Having yesterday forsaken the drudgery of Britain for a week’s recuperation sampling the delights of the Tuscan/Umbrian border with my husband and three other couples, regular Rust readers may react with a variety of emotions to the news that I spent the early evening contemplating the novelty of attempting a first-ever post to this organ on a topic outside my specialist brief.
Our grouping has certain unique qualities. Two of us – one of each gender – first met on the same university course (not in any sexual way) and, having later acquired spouses, have more of less remained in each other’s pockets ever since as a pair of couples who, though seeing each other irregularly across the course of a year, always seem to begin again straight from where we last left off.
Another, with whom I was in a brief relationship as a student and subsequently remained a friend of both myself and my husband ever since, first came on a ‘group’ holiday with us accompanied by his new girlfriend. Thirty-plus years later he’s now on his third (and very happy) marriage since, having himself remained a perennial holidaying companion and injecting a degree of novelty into our touring parties by bringing his other half de jour with him.
The last of our number first attended one of our ‘group’ holidays as the girlfriend of my husband’s best mate from work. Long since then the ‘best mate’ has disappeared from our lives through a combination of a change of career and location, but said girlfriend – whose company everyone enjoyed very much – became a fixture of our team. For the past fifteen years and more she and her husband have been the fourth couple in our quartet.
These week-long breaks, considerable in their variety, now remain an oasis in the desert of our lives – an opportunity to simply get away from everyday friends and family and do something different, or (perhaps more accurately) do something similar in a different place and cultural atmosphere each time. Some of us are broadly interested in the arts (others definitely do not), some would prefer to do no more than lie on a sun-bed with a glass of vino to hand. Others are the restless type that constantly seeks activity if not adventure, as if they fear what they might discover if they spent time relaxing with themselves.
All that registered, there are certain ‘givens’ whenever we arrive at our latest holiday location – on this occasion, for the second time in five years, a beautiful villa in central Italy.
Firstly, by definition, any airport in this wonderful country has an air of semi-chaos about it. In the case of Pisa, this state is pronounced. At one stage in the baggage hall yesterday there were two flights’ worth of passengers simultaneously trying to collect luggage from one carousel when a third flight’s worth of passengers seemingly arrived upon the scene in direct contraflow to those passengers making for the exit. From being within sight of the exit doors beyond the ‘green – nothing to declare’ sign my husband and I (plus trolley laden with bags) very nearly found ourselves back at the carousel we had just collected them from.
Three and a half hours – and a visit to the local supermarket – later we had reached our holiday destination set on top of a hill overlooking an enormous valley. The views here are breath-taking, the sense of tranquillity induced by the atmosphere irresistibly intoxicating.
At the end of any holiday travel day, the sense of flopping and relaxing becomes overwhelming. Inevitably the female contingent tend to remain, by choice or happenchance, constants on the catering/kitchen front with the males ‘dipping in and out’, usually consigned to half-hearted washing and clearing up unless, that is, anything to do with barbeques or their accessories comes into the equation.
It didn’t last night.
With the evening meal preparation under way, two gents, one of them my husband, sought and gained leave of absence to try and ‘find’ the Sky Sports or other channel on the villa television that would provide live coverage of the France v England Rugby World Cup ‘warm up’ game kicking off in Paris at 2100 hours local time.
An hour before meal-time, with the long table set overlooking the valley and basking in the evening sunshine, said project seemed a simple one requiring the attention of but a moment or two. Fifty minutes later, with the drinks and canapes flowing, the intensity of effort and volume of the oaths wafting from our amateur technicians working in the main sitting-room were reaching worrying crisis level.
Being keen to observe the match myself, I joined the throng and soon realised that Italian satellite & cable television broadcasters, despite advertising British Sky Sports channels amongst their fare, do not actually offer them. My innate sense of modesty permits me to report that it was at my suggestion that my husband urgently got out his laptop and seek to find a ‘sports streaming’ website online. It seemed that the thought had not previously occurred to our resident male Brains Trust panel.
Within a quarter of an hour, some eight minutes into the first half, by this route those of us interested were able to watch the match live – albeit, this with a ‘box’ displayed in the upper middle of the screen announcing that we could not watch the service without paying a subscription fee – a burden that, given it was only a ‘warm up’ game for the RWC, we had unanimously agreed we declined to accept.
Thus it was that I watched England’s abysmal 20-25 defeat away to France, not ‘heads in hands’ per se, but with some 15-20% of the action annoyingly obscured by this insistent demand that we pay to view it.
On one view this was a (fittingly?) unsatisfactory manner in which to watch an decidedly unsatisfactory England performance. Upon another, you might suggest that we should have been thankful for small mercies.