My Late and Much Lamented brother-in-law Doctor Filippo (“Pippo”) Gipffredi. By Roy Quinton

My Late and Much Lamented brother-in-law Doctor Filippo (“Pippo”) Gipffredi

By Roy Quinton

“Pippo” left the parental home in Perugia in the early 1950s. He had a degree in Pharmacy from The University of Perugia and for a number of years had managed a wholesale pharmaceutical business, located on the banks of Lake Trasimeno, in Umbria. He purchased a Chemist’s Shop in the town of Lecco, in Northern Italy, situated on a branch of Lake Como, married a northern girl and raised a family there. Following his departure my parents-in-law also transferred their abode from Perugia, settling in the small village of Olgiate Molgora, which is located just off the LECCO-MILAN highway and just 23 kilometres from Lecco. My wife and I, henceforth, spent all our subsequent summer holidays with them and, of course, frequently visited “Pippo” and his family.

“Pippo” was much like my father-in-law;-late nights enjoying himself with his pals and often returning home as late as 3am the next morning. His wife accepted him as he was, for he was, otherwise, a very good husband. Although I always got on very well with him, he realised that I was NOT a “late night bird”, like him, so it was with some surprise that, one day, he asked me to have an “evening” out with him and two of his friends. With some reluctance I agreed and it was somewhat strengthened when he suggested that all four of us use my car for the outing. We duly left Lecco about 7pm, after he had first of all taken all the day’s takings out of the till and stuffed the money in his pocket and called out to my sister-in-law:- “when the tax man calls, you will find the “bustarella” (literally “the little envelope”-) (a bribe) on the shelf…don’t forget to give it to him”!!!

I duly took the wheel and off we went. He told me that were going to see CAMPIONE D’ITALIA, which he told me was a small enclave, just over the nearby Swiss frontier, which had belonged to a wealthy Italian widow of a Swiss business man; -at her death she had gifted the plot of land to the Italian State. I am surprised that the Swiss Government allowed a portion of its national territory to be alienated in that manner!!!

Anyway, having crossed over the frontier into Switzerland at CHIASSO, near Como, we suddenly came upon another Italian frontier post at the entrance to CAMPIONE D’ITALIA. On entering the plot of land I learned that there were no houses there: what there was, however, was one Carabinieri post, one large restaurant and one enormous CASINO, the latter all made of plate glass, reinforced with steel and ablaze with light, completely illuminating the night sky!!! I parked the car and followed the others into the main entrance of the CASINO, which opened up into a long carpeted corridor, on each side of which, at intervals, sat a beautifully dressed girl, whom, so they told me, were available, if required, by the evening’s “punters”-(at extravagant prices) !!!
I then followed the others into the main gambling room, where “Pippo”, delving into his pocket for the pharmacy’s takings, plunked them on the shelf in the annexe where gambling chips were sold. Having obtained his chips, as did his two pals, also, I was then led from one gaming wheel to another, as they threw their chips down on the relevant table to the croupier’s “chant”:- “rien ne va plus”, meaning no more bets accepted. None of them having won a thing, “Pippo” led me to a corner of the gaming hall, where a small shop, selling gifts of all kinds, was in business:-there he purchased a huge box of chocolates for my sister-in-law and a train set for his little son, and, turning to me, said:-“when you come to these places, Roy, if you’ve lost the money you have used to place your bets, the thing to do is to buy some presents to take home, when ,on arrival, you must tell your wife:- here you are, dear, look at the nice presents I have bought you out of my winnings-( for it always works”)!!!!!!

Having completed his purchases we all left the CASINO and made our way across to the other side of the square and entered the restaurant. There, waiting for us at the dinner table, were the proprietor and three girls, the latter being one for the proprietor and one each for “Pippo’s” two friends. He turned to me and said that he had arranged the girls for the others, and, in return, they were going to pay for the dinners, including the champaign and whisky, for him and for myself.!!! My brother-in-law was a gourmet whenever it came to food, and loved Scottish whisky!!!!

During the meal, the three girls left the room accompanied by the proprietor and “Pippo’s” two pals- (I understand that, being a hotel as well as a restaurant, rooms upstairs had been laid on.)-!!!! When they later returned, they all recommenced eating their meals.!!!

By about 1.30am, I was absolutely on the point of dropping off for lack of sleep, but, happily, “Pippo” and pals were ready to go home, too. As we got into my car, all three of them promptly fell asleep and it was at that point that, for me, “the penny finally dropped”!!!! By bringing me along, they had secured a chauffeur, enabling them to get as drunk as they wished, as “muggins”- (yours truly)- would be driving them safely home. As “Pippo” put me up for the night, I was able to hear my sister-in-law first upbraid him and then give vent to contented laughter, as he showed her the presents he had purchased with the” winnings” !!!! Happily, I was never again invited to accompany him on subsequent evening trips…not that my wife Irene would have allowed me to do so, anyway!!!

Now there are three other small incidents to report, the first one revealing, in my opinion, the similarity between the late Ronnie Barker’s shopkeeper character in “OPEN ALL HOURS” and my late brother-in-law. One summer whilst on holiday in Lecco, I decided to take a walk up to “Pippo’s” pharmacy. When I was about 50 yards of it, I saw him, wearing his full-length white Pharmacist’s smock, standing at the entrance to the pharmacy, chatting up a good-looking young woman.
When he noticed me arriving he quickly bade her goodbye and turned towards me with a broad smile. “Roy”, he said, with a last leer at the receding figure of the woman and casting a big wink in my direction, “I am, metaphorically-speaking, like the deep sea fisherman;-I often stand outside here, when business is slack, and I, mentally, cast my net as far and wide as I can, knowing full well that sooner or later a dainty morsel or two will be caught in it from time to time.!!!!

Another incident took place many years earlier, when my two eldest sons, Philip and John, were very young. He had taken his two English nephews out for a trip in the old second hand “banger, his first car, which he had only just succeeded in finding the money to buy. At a given point, he heard John exclaim: – “Oh Uncle Pippo, look at that car wheel which is just rolling along at the side of where you are sitting.”!!! He at once slammed on the breaks, as the car suddenly jolted to the right, and, on inspection, realised that his rear near-side wheel had parted company with this car. I never did hear the sequel to that incident.

On yet another occasion, years later and much wealthier, he decided to take one of his cousins and “yours truly” out for a trip along the lake. At one point the road narrowed and he found his way impeded by what was, without doubt, a very drunken countryman attempting to ride his bike but, in doing so, meandering from one side of the road to the other. Eventually, in a rage, “Pippo” managed to pull up beside the man, at which point he shoved his arm out of the car and gave the man a right old punch, knocking him off the bike and on to the road. I was appalled, as was his cousin, who told him that it had been a good job that no policeman had been around to see what he had done, for, had the latter have seen “Pippo”, my brother-in-law would have certainly “done time” in the local prison.!!! All the latter said, in reply, was simply that the cyclist deserved wat he had got!!!

I feel it necessary to close by stating that it was a good job that “Pippo” and his wife Silvia, died when they did for, in doing so, they never knew that their only son, Paolo, my wife’s only nephew, was to drown off the Maldives years later, whilst “snorkelling”. No post-mortem was ever held but, on the local death certificate, the cause was stated to have been either a heart attack or a stroke. The fact is that Paolo had become an alcoholic;-not on wine but, of all things, from excessive drinking of British best bitter!!! The last time we met him in England and took him out to a pub lunch, my sons reported that, without the slightest doubt, he had consumed 8 pints of bitter, one after the other, as he ate his food. We all remain in shock, even after the passage of some years.

Roy Quinton