I was thinking about my mum today, and smiling as I remembered something she once said.
In 1978, my mum was 54 years old. She had never been outside of Britain, happy to spend all her holidays at seaside locations in England, or visiting friends in Scotland. She had never been to Wales or Ireland, and was content not to have done so. At the time, we still had a shop in south-west London, an off-licence. I had taken a full time job, got married the previous year, and she employed a full-time assistant to help her run the business. I helped out whenever I was free.
One weekend, I was looking though some newsletters, and found one offering a trip to Rome for anyone who held a licence to sell alcohol. It was a five-day tour, escorted by guides, and included all flights, meals, and accommodation. I suggested to my mum that she should go. There would be other single people taking the trip, and it was a small group who would all have something in common, of owning a pub or off-licence. She had never flown in a plane, or owned a passport, but she had seen the Audrey Hepburn film ‘Roman Holiday’, and had previously mentioned a desire to see Rome.
Once I assured her that I would take time off from my job and run the shop for her, and that my wife and I would move back into the upstairs accommodation for the duration of her holiday, she gave in and applied for a passport, sending off a cheque for the deposit on the holiday at the same time. So in June that year, she headed off with a small suitcase, taking a taxi to the airport to meet the tour organiser at the terminal. I was envious, as I had never been to Rome. (I eventually got there in 2002.)
On her return, she looked less than excited. I asked her if she had a lovely time, and she shrugged before replying.
“It rained twice.”
“The food tasted funny”.
“It was too hot, even at night”.
“Everyone hangs their washing out over the street”.
“All the buildings look shabby and run down”.
I reminded her that the buildings she was referring to dated from as long ago as 300 BC. But she shrugged again.
“Well they could do them up a bit. It’s a long way to go to look at someone’s washing and some ruined temples”.
At that point, I gave up.
Many years later, (2009) when I was working for the Police in London, one of my colleagues booked a holiday of a lifetime to Egypt. A full tour of the ancient sites, including Cairo and The Pyramids, and a luxury cruise down The Nile to Aswan. As I had visited Egypt in 1989, I told her what to look out for, and added that I was envious, as I had not seen Cairo or The Pyramids on my trip.
When she got back to work, looking very tanned, I asked her what she thought of her wonderful experience.
“Well, there are lots of stones, beige stones. And beige columns. Once you have seen one, all the others look the same. The food on the ship was good though”.