Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Break in the Weather

Last night I slept in my winter jamas, not that you need to know that, but it is a sign that the weather has been utterly abysmal. Child number 3, post-GCSEs, has had five cricket matches and two tennis matches scheduled over a nine-day period and, day 8 as I write, has managed one tennis and one cricket though he tells me his team won both so I imagine things could be worse.

Last weekend, however, we (my beloved and I plus 24 other guests) skipped off to Rome for the weekend to celebrate a certain 40th birthday. It was blisteringly hot and, after the summer we have had so far, a real shock - in a good way - to the system. The birthday boy had smartly organised meals altogether in the evening and left the days to do as we pleased. An excellent choice because this left us with the opportunity to do some very selective sightseeing (because this is our third trip to Rome) and some very pleasant eating and drinking.

For me, the great thing about Rome is that you can do the Vatican/churches thing (not for me this time), the capital city buzz thing including restaurants, shops and bars (need I elaborate?) or the Roman history thing. Now the last is a big favourite and if I list the top historical sites so far visited in the world, the Colosseum is right up there. For the sake of completeness and in no particular order, the others are Hampton Court, Tower of London, the Temple at Karnak and Abu Simbel in Egypt.

The one place I really wanted to revisit in Rome was the Colosseum because it just blows me away every time. How they even built it, without cranes and proper scaffolding amazes me, but human life was cheap and dying on the job an occupational hazard, particularly for slaves. On this occasion, we went with a guide who was not worried about making his charges stand in the sun or, more kindly, sit in the shade whilst he made the place come alive for us. Once I get into the zone, the millions of other footfalls are stripped away and I imagine how it must have been when the Colosseum was the greatest spectacle in the greatest city in the world.

At the time when the Roman Empire was at its height, not only did the Romans control most of the known world, but 2% of the world's population lived in Rome - something unimaginable with today's huge population but it nevertheless made Rome THE PLACE. Whether you were rich and powerful in another corner of the Roman Empire, or poor and hoping to better your lot, Rome was a magnet the world over. And in Rome, the biggest attraction was the Colosseum.

Ancient Rome as it was then
It's hard to imagine a world without multi-media communication and having so much knowledge about places we have never been to, but try to think what it would be like to live in Britannia anytime between AD43 and AD410 and to arrive in Rome and see animals like lions and elephants - it would surely be like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They would literally have appeared to be creatures from another planet. Of course, if you arrived at the Colosseum and you were a slave, you would probably be in the dark labyrinth of corridors and cells under the arena and your visit might well be your first and your last.

But to be in the huge crowds that were drawn to the amazing spectacle, to be amongst those watching the animals fight, and then the gladiators - the rock stars of their day; to be, along with the Emperor, choosing life or death for the losers by the flick of a thumb - that surely must have been an experience beyond anything in our sophisticated world.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Blast from the Past

My two favourite things from Harry Potter that I wish were real are Quidditch - well, obviously, who wouldn't want to fly around on broomsticks wielding rounders bats? - and Professor Dumbledore's Pensieve. In case you're not as Harry Potter-ed up as we are in this house, the Pensieve is the thing that looks like a font full of mercury and Professor D pulls memories out of his head with his wand (think spun sugar or candyfloss) and puts them in so he can return to each memory and relive it.

Now I realise that this would be a mixed blessing. Yes, you can relive the joyous moments again and again (but with repetition would they lose some of their gloss?) but I would certainly be tempted to go back to some of the less warm and wonderful and probably most embarrassing/humiliating bits too. And a goodly number of the latter happened in my mid-teens.

I moved to Yorkshire in my very early twenties and so have left the evidence - or rather, the witnesses - of the latter long behind me. But last night was almost like a Pensieve moment - a blast from the past - as they would say on Radio 1 in the nineteen seventies.

My beloved and I attended a significant birthday party of a friend from all those years ago when Coventry (yes, really!) was the most happening place in my universe. This friend also lives up here and our paths have crossed occasionally over the years so when he invited us to a party at which a goodly number of these friends from my misspent youth were likely to be heading north (and from various other directions) it had to be done.

Of course, with the invitation being months ahead of the party it didn't start to stare me in the face until the few days running up to it. And then, in the brief lulls between all the jubilee-ing going on in our lovely village over the weekend, I had contemplated some of the times when we had all last been together. Happy, sad, embarrassing and ungainly - definitely - but worth remembering. Friends, one in particular, no longer with us and other friends who have drifted away to be distant memories only.

Fast forward to getting ready and a proper wardrobe crisis almost on a par with those of thirty-something years ago. We had also been invited en famille to a party in the village last night so we arranged to start and finish there, leaving children 3 and 4 with their gang of friends whilst we headed to a pub the other side of Harrogate. On the way there in the car, I worried... would I recognise any of them? would they remember the embarrassing, awful moments that haunted my youth and remind me of them? would I be that ungainly, bashful girl, hoping to control my blushes and not say or do the wrong thing? My beloved, who was remarkably stoic about the whole thing with the likelihood of only knowing one other couple, assured me I would survive.

And as he had correctly predicted, as soon as we got inside the pub, there was a shout of 'Stiggins!' which was my nickname from all those years ago (my oldest friend, Alps, still calls me Stigs) and I was enveloped in hugs and memories and affection from all those years ago and, keeping my beloved in sight out of the corner of my eye, I chatted to some of the characters who joyfully populated my teens and remembered and relived some great moments. My beloved left me to it, uncharacteristically drinking water (whilst I most definitely didn't) and chatted with good friends who were clearly amused by my general jumping up and down, singing songs never made famous by a band once called Lavatory and subsequently - I suspect at the insistence of someone's parents - renamed Eric and remembered things that I haven't thought about in years. And gawky, unsure teenager I may have been in those days but we did have some good times.

So big thanks to Dave and Pam for inviting us, my beloved for being my wingman (in the manner of Top Gun) and to Chris Nought (because he has no middle name) Bailey, Patti, Mick (whose children will by now have congratulated him on refusing to go out with a woman who is definitely not the full shilling), Marcus (no, I can't remember you driving me home in 1972 and I am still wondering what happened...), Ali and lovely Bill Allen. Unforgettable...