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#195 John Poulter The Italian Old People's Home

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They’ve sent it to my next of kin in England haven’t they? The address at the back of the passport. Yes!

John Poulter

I’d rocked up in Vicenza after riding over the Dolomites and down into the north Italian plain. At breakfast I looked at the map of Italy. The magnet is always the high ground. Twisting mountain roads are what motorbikes are made for. I’m looking at an area of the Apennines when I see a town called Bobbio. That’ll do. I can send my old mate Bob a postcard. Reason enough when you are on the road with no plan.

Late afternoon and I am standing at a tourist booth in Bobbio. My leather trousers feel like they are filling up with sweat. It’s hot. The lad at the booth suggests a hostel in a small village in the hills nearby. Sounds good.

I ride up the twisting road through vineyards and into a small square. A group of youths eye me with surprise. I ask them ‘Hostel?’ One of them gestures towards the building they are leaning against. It is his family home, the hostel. Or rather it used to be a hostel. Now it is an old people’s home. But! They have a spare room I can stay in. He shows me to the room. It is huge and has 6 beds in it. Just for me? Yes. And it is cheap. Okay. Great.

We go back to the bike to unload my stuff. He asks for my passport. I dip my hand in the inner sanctum pocket of my leather jacket. Nothing. I instantly realise that I never collected it from the reception of the little hotel in Vicenza. A days ride away at the other side of the country. When Stefano is telling this story in the bar later that evening he performs this weird Englishman crying SHEEEET! SHEEET! to much laughter.

It is decided that we will ring Vicenza and ask them to post the passport here. It should only take a couple of days. I can have a break.

I go to the village bar to watch football with Stefano and his father. I am a figure of much interest. The next morning I am amazed and touched to see some blossoms placed on the clocks of my old Suzuki. Must be one of those lasses from the bar last night. Blimey! I take a photo. One of the old ladies from the home is sitting soaking up the sun on the bench just beyond the bike. She points at the flowers then herself and smiles. Ah. Yes. That makes more sense. Hey ho. Very sweet!

The days pass. After the first day I no longer eat in the dining room but in the kitchen with the family. A couple who work there take me out for the day in their little car. I explore the mountains on my bike. I watch more football with the father and his friends.

At the end of a week the daughter turns up. When told the story she determines to get this sorted. She calls the hotel. From the conversation my lack of Italian doesn’t stop me guessing what has happened. They’ve sent it to my next of kin in England haven’t they? The address at the back of the passport. Yes!

The next day I set off back for home armed with a letter of safe passage to get me across the border. It is written by the mother and includes the phone number of her friend the local Chief of Police. I have no need of it. I blast across the border on the motorway. Up through France and onto a ferry. I roll off and up to passport control in Dover. Passport? I haven’t got it. I left it at a hotel in Italy and they posted it back to my next of kin. He looks at me. Where are you from? Leeds. Okay. He waves me through.