November 1999


Ciao, amico

Topsham, Devon 23 November 1999 This past December, it would have been ten years since Nello Ghezzo came to Topsham and opened his restaurant. A decade is not long in Topsham, where some families have lived for hundreds of years, but within that brief period, it is true to say that Nello became a part of the Topsham community in every sense.
That Nello became a part of the Topsham community is a credit to his warm, open, generous character. It is also a credit to this very special community, a community where we stranieri -- outsiders from other towns, or worlds and cultures -- can come and find a place that can be home.
It is not possible for any of us to remember Nello without recalling happy times in Nello’s Ristorante Italiano. What a wonderful, special place he created for us all to enjoy, a small but wholly authentic corner of Italy that completely reflected Nello’s personality and joy of life, a joy that came through in Nello’s glorious and abundant foods and sun-filled Italian wines. It is no surprise to me that Nello’s was awarded in 1997 a prestigious national award sponsored by Galbani as ‘The Best Pizza and Pasta Restaurant’ in Britain. For those of us who love real Italian food, we were fortunate indeed that Nello chose to come here.
But Nello’s, for many of us, was more than just a place to come to eat. Whenever we wanted to celebrate -- a birthday, an anniversary, the passing of exams or a driving test, a christening, baptism, wedding, a professional success, or simply the getting through of another day -- we went to Nello’s to share our happiness with Nello. When we were sad, and needed cheering up or commiseration, we went for the comfort of Nello’s food, his wines, and his constant good cheer.
When our babies were born, we carried them into the restaurant to toast them with Barolo, and our children grew up in the security and knowledge that sharing good food and wine among friends young and old is part of the joy of being alive. For indeed Nello liked nothing more than to have children in his restaurant.
Sometimes we went to Nello’s simply because we were hungry and in need of sustenance, a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine. Often we gathered there for friendship, dropping in on Saturdays for a cappuccino and a chat, after group cycles on Sunday mornings, and late at nights, after Nello had finished work, to share food, wine, perhaps a grappa or two, but most of all to share amicizia, friendship.
We went to Nello’s because of Nello. It is difficult to separate the place from the man: he is someone we will always remember as giving us nothing but happiness and good times.
In remembering Nello, I pay tribute to a special friend, ever full of tireless energy, a love of life, and of living, often quite literally in the fast lane. Anyone who ever had the chance to drive with Nello in his red Alpha Romeo will know what I mean: it could be an exhilarating, sometimes wholly terrifying experience.
We called him pazzo Nello -- crazy Nello -- and he would have a go at just about anything: jumping out of airplanes, off a crane attached by the ankle to nothing more than a piece of bungee, or abseiling down Exeter College once in three glorious, joyful bounds. He slept very little, didn’t need to, for there was always too much to do, too much to enjoy. He had an infectious love of life and an immense capacity to enjoy life. And he had crazy ideas, and wonderful dreams.
A project he often spoke of wanting to do next to raise monies for local charities was to create ‘the longest table in Topsham’, that is, to have a table stretching from the beginning of Fore Street down the quay and back around Holman Way to the train station, a distance of what, a couple of kilometres? The idea was for the whole Topsham community to sit down together, sharing wine, food and friendship. I have no doubt that he would have found some way to achieve this and wouldn’t it be wonderful? Imagine the scene: Nello working like a maniac in some immense outdoor kitchen, Pepe and Helen on roller skates helping Nello to make it happen! Who knows, perhaps one day it will.
And of course, there was Ride for Life, our crazy, wonderful cycle to Venice. The sharing of such a physically intensive activity creates deep bonds of friendship, but It was really much more than just a bike ride. For Ride for Life involved and touched so many of us in so many ways through the solidarity that comes from working together for an important cause, FORCE and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.
Many people have expressed to me a feeling of cruel irony that after all our efforts and activities (Ride for Life raised and distributed some £21,000 in 1997), Nello himself should have contracted this wretched disease. But everyone should know that Nello himself never thought this. For in doing Ride for Life, we never thought that we would be granted some special dispensation that would somehow make us immune, nor indeed that we deserved to be.
Quite the contrary. We knew that this is a disease that has the capacity to afflict any one of us, young or old, strong or less strong, and at any moment. We became involved, I think, simply because we were strong, because we were able to be involved, and because, through our physical exertions, we were able to capture the imagination of all who supported us, and thus contribute in our own way to this desperate fight. That fight must continue, and so I have no doubt that Ride for Life will take to the saddle again in some form just as Nello would have wanted.
Not much more than a year ago, we shared Nello and Karen’s marriage and wedding, celebrating as friends and as a community in their joyful happiness. What a wonderful time that was! And today, just as we shared and celebrated Karen and Nello’s happiness, as friends and as a whole community, we share in Karen’s loss and terrible sadness.
I was looking over the Ride for Life web site the other day, and at the words I wrote to sum up the whole experience at the end of our ride in July 1997:

“Though at times there were tough and hard moments, the mountains savage and unforgiving, the lesson that Nello and I learned along the way is that memory is not just about looking back, but about taking inspiration and courage in order to move forward.”

It is a tough lesson to learn and to re-learn, I have to say. But I truly know that Nello’s infectious character and his courageous, generous and noble spirit will always be an inspiration to so many of us and that the memories of a very special friendship, and of a very special person who passed too briefly through Topsham, will continue forever to enrich our lives and make us happy.
Ciao, Nello. Buon viaggio.

Karen and I would like to thank everyone who donated so generously to the Ride for Life fund in aid of cancer charities. This fund is still open and we plan on July 2, 2000 to organise a Nello Memorial Century Challenge Ride for Life cycle,a hundred m milerthat will take in one of our old favourite training rides, the North Devon Horseshoe across the roof of Exmoor. So now is the time to start training! We’d love to have you along for the ride.

For further information, please email me at

Copyright © Marc Millon 2000

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