Having just spent eight lovely months working in England we are now back in Italy and I am struck once more by the very different approaches to life in the two countries. I read a great book over New Year, “How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics”, by the talented Valerie Poore. I laughed out loud as I read and it inspired me to write this blog, in praise of eccentricity.

Vals book

Italians are very concerned with their “look”. They are extremely house-proud and even more careful about how they dress. I can tell an Italian tourist anywhere in the world by their well-turned-out appearence. They do not embrace eccentricity really, at all. I do not know how they manage to do it but they all wear “appropriate” clothing for any occassion and look incredibly similar to each other. I start wearing shorts too soon in the summer, do not wear a coat in October if it is still warm and often misjudge the necessary sartorial style completely . I did this again on New Year’s Eve. Off we all trundled to the village party, dressed in all our finery, only to find that most other people were in jeans. We did look good though!

Parronchi's at New Year (FILEminimizer)

Parronchi New Year elegance!


Us Brits, on the other hand, are brought up to think that anything unusual is actually quite normal. My own family is quietly eccentric in a rather genteel way. My parents are traditional, conservative and at first glance quite “normal”. However, scratch the surface and …

Mum is always dressed beautifully and is very lady-like, except when she is cooking. If while trying to follow a recipe (she is a reluctant cook and has never improvised in her life) she makes a mistake, the air turns blue and we have to cover our ears. She then turns to us, smiles sweetly and says “Oops, pardon my French”! She takes a trip to the local market every Thursday to buy fresh fish. Nothing eccentric in that, I hear you say. Indeed, but then she takes the cod home and puts it in the freezer, to be taken out and cooked on Monday, which is their fish day!

Me and Mum Bourne

Mum and me off to buy fish, on Thursday


Dad is equally elegant, always wearing a suit and tie or, in his more sporting moments, a double-breasted blazer. When he used to come and visit us in Italy he always brought his navy blue overalls so that he could help Guido build his plane in our workshop. One year we asked Dad to give us a hand with a fence that needed painting. Off he went, paintbrush in hand and applied himself to the task with prowess. He speaks no Italian but nodded politely and smiled at everyone who walked by the fence, thinking how friendly everyone was. He was completely unaware that he was the subject of much mirth among the locals. I think nearly every inhabitant of our village trooped past that day to look at the spectacle of the eccentric English gentleman, dressed in paint-splattered overalls over the top of his smart white shirt, red tie and shiny brogues.

My brother learnt a smattering of the Klingon language when younger, knows a vast variety of silly songs which he sings out loud whenever he feels like it and thought nothing of naming his two cats “Beer” and “Guiness”, never once considering the neighbours reaction when he stands in the garden at night to call them in!

Beer and Guiness sheepdog trials

Beer and Guiness watching the sheepdog trials – Purrfectly normal cat behaviour, I think!


All my pets have quite ordinary names. So do my plants and car. They all respond very well to gentle endearments and the occassional sharp rebuke and any claims that I go around talking to myself instead of them are completely unfounded. I never wear anything in bed as I get too hot and tangled up. However, I do possess several pairs of pyjamas, because I find them the most comfortable things to wear and happily spend my days in them, as long as I have no guests coming. I got caught out by an unexpected visit by a neighbour yesterday and answered the door to him wearing my fleece pyjamas with red top and cute little owl-patterned trousers. He gave me an odd look and politely refrained from making any comment about my attire but I bet he went home and told his wife!

Presents minimized

Parronchi’s in pyjamas this Christmas


I have guests coming for dinner tonight so when I have finished writing this I will whisk around the house with a duster to give the impression that I am a good housewife and then change out of my pyjamas into a more suitable outfit. My friends are English though, so I will not have to bother too much to disguise any other eccentricities that might crop up throughout the evening.

Long may the tradition of English eccentricity last!