Skip to main content

Review - Summer in the Islands

I can think of few better antidotes to a grey and miserable English winter than Matthew Fort's Summer in the Islands. It features a food writer and TV presenter in his sixties, setting off for six months of puttering around the Italian islands on a pink Vespa, obviously bringing us the eating highlights, but much more, the enjoyment of slowing down and simply living life in a series of fascinating landscapes, rather than the everyday battling through it back home.

In a puff on the back of the book, Jamie Oliver mentions the term 'midlife crisis'. Leaving aside any concerns about the definition of midlife, I'd say that Fort's adventures are the absolute antithesis of a midlife crisis. This isn't about showing off to your peers in an unsuitable sports car - it's about stepping into a different culture and gently absorbing and enjoying it.

The strange thing about the enjoyment of this book is that the reader does not need any sense of wanting to be in Fort's place. Any two-wheel transport fills me with horror, and the thought of negotiating Italian roads on a scooter would be a nightmare. I may love food, but have a very limited range with seafood, and inevitably on the islands there is very little else. And few of us share Fort's ability to find himself being invited out to dinner by complete strangers. But that doesn't matter. Because we can vicariously piggyback on Fort's enjoyment, wafted along on a Mediterranean breeze and lifted by his wonderful mix of erudite observations from history and literature and visceral interaction with his surroundings.

Something that comes through strongly is the difficult pull between commercial exploitation and the desperately needed cash that tourists bring. Acknowledging a degree of hypocrisy on his part, Fort can't help dislike the crowds on the beaches and the bland eateries that can spring up to support their gustatory needs - but at the same time admits that without the tourism there would be very little left on some of the islands. And he has to accept that, in the end, he too is a tourist. It's an old, old problem - but one that seems to be being played out particularly vividly on some of the islands.

From his exploration of a prison island to attending an opera where three different opera companies are at war with each other, to his final magnificent destination of Venice, Fort gives us a fresh-eyed view on Italy's beautiful fringes. His lifelong love of the country and expertise in food shines through - and so does a very human viewpoint. A book to treasure.

Summer in the Islands is available from and
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you  


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope