Elvio Fappiano

Born: 4th September 1941


Date of interview: 20th July 2006

Map showing where Elvio Fappiano came from

My name is Elvio Fappiano, date of birth is 4th of September 1941. I was born in Italy.

Can you relay to me your experiences as a child?

Well as a child I was born during the Second World War and then after the war it was a hard time for everybody, almost all of Europe, but Italy was badly affected because people even if you had the money or whatever, there was nothing you could buy, everything was destroyed was rationed. We used to have a booklet with rations, you were allowed so much things a week, so much bread, so much sugar, so much of this and once that had gone, it didn't matter how much money you had there was no, no way you could any more. That was it, so people who had a bit of land and things, they used to grow their own things to sell to people, the more land you had the better you was doing, you grow more your own things, you had something extra, some other people didn't have any such luxury and we carried on.

Then in the '60s, there was the '50s, the '60s, there was a huge immigration. The Italians they was trying to emigrate wherever it was possible, mainly to Belgium, France, German, Finland, Australia, Canada, you name it, wherever you go you find Italians. I was nineteen then and I had the opportunity, I thought to myself, well I want to go somewhere, because in Italy there was a compulsory National Service, the army and it was two years you had to do, but there was no pay or anything, it was very hard life. So I said to myself I'm not going to waste my two years of my life there, and I start looking for somewhere to go. I see this opportunity to come to England because there was, the '60s was a great demand for English people from people from abroad of any kind of trade or experience.

At nineteen I didn't have any full time qualification or anything but I had a lot of interest in the catering. I saw this job going as a domestic in a private house, so I applied for it and within a couple of weeks I had my working permit to come here to England to work as a domestic, which was allowed only to work in the private house or schools or hospital. You had to be resident and for four years you had to, every month we had to go to the Police Station to report our stay, or just say no change or if there was any change. If we had moved job or address we had to report everything, and then after four years you apply to the Home Office for permanent stay and, unless you had done something silly or you had a criminal record or something, no one was rejected.

So it was approved and I decided to stay here. My thing was, maybe I stay here a few years, make some money and go back home, but things change in your life.

I stayed four months in that private house, which I came for, as a chef and I was treated very well, there was very nice people, rich English people that was in Woolhampton, it's about ten miles away and they treated me very well. I had a driving licence, from the first day they gave me a car and they gave me anything I needed and I was doing everything, but I was, I was the chef, I was a gardener, I was taking the children to school, take the dogs for a walk, which was one thing I didn't like. Anyway it was good, but it was one thing I was a young boy, you know I want a bit more time free, looking for girls or something, so there was a college nearby there called Oratory School, I don't know if you heard about it in Woolhampton. I said to the lady of the house, I said 'Look I'm, I want to go back to Italy because this job is, it doesn't suit me, you know I've got nothing to complain about your, the way you treat me but it's in general I miss home.' She was ever so nice, ever so kind, she asked me 'Look if it's because you want more this, more that, there is a college here and there is some other Italians who work in there, if you like you can go and work there,' and I said 'Do you mean it?' because she had to pay my way to come and she said 'Yes, yes, I'll tell them, I'll go there and you can have a job but, if you don't mind, sometime when you have a day off or sometime, can you come over and cook some Italian dish for us, for the children?' I said 'That's fine' and I, as again, they was the nicest people I had met.

She went to the college and within two days she had got me a job in the college as a cook and I went there, there was about thirty girls there including my wife, that's where I met her.

Anyway I stayed there one year at the college there and then I was always looking for something better if it was possible. I wanted to open my own restaurant and things but there was no way because if you didn't do the four years you wasn't allowed to do nothing after then, but I had a few jobs, privately in restaurants and there was some Italian restaurant, some café in Caversham, which now is all changed. Caversham Road, it's just up from Friar Street but now it's all changed because of the DIY and things and I had a few jobs like that and then I found a job at the University of Reading as a chef. I stayed there for about a year and a half and actually there was a job going at the hospital, which was slightly better. The only thing was they had no residential thing but I went and applied for the job and as, with the help of the District Catering Manager at the time, she could put a good word for me, so I got the job without being a resident and the only thing she said to me 'You've got a very good reference and you've been doing as an assistant chef, we haven't got a job here, we got a job as assistant cook, if you like to take it.' I said 'Yes I'll take it' because it was still better than there, so I took the job 1964 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Within one year I was promoted to assistant head chef, then I stayed there another year and I was promoted to head chef and I worked there for for, er thirty-nine years, then I took early retirement essentially. I took, the place, the kitchen at the Royal Berks, for a few years we won awards for cleanliness, best food in the region, in the hospitals, you know all things like that. Just before I retired we managed to get three star, when the hospital was awarded with stars, we managed to get three stars for the food and things so I left good reputation behind me.

Unfortunately they didn't manage to keep it, it's still going okay, but it's been a bit, a shame.

Anyway during my lifetime of work, and as I said to start with, I was, my aim was to go back but things changed, I met my wife and 1963 we got married and we had children, we had a set of twins, so we had a big family within a year and things changed and as I say, well I'm going to settle here. I managed to buy the first house, those days I mean, I know it sounds silly now, but in those days I mean my wage was £5.00 a week. I managed to get a house in Caversham for £750.00. It was a bit you know damp, but we got it, I got it and spent some more money on it and make it happen and stayed there for about ten years and we sold it 1971, there was at the time that the price of the house was going up by the seconds. I sold mine for two thousand three hundred and fifty and I couldn't find anything else, then this one came around, it was five thousand two hundred then, but it was in a state. The insurers they came in to see it because they had students in for a couple of years or a few years and I don't think any of them ever washed the place or anything, it was everything disgust. I thought to myself well I got to do something, I've got,' the price was reasonable, but like I say was needed a lot to do, but I did go through with it, put an offer for five and took the two hundred off and they accepted and slowly I did what I wanted to do with it.

During the time, as I was working in the hospital, we done, there were quite a few things, like in 1965, we created an Italian club, an Italian community. What I done I went, myself and one of my friends, we went around the house to house of the Italian people, they put 50p each, each family and we made a nice party, we hired a hall and made some food, being, my being a chef and so on, we made some food, we had a nice dinner dance more or less you know because 50p a family and everything else was free, that was all the 50p they pay we managed to cover everything, for drinks. From that day we carried on, we get more organised and more people got involved and we created a community. We never managed to buy our own place, but we used the Christ the King Hall in Cressingham Road, we used that for quite a number of years you know. We still, going on, like I say, not like what it used to, but that's remained and it's all down to me to create that community that we could met all, because in Reading there's a lot of Italians.

Then I used to, on my own time, apart from the job I had at the hospital, on weekend or my day off and things I had a continental mobile shop, which had my own, I didn't have to go and ask oh do you want anything, there was steady customers. Every second week because I used to do Reading and Basingstoke, one week in Reading and one week in Bas, every second week or weekend I used to say I knew more or less what they want, by the way I had steady customer, so and so and so and so, I'm here, what do you want. I did that for about ten years or so then, as I say I couldn't carry on full time job and do that and I was getting great demand so I had to stop.

Then I done a few private functions, weddings, mainly for friends and family and things, they used to come to me, oh my daughter is getting married, I'd say 'yes fine, what do you want you know, what do you want to get done and we'll do it.' It was not a thing like I was doing it for a living, no it was more a hobby than anything else, helping people and obviously I was getting some little cash for myself, but just for the expenses and what everything else and people was very happy because I was charging them nothing actually, just what it cost. We carried on a while, then in 2001, after thirty-nine years in the hospital I took early retirement and then do nothing. Pass my time with my grandchildren, which I've got eleven of them.

Before you left Italy what was your impression about England?

Well the impression about England before I left Italy, some people who had been here, some, all the people who had been here before, some of them was war prisoner and then they come back to Italy, they used to say that England was nice country to stay, people was okay. English was a bit hard to deal with but then again it's the same in everywhere, you get good people, bad people in everywhere you go. When I came here I found it very nice with the people I went to work with. In England is opportunity for anyone to achieve their goal, so myself personally I settled down and said, well I want to raise my family up, give them a good education, own my own house and be happy, get what I needed, the essential, without them struggling, that was my goal which I achieved and very happily so. I've got four daughters, which they all, as I said they had a good education and all done well and I pass my time with my eleven grandchildren.

What do you remember, in particular about your childhood as you were growing up in Italy?

Well I remember most everything. I think I said, mentioned in the second interview that soon after the war it was a hard time for everybody, I remember was going to school but I was eleven when I left school because I could see that everyone was struggling to get on. I said, well I can write, I can read and that's enough for me so it's time I'm getting a job and then from that age I went as an apprentice for a blacksmith, like a shoe horse and stayed two years there and then I took it, I still am confident that I can, I could make horse shoes and shoe the horse if I had to.

Then things was going on and you could see that horse was coming to an end because there was the revolution of bikes and push bike, and motor bike and as I say, well I think I got to change for something more. So I left that and I was an apprentice for a bicycle, bicycle shop, which again I did well, when I was put my head on something I was always achieving and again now if I had, if I get old thing, all the equipment, I can build a bike from a pipes, buy the pipes, cut it to measure and build a bike, I'm confident I can still do it now, provided I get the right tools and the right things.

Then I see well what's coming round, the motor bike and the car, I say well the push bike could finish as well, I took one step forward, upward, and mechanic and I did about six months of that and say well it's good, it might be good in a few years time but there is no money at the moment, I need something now and I started to mess about with fruit and veg ... managed to get myself a three wheeler scooter, to go from one village to another selling, get the things that this village had too much, the next village didn't have any, I used to go and sell things and had my own little enterprise and was very happy with it, but as I say I was getting older, always better idea coming for work and that was the idea of coming to England and there we are.

Do you sometimes go back to Italy?

Yes every year, sometimes more than once, like last year I've been three times so we, we got our own place there, so we go whenever we wish to and my children, my son-in-law and the children, they all like there, so they all coming, they all going every year as well, still got our relatives there, my sisters, my nephews and so on, long lost cousins, so we do go every year, yes.

What do you see your role in England now as coming from Italy?

Well my role in England and I know I'm Italian, I come from Italy but I've been here now for, '61, almost fifty years, so I'm settled and I think it's great. England is a country of multicultural things, people and religion and things, it's not easy to find an English person any more. I mean you get people, including my daughters, yes we're English, we're British but you go back to the origin and everyone, oh my grandfather was French, my grandmother was Italian or my Uncle is this, you know it's always got, to find a typical 100% pure English is very, very hard. I'm one of those people who adapt to what what's going on, now I obey the English rules and things, I do some traditional Italian, there's some tradition you keep for the rest of your life, but I use that in my own house, not when I'm outside, when I'm outside I do what the British law is and I obey to that.

And did those bad experience of leaving school early and having to work help you in the, in the long run?

Well it did help me give me experience of life and how to earn your living and appreciate it, it's nothing put on, because there's nothing worse than things put on a plate for you without knowing where it's coming from. I believe if you own things you appreciate much more, as Tesco say every little helps and my in-laws as well, when I was growing up, when I get married and I want to have a family, if my goal is possible to give my children the education they need which I have achieved that, and thank god for that and pleased with it, proud of it, that's it.

HI Elvio,Like you i was born in Italy{near Venice]and we migrated to Australia in 1954 Dad left in 1950 to find work and when he had enough money he paid for us to go to Australia.I was 9 when i left Italy and i grew up not knowing my Grandparents.I miss my country very much.ciao Bruna.

Bruna Borton, 12 September 2007

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