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Further evidence that every now and again Fran writes something more serious
I don’t know what Venice
is like. Once, I was as near as damn it,
on a ship, with the chance to disembark and laze on a gondola trailing my hand
in water, or sip coffee from a tiny white cup outside a café. But I was fourteen, and David was seventeen,
and we didn’t need what Venice
had to offer. We’d made our own romance.
that’s the way I prefer to remember it.
It was 1976. We were on the SS Uganda as part of a school
cruise around the Mediterranean. The night before, there’d been a disorderly evening
of storms, of portholes that showed no water, then all water, then no water. Everyone screeched with delight in the ship’s
common room as glasses slewed off tables and anxious teachers hovered, urging
us back to cabins. We pressed coins into
the jukebox and played ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation,
dancing without balance like badly-operated puppets.
David was with a group of
friends, throwing his blonde head backwards and laughing as the ship see-sawed. I was sure he hadn’t even noticed me; I was
small and dark-haired, not pretty, and he was muscled and over six feet tall: a
rugby player. But as many of our friends
sloped off holding their stomachs, he and I were among the few left in the
common room, and he held my gaze. By midnight,
he’d draped his arm round my shoulders and I was proud in front of his friends. I wasn’t the only one who thought he’d never
morning, in Venice, the storm’s mood had passed. Teachers gave us maps of the city and
warnings about timings. ‘Back by four.’
and I agreed – was it his idea or mine? - that we would hide somewhere on the
ship so that we could avoid the crowds and our teasing friends. Soon the ship had emptied itself of our school
group and the supervising teachers, all clutching their lira and white sunhats.
three hours before someone came to find us.
We nestled together in a corner on one of the decks, away from the glare
of the fervent sun and of the ship’s staff, and while everyone else explored
the waterways and the Venetian glass shops, we kissed. On and on, we kissed. His hands mapped the skin under my summer linens. I leaned back several times and searched his
blue eyes for a sign that he too was in love, but then just closed my own eyes
and gave myself up to the moment.
Mrs Drake's voice came sudden, like a slap. We stood
up at the teacher's command, clumsy with disappointment and the heat of the day, smoothing down our
clothes. David wouldn’t meet my eyes as
he mumbled ‘sorry’ while the diminutive Geography teacher lectured us. David was at least a foot taller than she. I’d expected him to be defiant, mutinous, defensive. But he stood, head bowed, hands at his side.
Still, I couldn’t
bring myself to care about punishment.
Nothing could hurt me now that I had David.
us, though, and I was left in a bland, beige sick room alone. I sat on the edge of an examination couch,
swinging my legs and flicking through leaflets about sea-sickness for hours. Then I was sent back to the dormitory and my
friends. I was a heroine for a time, and
they harangued me for every detail.
really wanted was to see David and to hear him say, ‘I don’t care. All I want is you.’ But, on the flight to England the following
day, a Friday, I was made to sit with a teacher and David was at the back of
the plane with another one.
England, I called his home number hourly.
His mother said he wasn’t in.
At school on the Monday, I saw David’s
blonde head, lofty above others across the dining room. He was surrounded, as always, by a group of friends.
I jostled my way out of the lunch queue to go and
speak to him, my throat dry with thoughts of a future.
As I neared his group, I realised he was holding hands with a girl in the
sixth-form, a lithe brunette called Lisa who nuzzled her head into his neck. 'Hi,' he said, his voice lazy with disinterest, and his eyes looking straight into mine as if to warn, 'Say nothing.'
know if I want to go back to Venice.
It’s meant to be a beautiful city. But I’ve never had the travelling urge like friends
who holiday in Rome or New York. I guess
David may have been to Venice
many times, perhaps with Lisa and a couple of blonde-haired boys. I wonder if, while he’s explored the Marciano
Museum, or a fruit market, he ever remembers me and the things he told me in
A crossword book travels with me everywhere now. It's a hobby that's developed into an addiction over the past couple of years. If I'm stuck at a bus stop, waiting - a daily occurrence, and sometimes twice or thrice-daily - I'll whip my crossword book out, turn to a new puzzle, and while the time away filling in the clues.
I've nearly missed my bus many times. Buses sneak up on people with their heads buried in books, then hurtle past to punish you for not staying alert. There are some bus drivers around here who probably keep a joyful tally of the number of people they've outwitted this way.
Never mind missing buses, though. My bigger problem, currently, is that the book I'm carrying around is filled with general knowledge crosswords. My husband bought me this for Christmas, forgetting that I do not possess General Knowledge.
I possess only Generally Forgotten Knowledge and it's so far down, at the very ends of my brain neurons, or wherever knowledge r…
Is it just me? Is anyone else affected by the colours of food?
I've just made an omelette for my lunch. On my days off (Mondays and Wednesdays) lunch is usually an omelette. I'm trying to avoid bread. We have fallen out, bread and I. I can eat most anything else and not put on weight. I have one thin slice of bread: suddenly I'm the size of a Juggernaut and can't get through normal doors.
Two or three slices of bread, and people pass me saying, 'Look at that hot air balloon, out walking.'
I reached into the cupboard for eggs for my omelette, pulling out a box of eggs that looked different from those we usually buy. My husband bought them - they're called 'Burford Browns' and there's a message - I call it a warning - on the box: 'With deep brown coloured shells'.
Fine. Deep brown coloured shells I can cope with. Who cares about the shells? They go in the recycling, to shell heaven.
But when you crack these eggs for an omelette, inside the…
We are on holiday in Tenby, Wales. Paul and I come here most years, renting the same house each time because it has an original version of Monopoly with the metal tokens such as the top hat, boot and iron. We also like the pretty duvet covers on the beds. And there's a sea view, which is also nice.
It's a bit quiet this year - usually we bring some of our offspring with us. We are missing them. In part, this is because our she-was-on-Masterchef-once older daughter always does the cooking. We've been sitting around waiting for dinner to arrive before remembering she's not here and leaping to our feet to run to Tesco.
I'd like to share some of my holiday pictures with you. Fear not. My holiday snaps tend not to feature panoramic views or cathedrals.
This is post-op and relieved Rat, although his look says 'If you'd known the difference between a wall ornament and a light fitting, none of this would have been necessary ...'