It must be admitted, my parents had much better holidays when they were unencumbered by children. I can imagine how blissful it must have been, exploring wonderful parts of Europe and it was probably the very best time to do so, in the late 50s and early 60s before the tourist explosion had taken off, in their sports car, whizzing along mountain passes … no wonder they didn’t want us with them.
My mother hated extremes of temperature and so they always went at Eastertime, before it was too hot. First, Wink and I were dropped off in Holland – Heaven knows how everything was fitted in the car because there were always requests for English food for our friends there. Huib, our au pairs’ brother, particularly liked Hartley’s New Jam, I remember, so a boxful was taken for him. They would certainly have paid for our keep generously, I know.
All the places they visited have blurred in my mind and I’m not even sure how many trips they took. I remember them telling me about their visit to Rocamadour which was absolutely beautiful, with breathtaking views, and I think it was there that the snail incident took place.
They arrived at the hotel in the early evening, bathed and changed and went for dinner. The hotel’s speciality was les escargots so that was what they had for their first course, and very good they were. After dinner, they went for a stroll outside. There was a nice little terrace, unlit except from the glow of the lights inside. They crunched across the gravel to the balustrade and enjoyed the evening air.
Next morning, they looked out again. There was no gravel. Covering the terrace were thousand upon thousand snails, munching on the greenery thrown out to them by the kitchen staff. It was a bit offputting.
Another story my mother told was of their visit to Rome. They went into a shop to buy a lace mantilla as a present for a very religious Catholic friend, to wear to Mass. They were startled at the very high prices for scraps of machine-made lace, but – well, when in Rome… And then, in came a priest, who was greeted with great respect by the shopkeeper. He produced a thurible and wafted it about, declaiming prayers – which I suppose would have been in Latin in those days, it was certainly still the days of the Latin mass. When he’d done, the shopkeeper opened the till and took out a wad of cash, pressing it into the priest’s hands with effusive thanks. If my mother hadn’t been cynical about the Church until then, she was forever after.
They brought us back musical boxes from that holiday I remember, which they bought in Capri. They were bowled over by the beauty of the Blue Grotto, less enthused by Naples, where they were startled to see people living in caves, in great poverty. The other present they always brought me was a doll in national dress from each country they visited. I had them lined up on a shelf in my bedroom. It didn’t make me as interested in the countries as visiting them might have, but there we go.