They’re a funny bunch, your Italians. I’ve got family over there who I spent many summers with when I was growing up. During adolescence, I would arrive in Rome done up like a prize pudding, head to toe in flammable sportswear; I was spotty, pale and jowly as a result of the beer, weed and crisps diet that we British teenagers were raised on. My Italian cousins, meanwhile, would be lithe, tanned and dressed impeccably in neatly pressed Lacostes and Levi’s. The strongest thing that ever seemed to pass their lips was the odd espresso. I mean to say, sipping tiny coffees while they perused the sports papers when they were still just 17 years old? It made no sense to me.
We would eat dinner at nine, then go out at 10 and meet up with a bunch of impossibly sexy girlfriends in a glorious piazza for an ice-cream. A fucking ice-cream! I would think about my mates back home, huddled in a drizzly playground after dark, sharing a bucket-bong and a four-pack of Foster’s and wondering why girls never wanted to hang out with them. Yep, having Italian cousins was certainly a sobering experience for me as a young man. It exposed me to la dolce vita but whenever I got back to London and tried recreating it at home it just wasn’t the same. I asked my mum for an espresso and she made me a Nescafé in an egg cup. It was nice of her to try. I suggested to my mates one night we pop out for an ice-cream. They beat me up. Fair enough, really.
I asked my mum for an espresso and she made me a Nescafé in an egg cup. It was nice of her to try
Anyway, I suppose all of us have some small inferiority complex about the Italians. With their scooters and their clothes, their sunglasses and their sulky cool. They are so brilliantly un-British in every way. But there is another side to Italian life that you can see in the excellent series Gomorrah on Sky Atlantic. It’s set in Naples. But not the swishy Naples you see in the sort of food shows where some ponce fetishises the street food they’ve just been handed in a beautiful dockside by a 150-year-old woman draped in rosary beads.
No, this is the ugly, rundown suburbs of Naples, where the pre-eminent crime gang are called Gomorrah and go about their horrible, violent business with less style than my cousins in Rome and far less romance than the sort of sharpsuited goons you see in most gangster movies. Gomorrah’s world is grotty and tragic. It’s like Ken Loach does the mafia. It is also dramatic, exciting and brilliant. Not least because seeing overweight Italians in shell suits provides a much-needed counter-balance to Britain’s post-Brexit sense of inferiority.