I know, I know, your bottoms are all numb from sitting on the edges of your seats out there. But things have been trying. Herself has been sick, the boys have been sick. Itâ€™s been a bank holiday weekend. This combination of events is calculated to reduce us to gibbering wrecks. Thanks to my employer, however, I have made good my escape. I am spending the rest of the week in the usual, er, glamourous location while my poor misfortunate husband wrestles in Brussels with illness (on the part of the boys) and sleeplessness (available for everybody). So, Iâ€™ve got the wifi thingy to work and I’ve got the evening to myself and I will tell you about Sicily; mentally prepare yourself for an entry of great, and possibly tedious, length.
Well, the bad news, from the blogging point of view, is that we had a fabulous time. As is well known, the best blogging entries are based on complete disasters (pace my father-in-law the captain of industry, retired, who argues strongly that this is not the case; let him start his own blog). For your reading pleasure, I will deal with the bad things first. We forgot the wipes. Yes, stop press, so-called experienced parents of three travel without wipes. We got to the airport and Daniel needed to be changed, so I lugged all three of them to the disabled toilet (home of the changing mat) and left Mr. Waffle to finish off the checking in. Daniel had produced what is known in crÃ¨che parlance as a â€œcaca debordantâ€. I checked and re-checked for wipes. They were not there. I got to work with toilet paper soap and water sprinting between the sink and a very squirmy baby praying that he would not propel himself on to the floor or, less seriously, eat any of the poo â€“ cleanliness is next to godliness and all that. Meanwhile Michael screamed in the buggy and the Princess hoisted herself precariously on to the handicapped toilet (â€œMummy, Iâ€™m going to do a POO! Help, Mummy, help, Iâ€™m going to fall inâ€). By the time everyone was clean and ready to depart (actually, poor old Daniel was only cleanish, his bottom still had a distinctly yellow tinge), I was a shadow of my former self. I returned to my helpmeet to find that he was just a little tense as I had scooted off to the bathroom with all our passports in my bag and time was marching on and check-in had not been completed. We scooted to the plane (leaving 67kgs of luggage checked in) with our double buggy, herself on buggy board and Mr. Waffle with clenched jaw.
When we got to Italy, we went for lunch in Palermo airport. This was Mr. Waffleâ€™s idea and provides proof, if proof were needed, that the man is a genius. Wandering through Palermo airport with our three children gave me an insight into what it must be like being Madonnaâ€™s minder. People kept ignoring me and formed a scrum to ooh and aah at the boys. This all made me feel a bit nostalgic because, dammit, they were oohing and aahing at me at one stage. Sigh. You know the way something that happens at the very beginning of a holiday can set the tone for it? Well, there we were in the self-service restaurant in Palermo airport wondering what to do about the wipes when two men wearing airport badges came to ooh at the boys. I seized the opportunity to ask them where we might find wipes at the airport (did you know that I speak Italian; truly there is no end to my genius) prompted by an anxious husband who was next in line on nappy changing duty. They considered and recommended the newsagent downstairs and went off. We continued to eat lunch and attract admiring crowds. About 10 minutes later the two men came back bearing a packet of wipes triumphantly aloft. They brushed aside our offers of payment with extravagant hand gestures and went off having chucked the children under their chins for a last time. And really, this set the tone for the holiday. People couldnâ€™t be more helpful; we couldnâ€™t be more willing to exploit them.
So, elated by the success of the whole wipes venture we went downstairs to pick up our hired car. Ah, yes, Avis, â€œwe canâ€™t be bothered to try harderâ€. We waited an HOUR in the queue. Fortunately our technique of refusing to let the Princess watch any telly paid ample dividends; for the duration, she was entranced by the promotional video which Messrs Sixt cars offered at the premises next door. Then, when Mr. Waffle went to rescue the car from a distant car park, the Princess, the boys and I watched as a Dutchman combusted at Hertz car hire across the way from Avis:
Him (shouting): What the fucking of hell is this? (And people think that the Dutch speak perfect English).
Princess (audibly): Mummy, he shouldnâ€™t say â€œfuckingâ€.
Me: No, sweetheart, but I suppose heâ€™s very cross.
Him: I have been waiting an hour for my fucking, hell car.
Princess (audibly): He said â€œfuckingâ€ again Mummy.
Admiring crowd gathered around the boysâ€™ buggy: Words to the effect of tsk, tsk.
Lady at Hertz desk: Sir, please stop shouting or I will call the police.
Dutch man (slightly less audibly): Is this fucking hell Hertz or not, next time I go Avis.
Me (mentally): I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a good idea, sir.
Mr. Waffle came and rescued us in a large Renault Scenic which accommodated us, our luggage (yes all 67 kgs worth) and our children. The only difficulty was that it had no handbrake. Let me ask you this, if you rented cars to people for a living, would you send innocent foreigners off to visit Sicilian hilltop towns in cars with no handbrakes? Avis, they love to set you a challenge. The French like gimmicky cars. The Renault Scenic has a thing beside the steering wheel that you pull out to put on the handbrake and then itâ€™s supposed to go off automatically when you start. But you know what? When youâ€™re reversing backwards up a steep hill on a road just wide enough to accommodate your massive people mover with a lot of Sicilians waiting for you to get out of their way and a baby throwing up in the back (it transpires that Michael is a poor traveller on winding hilltop roads*), youâ€™d rather have a real handbrake than one that is a little bit slow and lets you slip back, even a tiny bit or, just as good, cuts out. I do not have fond memories of the Renault Scenic, though I will say that the space where the handbrake ought to be is an excellent place to put your handbag.
So, to our hilltop town. We were stars there. You will recall that we were there for the Princessâ€™s cousinâ€™s christening or the â€˜piccolo cuginoâ€ as he will be known henceforth, this is my blog, I can be as pretentious as I like. Half the town was related to the piccolo cuginoâ€™s mother and therefore to us, really, and the rest knew precisely who we were. When I went down town one day with the Princess leaving the boys to bond with their father a number of people whom I had never, to my knowledge, seen before asked me where the â€œpiccoli gemelliâ€ were. This gave us the smug (though unmerited feeling) of being a cut above the other tourists. We took every opportunity to inform our fellow hotel guests from South Africa, from the Netherlands (around the corner from the Dutch mamaâ€™s place, fancy that â€“ little chat about the parks in Voorburg) and from England (walking tours at â‚¤3,000 a week â€“ dear God â€“ when I heard backpackers, I thought they would be young but I knew when I heard the cost that they would be old â€“ I chatted to their Italian guide and we both agreed happily that they were â€˜mad, madâ€™ and she said, somewhat regretfully, that she too had been under the misapprehension that they would be young when she took the job) that we had special connections. The Princess was delighted with our special connections and surprisingly taken with her piccolo cugino who is very like Michael (therefore, gorgeous, you understand) though three months younger, tanned and, of course, has been sleeping through the night since he was eight weeks old. You know, I read that 40% of babies donâ€™t sleep through the night until they turn two. What I want to know is why donâ€™t I know any of their parents? Incidentally, the down side of being related to everyone in the hilltop town was that it was no holds barred on the advice front. I was buying shoes (well, I was in Italy, what would you do?) and the lady behind the counter said that she was related to the piccolo cuginoâ€™s granddad. She continued â€œmy daughter met you in the piazza del popolo yesterday and she tells me that your twin boys donâ€™t sleep through the night; she thinks that youâ€™re not giving them enough to eat but Iâ€™d say the problem is that itâ€™s not dark enough in their bedroomâ€. Sigh. However, she redeemed herself by giving the Princess a Barbie badge.
The hotel was fabulous. The staff were fantastically obliging (which I suspect they would have been even had the owners not been on kissing terms with the piccolo cuginoâ€™s granddad), cooking things for the Princess at odd times; letting us leave our clip on high chairs in place for the week; feeding the Princess with biscuits (“biscuits for breakfast, Mummy!â€) and putting on cartoons on the telly for her (little did they know that thanks to our careful work, she would have been equally happy watching the returns from the local elections in Sicily); holding babies while we went off about our business; and generally making us keen to come back. We also had, as predicted, babysitters galore. The royal grandparents played a blinder. The publishing exec is now, officially the Princessâ€™s favourite person, having spent hours and hours dressing up with her, reading stories to her and helping her sweep bugs out of the pool. The Princess has no fear of insects and spent much of her time at the pool operating as a spider rescue service, tenderly placing gasping spiders on the paving stones around the pool.
And then we left. 30 degrees in Palermo, 10 degrees in Brussels and not much oohing either. And all the children were sick and Mr. Waffle and I couldnâ€™t go to work because it was a bank holiday weekend. If you were home with three sick children, youâ€™d want bank holidays cancelled too. Whatâ€™s that you say about curmudgeonly?
* He doubtless gets this from my sister Helen who is the poor traveller in our family which is unfortunate since she seems to spend most of her time travelling around the world having worked in England, Germany, China, the US and now in India. She tells me that strong drugs are the answer. Strong drugs were not, however, available when we were children and I well remember my mother driving hell for leather from Cork to Rosslare to get the ferry (a number of unfortunate bunnies met their deaths on that early morning trip) and Helen bleating pathetically that she was sick while my brother and I argued about who would have to sit beside her. My mother said firmly, eyes on the road (if I remember correctly, my fatherâ€™s eyes were closed in anguish) â€œWell, we canâ€™t stop, youâ€™ll have to get sick out the windowâ€ which she duly did leaving a long vomit streak on the side of the car and also liberally dousing her hair in vomit. Michael clearly has a great future ahead of him.