Volume 6 part 022 Death of an Era
Where Pete got to select the spring break I got to take instruction on where we went for the late summer holiday in September. The routine set since spring 1999 was interspersed with family commitments involving Christmas breaks driving to Italy, originating in the first of those trips in late ’94, and Italians arriving in the summer or the three of us , Bubble, Me and Pete, doing Ryanair assisted day trips. This regime worked reasonably well with Pete trading Christmas for the spring Canaries break, ma trading being abandoned for the spring and autumn holidays as long as she got Italy at Christmas with some shopping thrown in on the way and me going along with everyone.
Two months after the 2003 Canaries jaunt the routine was shattered when, Enzo died. The brother-in-law had been succumbing to lung cancer a few months previous. We had planned to give Italy a miss for Christmas 2002 but relented to keep the likely final year a conspicuously family event.
It was all a very sad end.
The week before Easter of 2003 the Doctor advised Josephine that it was time to gather the family. Inevitably the travel plans were all a bit of a last minute panic. We got the call on a Wednesday. There were no open ended flights. After the day at work on a Thursday we headed for Dover in the Merc’, collecting Syb from Cromford and dropping the dogs at a kennel in Matlock on the way. Bubble knew we were on the way from Sheffield but had not thought it necessary to pack before we arrived. True to form, she had perfected the technique of how to turn a drama into a crisis. Just before midnight we checked into the Premier Inn in Dover overlooking the harbour. The bar was closed. We made do with Mars bars and cans of Cola from the vending machine by the front desk. Pete had finished his stash pf six cans of Stella in transit and sedated by a couple of herbal rollups was gone to the world before his head hit the bed.
We secured a place on the 7.30am morning ferry to Calais. Heading South through France and the Mont Blanc tunnel, we arrived in Pesaro twelve hours after leaving Calais at 10.30 in the evening. It would have been sooner had it not been for French Traffic patrols, an insistence from Bubble that we ate and a wrong turn before Alessandria taking us via Turin in the rush hour.
Remember… It is always rush hour in Turin!
The keys were in the front door. Joe was home having been relieved for a short break from the hospital by Carla. Peter and I checked into the Hotel Cruiser having made the reservation by telephone en-route. The Hotel would give us a bolt hole with privacy and a mini bar. We all returned to the bed side early the next morning. Peter stayed in the corridor. There was nothing to be done but wait.
Enzo died in the early hours of Monday Morning. I left Pete in bed at the “Cruiser” arriving at the hospital at the same time as Nadia and negotiating access into the locked hospital through A&E. It was still dark. We left the hospital before seven to break the news to Peter but not before waking Bubble and Elena back at Joe’s flat. By ten in the morning we had selected the casket, funeral cars and flowers with all other arrangements sorted by the funeral director who collected a burial outfit before lunch. The family assembled for viewings at two on the same afternoon. Peter and Elena took some persuasion to take a last look. A pair of old hags kept vigil over the body, denying Josephine some “me” time. We waited patiently in the hallway as a procession of family members paraded in and out in various levels of distress. A lady in an adjoining chapel was buried in a hooped skirt. As the trolley burst out of the Mortuary on her way to a chapel of rest the skirt snagged on the flailing double doors. The exploding hoops exposed the old dear’s most vulnerable parts to a lobby full of already distraught, newly dazed, mourners. We resisted a descent into hysterical laughter.
Not a nice way to go.
The funeral took place on Tuesday afternoon with a procession leaving the car park at the foot of the hill below the cemetery. I had the car cleaned that morning to “be seen” at the head of the motorcade. Bubble was most indignant that she had to walk the last five hundred meters making up the front row including me and Josephine, with daughters, husbands and boyfriends a close second followed by a gaggle of relatives arranged in hereditary order. With an average age measured almost in three figures, progress up the sleep gradient between the car park and cemetery was at a crawl. Cousins on the back row were taking bets on who was the next to go! …The front row knocked out by carbon monoxide belching out from the rear of the “350” Mercedes diesel engine or the appointed geriatric, chief-mourners walking way up front, should the clutch slip. We arrived at the second storey gallery housing the third level tomb without mishap. The heavy fragrance from the abundant floral tributes was overwhelmed by a rancid odour emanating from the far end of the terrace. A short ceremony involving some superstitious oratory prior to bricking up the french-polished walnut casket in a hole in the wall culminated in an orderly queue of grieving by-standers shaking hands with the close family assembled at the head of an external flight of steps.
Contrary to our initial suspicion, the smell was not the product of composting flowers left over from a previous internments. As the line of well-wishers shortened the stench increased in intensity finally settling in a sewerage infused cloud enveloping Oswald’s daughter, Ennis. For a German, she packed quite a punch. With the exception of Ennis, the rest of the nation is to be commended for their standard of personal hygiene.
Surprisingly there was no wake. I was under the impression that Italians could beat the Irish when it comes to sending off their dead, expecting a full spectacle just short of a New Orleans Mardi Gras complete with accompanying samba and heavy metal steel band. We settled for raiding the local Deli’ for roast pork, padinas and pizza before settling down in front of the TV for a quiet evening in. Charged with selecting a film from the limited collection of English language videos, Peter settled on “Tomb Raider” but under pressure to apply a little sensitivity suggested “Rise of the Mummies” as a compromise. The choice went down surprising well considering that it was less than five hours since Josephine had bricked up her husband in a wall!
Bubble didn’t miss out on a shop. Along with packing the two giant Easter eggs Pete bought for his nieces we managed to strain the hinges on the boot lid to the point where the unique, automated closing feature of the S320 gave up the ghost. We left Italy on Good Friday, hoping to miss the bank holiday rush for ferry space at Calais, stopping in the mountains for a breather in Oberammergau, met a two-meter-high transsexual in a souvenir shop and telephoned ahead for two rooms at the Haus Press. It was late when we arrived in Aachen. There was no record of a telephone booking. We stayed at the Ibis ending a tradition with Haus Press that went back to the early 90’s.
It was the second time Pete had travelled in summer to Italy in the Merc, in addition to the four trips made in various Land-rovers for Christmas. He had sampled the route via Germany and over the Seefeld pass in June of 1999 when we took the Merc to Carla’s wedding. I had been appointed chauffeur for a second time. My “special friend” was to be a “special guest”. Along with clothes for three for the two week stay, the boot carried the second twelve piece dinner service to head south of the Alps in the same decade. The bridesmaid’s dresses were hung with the suits in the rear right hand passenger seat obscuring Pete’s view to the west for the whole outward journey. It was the only occasion he lost the other half of the back seat for a transcontinental sprint.
Rounding the last bend out of Brenner just as the road rises for one last time North of Verona, with the Zoo on the left, the entire road width was full of articulated truck. Two forty-foot multi-axel lorries as high as a house were going head to head, uphill on a two lane Autostrada. Decelerating from one hundred and thirty miles an hour to under thirty in as many yards put both Bubble and Pete in their respective foot-wells. If his hair hadn’t been dyed white it would have gone that way quite naturally. Although I had no worries that the car wouldn’t stop in time I was less confident of the braking system of the Alfa Romeo riding on my rear bumper. It finished up parallel parking with one of the lorries but on the hard shoulder. The driver’s face was as white as Pete’s hair!
We stopped for a brandy at the next service-station aptly located on the banks of the River “Po”.
The wedding was a chique affair with Carla rivalling Nadia’s “1994” nuclear fall-out of frilly lace with a totally undecorated, body hugging, slim-fit classical gown to complement the three shades of grey to black worn by the groom. I wore an equally classical black Versace three piece suit. The waistcoat was pin-striped in silver grey. Risking anonymity, Peter took his seat at the top table wearing a beige suit, black skinny rib vest adorned by a chunky, silver chain I bought as a surprise birthday gift in the Corn Exchange in Leeds for seventy five pounds and with hair bleached white.
“White” not blond. He resembled an Annie Lennox in exile.
Although warm, allowing us top up tans, the rest of the holiday was fairly dismal. Bubble stayed on for the rest of the summer being repatriated by air in September of that year. Peter and I drove home alone heading direct to Aachen in the same day.
The routine set in ’99 comprised Peter selecting the Spring Break and I, under covert manipulation, the autumn vacation. This convention largely fell apart after Enzo’s death in 2003.
Up, until the Christmas of 2002 we had continued to do the “Santa Run”. Pete had joined us for the 1999 millennium “spectacular” reducing the carrying capacity of the Disco by more than fifty percent. He had insisted on keeping the back seat clear for sleeping, only temporarily relenting for the summer “treat” of 1999 in favour of the bridesmaids dresses. Adding spice to the winter trip in ’99 by diverting to the Fern Pass had been a minor disaster. We got lost and added four hours to the Alpine crossing. There was no placating the pair of them. Pete wined on bout gaining four additional hours of discomfort, Bubble complained at losing a shopping opportunity and I developed chronic ear-ache. On a mountain top somewhere near nowhere I vowed that this was the very last time that Hannibal would do his winter crossing which greatly pleased the “donkey” on the back seat.
Until the millennium, the previous trips had not included the New Year. We did Christmas but previously were always home by New Year’s Eve. Following the extended millennium break we reverted to the tradition of arriving the day before Christmas Eve and leaving two days before New Year’s Eve. The extended stay of ‘99 forced day trips to break-up the monotony. In Rimini we got to drink in empty bars. In Riccione, we ate in empty restaurants. The “Bombo” terrace remained deserted for the whole two weeks. Peter embellished a full size nativity scene by posing for photographs with the three wise men and gifting baby Jesus a twenty pack of gold wrapped Benson and Hedges cigarettes. Jamming a lit cigarette between the chubby fingers of the infant Jesus he figured that the ceramic statues would be non-flammable. We high-tailed it back to the Land Rover when the smouldering stub fell awfully close to the straw lining the manger. We were no closer to hell than after publicly ridiculing the valiant efforts to dislodge a north start caught in a jammed washing-line intended to drag it high above the square in Fiorenzuola during the Christmas Eve passion play. We had gone to the village for a pre-Christmas Supper blissfully unaware of the spectacle that awaited us over coffee and brandies.
At the crescendo, the donkey pissed on the Mayors foot.
Pete let it be known that December 2001 would have been our last Christmas in a Land-Rover countered only by Enzo’s illness. He hated the journey and didn’t “do” family. The Mark II was infinitely more comfortable than the Mark 1 and he was now accompanied by his one year old dog. Seefeld offered a chance for a walk in the snow and take coffee and Brandies before the final assault of the Brenner Pass from where it was down all the way. The dogs, Stella and Bubble’s Yorkie called Mitzi, enjoyed harassing the horse drawn sleighs while Bubble enjoyed shopping in Albrecht. We had shopped in Albrecht for the best part of a decade and bought all manner of jackets and jumpers, slippers and gloves all featuring lots of wool and embroidered edelweiss.
The grit cut Stella’s paws and although we managed to find a pink snake-skin dog-coat with pink feather-boa trim in which she was comfortable, there was no way she was wearing the matching two pairs of boots. The “Gay” who served us was most perturbed.
2002 was different. We had been to Italy by air in late October to repatriate Bubble who had returned to Italy with Joe after her August holiday in England. By late autumn we all knew that the prognosis was grim. Joe had enough to cope with, without the hassle of entertaining granny and her insatiable desire to spend. By now, she was into diamonds. In an attempt to keep things as normal as possible we had no choice but to accept the invitation for Christmas at a restaurant not far from Nadia’s house.
The trip was as drab as the car. I never really liked the dark Blue Mark II.
Enzo braved the dinner and the dog even though its incessant yapping caused him great physical pain. Stella liked Enzo and wanted him to play. We left for what would definitely be the end of an era on so many levels.
December 2004 was the very last time we spent Christmas by Landrover in Italy. I can’t remember why and can’t remember how although apparently it was in the Pale Blue version, last of a generation Disco’.