Resolutions and Revolutions

Monday, 28 December 2009

Apologies if this is upsetting, but if it hurts to look at, imagine how it is to live with.

I've never been cynical about New Year's Eve; after all, having your friends around, lovely party or dinner and positively encouraged to stay up too late showing off - heaven.

The thing that does bore me though, is the harping on about giving stuff up, resolving to make life-shattering changes, join gyms, stop drinking, shopping, eating chocolate, enter a monastery. I've never subscribed the whole suffering-is-good-for-the-soul Protestant anti-fun ethic. Suffering and denial is crap for my soul. It makes me short-tempered and deeply resentful; bottles of wine appear on my desk at work from terrified employees and by January 15th, they have usually staged an intervention and taken me to the pub.

A couple of years ago, full of turning-40 mortality, I agreed to run a ten-mile marathon, which to my surprise involved months and months of training. I did the marathon (nobody more stunned than me), but ended the year about a stone heavier than I started as I have NEVER been so hungry in my life.

I think it's easier to resolve to add to one's life. I have sucessfully kept a five-year-old resolution to eat more cheese (I had to also buy a small fridge for my own personal use, but it was a small price to pay for on-tap Gorgonzola and Stinking Bishops) and only buy cashmere.

This year, I am counting blessings, and adding to someone else's life. If, like me, you are overwhelmed and sated by the sheer amount of STUFF there is to manage after a good Christmas haul, I suggest you give some away. I am adding clarity and peace to my existence. Encouraged by the saintly Maxminimus and someone close who knows the life-changing difference it can cause, I will pay for a couple of cleft-palate operations for children who have literally nothing.

In the meantime, there's a perfectly ripe Camembert in the kitchen with my name on it.

Making a list and checking it twice

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The bloody kitchen floor is under here somewhere...

Firstly, I hope very much that all of you had a peaceful and lovely Christmas and if not, that you had a decent supply of booze to get you through it. Chez nous, it has whizzed by in a blur of presents, visits, laughing and some ill-advised late-night singing on the karaoke machine that Santa left.

Well, forgive the long radio silence; I have been without internet and with enchanting people since I came back from the sun. I now am sitting in a strangely silent house nursing a dog who ate I cannot imagine what when I wasn't looking and is very ill and just wants to snuggle in front of the TV. That'll make two of us then.

My time in the sun was epic and when British Airways theatened to strike and strand me on the beach, I merely shrugged. However, they got us back, landing between airport closures and snow storms and giving me just enough time to race round the supermarket and speed-listen to carols to get me in the mood.

I have two wonderful men who join us for Christmas each year who were also stranded, in Morocco, and also made it over in the nick of time. One comes all the way from Melbourne, one from heaven. They cook like angels and wash up like plongeurs. They also teach the bots exotic swear words and make us play Sardines when it is way past bedtime.

So the bots and Edward are in London at the Panto and Freddie is going to a Chelsea match tomorrow. The angels have flown to go skiing in France. The Colonel gets back from his peace-keeping mission tomorrow. I have a fridge full of left-overs and probable renal failure. I have a camera full of videos of grown men grabbing microphones from small children and transmogrifying into Robert Palmer. The library door is firmly closed on a sea of wrapping paper and there is tinsel in my hair.

The dog and I are on water and boiled rice. We had  fantastic time.

Puddin and Souse

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The last time I was here, a decade ago, Edward & I were invited to the home of my first boyfriend Roger and his wife; she and I were both pregnant and exhausted - as we bonded over swollen feet, the lads got stuck into the rerserve rum and we had a splendid evening - apart from having to drive back to the hotel (me) from the midddle of a canefield in the middle of the island in the pitch black with a helpful singing soul (Edward) for company.

Ten years on, Roger's daughter and my son are almost teenagers; his brother arrived back this week for Christmas - he lives in Switzerland with his wife - and we are all invited to a Bajan restaurant for a homecoming lunch. Roger and Kiki live bang in the middle of the island, in St George. His family have been there for hundreds of years, working on, owning and latterly restoring some of the beautiful old plantation houses that are falling into disrepair all over the shop. His dad is 86, remembers the 13 year old me like it was yesterday (which both makes me cry and delights me at the same time) and pitches up this morning demanding a rum like the rest of us have coffee.

To be honest, I was debating whether to bring the bots or not. I remember myself these interminable lunches, adults banging on and drinking and the pudding and souse the only thing to eat. It's a similar peasant dish to haggis or black pudding - the unspeakable parts of the animal mixed with whatever is to hand - oatmeal, blood, whatever. Pudding and souse I remember to be just bloody awful - pigs intestines mixed with cucumber and vinegar and hot sauce. I love flying fish, adore pumpkin fritters and could live on goat curry, but pudding and souse is plain yucky.

However, I am out-voted by Roger's family and there is no debate whatsoever on this. We are all whisked away to the restaurant which is in an old rum shop on stilts. Open on all sides with huge shutters and a view which is exactly the same as it has been for two hundred years. Even at ten thirty, there is a little queue. We move plastic tables about and the lads come back from the bar with quart of rum, Sprite, Coke and a plastic tub of ice. The breeze is soft and Chelsea is playing on the screen behind the bar. Freddie is cross-eyed with happiness. Some Rastas chat to him about Didier Drogba; he grows about seven feet, takes a slug of Sprite and calls one 'mon.'

Luckily the food arrives - we have spicy jerk pork, flying fish and barbeque chicken - our plastic plates are piled up higher than we could ever hope to finish. There is macaroni pie and even chips for Roger's daughter (I had threatened to mangle the bots if they ordered them..). We get stuck in - Roger's dad enthralls me with tales of going to the school where my father taught by horse-drawn buggy; being taken to choose the rod that would cane you from the bamboo grove; shares my memories of tea-parties on long-ago Friday afternoons with my parents; long Sunday lunches at the tumbledown Atlantis Hotel, falling into the sea on the East Coast, sandy and hot from swimming, swarming the buffet like starvelings. These are parts of my life that I thought had been lost forever; I cannot begin to describe how valuable the jigsaw bits are.

So I won't. I'll leave you with us ordering another quart of Mount Gay; great gales of laughter; new friends and old; wonderful food that feeds the heart and belly; memories and reminisces; good-natured ribbing and jostling at the bar; the wind playing across the canefields and through the banana trees; the settler-built church on the hill that has served this valley for centuries; the bots full of chicken and Coke and sweets someone has found for them.

It will be hard to leave.

A very happy hour

Friday, 18 December 2009

With Pavlovian accuracy and lolling tongues, the English chaps here present themselves at the bar-in-the-pool at exactly 3.29pm just before the bells rings for happy hour. We're not a race noted for style, whatever my anglophile blogmates may fondly imagine. And especially not in hot weather. Other races cover up chicly in linen and chiffon; the Brits like to parade their ancient shorts and palid guts as the mercury rises.

Anyway, yesterday three were perched politely awaiting the bell (Style, no. Manners? Always). Opposite them, an American Marine (yes, he told the entire poolside) strutted out of his apartment. He looked like he was wearing the stick-on wrestling chest that Freddie has, so defined were his comic-book muscles. He dropped to the ground and began counting out beautifully-executed push-ups. (You see the lengths I go to, to bring you tales. Watching that was no picnic, I can tell you.) The Brits discreetly slithered their eyes at each other and got stuck into their first drink.

The Marine went back inside, and we all settled back down to the exhausting, relentless round of decisions - beach or pool? Front or back? Italian or Bajan? Sebastian Faulks or Vanity Fair?

After an hour, the bell rang again and the Brits slithered off their aquatic perches a shade less steadily that they had leapt up. The Marine came back out, dropped again. Only this time he had a small boy on his back. He got to seven before all three Brits offered noisily and seriously to sit on his back too.

I haven't seen him today. Not that I was looking, you understand.

From far away..

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Today I am in a far away place, lost way down the lanes of nostalgia. Instead of MORE sandy tales, I am honoured to be guest blogging chez Tish. Please visit me there, but more importantly, enjoy her erudite take on how to capture the chic of the French and amuse yourselves with her fabulous writing. I am on a beach watching my children learn to body surf; the next best thing is to charge over there and finish up your last-minute shopping. Amusez-vous!

A Journey

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

To get to my school in Bridgetown from the parish of St John, I had to travel across the island by bus. Even in the Seventies, the bus was a museum piece. Known as a Toast Rack, it had an open side, with benches across the whole width. There were no windows, just wooden frames with a rolled-up oilcloth attached to each one, to be let down in case of sudden, heavy sweet-smelling rain. To let the driver know you needed to get off, there was a string the length of each side, attached to a bell next to his head, which you would pull. ONCE.

The double-pull was the fiercely-guarded prerogative of Mistress King. Like 19th Century housekeepers, this titular courtesy was paid to respectable umarried ladies in  positions of authority. And conductress on the St John bus was a hell of a responsibility. Part disciplinarian, part moral arbiter, Mistress King was a huge figure in my life, in all respects of the word. Woe betide any schoolchild who misbehaved or lacked manners. She would bellow down the bus 'CHILE! Wunna mother would be SO shame! Show we respec or dem will be some BIG licks.' When the passenger had got on or off the bus safely, she would pull the bell twice, ding-ding and shout 'Go 'HEAD'.

The bus stopped in a seemingly arbitrary manner, sometimes but often not, observing the red and white signposts denoting bus stops. There were special stops (bang outside their houses and sod any rare traffic that would be disrupted by this) for the elderly, for bank clerks (who had god-like status for Mistress King) and for the vendor ladies who went each day to the Careenage in Bridgetown with their wooden trays to scratch a living. Their trays were a bloody nightmare to get on the bus though. Precarious piles of breadfruit, mangoes and avocadoes would roll frighteningly from side to side and if anything rolled off, Mistress King would make a child duck under the benches to catch it.

The old bus toiled up the steep bay, clutch objecting noisily and smokily, meandered through waving cane fields and rattled along dirt roads for about an hour, hooting its way crossly through early-morning Bridgetown traffic and disgorging a great flurry of poassengers to start their days.

Coming home was chaos. The bus station was an empty lot near the canal. There were a couple of burned-out cars for sitting on and a dusty pair of palms afforded scant shade from the afternoon sun. Snow-cone vendors zoomed suicidally about, bells ringing on their bikes with ice-boxes stuck on the front. For 25 cents and by banging on the side of the bus for their attention, you could get a plastic cup of ice with fruit syrup squirted down the middle which melted deliciously if you gently and rythmically squeezed the bottom of the cup. Too greedily and the contents burst out onto your clothes. Given that we were not supposed to eat in public in uniform and also that there were no washing machines in the entire parish, it was an undertaking of some daring to order one.

Being British, queuing is in my DNA. The bus would creak into view and the shout would be heard 'De bus, de bus!' Scores of people would scrummage their way on, elbows akimbo, watched disdainfully by Mistress King who seemed to accept this carnage. For the first few days, when the dust cleared, the bus would be packed and one little blonde girl would be standing politely by, satchel in hand while Mistress King bellowed did I want to get on de damn bus or not? I learned pretty quickly.

Once, my lovely gentle grandad was staying with us. He met me at the bus stop to come home with me after a day in Bridgetown. I have a blurry photo of us standing beside the burned-out car, me in uniform, clutching a snow cone, him grinning delightedly. He adored the rackety bumpy ride home, chatting happily with all the passengers I'd never even spoken to. He was enchanted by Mistress King and she by him. At every shout of 'Go 'HEAD,' he became more helpless with laughter until eventually, she motioned for him to sit by her. As the bus began its long descent into Martins Bay, each creaking stop was punctuated by a ding-ding and a very English shout 'Go ahead. Please.'

That binds our hearts from coast to coast

Monday, 14 December 2009

So we fall out of a plane last night, nine hours of stultified air and nonsense movies, into a car driven by Mr Dalton Lashley. He is very keen that we see the new Friday Night Fish Fry in Oistins, even though it's Saturday, late at night and everything is closed. Something comes back to me through the jetlag fog - Bajans use the verb 'to carry' for anything that is moved. So he's describing how they have a brand new petrol garage because they carried the old one away from the beach, they carried new houses to the highway and they carried some chattel houses down to Oistins to make the Fish Fry - a village of small wooden huts where they make delicious flying fish cutters (sandwiches) and dolphin and shark and snapper. Freddie sticks his hand out of the window and says 'It's so smooth and soft.' and he's right. There's a velvety quality to a Barbados night that makes you care less who won X-Factor or what the world banks are paying themselves. We pack the bots into bed and fall into a rum punch.

I wake with a start. Check the time. 9.30 - everyone's still flat out. Grab my bikini and creep quietly into the bathroom. Change and find a towel. Creep to the door and pull the curtains. Pitch black. Oops. Must have read the clock on the oven wrong, it's in fact 03.30. Back to bed. Phone rings. My sister. 0930 in England, 0530 here. Bots stir. By 0600 we are all four in the sea classifying waves and I am teaching my children which waves to look for to body surf. We are the only people in the world. The sea is turquoise, the sand silver. There is a coconut floating just past the breakers. Edward and I very much hope that it is a coconut; he has been stuck into Patricia Cornwell for ten hours and there is some hair on it and a shadow in the sea. I take the bots for breakfast and hope nobody reports a body.

We have a mad day; friends turn up, and friends of friends. The bots are by turns exhausted and charming. We go to the Prime Minister's Residence for a Carol Service by candlelight. The music is fabulous, including some bloke from Broadway who lives here and leads us in some spine-tingling arrangements of familiar carols. I kiss and hug people I haven't seen in 30 years; the bots grow tired of being told how much they look like me, and fall asleep on a rug. All around us everyone holds candles and sings; we get up and dance to contagious music; steel bands, moving lyrics, totally engaged audience. Frogs sing and the night is headily scented. I don't know what time it is and I don't care. Tomorrow we'll find our watches and eat proper meals. I will carry my children to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will carry them to sunscreen and water stations. I will carry them to swimming and sunbathing. And while the hotel band plays carols with a soca beat, I will carry myself back 30 years on a beach fringed with casurina, sea grape and palm trees almost horizontal to the white sand. It's good to be back.

Identity Crisis

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Jesus. WHICH trunk did you put the passports in? And no, we're not playing bloody lacrosse on holiday.

I am blessed to have a very easy relationship with my ex-husband Edward, the father of my children, my company co-director, a very dear friend and player of the worst practical jokes imaginable. We were due to be at a conference in Amsterdam this weekend, with my Ma bringing the bots out for a few extra days' holiday. We try and take them away on holiday together twice a year, but due to work being so manic over the summer, all we have managed so far this year is a week of bikes and badminton.

The conference was cancelled, so therefore was the holiday. Edward came into the office and said 'I've booked us for ten days in Barbados. We leave on Saturday.' I laughed. He produced the tickets. On Monday, he said 'The server is down again, it'll cost 12 grand to fix.' I cried. He said, 'Just kidding.' On Tuesday he said 'I think Rose's passport has run out.' I laughed. He produced the expired passport.

So yesterday, after some industrial grovelling to the Headmaster, Edward, Rose and I made an emergency dash to the Disorganised Losers' Office in London to get a new one. Heart-stopping stress on many, many levels including definition of a 'recent' utility bill to prove residence, a smudged signature on the verified photograph, inability of either of Rose's parents to remember the exact date of their marriage and the production of a quite staggering number of obscure documents, DNA samples, letters from the Queen, overnight supplies, sleeping bags, flasks of soup etc. Total nightmare bollocks. However, to our combined astonishment, our number was called exactly when they said it would be, the chap behind the counter didn't so much as glance at my boxes of supporting evidence, the application was accepted, we hoisted our leather sacks of doubloons over the counter, agreed to come back in four hours to collect Rose's new passport and were free in Kensington for the rest of the afternoon.

Which Rose asked to spend in the Science Museum. Edward and I exchanged horrified glances - I had imagined a whizz through Harvey Nicks; Edward thought a pint and the Telegraph an appropriate way to celebrate Rose being free to leave the country. However, we smiled bravely and made our echoey way along the Museums underpass and girded our loins for an afternoon of scientific fun.

Which of course it was. The exhibits are cunningly disguised to make science seem both interesting and accessible, and you discover how energy works, what Bakelite is made of and how to make water stretchy without learning a single element of the periodic table or sobbing over a bunsen burner.

There are a lot of frighteningly enthusiastic orange-dressed people called 'Explainers' who pop up helpfully and Get You Involved. Edward, being English, didn't really want to interact with bubbles or have a go at building a bridge from squashy blocks; he would have been quite happy piddling about on his own, thank you. The Explainers were relentless though and the three of us found ourselves in front of a screen wearing protective goggles and looking at infrared images of ourselves. It was fascinating to see exactly where the white-hottest parts of the human body are, especially after the four-hour car journey and nail-biting wait we had just undergone. Rose slunk off with the Explainer to construct a wind turbine as her parents contorted themselves and got a bit post-traumatic helpless with laughter.

In a two freezing days' time, Edward will have switched to Tropical Mode (Planters Punch and The Barbados Advocate), Rose will be snorkelling on a coral reef, Freddie will be playing football with his best chum from school who coincidentally is staying ten minutes from us and I will be catching up with old friends and wiggling my toes in white sand. I don't think any of us will need an Explainer for that.

Traditions, Part Two: Christmas, my child, is love in action

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

'There's bloody crumbs all over my clean house and some joker's stuck a hunting horn down my stocking. Get me another gin. NOW.'

As children, we believed unswervingly in Santa. There was no doubt that the huge happy man in department stores was the same bloke who could see, and more worryingly, hear everything from about November 14th onwards. We wrote him letters which were posted up chimneys in cold countries and left outside to blow away to the North Pole in hot ones. Our behaviour became increasingly, cringingly Uriah-Heep-like; we made our beds and did our prep uncomplainingly; my collection of swear words was confined to airings under the bedclothes and I never once in that period pretended to be Death, moaning menacingly under my suggestible sister's bed.

Even now on Christmas Eve, children of all ages are prised from the telly, bundled up and taken for an airing while magical things happen. Usually involving a daddy, a screwdriver, some complicated instructions, a last-minute battery dash, much unseasonal swearing and then a mummy finishing the job off. Bots come back to a house lit by the tree and the sounds of Carols from King's College Cambridge ringing clearly through a cold afternoon or, in a hot place, bristling with static on the dodgy World Service reception. Either way, it's loud.

My mother, the unsung elf, will be warbling along, always doing the descant and making rack after rack of tiny perfect mince pies, dusted with a snowfall of icing sugar and juggled hotly in mittened hands before the molten sweetness cracks open to scald our mouths. It is the one day of the year when you may eat with a coat on and scatter crumbs on the kitchen floor.

In recent years, since the advent of grandchildren and the fact we now all live on the same continent, we all go to a Christmas Eve Carol service in a little 11th Century church in my parents' village. It is exquisitely lit by candles; small children may dress as angels and shepherds. Bar my niece, all ours are FAR too old and spohisticated for this, though my 10 year old nephew charged down the aisle a few years ago, head wrapped in my pashmina, announcing he'd come as a terrorist. My sister and I are always giggly, partly through sherry and partly because we are officially too old to be punished for laughing in church and we have years and years of stifled mirth, biting our cheeks and burning under the glare of my mother, to make up for. We also, pathetically, snigger when my mother does the descant ('Doesn't Gan-Gan know the right tune, Mummy?' 'No, it's very sad, darling.') and pinch each other at the phrase 'the Virgin's womb.' It's a big tradition, however many bodies are packed in the pew between us.

Last year, the Vicar had lost her (yup, the Northern Socialist cum part-time Misogynist had some trouble with this one) voice. The PA system was down and the thundering shepherds and angels invading the nativity like football fans drowned out everything. We just helpfully worked our way through the carol sheet, lying through our teeth that we could hear the service. It's C of E for God's sake, the order of service is hardly likely to change from one century to the next. Afterwards, we all get a traditional Biblical Quality Street and stream off for drinks at some friends' wonderful house packed with sparkly children, overexcited dogs, fantastic Dutch nibbles and a LOT of goodwill.

Later, children are bathed and sometimes my dad reads them The Shooting of Dan McGrew. (The Cremation of Sam McGee was dumped many moons ago because of the horrors it gave my scaredypants sister). Tinies are given a limp empty stocking to lay across the foot of their beds, the grown ups start theatrically at the imagined sound of sleigh bells and off the wee ones creep. We adults, plus friends and orphans will eat salmon and drink merrily until it is safe to go and retrieve the stockings.

Best draw a tinselly veil over the stuffing of the stockings by half-cut parent, hissing and stumbling, trying desperately to remember which bag is for which child. We three always do a stocking for my mother, with lovely bath treats, special chocolate and Improving Novels. A visiting friend from Germany one year didn't quite get the brief and fabulously added a plastic hat shaped like an umbrella and a hunting horn. Even my usually gracious and dignified Ma had trouble carrying that one off.

Then we sloppily kiss our flushed and sleeping babes and sleep till the cry goes up: 'He's BEEEEEEN!'

Christmas Tradition, Part One: Barbados

Sunday, 6 December 2009

We had a huge casurina branch with paper decorations on it. These people clearly have either no soul or scads of dosh.

Christmas church attendance was compulsory - even the year we moved to Barbados. We lived on the wild and beautiful East Coast where everyone knew everyone else and nobody ever locked their doors. We were invited to the Christmas morning service, and walked along the winding road to the church in the hot sun, feeling most un-Christmassy and grumpy that our stockings were only half-opened. We were joined on the way by the rest of the village, dressed to the absolute nines. My father, in his khaki safari shirt and shorts, looked seriously underdressed; the men wore three-piece black suits and dazzling white shirts - they all wore ties and hats. But they were merely the backdrop to the magnificent starched ruffle of colour that was the women. Bajan women tend to be large and they love, love, love to laugh. They swept us three blondies up, weeping hysterically at the paucity of our plain cotton frocks and my poor brother's ironed shorts. Their kids were properly dressed; ice-cream coloured dresses held aloft by multi-layered petticoats, white socks and shoes that shone like stars. And the ladies' hats! Great cartwheels studded with garlands and gardens of silk flowers and all of them wearing gloves and carrying enormous shiny handbags.

Hitherto, we were relatively dour Church of England; our experience of church was Easter, Brownie Parade and Remembrance Sunday, with a polite Carol service at Christmas - subdued mutterings of unintelligible, very short prayers, a couple of familiar hymns and then out into the graveyard to shake hands limply with a morose vicar.

Blimey, we didn't know what had hit us, December 25th 1977. Ushered to front-row seats, as befitted newcomers and a teacher, we were bang in front of the choir. My mother fixed us with a gimlet eye and we looked sternly down as they began to sing. They sang gospel songs, urging us to get up and feel the Lord's spirit enter us. My Dad, eyeballs heavenwards, got up first, and clapped along awkwardly, my mother gamely joining him and for once, not even attempting the descant. The vicar shrieked and made lots of reference to Satan, bellowing at us to cast out our sins. We sat like stone mice as all around us, the congregation let the Lord, noisily and with a completely foreign display of emotion, right into their hearts. Every so often, and for no discernable reason, someone would yell 'AaaaaayMEN!' and everyone would join in with gusto.

At last, everyone got up again, still swaying their hips and clapping wildly. We kids shot to our feet and joined the throng for the door, minds on our half-ravaged stockings. As we emerged into the sun, we became aware that the choir was behind us, still belting out the hymns, and they had been joined by steel drums. It was a parade. We danced and sang all round the village for a good half-hour before my parents eventually, as we passed our door, thanked everyone and wished them a Happy Christmas before plucking us skipping children, who by now were punch-drunk on calypso and evangelism, out of the rainbow throng and into our house.

We stood in the gloom, shell-shocked for a minute. Then we threw open a shutter and sat watching this flock of musical birds wind their exhuberant way back up the hill through the breadfruit trees on the other side of the valley. Our stockings lay half-opened on our beds for quite a while. AaaayMEN.

Venetians elegantly killing time

Friday, 4 December 2009

Last glimpse before we left yesterday evening. Phwoar.

It's hard these days to go anywhere without a preconcieved idea of your destination - films, the internet, old photographs all inform and shape the impression, feel, taste of a place. So of course, I knew that Venice has a lot of canals and very old merchants houses and palazzos; that Nancy Mitford went almost every year, writing spiteful funny letters about her fellow aristocratic guests; Joss Hay honeymooned there after his scandalous marriage to Idina Sackford - an iconic photo shows them arm-in-arm in ikat pyjamas on the Lido; Helen Mirren, Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett had a disturbing encounter there and of course every red-blooded male I know has watched Don't Look Now more for Julie Christie in the buff than any glimpses of St Mark's Square.

Just like a Canaletto, innit?

So, I thought I was prepared for Venice. What rubbish. It is quite simply the most breathtaking city I have ever seen - the beauty is relentless - every corner brings a new and amazing vista and it has been cleverly described by more talented wordsmiths than I. Even that old Tart of the Doggerel, Betjeman, has had a go. So all I can do is tell you what I did and share pictures I took.

Just round the corner from here you can buy a nasty-tasting coffee for 20 Euros that comes in a crappy jug that pours it all over the table
and onto your bloody coat.

We ate the most amazing lunch of ham, lard and cheese as around us a school spilled voluble children and their impossibly glamorous mummies; a lady tipped rubbish into a winding street and caused a dozen infuriated shopkeepers to crowd under her window and give her the most musical bollocking I've ever heard; we drank prosecco and tiny bitter espressos as the waiters piled chairs about us and the rain sparkled off the streets outside; we walked miles along sunny canals choosing crumbling and empty palazzos to live in; we larked about in masks and cloaks testing the indulgence of out-of-season shopkeepers; we drooled over tiny intricate paper theatres in wood-panelled warrens; we stood in silent awe in a church made of blue-grey marble; I bought beautiful handbags and an outrageously elegant winter coat; we drank Bellinis in Harry's Bar and made some eccentric new friends; and above all, we never once got lost. I tried, but the Colonel had several maps concealed about his person and guided me surefootedly to shops, campos, bridges, palaces and food. Result.

That Turnbull & Asser smoking jacket conceals at least four maps. Which, after the three Bellinis I had before supper, came in jolly handy.