LANDING back home from a holiday is often dispiriting.
The drop in temperature, the traffic jams, the pile of unpaid bills blocking your front door as you arrive home at some ungodly hour after various delays.
Matera in Italy was a beautiful holiday destination made even better by the community spiritCredit: Alamy
Returning to the reality of traffic jams and bills can be a depressing experienceCredit: Louis Wood
It’s all par for the course, but after a couple of days of readjustment you usually settle down and get on with your old routine.
But ten days ago, I arrived home from a week’s break in Matera, Italy*, and the initial gloom of being back in the UK has failed to lift.
Our changeable, often dreary weather plays its part for sure. But that’s not the main reason by a long chalk.
The “sassi” area of Matera — a network of caves fashioned out of limestone by the Troglodytes — feels free-spirited, community-based and thriving, kept beautifully clean by its residents who all take immense pride in living there. It has soul.
As an early riser, I loved my morning walk to see all the closed cave doors gradually being flung open to reveal what lay behind.
Pensioners who would emerge in to the sunlight and gather with friends to watch the world go by, young children playing outside on the street while their parents busied themselves opening up their shop, and endless coffee bars initially a hub for locals then, later in the day, tourists.
There were wonky, ancient steps everywhere with not a health and safety notice in sight. And guess what? We all managed to navigate them using our own common sense.
I didn’t see any traffic wardens either, and a generously spirited cocktail costs just six euros. Heavenly.
Then I landed back at London Gatwick and my euphoric bubble burst.
The endless signs telling us what (or what not) to do, the traffic jams caused by “road calming measures” and interminable roadworks that never seem to have anyone working on them, the litter, the chewing gum dotting every pavement, the rows of shops peppered with “closed down” or “to’ let” signs, driven out by online competition, high rents and parking restrictions that have driven customers away.
My home country seems to have changed beyond recognition from a place that once celebrated independent thought, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit in to somewhere that nannies, hectors and thwarts us at virtually every turn.
Sure, Italy as a whole has its own economic problems. What country doesn’t. And yes, Matera is a stunning Unesco World Heritage site that can’t be compared with some of our vast commercial cities.
But that’s not the point. As a model of regeneration it should be studied by all those running our local councils.
The third oldest city in the world behind Aleppo and Jericho, it became known as “the shame of Italy” when peasant farmers moved in towards the end of the 18th century and the area became impoverished and riddled with disease.
By the 1970s the government had declared it unfit for habitation and rehoused the farmers elsewhere, and in 1986 a new law opened up regeneration opportunities for small business owners and their families.
Today it’s a thriving beacon of what can be achieved when you give people chances and trust them to have agency over their own lives.
Britain does not presently feel like a country where businesses flourishCredit: Gary Stone
The UK used to feel that way, but the pernicious creep of state tentacles over everything we do is gradually strangling the innovation, independence and propensity for hard work we were once famous for.
I still love this country but I hate the way it’s being run in to the ground by those who are supposed to have its best interests at heart.
*Flights to Bari, in southern Italy, start at £45 in September and a bus right outside the terminal takes you to Matera for around a tenner. Prago.
Beach birth bozos
A couple have landed in difficulty after flying abroad to give birth on a beachCredit: SWNS
BRITISH mum Iuliia Gurzhii, from Manchester, wanted to give birth on a beach.
So she and husband Clive flew to the Caribbean where, on a boat between islands, her waters broke and she gave birth to daughter Louisa at sea.
Now the couple are locked in a bureaucratic nightmare, unable to register Louisa’s birth or apply for a UK passport to bring her home.
Worse, they left their daughter Elizabeth, eight, at home because they couldn’t get her passport renewed in time.
“I can’t stop crying, we are begging for help. We have been abandoned,” says Iuliia, 38.
“We are running out of money. We will soon run out of food . . . we keep being called by the Foreign Office and they ask if we have an update for them.
“They should be the ones helping us to get out of here.”
Hmmm. Surely the Gurzhiis take some personal responsibility for the situation?
After all, if they’d chosen Camber, rather than Caribbean, sands for their “beach birth” they would have avoided this predicament.
What’s the point of uni?
NEW data shows that students whose A-levels were graded by teachers during the pandemic are dropping out of university in record numbers.
For some degree courses, it is “close to 30 per cent”.
The drop outs have been partly linked to the fact that over-generous grades meant they got accepted to courses they then struggled to keep up with.
But, given what I’m seeing among my friends’ children, one imagines it is also linked to the huge fees, rising accommodation costs and lecturer strikes which meant little or no teaching and seeing leavers graduate with their final papers unmarked.
So what’s the point of staying unless the job you want requires a degree? Discuss. Essays in by 9am tomorrow please.
It seems like Meghan has hit a rough patch
IT looks like a mini version of one of those blue heritage plaques.“Prince Harry lived here – 2020 to 2023.”
But the mysterious circular patch spotted on Meghan Markle’s wrist as she made a rare public outing last week is apparently a “bio signal processing disc” (ooo-er) that helps lower stress levels and promote better sleep.
“NuCalm is magic. It’s a miracle. It is the perfect antidote to the poignancy of our stressed-out times and it will change your life,” says someone who is unsurprisingly linked to the company flogging it.
Harry has just returned from a boys’ trip to South Africa, the couple’s Spotify deal has been axed amid accusations they are “grifters”, their Netflix deal is reportedly on shaky ground and rumours abound that their different parenting styles have placed the marriage under strain.
Something tells me that Meghan’s gonna need a bigger patch.
Time’s up for jails
If jail is not a deterrent for Katie Price, then the prison system is doing something wrongCredit: instagram
KATIE PRICE has boldly encouraged judges to stop saying they might send her to prison and “just do it”.
She says she’s fed up with repeated court appearances for various offences and reckons a spell in jail would cancel it all out, “just to be done with it”.
Setting aside the blindingly obvious observation that Katie could avoid court by staying within the law, she appears to be positively relishing the prospect of life in a cell, pointing out that she could “cash in” on her experience with a tell-all interview afterwards.
Oh dear. We already hear stories of people actively committing crimes because prison provides them with the three meals a day and warm bed they don’t have outside.
And now one of the UK’s most prominent reality stars is saying “I love all the prison stuff” and seeing it as a business opportunity.
If that doesn’t persuade you that our “justice” system is deeply flawed, then nothing will.
Vicky McClure’s wedding photos show authentic happiness without being stagedCredit: Instagram
l LOVED Vicky McClure’s casual wedding photos – one of which showed her clutching a can of strong lager while posing with her Line Of Duty co-stars.
Such a refreshing change from all those painstakingly staged “influencer” nuptials.
Cool on cat flaps
A big cat has been spotted in Stoke, but how much can we really trust photos these days?Credit: SWNS
A PHOTO dated March 17 (but no year) has surfaced showing a panther-like big cat in long grass in Stoke-on-Trent.
An expert says: “If it’s genuine, then it’s probably the best photo of a British big cat that exists.”
Given that deep fake means I can see “Tom Cruise” doing magic tricks online, and “John Lennon” singing a new song, I think I’ll reserve judgment on whether it exists until it’s eating from a bowl in my kitchen alongside the Loch Ness Monster.