Buongiorno principessa – Life if Beautiful, an “accidental” film location

I have a phrase whenever I stumble across a place which has been used for filming that I wasn’t aware had been a filming location: an accidental film location. It’s happened several times:

  • Going on a date (yes, really) in Bicester, Oxfordshire, I stayed overnight at RAF Bicester (Bicester Heritage) which I found on AirBnB. What I didn’t know is that where I was staying was literally next door to where they filmed a key scene in The Intimidation Game in which they’re working on the enigma machine.

  • Dunsfold Park. I think it’s fair to say it is an accidental filming location because who the heck knows what kind of projects film there. But we’ve had: Star Wars: A Solo Story, Top Gear, London Has Fallen, A Theory of Everything, Marvel’s Secret Invasion, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and many, many more besides.
Kingsman: The Secret Service practicing a chase prior to filming

You’ll see the final sequence of the practice chase in the final trailer below. All shot at Dunsfold (you’ll see the aircraft hangars in the background). Of course, the irony here is that the film was co-written by Jane Goldman whom I interviewed earlier on when she co-wrote Stardust with Matthew Vaughn.

Yeah, this is Star Wars – but not as you know it (nor as it appears in Solo, the film)


Then there’s Arezzo in Italy. Back in October, 2005, I went to Italy with my wife (now ex-wife) and her parents and we hired a car and drove all around Tuscany. We stayed in a beautiful small cottage in the countryside. We made our way through many of the beautiful small villages that are dotted around the area and ended up in Florence, but one particular village stood out.

I was walking down one of the streets and it had an oddly familar feel to it. I knew it from somewhere, but I couldn’t be sure until I spotted a poster on a nearby wall. It confirmed it. We were in the filming location for one of my all-time favourite films, the Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful.

And the trailer for the film:

What was interesting is that we ate at a restaurant that Roberto Benigni either frequented (because he is a native of Arezzo and is a long time customer), or used many times during the filming, as it had big images of him on the walls. And judging by the position on one of the images, we were sitting at his table. Either way, this accidental film location was pretty darn special.

Though to be fair, 2005 was an interesting year overall. In December I flew to New York to attend to world premiere of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It was a star-studded affair (so I’m glad I took a tuxedo with me) and I found myself looking back at George Lucas who was sitting several rows behind me. It was truly a surreal time.

Interestingly, the most recent event turned up while I was on holiday. It turns out that Hideo Kojima, a world-renowned games developer (the “Metal Gear” series and most recently “Death Stranding”) turned up at work with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”, “The Neon Demon”, “Bronson” and provides the likeness for Heartman in Death Stranding).

Breaking Bad.. Surrey Edition

As I lost one of my AirPods Pro gen 2 AirPods, I decided to go for the new USB-C AirPods Pro gen 2 from Sky Mobile who were doing them for a good deal (I will eventually get around to sorting out the missing AirPod, that way I’ll have a spare). When the DPD driver turned up, he took this photo as proof of delivery, and it makes me look like some form of drug addict waiting to get his fix.

“You ain’t seen me, right?”

The USB-C AirPods Pro gen 2 should have really been given a gen 3 label, as they are different (other than the USB-C port) – the H2 chip within the AirPods can now use the 5Ghz wireless bandwidth to incorporate lossless audio which, apparently, is intended for Apple’s new Vision Pro headset. Not that I intend buying one given that it costs more than my 16″ MacBook Pro. But I do wonder if Apple will enable it on the iPhone and iPad.

As for the iPhone 15 Pro Max – well, again, Sky has had a very good deal on them for the handset only (I also note that EE, Sky and Vodafone now all let you pay the handset off separately for up to 36 months after which you’re just paying for the airtime – so everybody is now following in the wake of O2 which has been doing this for ages now). I’m on an older EE contract which will still charge me full rate even when I’ve finished paying off the handset, so I’ll be changing to SIM only once that’s up next year.

Now, I’ve said that I’m slowing down/stopping my tech spending as of now – and I am – but I do feel that the iPhone is a very personal and important device that for my line of work (especially the iPhone 15 Pro’s ray tracing capabilities for games) and as a hobby. I feel the need to switch out handsets each year so that I can be familiar with the new features and whether it’ll impact stuff at work (for example, some of the newer privacy features in the iPhone affected Wi-Fi connectivity back in my old job – took me a while to figure out what was happening). After all, a smartphone these days is my personal assistant, camera, wallet, ID, phone, portable entertainment centre (music and video), gaming device, bus pass, train pass (though there’s going to be a whole blog post about that soon), loyalty cards, messaging service, taxi ordering service, maps, delivery tracking, and so much more.

The only problem is that on the day of pre-ordering, pretty much every single service provider (and even Apple’s own site) had significant problems keeping up on demand. I had problems with Sky but managed to get a pre-order in, and received an email to confirm that I’d get the unit on Friday 22nd but, ALAS, “due to a technical error” (yeah, more like logistical error) that was wrong. Hopefully should find out next week when I should be receiving the device, but indicators point until the end of October. Analysts have stated that there has been a significantly higher demand for the iPhone 15 Pro (and especially with Max edition with the 5x telephoto lens) than anticipated.

The only real problem is that I was due to send the iPhone 14 Pro Max to be sold and the very generous offer for it is about to expire on Tuesday. Nevertheless, even if miss the deadline, even with a reduced offer it’ll still hold a much better value than an Android device. We go through this rigmarole almost every year, though this year has been particularly bad with delivery delays.

You should see the Sky forums about the Pro Max delivery days – many people claiming Sky mislead them. Alas, I wish people would see reason because this practically happens every year during pre-ordering. Apple has an initial finite stock that has been split between the various telecoms companies and themselves. There is much higher pressure this year because of the change to USB-C for data and charging, and the new camera system in the Pro Max. Many people have been waiting to upgrade from the iPhone 12 or 13 to the 15 – and if there was going to be one year that they’d do it, it’s this year.

At the end of the day, people will get their phones – it just requires a bit more patience – although a legitimate criticism has been that Sky hasn’t communicated the delays very well. A lot of us have either been on holiday or working from home when the phone was originally due to be delivered and it means that now we’ll have to organise another day to be home to take delivery – but as to when? Whenever Apple has more stock, and whether your order takes priority within the next stock release.

Technology, eh? Got to love it. It’s expensive AND it drives us insane.

P.S. – The Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn’t worth upgrading to – I’m perfectly happy with my Ultra 1. Don’t need the extra 1,000 nits of brightness or the speedier processor. Nice to haves, but not essential. The Ultra 1 has been a great trooper so far and it really is one of Apple’s finest products to date (along with the AirPods Pro) and it’s even better now with the release of WatchOS 10 (I love the new Modular Ultra watch face in particular).

Finally back on fibre broadband..

.. and better than ever thanks to an upgraded Virgin Media Hub (I had the 4 before it got destroyed in a power outage; now I have the Hub 5 with Wi-Fi 6 and a 2.5Gbs ethernet port). Combined with my Nighthawk RAX1200 router’s configurable WAN port, I’ve chosen to use the 2.5Gbs port directly to the Hub’s. I can now achieve full download speed whereas it was limited to around 930Mbs before:

And via fast.com:

The certainties of life…

It’s amazing to think one can go to bed one evening and wake up the next morning to discover their tax bill has shot up over £1,000 thanks to PPI compensation. On the other hand, it could have been a lot worse – and I’m glad this incident has come to light when it has.

Back in 2019-2020 I clawed back some payment protection insurance refunds through a specialist company. Now, I thought that the banks paid the interest on the sum that they calculated they owed me, would send me a cheque, and I paid the specialist company their cut. This is what happened (well, the sending of the cheque and paying the specialist PPI company at least). It worked out well (enough to buy a 32Gb, 4Tb SSD Intel Core i9 MacBook Pro outright – the last one before they moved to Apple silicon). After that, I forgot all about it.

Last month I received a notice from the specialist PPI company to say that they partnered with a new firm to claim back tax from those payments. Thought I’d give it a go given how well things had gone before.


I’ve heard back from HMRC directly to say that I now owe them £600 for the tax year 2019-2020, and £430 for 2020-2021. I hadn’t paid enough income tax. But having been digging around emails (as the original paperwork is now long gone – remind me to do a better job of keeping important financial documents by scanning everything in for future reference), I think I know where things have gone wrong (it’s 5am as I type this – brain working overtime).

There was a statutory 8% interest paid on the PPI reclaim – e.g. interest owed on what I paid into the PPI scheme over the years. It’s that interest that was taxed – not the final sum that I got back from the banks. Hence, it’s highly likely that I should have declared those figures to the HMRC at the time. If that’s the case, I wasn’t well informed by the specialist PPI company!

I’m still trying to get some information out of the company dealing with the PPI tax compensation (as I’m sure I’ll enjoy trying to speak to the HMRC) – but I’ve a feeling this is going to be something I’ve just got to take a hit on – apparently it has to do with the tax rate at which I pay – I don’t think either the original PPI compensation company or this tax company took that into consideration. PAYE really spoils you in that you don’t have to think about tax as often as, say, somebody who is self-employed has to. Or if you’re American – how I’d hate those tax returns 😉

As the old saying goes – there are only two things certain in this life: death and taxes.

In other news – I’m rejoining Virgin Media broadband (Gig1 tier) which should supply their new Hub 5 which uses a newer, better (lower latency) chipset than the Hub 4 and is hopefully less liable to die during a power outage. Which reminds me I really must buy a cheap UPS with surge protection. While I’ve been enjoying the o2 mobile broadband with the Nighthawk M6 mobile router – but the latency is a killer – especially if I want to use GeForce Now to play a game of Fortnite or Death Stranding PC.