When I was eighteen and had passed my driving test, Vivien, my best friend at school, and I, plotted a holiday after A levels, round a large bottle of Coke. We agreed to put £2 each of our monthly allowance each week into the empty bottle. Vivien kept the Coke bottle and I remember that, a year or so later, she broke the bottle on a sheet and we counted the money. The other people in our form became quite jealous as we talked about this camping holiday in our last few weeks of school. I remember when we first became friends Vivien told me that she had asked my good friend, Maria, whether she would mind if Vivien became my friend too.
We agreed that our two aims were that Vivien would pass her driving test and I would learn Italian. (When we got to Italy I remember Vivien asking me the word for “meat” when we were in a shop and I could only remember that “zio” was “uncle”; I’m afraid to say that was the sum total of my Italian). As I had French covered and Vivien, with a German mother, had German covered, we felt optimistic that we could visit France, Germany and Italy without any problem.
Vivien agreed to work out the initial part of our journey, i.e. Belgium to Germany, and then we would go on to Austria and Italy. We were briefed by my mother’s worry that men would see us at filling stations and put nails down for us to drive over and puncture our tyres with the aim of having their wicked way. She also mentioned that we shouldn’t go south of Rome. I had the good idea that we could take Mum’s car as Dad also had a car, and Vivien provided the camping gear.
Vivien was responsible for the journey across the Channel from Dover to Ostend. She found us a place to stay the first night in Diksmuide, but as the carnival was going on all night outside our window we did not have a good sleep that night. To our horror we were given a double bed; however we were not “that way inclined”! Vivien told me about how her father organised camping trips for her and her brother to visit the First World War sites, whereas I had spent my childhood holidays at the house called Singleton in North Cornwall. Vivien often stayed there with us for holidays and she was impressed at the very easy relationships in my family.
We drove on through Belgium to Germany, and Vivien had arranged for us to visit her Uncle Rudy and his daughter, Vivien’s cousin, for lunch. Then we went on through Germany to Munich, and then into Austria where we visited Innsbruch, and then to Florence. Vivien brought the artistic side to our friendship, knowing places to visit in Florence, Rome and Venice. In preparation for the holiday and a visit to the Sistine Chapel I had read “The Agony and the Ecstasy” about Michaelangelo; Vivien joked that it was more agony than ecstasy.
One clear memory I have is of Vivien saying she would take over the driving one day; she later told me she had noticed I was falling asleep at the wheel. Another thing I remember is that Vivien saw a man hitchhiking, carrying a live rabbit and she suggested we picked him up; he came with us to wherever he wanted to go. It is Vivien’s recollection that we spent a lot of time in garages; at one, when we had a flat tyre and couldn’t turn the nuts, an Italian garage-man put a long handle on the spanner and then, when it turned, with a grin of triumph he exclaimed “Archimedes”! We had no problems at all with the Italian men.
Our A level results were due while we were away; Vivien had left an address so that her mother could let her know her results; following this I rang my mother to ask her how I had done.
We went into this adventure with confidence. While I failed on the speaking Italian side, Vivien seemed totally reliable in her driving, and in her knowledge of art.
As I lie here crippled with MS and unable to walk or write, I wonder whether the spirit of adventure was with me as I was aware that all was not well with my body.
Mary Smith 16th June 2016