Gerry Farrell: Venice is awash with my happy memories

I'm sitting in a wee café with my laptop up at the window watching the world go by, sipping a very strong Americano. The pastries are so good that every so often a pigeon waddles in off the street to peck up the crumbs.

Wednesday, 15th March 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:07 am
What could be more romantic than a gondola ride in Venice? Picture: Robert Perry

There’s an endless procession of people strolling by, elderly ladies in Louis Vuitton troosers, gaggles of chattering schoolchildren wrapped in puffa jackets against the morning chill and businessmen walking to work, already blethering into thin air on their phones. I can’t hear any traffic; no swish of lorries’ air-brakes, no ambulance sirens, no car horns. That’s because there is no traffic. And that’s because I’m in Venice.

For my 60th birthday my darling wife planned a surprise for me. This half-drowned city means a lot to us. I met Zsuzsa thanks to 9/11. Her boss, a world-famous adman, Marcio Moreira, had been made president of the Golden Drum advertising awards in Slovenia.

In the chaotic aftermath of the tragedy, Colin Powell, the USA’s Secretary Of State, asked Mr Moreira to help with the crisis communications as the administration struggled to come to terms with the public reaction. So he called Zsuzsa and asked her if she would be president instead. She didn’t fancy keeping control of a bunch of opinionated male creative directors so she said she would sit on the jury but leave the lion taming to somebody with a thicker skin. That somebody was me.

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Gerry Farrell dons a carnival mask to write his column in Venice

My plane landed late in Venice and I took a taxi to Slovenia’s pretty seaside resort of Portoroz.

I came into the judging room feeling flustered because I was last to arrive. There was one empty seat next to the only girl on the jury, a beautiful Hungarian with big brown eyes. I sat down and said “Sorry, my plane was a little late landing in Venice.” She looked down at her watch then looked back at me with those big brown eyes and said “Did you come by gondola?” She burst out laughing and that was it. I fell head over heels in love. Trouble is I was married. The years went by and Zsuzsa and I had no contact apart from a “Happy Christmas” email every so often. For all I knew she was now married herself. There was no Skype or Facebook back then. I was just extricating myself from my first marriage when I got an email out of the blue. “I’m visiting Edinburgh. Can we meet for a coffee?” My heart felt like it was going to jump out my chest.

Two years later I proposed to her on the ferry back from Mull, we bought the ring in Oban and we talked about how nice it would be to take a gondola ride together in Venice. This morning, after I’ve finished writing this, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. I’m so happy to be here I might even sing “Just One Cornetto”.

Be a picktivist, not a clicktivst

Gerry Farrell dons a carnival mask to write his column in Venice

We’re a society of clickers these days. You want those high heels? Click. You want to sign a petition to deport Theresa May? Click. You want to give a fiver to charity. Click.

If only it was that easy to pick up litter. Look, there’s an Irn-Bru can in the gutter. Click. No, it’s still there. You can’t click litter up, you have to pick it up. So on Earth Day this year, we’re hoping to stage the biggest ever clean-up in Edinburgh.

As Leithers Don’t Litter, naturally we’ll be cleaning up Leith. But this time we’re inviting all the other community groups in Edinburgh to do their bit in their own communities. So far 25 folk have ticked our Facebook event page and said they’re definitely coming along. Another 107 have clicked the box that says ‘Interested’. You’re the guys we’re interested in.

Can we persuade you to join us on the day? All you have to do is turn up. The council will provide litter-pickers and bin bags – even tiny little litter-pickers with dinosaur faces for your kids. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much fun you’ll have. Better still, you’ll be teaching your kids something they’ll remember all their lives: that there’s no point moaning about litter on your Facebook page. You have to get out on the street and do something about it.

n Leith’s Earth Day Clean-Up is on Saturday, April 22 2-4pm, meeting point, Dock Place

Girn , you’re on candid camera

Last week I reported that Marine Esplanade had become every van man’s favourite dumping ground. I’m happy to say that our council reacted quickly.

The worst of the mess has been cleared up. Better still, they’re on the tail of the brass-necked guy we caught red-handed throwing waste wood straight out of his Transit on to the road. We got his photo and a picture of his registration. 48 hours later we got a call from the environmental wardens, two lovely guys, Kenny and Alex. They asked us up to the City Chambers where they took our statements. Now they have all the evidence they need to find this guy and slap a Fixed Penalty Notice for two hundred smackers, hopefully right on to his smug wee face.

It’s time to be independent-minded

How dare Nicola Sturgeon call a second independence referendum while I was out of the country. I’ve missed all the excitement. I think she has the timing just right, though.

A lot has changed since the last vote. Theresa May’s gone for a hard Brexit. She’s also developed a harder heart than I thought possible for a woman who professes her Christianity at every opportunity. God help you if you’re not European, you’ve lived here longer than six years and you earn less than £35,000 a year. She’ll kick you out and it won’t matter if your kids or your partner are British, just as long as she gets those immigration figures down and keeps the hard Right happy.

It’s a good time for a second referendum because the austerity we’ve been suffering for the past 12 years is about to get worse. Philip Hammond has decided that the best way to pay the £60 billion bill for Brexit is to tax the self-employed. You know, window-cleaners, plumbers, painters and decorators – hard-working folk who need every penny they earn.

Meanwhile, RBS, the bank we taxpayers bailed out, has just stuffed its directors’ wallets with £16 million in bonuses.

I understand the concerns of those pro-unionists who worry about how the Scottish economy would fare following independence. Alex Salmond was a wee bit foxy and fanciful with his predictions of a purring economy, lubricated by barrelfuls of oil. But Sturgeon, unlike her fishy namesake, won’t be offering us any caviar.

As a good friend of mine said “Apparently if we leave the union there will be cuts, austerity and debt. So basically it will be just like the union except no nukes or Tories.” Sounds good to me.