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Sometime in Sorrento

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This extract comes from my third book.  It takes up the story from where An Italian Journey left off. In it, you will meet some characters from that book as well as a host of others who severely try my patience, not to mention that of La Belle Dame Sans Merci who finds she has to undergo her very own trial by ordeal on this occasion. In the following extract, however, you can read how I underwent a harrowing ordeal myself on only our second day and things didn’t entirely improve after that either… 
“Hotel Monte Somma?”

“Hotel Monte Somma?” He shakes his head at me and unleashes a spout of Italian. I know from the intonation of his voice that he is asking me a question, but all I can do is look blank. For the second time that day I feel like a blithering idiot. I wish I hadn’t asked. Apparently the driver doesn’t speak English (why should he?) and I am no further forward. Oh, well, I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

The driver gives me up as a hopeless case and pulls away. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the stress, but I am sweating even more profusely than before. When is this nightmare going to end?

Ah, this looks like a bigger sort of place, probably we have arrived at Sant’Agata at last. The beginning of the end of the nightmare is in sight. The driver stops at a crossroads and turning round, gives me another few rounds of Italian, gesturing along the road to his left, and operating the pneumatic door at the same time. It’s clear that he intends me to get off.

Get off? But why? I look at him in dismay and disbelief. Can he really mean it? Why did I have to open my big mouth? If I had just sat there quietly, it would have been all right, I would have got back to Sorrento eventually. But I don’t have the Italian to say I want to stay put and go back to Sorrento. There is an impatient toot from a car behind. This is not even a proper bus stop. Clearly the driver has every intention that I should get off his bus and the way he is looking at me, the quicker the better, if I don’t mind –  can’t I see I’m holding up the traffic and he’s late already? I can feel the eyes of the passengers boring into my back at this unscheduled stop.  Whatever the future holds, it has to be better than the present. What was it Shakespeare said in Henry IV Part 2: Past and to come seems best; things present, worst. Getting off the bus now seems the only possible solution to my present predicament.

The bus draws away and turns off to the right. No one else alights. What am I going to do now? My gaze alights upon a bus at the other side of the road in a small piazza. It has its engine running and is pointing down the hill, the way I want to go. Could this be my saviour? I scamper across the road before it disappears like a mirage.

The driver, like the last one, is young, dark haired, wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt which seems to be the badge of all his trade and wearing sunglasses which give him a sinister sort of air. This one and the other could be clones. In that case, he won’t be able to speak English either. I wish I could say, “Does this bus go to…” but all I can say, like an idiot is: “Hotel Monte Somma?”

He shakes his head. “Nostra Verde,” he says and points to his right along the road.

“Nostra Verde?”

“Si. Si. Nostra Verde,” he nods and indicates the road again.

“Nostra Verde?” What the hell is Nostra Verde? I’ve heard of the Cosa Nostra and I know that verde is green. Perhaps it’s the youth movement of the Mafia though what he would imagine a wrinkly like me would want with that organisation, defeats me. Maybe the Hotel Monte Somma is the headquarters in this region, where they meet for a working dinner and complain about how signor Corleone marshals them into seats they don’t want to sit in and demands they choose the wine before the meal.

“Si. Si. Nostra Verde.” We could keep this up all day. He is nodding at me as if I were a congenital idiot, each nod urging me to retreat down the steps of his bus. He thinks I’m probably harmless, but he’s smiling at me to keep on my good side, because, as it is written in page three of the bus drivers’ handbook: In the event of an insane person trying to board your bus (he will probably be dressed in swimming trunks and a Panama hat) do nothing to antagonise him as he may turn violent.

“Nostra Verde. Grazie,” and I back off, literally and metaphorically, down the steps, nodding back to him as if we were Japanese, and indeed, we might just as well have been for all the sense it makes to me.

The doors of the bus shut with a pneumatic hiss and it disappears across the road and down the hill. Bloody hell! That’s the way I want to go! I check an impulse to run after it, knowing it’s hopeless. It is a forlorn sight seeing it disappear down the hill like that. Perhaps if I’d said “Sorrento” I might well be on it now.

Now I really am in trouble. My bus ticket has almost expired already. It lasts for an hour and what with the waiting in Sorrento and the journey, I’ve only got 10 minutes left.

So, I’ve no money and no idea how I’m going to get back, nor have I the faintest idea what Nostra Verde means or how I’m going to find out. I stand and gaze after the retreating bus, feeling like the loneliest person on the planet, wondering how I am going to get out of this hellish place, this mess I am in. It’s all Iona’s fault for wanting to stay in the town, for not trusting me with any money. I always seem to get in worse trouble when she’s not around, and God knows, I get into plenty enough when she is.

The town stretches ahead of me, to right and left, like a ghost town. Away down to my right, there is a woman in a brown frock crossing the road but that is the only sign of life. Even the birds seem to be having a siesta. There is a café behind me, but that seems to be closed, or if it is open, it has no patrons. I’d love a beer. My mouth feels like a desert. I hope the gods are really enjoying their latest joke: Thought he was going to go back and have a swim! Well he’s in a sea of troubles now!  Heh! Heh! Heh!

What am I going to do? I can’t think of even a single idea.


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