Opera Buffa….

… defined as, ‘comic opera with characters drawn from everyday life’. The term originated in Naples where, I happily found myself magneteering for a few days last week.

My fondness for spaghetti Bolognese was indulged and to get into the swing of things, I rattled through Elena Ferrante’s, ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and ‘The Story of a New Name’, both of which determined me to visit the city if the opportunity arose – which it did at the end of our stint.

The centre of Naples is only 25 minutes by train from Arco Felice. You buy a ticket from the paper shop, validate it by sticking it in a time-stamp machine at the station then, off you go. I discovered that it’s best not to consult a timetable or ask anyone what time the next train will be – neither source is reliable; just turn up at the station – you won’t wait long.

There’s always plenty to look at, in fact the whole experience of being in Italy is just like I imagine a trip to the opera might be; drama, shouting, laughter, people rushing about, and all of it completely unintelligible but hugely entertaining.

Naples is stunning – probably for all the wrong reasons; crumbling, defaced, a bit grubby and reputedly dangerous but nevertheless the energy is palpable. Narrow streets fall away from the station at Montesanto and take you into the heart of the old city where street performers, hawkers, and the blare of car horns all vie for your attention.

I slipped into the Chiesa di San Giuseppe della Scalze a Pontecorvo, now host to occasional markets and exhibitions, to see 150 Italian paintings and sculptures dating from the 14th century to the present day – helpfully arranged chronologically. This Caravaggio was billed as the star of the show and it was a cracker but…

.. this view of Amalfi (I’ve stupidly mislaid my note of the artist’s name but the signature is visible when enlarged) was for me, ‘best of show’.

As I’ve remarked before, someone’s making a lot of money out of spray cans in Naples. I was in the city for only a few hours; enough to see the exhibition, have lunch and a refreshing beer (it was 28° and getting very humid) before I got back on the train and later clocked on to the night shift back in Arco Felice.

The bonus of being on the night shift is the daily spectacle of sunrise. Vesuvius and Capri melt in and out of view as the sea mists come and go; fishing boats start to potter about the bay and stray dogs appear on the beach to look for food left by people I never see but sometimes in the small hours, hear under the pier.

On my return home a week later, I had just enough time to complete one of the trolleys for the barrels on the lower shelf of the stillage in the cellar of my local pub – the idea works very well and saves a lot of struggling with a 45kg weight in a very small space.

Two days later I was back in Sweden where passion and deep emotion were less easily detected in the ordinary fare.



…. is blinkin’ taters in Suffolk, so the call which saw me swiftly departing the fix for Naples, was very welcome.


As the sun rose over Vesuvius the next morning, the cable-laying barge was in place ready for us Magneteers to get on with the job. We had 27km of cable to process which ordinarily would take about seven or eight days but the Italians don’t seem to be in so much of a rush as the rest of us so ten days in temperatures of 14°C was a welcome interlude.

On the beach

In my wanderings I spotted another plant on the beach below our loading jetty which I hope Mike, my botanist reader from Western Australia, will identify for me.

Night fishing

Early one evening, I noticed a light moving across the bay towards our station. I’m not sure what these fishermen were after but the chap standing on the prow had a five-pronged harpoon which would have made a mess of a passing Turbot; squid or eels perhaps?

Gulfo di Pozzuoli

The Gulfo di Pozzuoli. That’s Pozzuoli on the left and in the right conditions as you pan right, Capri would come into view just ahead of where the barge is anchored at the end of the jetty. It was odd but, all around us there were thunder storms and rain while our little bay remained sunny and clear for the most part.

Arco Felicé

I had my railway moment with a snap of the station at Arco Felicé.


And on the way home, we stopped in Milan as the sun was setting.

1908 Swift

I nearly forgot to mention something about cars – we had some fun getting this 1908 Swift started before I went away but I regret to say that I still haven’t been out in the Hillman this year as there’s still too much salt on the roads and it won’t be the last of it either at the rate the temperature is dropping.

And here’s something interesting: http://www.oldtimerdaglelystad.nl/nieuws/item/691-een-unieke-austin-7-special



I noticed a couple of curiosities during my stay in Arco Felicé. The first was a plant that grew on the less visited parts of the beach.

Flower on the beach

I’m sure its presence was unwelcome but it had something about it; it looked like an inverted bunch of spring onions, the onion bits of which had exploded.

Below the pier

The second curiosity was this view through a hole in the floor of the pier. Although I didn’t see anyone from one end of my night shift to the other, I occasionally heard the odd voice on the sand about 12′ below me. This print struck me as rather dramatic – the tide was about to erase the only clue of some ghastly deed perpetrated in the small hours – and my first idea was that this was the impression of a big cat; until I counted the toes. At the end of a long and solitary night-shift, things don’t always add up right.

Arco Felice

On our way out of the factory, my fellow Magneteer and I were treated to a last look at the local train as it ambled around the curve in front of the factory gates. Despite the scruffiness of it all, the scene didn’t want for charm and with a few of hours to spare before we caught our evening flight, we elected to take a dip in the Med – something which would be a first for me. It was also a first for me to walk into a sea without stopping to gasp and jump about because of the cold!

Gulf of Naples

As the sun set and the moon appeared and we started our journey home, I reflected on my family’s visits to Italy in the ’60’s. Six of us packed into an Austin A55, roof-rack piled high and traversing the Brenner Pass. On one memorable occasion I was put out of the car and left by the side of the road – I had apparently committed some crime or other for which as the youngest of four, I have little doubt that I was set-up.

Rover castings

The bits and pieces I’ve been doing for a chum with a 1906 Rover are nearly finished. I’ve only to create the quadrant now the castings have been replicated. It’s going to be a bit tricky machining the castings as there’s no real symmetry to them so establishing a datum will take a bit of time. I think I’ll set up each of the originals in turn in the mill, find the centre of the big hole and then swap them over – well, I say I’ll do it but I think I’ll be watching Chumley; I’ll have my hands full holding a big bag of Norfolk sausages.

Morris 6 exhaust gasket patterns

Manifold to exhaust pipe gaskets don’t seem to last very long on the Hillman so I’ve had a couple of patterns laser cut in order to sandwich a thin copper sheet between them and tap out some shapes. I know a chap with some Nomex fabric which I can put in the middle and see how I get on.

Let’s hope the result isn’t too amusing.




… is more than hot enough for me so, I was pleased to see that I was down for the night-shift and my unfortunate fellow Magneteer would, working in a plastic tent, have to suffer the full effect of the Italian sun. A balmy 20 -26° would see me through the night quite comfortably.

Load out

We were just round the corner from Naples in what seemed to be a slightly less salubrious suburb of Pozzuoli. This did nothing to detract from the fun of being in Italy again – my last trip was to Rome on one of Cook’s Tours – the scooters, the horns, the battered cars and general mayhem had changed only with the addition of mobile phones with which it seemed obligatory to engage whilst in charge of a vehicle.

Paint job

The local trains were a colourful sight – obviously a lot of money is spent on paint – and I was glad to be able to take pictures of railways, unencumbered by fences and threats of prosecution.


In my hotel room, with shutters continually closed to keep out both the heat and light during the day, I was obliged to shuffle around in the half-light. This Hughesian existence was relieved only at supper time when, on my way to start the night shift, I would stop at a local restaurant for something to see me through the next 12 hours.


And then on to work as the sun set and the bitey things came out to play.

Arco Felice

There’s a particularly vicious type of mosquito, black in colour, which on the first night made a mess of my arms and legs. I’m not usually attacked by insects but I’d had the foresight to pack some cream to take away the temptation to scratch and make an even bigger mess.


The beach below the pier was probably the source of my persecutors as it was strewn with litter, stray dogs and the rotting remains of picnics. Nevertheless, every morning at about 7.00am, half a dozen or so elderly couples would drift down, carefully pick a spot to put their towels and breakfast and wade into the calm and clear waters of the bay as the rising sun turned Pozzuoli a pinky orange.


Quickly the dawn would turn into day; the view into the water below the pier would reveal hundreds of fish in shoals, darting here and there, the mozzies would disappear and I would be looking forward to my relief arriving.

Penne all'arrabbiata

The last time I ordered Penne all’Arrabbiata was in Amsterdam. It was disappointing (Mr Vadar and Mr Stevens would have had words) so I decided to try it out at source – so to speak. My order was prelude to a lot of shouting and arm-waving – I wondered if I’d upset someone – and then it went quiet (by Italian standards at least; there’s always someone shouting and arm-waving about something). A second uproar heralded the arrival of my food, carried from somewhere up the road by a hapless youngster who seemed to get it in the neck for some crime or other.

The Penne was superb but the lad didn’t deserve the 3rd degree.