People like me, born in the middle of the New Forest soon after the war, are privileged. There was beauty everywhere, and music. Grasshoppers and bees were the stringed instruments of the garden orchestra; birds its choir. And they were all my friends. So were the fairies who hid under the ferns, and the witches who parked their brooms on the edge of the purple heath-land. Pebbles and snowdrops, oak apples and woodlice were my childhood treasures. The smell of damp earth and grass was my oxygen. The entire world was there, inside the garden gate.

The mountains hurtle past the window as my train cuts through them, their millennial strata like ribbons blowing in a gale. Sitting opposite me, some boys from Naples have decided to offer me an antipasto of Latin charm. I should have expected it: my friends had told me that Italian men are all