If this is middle age, then I’m really glad to have got here! Don’t misunderstand me.
I had a wonderful childhood, and a pretty good time through most of my teens and twenties too.
Being a mummy at home with small children was pretty blissful; I knew exactly who I was, and revelled in the whole experience. But though I have never felt remotely trapped by my existence, the last couple of years have been a time when windows and doors seemed to fly miraculously open in all sorts of areas, and it is (to quote that great traveller, Lady Mary Montague) , “all most interesting”. I am happily discovering that many of the things I just “didn’t do” I not only can do without the earth shifting on its poles, but I actually enjoy doing.
Take last week, for example. In my book, middle aged mothers did not fly off, accompanied by only one family member, for 3 days of unadulterated pleasure in Venice, just because they felt like it.
We couldn’t possibly afford it, and if we did, it would be hugely unfair to the rest of the family to spend all that money on just two members, and anyway, I hadn’t flown abroad on my own for a good 22 years, and I probably didn’t know how…
But the truth is that bargain city breaks cost rather less than 3 days B&B in the Cotswolds, that the male members of the family coped perfectly well, thank you, without my solicitous enquiries “are you sure you feel OK about this” and Bristol airport, in case you are interested, is a dear little thing, so small scale that even the most neurotic of travellers can surely be confident that they are boarding the right plane.
Venice was predictably and utterly wonderful.
DarlingDaughter drank in its beauties as if she’d spent her life shut away in a coal hole, and we spent our daylight hours mostly wandering beside the canals, loitering in the piazzas, and, of course, trying not to spend the money we’d saved thanks to EasyJet. (In this last we were, I fear, staggeringly unsuccessful. As one guide-book put it, Venice has been fleecing visitors since the Middle Ages, so we were at least conforming to tradition). This trip was very much dedicated to DD, who was not keen on intensive sight seeing, so though we did visit San Marco (highly recommended in February, when it is possible to wander around freely, in stark contrast to the summer experience of being herded in continuous multi lingual file through one door and out the other) and crossed the Grand Canal via the Rialto, we otherwise sat very light to the “must sees”. Instead, we bought a sort of church season-ticket, - offering free entry to a selection of second rank churches,- each of which boasted at least one Veronese, Tintoretto or Rubens, and they provided a vague itinerary for our wanderings. In one, we found ourselves inches away from the most beautiful medieval book of the Gospels, open at the Baptism of Christ. The memory of the jewel-like colours of the illustration, with the tiny figure of Jesus rising from the water as the dove descended in a shaft of golden light should enliven the gloom of many a February morning in Charlton Kings. In another, there was a surprise exhibition dedicated to the musical instruments of the age of Vivaldi, and we two string players gazed lustfully at an Amati bass, standing on the chancel steps inviting someone,- anyone,- to pick up its bow and play. Church visits were rationed, to avoid overload, so the last one we visited was in fact in mistake for somewhere else...but it was here that we followed entranced a set of Stations of the Cross by (I believe) the less famous son of Veronese. They were hung at a very comfortable eye level, so that you found yourself looking directly into the face of Christ as he was whipped, or greeted by the women of Jerusalem; but the crowd wore the clothes of Renaissance Europe, and the faces were those you might recognise in the crowds on the Rialto. In one way, this was incongruous, in another a statement of the profound truth that we are all involved in those events in Jerusalem 2 millennia ago.We had barely finished talking about the relative merits of assorted Venetian lions, when we met this one, clearly newly arrived and breathless from his flight.
Serendipity was the order of the day, and maps were outlawed. We were in the midst of a discussion as to whether Othello (an A level set text) should more properly have been named “Iago” when we crossed the Ponte Mori and found ourselves gazing on a house which carried a plaque depicting a camel and a small, turbanned figure…indisputably the Moor of Venice.
Gondoliers are no less beguiling in winter than amid the summer crowds…we both giggled as we realised that the ubiquitous cry of “Gondola, gondola” is so much a reflex that any gondolier worth his salt will produce it regardless of the time or season (as evidenced by one who pursued us with it, while at the same time clearly intent on shutting up shop as the winter evening drew in); we imagined a gondolier, woken at night by the phone, automatically answering with the well worn cry…
We bought masks, and glass and wonderfully extravagant ear-rings.
We ate wonderful sea-food (spaghetti with cuttle fish is my new favourite supper dish). We sat in the chilly winter sun and ate ice cream, just because it was Italy. We laughed. We danced. We sang bits of Noye's Fludde as we ran over bridges in a flurry of snow. And most of all, we pottered harmoniously. And proved that we CAN do things on our own.
And loved being there, and being together. Life with a grown-up daughter is clearly tremendous fun. Thank you L, for a lovely holiday.