newstatesman.com commended at award ceremony

How newstatesman.com was runner up at a prestigious awards ceremony plus a far from quiet American i

A few weeks ago I may have modestly mentioned being nominated for the British Society of Magazine Editor's web editor of the year award.

Well this week my wife, self, magazine deputy editor Sue Matthias and our web developer Dan Coppock trooped along to the Park Lane Hilton to see the gongs doled out.

As it happens we were pipped at the post by the editor of Empire's website but were specially commended which I suppose means we were the runners up.

That's not bad when you think how much dosh all our rivals for the award have to run their websites. We saw the result as a recognition of all the work our small team has put in.

Now in a couple of week's time it will be the first anniversary of our website launch.

You will notice a few changes taking place in the coming months – proof we've no intention of standing still despite our successes.

In the meantime we will continue to publish the usual raft of online content. Next week look out for articles on Chavez, house prices and America's new breed of student radicals plus the usual mix of blogs and news.

Why the irritating burst of energy? Well perhaps because this time last week I'd just got back from a week in Umbria where the sun shone, the temperature hovered around 18 degrees celsius and the olive harvest was getting underway.

It's a beautiful part of the world with a liberal scattering of medieval hilltop towns, fantastic food and great wine.

The Italians can be incredibly hospitable and – clutching a small baby – we were lavished with attention and kindness almost everywhere we went.

Our only error was a day trip to Florence. Even in November it was overrun with the sort of tourist that has to be shepherded everywhere and is only really interested in Michelangelo's David to the extent of being photographed by a famous sculpture.

With that kind of tourist you always get the hustlers. We witnessed the same silly game of cat and mouse between the police and the hawkers of counterfeit goods that I'd seen on my last visit in 1989.

In a restaurant for lunch we met a woman from Virginia who believed Italy and France weren't separate countries, thought Nottingham was in London and whispered – on discovering we were British – 'oh you have those Muslims there'.

Curiously she was very preoccupied with the image Americans have abroad. She felt an injustice had been meted out when her fellow countrymen had been branded loud. "You should hear the Italians talking."

We couldn't, she was drowning them out.

What was intriguing about the conversation was the extent to which she projected her own ignorance on to others.

At one point she started telling us how artists in America struggle to get by. I made some remark about how the Federal government used to pay sculptors and painters under FDR's New Deal.

She replied: "Oh we don't have that anymore."

Well I never.

It was relief to get back to our tiny Umbrian hamlet and watch Midsomer Murders dubbed into Italian. Now do you understand my pain?