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O Sole Mio! Yeah, Right!

I was woken up the next morning by the sound of rain pelting against the windows and bouncing so hard off the metal railings of the balcony that it made them ring. I was taken by surprise as I had seldom seen it rain in Naples, and never had I seen it rain like this, not even in England. I hoisted the blinds and looked out onto the deserted streets. The cars had returned now, parked in their usual places. But the people had wisely decided to stay inside. Spent fireworks were floating in the street, along with various other debris left over from the previous night’s festivities. I had hoped to spend a relaxing afternoon on the terrace, but that now looked like a very remote possibility. Instead, I set up camp in the kitchen. There was nobody in the house to disturb me, as they were all still in Britain, and so I spent an agreeable few hours listening to a little light opera, reading the books and magazines I had brought from England, drinking wine and smoking my duty-free cigars. 

It carried on raining for the next six days, sometimes with the savagery of January 1st, at other times with the sort of depressing, drizzling monotony familiar to any Englishman. Every Neapolitan I met joked about my having brought the weather back from London, to the point at which I swore that I would punch the next would-be comic straight in the face. “It really is most unusual for Naples,” said Mrs Napoletano, who had come downstairs at daybreak on rent day, to snatch what she was owed from my fingertips, the minute I had extracted the crisp, new notes from my wallet. “Normally it never rains in Naples. Not like in the north. We have the sun in January, February, March …” She counted the months on her fingers. It looked like I had picked the wrong year to be here. One week later, it was still raining. Out of sheer boredom, on the Saturday morning, I went to see Gaetano for a shave. Gaetano was downcast. The weather, he opined, reflected the current state in which Southern Italy was languishing, both morally and economically. After all, in Naples, it never normally rained. Not like in Milan. Gaetano shuddered at the mere thought of such a grey, industrial city. Who would be Milanese, eh? Porca miseria! At least the Neapolitans had sunshine in January, February – down went the shaving brush and razor, all the better to count on the fingers – March, April, May … For a moment, as he contemplated all that sunshine, Gaetano’s mood seemed to lift. But as he picked up his razor again, his expression fell to the extent that I feared he might be about to slash his wrists with it, and he fell into sulky silence. 

The Miserable Bastard, as I walked into his shop, seemed his normal, miserable self, and I gave a premature sigh of relief. But the minute he saw me, back came the grin. It unnerved me, but at least I didn’t have to wait long to find out what was behind it this time. As I approached the counter, he pulled out a box and opened it. “What do you think of this?” he asked. It was an electric shaver. “Oh, yes. Very nice,” I answered, depositing my beer and bog roll on the counter. “Yes. It was a Christmas present. Very thoughtful.” “Mmmm.” I rummaged around in my pocket for some change. “Problem is, though, I can’t get it to work.” “Oh.” “No, you see, the instructions are all in English.” He waved the little instruction book at me.  “Ah.” “Now, if I could only find someone who would be able to translate …” I could see where this conversation was going. Now I knew the reason for that daft grin. “But wait a moment!” The Miserable Bastard slapped his forehead as if he were having one of those “Eureka” moments. Signore was from England, was he not? Porca miseria! He had clean forgotten that signore was even foreign! It pained him to ask such a favour, of course. But, well, let’s just say that it could be a little something in return for the little New Year’s present the previous week. Of course, if it were going to be a problem … he didn’t want to put signore in a difficult situation. 

I had, of course walked into it hook, line and sinker, and I could hear Colonel Jim chuckling and calling me a “prize berk”, as was his wont. Never mind. With all this bad weather, it wasn’t as if I had much else to do. I’d get Jeremy to help me when he got back. The Miserable Bastard seemed to be reading my thoughts. “Still, I expect this weather makes you feel quite at home though, eh? Most unusual for Naples. We normally have sunshine from January to December. Not like up north.” And he gave me an even bigger grin that reduced his eyes to slits. 

My boss was standing at the window hands clasped behind his back, peering out through the cascades of water streaming down the glass. “Brought the weather with you from London, did you ?” he quipped, and chortled at the hilarity of his little joke. Behind her desk, Karen rolled her eyes. Evidently she’d had about as much as she could take of this as well. Remembering the promise I had made to myself the previous week, I wondered how wise it would be to punch him in the teeth, but decided that it was, perhaps, better not to. “Unusual for Naples though,” he went on. “Normally we get sunshine all year round. Now, if we were in Milan, on the other hand …” But I was already making my way to the staffroom. Jeremy was sitting there with his suitcase, soaked to the skin. He’d just flown in from England. 

“Hi, Jeremy! Welcome back! Isn’t this weather shit?” “Par for the course,” said Jeremy, resignedly wringing out a sock. “What do you mean?” “It’s always like this in January.” “But everyone says how unusual this is for Naples!” “Is it fuck! They’re so full of shit! Listen, this’ll go on all through January. And everyone will tell you how unusual it is. Then it’ll rain in February too. And everyone will say that there’s never been a year like it, worst year on record, blah, blah, blah. Then March. More of the same, only the rain gets a little warmer, and everyone says that March is mad and always has been. April’s the same as March and then, some time in late May/early June, it’ll get hot and the sun’ll come out and everyone will say ‘Aaahhh! Told you so! Naples truly is the city of the sun!’ It’s the same thing every fucking year. And, by next year, they’ll have erased all of this from their memories and remember it as wall-to-wall sunshine. It’s just the way they are.”

“But won’t there be any sunshine at all from now until June?” I begged, feeling like a little boy who has just been sent to bed without any supper. “Occasional days. Two or three together, if you’re really lucky. But I wouldn’t make any plans for people to come and visit just yet, if I were you.” I tried not to get depressed. Jeremy was well-known for his cynicism. No doubt he had his own, personal, black cloud that followed him around. But, already, I had a nagging suspicion that there might be more than just a hint of truth in what Jeremy had just told me. 

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