V6 019 1 funeral and a wedding

Volume 6 part 019 Gone like the wind

Walter inconveniently died in 1994. 1993 to the Maldives was likely to be my last long haul without “dependents”.

Nadia, second daughter to Sister Josephine planned to marry in June of 1994. The wedding would be the holiday of the year and for Syb this would be the perfect excuse to hone her car-cramming expertise. From twelve-of everything-Royal Albert “Country Roses”- bone china, dinner, tea, coffee and Mocha sets to bridesmaid’s dresses, wedding attire, and the odd kilo of boiled ham the car would be crammed with everything and anything required to execute the perfect Italian Summer wedding.

Before being loaded, the car had to be emptied! Europa cars, In Sheffield, took on the task of renovating the eight-year-old Mercedes 560 with a complete internal and external valet. Walter had not looked well when we arrived in Sheffield but I put that down to having ridden as passenger to Ma’s driving to deliver the car that April Saturday morning. We travelled back to Matlock together in the Red 190E with Ma relinquishing her regular monopoly on the front passenger seat. Walter steadied himself on the dash all the way home. An ambulance hauled him away later that afternoon. He died in hospital the following week-end.

Joe flew from Italy to attend the funeral joined by a small contingent who had driven over-night from Aachen. After the Wake they all got a tour of the peak district. Three weeks later Bubble and I minus one of the key passengers, were on our way to a wedding set to rival Princess Di’s. The “Royal Albert Country Roses” survived the Italian pot holes. Syb filled the space left unoccupied by Walter’s demise with a two and a half thousand Euro shop for clothes as we passed through Garmische.

all dressed up for wedding when a submarine would have been a safer choice (june 1994)

The wedding was a wash out. It rained and then rained some more. The fashion was hardly “Italian”. The 560 SEL was the wedding car. I was the chauffeur. Bubble was relegated to an in-laws ancient, barely street-legal BMW. As the wedding evolved into a holiday we did all the same old sights including the mother-in law. Joe’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and my 44th birthday broke the monotony. Syb took back as much tat back to England as she had brought to Italy, raiding pottery shops from Gradara to Gabicce Monte and most places in between. Genuine pieces were matched pot for pot with knock-off Limoges cake stands and finger bowls of varying degrees of inept counterfeiting. With her husband dead hardly a month she had found a new resolve to spend! Having had him burned she knew he wouldn’t exactly be turning in his grave! The return drive was leisurely. We did Oberammergau for the first time, stopped over in Farchant, shopped in Aachen after a good night’s sleep at the Haus Press and took our regular table on the lunch time ferry from Calais back to Dover. Little did I expect we would be repeating the same route the following Christmas, or the following eight Christmas’s for that matter with the odd summer jaunt thrown in for good measure.

Andreas and Nadia (left) settong off for their honeymoon – Bubble, Joe, Enzo and the dog, Carla and Alessandro with Elena in the forground making up the sending off committee…

The Red 190E had been locked in Walter’s garage for safe keeping for the three weeks we were at the wedding in Italy. As it slid backwards from the gloom of the double depth garage the morning sun slashed the matt-black dash-board spot-lighting the residue of a collage of sweaty finger prints. Walter was still with us! His ghost had been incarcerated in the garage whilst we were making whoopee with the inheritance. “Autoglym” interior-restoration-polish completed the exorcism. I buried Walter’s ashes in a tomb in the garden. Three months later I traded the 190E for Landover discovery. I’d sold the flat in Sheffield to a Mexican and there was no point in keeping two cars at Cromford when neither of them could tackle a snow drift on the winter commute. Rather rashly, and in haste I softened the blow of trading a Mercedes for a lowly “Landover” by offering to take Bubble over the Alps to Italy for Christmas if it arrived on Time. It arrived on December the third. We left for Italy on the nineteenth!

My fate was sealed!

playing in the snow December 1994 – Carla and Joe

For the next decade, Christmas meant hauling crates of gifts wrapped in shiny paper, a myriad of household goods and the ingredients for half a dozen alternatives to Christmas dinner across Europe. We would have done Hannibal proud. A twenty six pound turkey takes two days to thaw when packed in a sports footlocker with joints of Pork and Gammon, two full legs of lamb, and a whole Salmon. Packed carefully and the thaw would be sequential and allow the Turkey to make an effortless and timely transition from tail-gate to oven. Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and two quality street tins full of homemade mince pies ensured we wouldn’t starve if we got trapped in a snow drift. After-Eight dinner mints, Paxo stuffing, baked beans, bacon and enough cheese to constipate Romania filled any voids potentially at risk of exporting British Fresh air. Over the years, Christmas presents ranged from leather Wing-back arm chairs and a Chippendale Roll top desk to Dolls houses by the pair.

By the winter of ‘99 the back seat was reserved exclusively for Peter. He accepted the invitation on condition he got to sleep when he wasn’t moaning. “Are we there yet” emanating from the middle of the back seat that started before we hit Luton, set the scene for the storyline to Shrek 2. Unlike the Landover, Peter didn’t stop whining even when we reached the Adriatic. Mitizi, the sole surviving Yorkshire terrier mostly travelled on Ma’s knee. On several occasions the dog helped herself to a bottom set of dentures left protruding precariously over Bubble’s bottom lip when she repeatedly fell asleep on the arduous drive with her mouth open. The kids in the back of the Alfa-Romeo in a traffic jam around Bologna thought this hilarious until Bubble surprised them by prematurely awakening just as the terrier was about to pounce. She paralysed them with the infamous “stare of death”. After all…. “She didn’t have false teeth”.

And that’s about as exciting as it got.

The ’94 trip had been a novelty in a two door version “Discovery Mk 1”. No matter how tightly packed nothing was going to be flung out of the rear cabin of a two door version.

The itinerary had been set on the assumption that wind and rain would further inhibit an already questionable tractor engine that would prove no match for a Mercedes. To the contrary, once wound- up there was no stopping the old Shire horse. Over fifty miles an hour and conversation was a possibility. Over seventy and the wind noise took over. Everything worked but worked on an industrial scale. Brakes, heaters, blinding high level headlights and a second gear-leaver to lock the wheels driven by an automatic gear box made for an effortless journey. The high ride gave the opportunity of picking a preference of which tree to hit should we come a cropper. Mobile phones at last allowed for “Roaming” with office queries interspersed with travel updates to Italy every few hundred miles. What a revelation! It would be years before the Mobile phone became an intrusion.

The dark metallic plum colour required repeated trips to the car wash but by the third visit the tiny Italian friend of Enzo who ran the local petrol station had equipped himself with a step ladder. Bubble mounted the front seat with the same helping hand used to shoe-horn pasta infused yokels into the rear seats. Nadia managed to rupture the spring on the self-retracting rear step on her first go. A Sketchleys coat hanger served as a temporary repair. The car’s capacity in snow wasn’t tested until the return journey home to the UK with heavy falls from the Alps to the Channel coast.

We largely matched the ’94 Christmas trip in ’95 but without the snow.

1996 and ’97 was a Green, four door version. This was my favourite. Half way between Modena and Bologna we lost a pound and half of smoked- ham when Bubble inadvertently opened the rear window mistaking the switch for the front window.

The orange peel she had hoped to discard made it all the way to the Pesaro.

At temperatures in double figures below freezing there was little sightseeing to be done in 1997. Irrespective of the three fur coats Bubble regularly travelled with, pavement cafes and strolling the Corniche were out of the question. Heavy snow-fall enhanced the excitement of a traditional and characteristic day trip into the mountains filled with family for a local lunch. The car performed flawlessly, ploughing roads and open fields in equal measure. In the blizzard none of us knew which way we were going let alone which side of the road was the right side of the road, or the wrong side of the road from a continental perspective.

Whilst having a haircut in a salon opposite the Rossini Theatre the following day, the diesel waxed in the minus twelve degree winds originating from Siberia ripping across the square on their way down the Adriatic. The barber had apparently conducted the Leeds Philharmonic amongst other garbled attempts at holding his only customer of the day ransom for a couple of hours. The car reluctantly started but refused to travel more than a hundred meters or so without cutting out. We hopped out of town. Stationary in a Landrover in the middle of a major intersection during an Italian, lunch-time rush hour brandishing a GB plate is not a sure-fire way to make friends and influence people. The IAC mechanic diagnosed the problem within seconds having to wait only forty minutes for the low loader to arrive. Automatics don’t like to be towed!  In forty minutes one can make an awful lot of enemies but just a few friends while taking refuge in a street side café over a cappuccino and brandy or two. The “winter, off- roader” was transported to a garage to thaw for the night. The garage was one of three main Landrover dealerships in the country, coincidentally and conveniently located in Pesaro and even more coincidentally managed by the neighbour of one of my new nephew-in-laws-to-be.

Over thirty centimetres of snow fell in the night. It was touch and go if we could rescue the Landrover from the dealership. A heroic effort in an Opel Corsa reunited us with the off-roader twice its size and gaining a tow in the process. Back at the flat we packed the tale-end and armed with de-icer additive for the diesel -set off for home via the Alps in heavy snow. Other than threatening not to start after a stop-over in Austria where the temperature fell to minus 20 degrees during the night, the car performed remarkably well. In Carpagne it had made its way up a ski slope. In the Hunsruck it overtook snow ploughs although on one occasion jumping out of gear and coasting onto the hard shoulder we managed to get buried by the very same snow plough we had just passed.  Sybille was still shopping!

For Christmas ’98 we made the crossing in a new Silver Disco’ with all the familiar pit stops of previous years. We took refuge in the Lambertz Cafe, by the Rathaus to avoid the winter cold and snowfall inflicting itself upon the Aachen winter market. They were playing Gorge Michal’s “angels Wings” over the entertainment system drowning out the carol singers in the adjacent square. I phoned Pete to give him a listen.  Peter liked George Michael.  Peter doesn’t like carol singers. We had been an item for less than three months but I missed him.

Winter ’99 was millennium madness once more in the Silver Disco but this time and for the first time joined by Pete for Christmas. After further “family Christmases” for 2000, 2001 in the Gold Disco and 2002 in the Dark Blue model he vowed “no more”. He cracked in 2004 when we made a festive ritual reunion in the powder blue model.

Meanwhile!…

In summer 1994 we had done the Italian job in the Mercedes for Nadia’s June wedding.

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