I interpret the saying 'a change is as good as a rest' as meaning that we all need to get away and do something completely different from time to time in order to feel re-energized. And so it has been for me with a week away in Tuscany on a new adventure. Trips like these have an added piquancy since that first lockdown. The simple fact of being at an airport, travelling by plane, meeting complete strangers and spending a whole week doing something never attempted before, seems somehow much more special and precious. Before Covid I would have taken such a short break for granted, but I doubt that I will ever do so again.
My week in Italy has reminded me very powerfully how a change of scenery, some excellent company and the challenge of learning a new skill are the essence of a life worth living.
For as long as I can remember holidays have been both a blessing and a challenge. In the 1950s my parents would allow themselves two weeks away from the family business in a dingy rented bungalow atop a cliff overlooking the North Sea, in a small Norfolk seaside resort called Scratby. I have just been amazed to discover on Google that Mildenhall to Scratby is only 63 miles, and therefore takes just over an hour by car. In my childhood memory the trip, at least for my reluctant father and my hyper-organised mother, needed similar planning and preparation as a trip to the moon. Fraught (my mother) and grumpy (my father), we’d all pile into our Austin A40 and I was invariably car-sick for the first time well before Norwich. And yet I also remember glorious sunshine, fishing with nets in warm rockpools, beach ball games, running into the freezing and exhilarating sea, sticks of pink peppermint rock and a giddy feeling of being both happy and free.
As the family business prospered, my mother became more adventurous and in 1960 she cajoled my father into a holiday in Brittany via ferry and car. This was not without incident and my teenage brother and I spent much of the journey to our rented villa rolling around in the back of the car in a combination of hilarity and mild hysteria as my father took one wrong turn after another. Another memory of that holiday was my mother managing to recognise pork chops in le boucher, only to be disappointed to discover that the French didn’t make gravy with Oxo. She kept hopefully crumbling an imaginary stock cube in the air and repeating ‘Oxo?’ ‘Oxo?’ to the bemusement of the butcher who had absolutely no idea what that gesture or word signified.
My parents tried ‘abroad’ only once more in the early 70s when as young-marrieds, my husband and I persuaded them to fly with us to Portugal for a fortnight. This was a really happy and relaxed holiday as we ‘children’ could take care of all the arrangements which allowed my anxious mum and uptight dad to relax and enjoy a much-needed break. Thereafter they decided that foreign trips were beyond them and, despite only being in their fifties, they willingly reverted to the safety of the Norfolk or Suffolk coast and a nice hotel.
Trying my hand at watercolour painting in the Tuscan sunshine
As package holidays became the norm in the 1970s, my husband and young children went on our fair share of trips to places like Corsica, Menorca, Elba and Greece, but my best memories are of the four years that I rented a cottage in Hope Cove in Devon with a girlfriend and her two daughters for three weeks. We’d drive down without our husbands as soon as the children broke up for the summer holidays. These were quintessential ‘Swallows and Amazons’ type English beach holidays and for each of those years (‘82-’86) we were so blessed with the weather. I was studying for a degree, so I usually had my head in a textbook, but for those blissful summer weeks I could read novels again. I remember reading The Women’s Room by Marilyn French and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and their words resonated so strongly with how I was feeling that I knew that my life would ultimately change forever.
Growing affluence had allowed us as a family to take trips to Florida, the Bahamas and to a very ill-fated month in Australia during which my marriage was in its final throes, and by 1990 my husband and I were finally separated. This threw up challenges of a different kind. What to do for a holiday when newly single and with two girls aged seventeen and fourteen? My solution for about three years was to book us for an all-inclusive Club Med holiday somewhere with guaranteed sunshine like Turkey or Southern Italy. Being French, the Club Med food was always excellent and the ‘holiday camp’ atmosphere was actually cheery rather than cheesy. The kids would happily disappear all day to various organised activities with other teenagers from all over Europe which left me free to read on the beach.
I was pleased with these Cypress trees in my first attempt at a landscape
My painting of Kyiv at sunset to raise funds for Chernobyl Children's Lifeline (see below to donate)
By the time I reached 50 my daughters were off on adventures of their own which left me in a quandary. I’m not remotely brave or intrepid, so I was somewhat at a loss until an inheritance allowed me to buy a ruined cottage in the Drome Provence, and renovate it as a holiday home. For twenty-four years I had the safety, security and comfort of getting away to a familiar place that I loved where I could both rest and recharge my batteries, and invite my family and friends for happy times in the sunshine. Last year I wrote about the wrench I felt as I reluctantly decided to sell my beautiful bolt hole, which I finally did in December of last year. My reasons were entirely practical. The house, pool, water system and garden were all in need of some (expensive) TLC. I had started to find the journey of 12 hours by car challenging and not entirely enjoyable, and the final coup de grace came when Rick, the irreplaceable Dutchman who looked after the property in my absence, told me that he was retiring.
There was also an element of ‘future proofing’ about my decision to divest myself of my French property. It complicates probate when you die if you own overseas assets; the French tax situation has become more complicated for us since we left the EU; and I wanted to have the energy to sort the accumulation of twenty-four years of ‘stuff’ myself, rather than leave it to my daughters in the event that I was no longer able to do so myself. Head over heart for sure, but my heart is now at peace with the decision and it has freed me for new possibilities and new adventures.
And last week was the first of those new adventures! I arrived at Pisa airport on Saturday morning into gloriously warm sunshine to be collected with seven others and taken to a beautiful villa in the Tuscan countryside. I have never attempted watercolour painting before but, with nothing to lose, I had a great time experimenting and exploring the endless possibilities of the medium. The tutoring was supportive and encouraging, and I learnt lots of useful techniques. The group of one married couple and five other women of a certain age was both great fun and great company. The food cooked for us by chef Carlo was delicious and the Prosecco and wine flowed abundantly at both lunch and dinner as we sat outside on the terrace with views across the valley to a distant hilltop village. I’ve returned energised and enthusiastic both about a new pastime and the possibility of many more such adventures to come.
One Last Push! In Super Troopers we have been raising money for a charity run in St Ives by Joan Packard and Gill Blundell. This is for much needed funds for an ambulance and medical supplies for Ukrainian children hospitalised either through cancer, disability or directly because of the conflict. The appeal ends on 31st May and I am delighted to say that we have already raised over £3k. I am offering my watercolour of Kyiv at Sunset for a silent auction to raise more funds. Send your bid to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If more than one person offers the same highest bid I’ll draw the name from a hat! https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ccllukrainesupertroupers
Upcoming Event Information:
Upcoming Event Information:
Monday 6th June
Makeup Magic Monday - Makeup and the Menopause
Join us in June when Sally and Tricia will be discussing everything you need to know about makeup when pre, during and post menopause
Day: Monday 6th June
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Friday 10th June
Film Club - Spencer
Available on Amazon Prime
Watch the film before and join us for a discussion!
Day: Friday 10th June
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