Cosimo Togna is the last living interpreter of the former Stewartby, the works as big as a city which produced bricks for the reconstruction of British cities after the bombings of the second world war. He remembers everything of those times; he is one of those people who have more familiarity with their past, than with their present. His house is a mix of horror vacui and amarcord, a long, narrow living room in a vaguely popular area, with a small kitchen and a bedroom, entirely filled by a double bed. On his bedside table sits the urn containing his wife’s ashes.
We met him a few hours before at the museum “The Higgins” in Bedford, where he was browsing through the photos and magazines from the time of the brickworks. He recognised old friends, colleagues, a few rivals. All disappeared now. It is a melancholic note, and this is why he feels more comfortable in his living room, after a moka coffee and a cigarette. He starts to tell us how he became an interpreter. In 1945 the American troops were still occupying Benevento. He was selling chestnuts with his uncle in front of the American headquarters, and befriended a young Palestinian girl. When we ask him whether they became more than friends, he does not answer but cannot hide a smile.
Cosimo learned English thanks to this friendship, and thus decided to go to the employment office in 1949, asking for a job outside Italy. His desire was to have a better life for himself and his wife, as he had recently married. In 1951 he was sent to the UK, going by train to Milan, then Calais, taking the ferry finally to London. Before giving him an id and a job they asked him a few questions: «How old are you? What was your last job? Are you a communist? ».
The officers liked the answers and destined him to a coal mine. He had to leave this due to the protracted strikes by the British workers who found the Italians an uncomfortable presence since they worked harder and better. He then went to the brickworks in Bedford, living in a former prisoner of war camp, now called by the more appealing name of “Wings Hostel”. Every morning he went out with thousands of other workers to the brickyards, which were so large they had their own hospital and firemen. After a few years he bought a house, brought his wife to the UK and started living in what was at the time the Little Italy of Bedford.
While making another coffee, he wants to show us what he is narrating. He inserts a VHS in the player, while his golden neck chain with a crucifix dangles from his shirt and he adjusts his ring, which has a cross on one side, a portrait of the Queen on the other.
The cassette starts playing.