tbsp of cocoa, 100 g of sugar, 30 g of melted butter, a pinch of salt. Some parchment paper.

For the filling you need: 250 g of double cream, 2 tbsp of icing sugar.

For the frosting you need: 50 g of soft butter, 50 g of icing sugar, one tbsp of cocoa, 2 tbsp of double cream. Chocolate curls and sprinkles to decorate.

Prepare the cake mixing all the ingredients and spread it in a rectangular shape on an oven tray lined with parchment paper. Bake at 180 C for 20 minutes or until ready. Sprinkle some sugar on a wet tea towel and roll the cake in the towel. When it is cool whisk the double cream with the icing sugar for the filling. Unroll the cake and spread the cream on top. Reroll the cake and set it on a tray. Finally prepare the frosting mixing all the ingredients and spread it on the roll cake and decorate with festive sprinkles.

Have a lovely Christmas time πŸŽ„πŸ€ΆπŸ’—

Tuesday 6 December 2022

The World Cup

 I am enjoying the World Cup very much. I am watching as many matches as possible but as I work full time, I usually watch only the evening one during the week. Italy is not in as it did not qualify, which was really disappointing. However, the tournament is exciting all the same. Football is my favourite sport. I used to watch it with my father when I was younger and have kept the passion for its unpredictable surprising turns. I follow every minute of the game commenting with my husband. He was disappointed too when Italy did not qualify and decided to boycott the World Cup at first, as he prefers to watch basketball and volleyball, but eventually he gave up and joined me on the sofa in front of the TV screen. 

After watching a few matches, I decided to support Portugal because of the fabulous Cristiano Ronaldo and the impeccable style of the whole team. They look so fit and professional and the colours of their football kit are so vibrant and perfectly shaped on their well-built bodies. Ronaldo is a big star and his attitude is sometimes controversial. Portugal has never won the World Cup though appeared in the finals of past tournaments. It would be a fantastic achievement for Ronaldo to win the World Cup considering that it is probably his last chance to compete in it. 

I was also impressed by the political implications involved in this event. It was disappointing that the rainbow armband supporting LGBTQ+ community was discouraged by the FIFA. It would have been a strong message against homophobia and discrimination. I expected that at least a few players would defy the sanctions and wear it. The kneeling down in support of Black Lives Matter was allowed though, the German team covered their mouths during the team photo in FIFA protest and the Iranian players did not sing the national anthem in the first match protesting against their government’s recent acts of violence against women who do not wear the hijab properly. Mingling sport, entertainment and politics was unexpected and never happened before in the football in such an extensive and influential way. This means that global problems are coming to the fore, reaching a wider audience and suggesting a re-thinking of what is going on in the world. Furthermore, the alcohol ban highlighted the cultural differences and the appalling conditions of the workforce, who are immigrants from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, was a scandal; they worked for long shifts in the heat and with little water to build the World Cup constructions. I watch daily the ‘Circolo dei Mondiali’ on RAI 1 with Alessandra De Stefano, Yuri Chechi and Sara Simeoni. They summarise the whole football day and are so entertaining, give professional comments but are also funny. It is a tournament full of surprises such as the elimination of Germany, Uruguay and Denmark and the incredible performance of Japan and Cameroon. It keeps you on your toes.

Besides the World Cup, I was very busy with my writing, crochet and artwork in November. The Christmas Fair at The Lightbox in Woking went well. I sold books, paintings, scarves, cards and crochet things. I made clothes for dolls too and my drawings were very much appreciated. I noticed that people were cautious about spending compared to last year. They spent less and looked for bargains. Some stalls with jewellery that used to sell well, especially near to Christmas, this time barely sold anything. I am lucky that I have different products with a wide range of prices, from £ 1 to £ 200, but most of my things have low prices and some of them like a poem and a picture and bookmarks are free.

I also completed a new crochet post box installation for Christmas; it is a comet with an embroidered inscription: Reach for the Star. It is at Chobham near Tesco, as usual. I enjoyed doing it, it stirred my creativity and I hope I will have the time to carry on with this project in the future. It is pretty to see and I like the idea that it is exposed to any weather and every passer-by can see it. 

One of my academic articles, ‘An Intertextual reading of the politics of storytelling in The Edible Woman, Surfacing, The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood’ has just been published by Global Journal of Human-Social Science. Here are the links:


It is an article I wrote for a conference paper in 2020 about artistic and political implications In Margaret Atwood’s work. My article on The Testaments is on its final stage and will be published by Margaret Atwood Studies Journal soon. I am also writing a review of Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of essays, Burning Questions. It is a challenging book that faces global issues, such as immigration, environmental concerns, discrimination, exponential demographic growth and the pandemic. It is a story of sorts of the last twenty years told in reviews, speeches and essays. For Atwood, storytelling and the power of words are important as ever and she suggests possible solutions that are however speculations as she remarks that there are a number of possible futures, it depends on our choices. My article on Margaret Atwood’s latest poetry has been accepted by the British Journal of Canadian Studies some time ago and will be out in Spring 2023, hopefully. The problem is that I am struggling with copyright permissions for the quotations from Atwood’s poems that I have included in my article. I have been working on this issue for the past eight months and I still need the permission for the quotes from The Door in the USA. Different companies hold the copyright and I had to contact all of them. Most of the time they do not reply to emails for weeks and you need to push and, if possible, phone them. I filled innumerable online forms and spent a massive amount of time chasing them.

My other problem is my pension scheme. I am trying to transfer some of my pension funds from a private company, Nowpension, to Surrey Pension Fund, which is the pension scheme I am working for at the moment. Before summer I started filling forms for both schemes, sending emails, and phoning them every week but I still have no results. The Surrey Pension Scheme needs an evaluation of my funds and Nowpension says that they are doing it but every time I contact them and check nothing has happened. There’s no way I can force them except by phoning them again and again. I feel cheated and powerless. Nowpension has also the right to take £ 1.75 from my funds every month until I leave them, that is, they have been taking my money since September 2019 when I started working with their pension scheme and will carry on until I leave them, though I stopped working for them in March 2020. Unbelievable!

I am very proud of my new collection Workwear and have received good feedback. I distributed a good number of copies to friends and family and sold it at fairs and poetry readings. The book is available here:

An article on my writings and artwork has been published here: 😊

At the Park School I am having a good time though the job is demanding. I have recently asked to work four days a week instead of five with Friday off so I can have more rest and more time for my creative work. For the next school year, I will probably ask to work three days a week only as for me it is too tiring and stressful to work full time.

I have already booked for my yoga retreat on the Isle of Wight for next September which is one of the treats I am looking forward to. I will also visit my granddaughter Violetta just after her birthday, which is on the 8th of December. I prepared a lot of presents toys, clothes and books for her. I can spend only one day with her but I will treasure it.

My health is alright on the whole. My diabetes levels are lower, my blood pressure is a bit too high sometimes, but it is controlled by tablets. Apparently, my cholesterol levels have increased but I will try to get it under control with a diet as I did successfully with diabetes. According to a consultant who works at St Peter’s hospital and who contacted me during the summer, I should remove one of my adrenaline glands and then take steroids for the rest of my life. Maybe he is right but when I asked for the written results of the 24 hours urine test I did last September and the blood tests I did in October he said he would send them soon but then he didn’t. We had a five-minute phone call three weeks ago when he told me his final verdict, that is, removing the gland. We are in contact with WhatsApp but I gave him my email address and home address too. I have no written diagnosis, or anything written from him and my GP hasn’t received anything either. I find this situation very strange because in Italy patients always receive written results after tests within a few days and you can see a doctor in person very easily. Here in the UK, it takes months to have the results and seeing a doctor is almost impossible. Even booking a phone call is difficult. I feel neglected and undermined; so I decided to repeat all the tests in Italy at Christmas and I have already booked an appointment with a doctor who is specialised in adrenaline glands.

We had a wonderful time at my house just last week with our friends Huan and James and their daughter Amelia who came to visit us together with some lovely neighbours, Chan and Gary, with their two little boys. The children played together, had great fun exploring and experimenting with toys I left around and everything interesting they could find, especially shells and stones in jars, my daughter’s piano, beads, crochet hooks and wool. They barely touched the gorgeous food we adults indulged in, such as my lasagna and caponata, Huan’s super dumplings and Chan’s delicious curry. We ended with panettone and pandoro soaked in vanilla ice cream and accompanied with prosecco. 

Here is my recipe of caponata:

You need: 5-6 fresh tomatoes or passata, one pepper, one potato, one peeled aubergine, raisins, pine nuts, a stalk of celery and half an onion finely cut, some vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper. 

You can start by frying the finely cut celery and onion in olive oil and then add the chopped tomatoes peeled and seeded. To peel them easily keep them in hot water for 15 minutes. Add the potato peeled and chopped in cubes and finally the pepper and aubergine cut in pieces and then the rest of the ingredients. Add water if necessary. Simmer for half an hour or until ready.

Enjoy! πŸ‘ŒπŸ˜‹