Volume 6 part 035 till death us do part
As a surprise I had bought Pete his first Amuletti ring during the solo trip to deposit Bubble in Italy in December 2006. We had returned to Italy the spring of 2007 with Howard when deporting Ma’s Yorkshire terrier, followed by the summer trip to Brighton and the August holiday in Ibiza.
September 2nd 2007 was Stella Stacey’s sixtieth birthday. She had treated herself to a week in Venice staying at the Danielle overlooking the Grand Canal. Pete and I flew to Rimini as a surprise. On Sunday morning we collected Joe and by 11.00am were sitting on the third row in, and the third row across taking cappuccinos with brandy chasers outside Harry’s bar. We had told Stella that this was the place to be seen at that time on a Sunday morning and an absolute must do. This particular table is sheltered from winds on two sides by the colonnade that links the canal to St Mark’s Square. It would give her a vantage point for all that happens in Venice on a Sunday Morning. Dead on time she strolled within sight. We phoned her to inquire how the trip was going commenting that she must be a little chilly if she needed to wear a white cardigan with knitted flower blossoms. The penny dropped. We were in range.
This would be my fourth trip to Venice.
The first time in Venice was over twenty years earlier to meet up with David and Sue who were holidaying in the dolomites. On that occasion we weren’t bold enough for either the Florentine or Harry’s. The second visit was a time filler in 1995, a year after Nadia’s wedding. The whole family came along for the ride. Pa was dead leaving Ma to pick up the tab for the two of us, Carla and Alessandro, Nadia and Andreas with Elena bringing up the rear. We started at “Harry’s”. There were too many for a gondola on that occasion so we settled for a walk from St Mark’s to the Rialto and back. Lunch was served at the “Europa” by the canal side adjacent to the Rialto. Ma bought Coral earrings. This time we took “Tea” in the Florentine.
For Grannies Eightieth in 2005, Joe and I took her and Pete on a day trip. Bubble almost made it into the Grand Canal as we hadn’t realised how steep the ladder would be from the River Taxi up to the quay at St Marks. It was a total rerun of ’95 except for the absence of the full family and the Coral. Pete bought a family of miniature ceramic mannequins for Bubble’s eightieth birthday present which he rightfully reclaimed when she died five years later. I managed to break two of the six pieces in the house move of 2017.
A lot had changed by the time we made the 2007 trip. We had the house, Bubble was in a residential home and travelling abroad was in danger of getting out of hand. Our friend Stella already qualified for non-dom residency status. Pete and I were fast going the same way. We squeezed Venice in between Ibiza and an office outing to Paris.
After spotting us at Harry’s, winning an Oscar nomination for her surprise in the process, it was only natural that we took a gondola. The gondolier flattered the ladies whilst the men made a pass. A rendition of “Walls Cornetto” as we passed under the Rialto delighted a seething crowd lining the canal. Restaurants were packed to capacity and not until grudgingly accepting the last in-board table at the Europa did we realise that the draped banners signalling the annual regatta were advertising action for the same day. A procession of barges led by the Doge arrived before the cork had popped on the champagne followed by an hour long procession of historic barges. The skate was miserable. We bought Coral for Stella on the Rialto, expanded the National debt at the Florentine and ate Stella’s complimentary chocolates washed down by complimentary Champagne in her room at The Danielle before heading back in the hired Mercedes back to Pesaro. The regatta explained why there were no rooms “in the Inn” when I had tried the week previous to book rooms as a surprise for Joe. We flew home Tuesday Morning having spent only three working days away from the office. Bubble had remained in her nursing home.
Within two weeks, we were back in Italy for a Funeral. The Merc for the Venice trip was replaced by a hired Peugeot 405 with French number plates. It was all very, very sad. Bubble came with us that time having been extricated from the Old folks home, but really didn’t know what was happening. Carla missed the burial of her still-born, second child named Christian, having to be returned to hospital after the church service. A tiny white coffin was buried under lumps of cold clay. Bubble stayed in the car for the internment.
We stayed home alone for Christmas of 2007. Just me and Pete and Bubble back and forth from the “Home”.
The house had done little to fortify our relationship. Some snide comments from Pete’s nieces regarding who-gets-what, cemented a resolve to disassociate his family from the arena. I arranged a civil partnership for the morning of April 1st 2008, figuring that if either of us failed to show the whole event could be put down to an “April Fool’s” day joke. Nin, my PA and Pete’s mate Karen served as witnesses. There was no ceremony, no music and no onlookers. Joe was over from Italy with a friend called Shirley as company. We still had the Cromford house. Friend Carol from Italy and who had been visiting family in the UK joined Joe and Shirley for the following week-end. The office had caught a sniff that something was afoot but an offer of free champagne before lunch as long as they arrived before noon was worth risking being the victims of a “joke” if only to get out of the office for an hour. Joe was under orders to collect Ma and Howard and meet us at the bar for a champagne lunch. Specific instructions to dress Bubble in her finest were totally ignored on the assumption that it was only a cheap mid-week lunch and she looked clean enough anyway. Joe always knows best!
With an assembled crowd of forty or more I made the official announcement that Pete and I had entered into a Civil Partnership. The covert homophobes faked congratulatory smiles before taking their free fill and leaving sixteen of us to lunch at Piccolinno’s. On the walk over, skirting the Peace Gardens, Bubble enquired as to which one of us was the bride. That is the only discussion we had on the subject. Joe was upset that we hadn’t given her notice. It was a private matter between Pete and I and one that had been arranged well before she decided to honour us with her presence. We did dinner at the “Café Rouge” on Eccelsall road once Howard had been joined by his Partner John who had chosen not to take the day off work to attend the luncheon. Vanessa and Martin, notable swingers who lived opposite on Newbould lane also joined us. I was fond of both Vanessa and Martin. The “Meet-Shirley” party the following Saturday was a disguise for getting friends to the house without seeming to be begging for wedding presents. Disappointingly, the deception worked! We consoled ourselves by taking Joe and bubble on a lunch trip to the Wig and Mitre in Lincoln where we raided a cookery shop. At a corner shop just off the municipal car park we bought a two feet high ceramic haughty hare! Bubble stayed in her wheel chair on the pavement throughout the whole spree whilst we paid with her debit card. She got a peck on each cheek for her well thought out and sincere gift. Shirley had taken a break from us by heading for a few days in Wales, I believe.
The partnership replaced the spring vacation. The May 2008 trip to the Canaries “Gay Pride” replaced the honeymoon, supposedly making up for giving the island a miss since the debateable Christmas of 2005. Peter doesn’t do families well. I don’t do herds of Gays well. Screaming queens ruined an otherwise entertaining carnival.
A follow-up honeymoon to New York in August 2008 with four days at the Madison on Fire Island was supposed to make up for the short-comings of the May event. Within three hours of arriving on the Island we had been caught out in a torrential thunderstorm, I had been dipped up to my nuts into a swamp and Pete had accidentally hurled his Amuletti into oblivion. That was the year we spent little time together with Pete favouring brandy binges with which to frighten the locals enjoying Hi or Low “Tea” at sun down.
Pete’s Fortieth came between the May-Gay-day and the end of August Fire Island “Tea Dance”. For the Eighties themed fancy dress party he came as Annie Lennox and I, for some inexplicable reason, as an over-ripe naked Geisha wearing a skin coloured padded body suit adorned with nipple tassels and a skimpy lace G-string. White make-up, black torn fishnet tights and a black geisha wig completed the ensemble. It had been the first, and only time I dressed in drag since Pete and I won the first prize at an annual fancy dress competition held at the “Greens’” sports club in 2004. On that occasion we went as Marie Quant look-alikes dressed in sequined mini dresses, obligatory fishnets and platform heeled, thigh-length silver boots. White wigs styled in a fetching sixties “bob” complimented the full length white, fake fur coats. Stella Stacey, not to be confused with Stella the dog, had loaned me a selection of provocative underwear with insufficient resilience to prevent the weight of my bollocks pulling a little white lace number below the hem line.
The party season concluded with a Birthday treat to Amsterdam. Unlike the previous weekend in 2002 when we had spent a couple of days in Amsterdam after travelling on the overnight Ferry from Hull with the team from Greens Health Club, we chose to fly. Peter subsidised the air fares and the Red Tulip hotel on Dam Square, for me, Joe, Stella, Steve and Paul and John and Howard. We stole Syb’s wheel chair for the week-end to ensure that Howard, increasingly infirm from a degenerative lung condition, could keep up the pace. Additionally, the wheelchair guaranteed “Priority” boarding.
Six of us travelled over to Manchester T2 in the Landrover. Paul and Steve came from their place in Salford and were late. Of the eight, Pete and I got the worst room with no view. Paul and Steve overlooked the square. Joe shared with Stella. I pushed Howard who lacked confidence in John’s ability to navigate the tram lines with a wheelchair. The Saturday evening meal was on me. Paul and Steve missed out preferring to seek out the cheapest duty free tobacco outlets rather than risking going “Dutch” on a meal. They later admitted they would have been there had they known the meal was a freebie. During the evenings Joe and Stella did coffee and cake at the Krasnapolski while Pete, John, Howard and I hit the cellar bars. Curiously, Paul and Steve largely did their own thing. We lost Howard in the Eagle. He had spent the best part of an hour exploring the not so dark room in the basement and ducking into the gloom every time he saw one of us coming to retrieve him. John was not best pleased. A binge drinking Canadian insisted on giving good night kisses to each and every customer in turn whilst being bounced himself into the street. We saw him carrying out the same manoeuvre in a number of bars, all with the same result. Sad-John professed to having pulled the Canadian that night. Everyone and everything including the stone cobbles and three scoops of spaniel shit had pulled the Canadian that night!
We turned in after three in the morning. Peter escaped about half an hour later to be returned by the police after finding him wandering lost, not a hundred meters from the Hotel. They had not relieved him of the reefer he had scored outside a local “Dive Bar”.
Joe and Stella did the “Anne Frank” while we did the Red Light district. Together six of us did the flower market buying bulbs with a guarantee but that never flowered. I can’t recall how many of us made it to the “Bull-dog”. I Suspect it was the six of us from dinner the night previous. I do remember that the “Hash” coffee and “Hash” cookies facilitated a very pleasantly sedate two hours staring at “Madagascar” being screened on a high level, wide angle, plasma TV. We dined in a “pub” to escape a late afternoon shower. The table offered ring side seats to watch a local lady on a bicycle skid under the front of a tram on the wet rails. The tram stopped within inches of amputating both her legs. We dined heartily. Moral of the story is watch out for wet rails and don’t eat on a full stomach!
In October we didn’t enjoy a long week-end in Paris and the less said about that trip the better. Suffice it to say that Pete got pissed and recalls nothing of the event and Mandy Collins took her own breakfast to the airport! Oblivious to advice that a financial bubble was about to haemorrhage, the Company organised an outing for both the London and Sheffield offices to have lunch in Paris. Ever mindful of the North/South divide the Principals chose Eurostar leaving London at six-thirty am with no regard to the time that we would have to be leaving Sheffield. The Sheffield office voted to fly via Leeds Bradford with four of us checking into a hotel at the airport for an early start. By midnight the phones were hot with the news that Eurotunnel had suffered a catastrophic fire and the trip was in Jeopardy. By the time we received confirmation to stand down for a normal Friday at the office we were all checked-in and ready to fly. Thirteen of us shared a meal in Paris booked for over a hundred. All but the four of us who had stayed at the airport hotel, took the tour as a day trip. Pete and I were amongst the four to make a week-end of it despite missing VIP seats for a Joan Rivers Concert at the London Palladium arranged weeks in advanced for the Saturday night. We gifted the tickets to a couple from the London Office.
Vieux La Marais is now the Gay quarter. We booked into a tiny boutique hotel opposite the “Red Corner Cafe” and took to the streets, first stopping off at the nearby Pompidou centre and taking a beer with Hans Peter, “ Ze very quietly shpoken Gurman wiz an lithp”, in a bar overlooking the square. Opposite the Opera House we met up, by accident with more from the office and took wine. With an evening to ourselves, a back street exploration uncovered all kinds of hidden gems and hot spots involving cellars, back bars objectionable foreigners and even more objectionable security staff.
Saturday was spent tramping the obligatory Place Du Concorde, Champs Elyse, cut across to the Eiffel tower mixing with a holy crowd waiting to greet the Pope and back to the hotel in time for dinner and a rerun of the bars from the night before. Pete was singularly unimpressed. Even the top of the Eiffel tower failed to excite. After nearly ten years together why should I have expected any attempt to share with me?
On Sunday morning we had a planned rendezvous in Monte Martre with the other couple from the office. Inevitably, rather than a spin around the cathedral we finished up in a bar. Skateboarders use the steep pavements to harass tourists. One group practised emergency stops by latching onto cast iron bollards placed to stop cars parking on the narrow pavements. One especially acrobatic group gained tumultuous applause when their bollard shattered hurling two of them into the path of a passing dilapidated Renault rust bucket. Fortunately, it was going uphill requiring less reliance on the almost redundant breaking system.
How we laughed!
The moral of trip was not to force culture onto a forty year old who thinks culture is not having sleeves on his Tee shirt. Pete and I never spoke of Paris again.
October the tenth was Bubble’s birthday. Why we were taking Granny to Italy at the age of eighty three is anyone’s guess. Presumable it was her idea. She still got ideas albeit infrequently. The weather was unexpectedly warm for the time of year. Andreas did a barbecue. Pete mooned Bubble. She had seen it all before! Only two years before her passing and living full time in a care home yet capable of wiping her own bottom, albeit slowly..
2008 had been a busy year;- Civil partnership, day trips an partying in April,- The Canaries in May, Pete’s 40th and Amsterdam in June, New York and Fire Island in August, Paris in October followed closely by a long week end in Italy…. In all, we did better than “air-miles Andy”