My sleep was broken. Lady S was awake, her pink diamanté eye mask pushed over her forehead and her good eye looking at me. Gleaming.
Something was up.
“Good morning darling.” I managed. Wishing for a few more minutes dozing.
I could see she was positively fizzing with excitement. “Dahling, we’re going on holiday…”
Now those of you who have read my previous blogs will well know that when Lady S has a good travel idea the prospects for yours truly can become dramatically worse. Which is why I have developed an alter ego, a sort of risk mitigating St. Christopher for the wary. Trevor Travel Planner. Of which more later.
With a faint sense of foreboding I asked “Business or pleasure?”
“Both darling” she cooed. “You know how much I enjoy your company when I am working for my calling.”
“Not another mountainous tribe my dear. You know what happened when we searched for poor people in Snowdonia. Those paths put my back out for months!”
“It’s nothing LIKE that dear! I realise now there are far smarter ways of finding lower echelon acolytes than traipsing about where they live myself. We’re going to Rome instead! Now.. What do you think about that? I know you love all that superlative roman architecture……”
Years of marriage to my wonderful wife have taught me to sense traps but I still haven’t managed to avoid them. Even when they are so obviously coated in candy.
“Oh! Well! Marvelous! I suppose? What did you have in mind work wise? I don’t want to do another leaflet campaign in shopping malls you know. It was dreadfully embarrassing trying to explain to those Miami cops why I was giving out those anti female circumcision photos last time. They thought I was a bloody pervert!
“Nooooo, nothing like that at all Gerald.”
“We will spend days taking in the sights, seeing all the Roman ruins, eating fine Italian cuisine and… ” she mumbled the end.”What? What did you say?”
“We’re going to the Vatican to ….. ” mumble mumble.
“Good God woman what are you saying? Stop muttering!
Her good eye met my gaze. “We’re going to meet the Pope.”
Well. I knew she was up to something but never realized it would be this ambitious. I sat bolt upright nearly knocking over the kedgeree on the breakfast tray that Edwards had so carefully positioned earlier.”
“We are what? Going to meet the bloody Pope! Have you gone mad woman? He meets heads of state. Nelson Mandela. Bono. Even that little shit Tony Blair. But he doesn’t meet the English aristocracy. The Vatican won’t allow it! Not after that god-awful fracas with the Duke of Edinburgh and his jibes about condoning Hitler during the war. Took them months to sort it out. They just won’t talk to us…….”
There was something about the way her eye started twitching that worried me.
“It’s not about me wanting to talk to him darling. it’s about him wanting to talk to me!”
It took a while for me to process.
“But what does he want to talk to you about?”
“Dearest, he wants to parlez. He wants to talk to his competition…..”
“He wants to what? Talk to his…… Competition? ….. Jesus!”
“No, he’s not invited apparently.” She smiled. “Just joking darling. It’s just me and the Pope.”
“His competition? Are you seriously saying he wants to talk to you because he thinks you are competition to the Roman Catholic Church?”
She looked at me with disappointment in her eye.
“Are you not aware of how big a money spinner the Catholic Church has been over the last two millennia? And have you any idea how many endowments we’ve had since we started three years ago? We are white hot! They want to talk to us about our business model!”
“Thank God for that!” I stuttered. “I thought for one awful moment you were going to have a theological debate! Think of the damage to his people if you destroyed the Pope’s infallibility?”
“Yes well that’s quite enough about my debating skills. We’re orf to Rome next weekend so sort it out.”
Having summoned the man servant to dress me, I pottered off down the stairs to the library humming to myself. This could be fun! I had already mentally selected what I knew to be the primary tourist guide of Rome for the cognoscenti. Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons: Special Illustrated Collectors edition. I knew exactly where it was and was already salivating at a morning planning our trip.
Following lunch I made a few calls. One was to our BA concierge booking the flights. Slightly disappointed. No first class available, only Club. Oh well I suppose we’ll manage. The last call was to an old Don Bosco chum. (It’s a Salesian school thing.) He had a villa in Rome which sounded more than suitable as a base camp for our adventures.
Let me tell you a bit about sightseeing around Rome. Firstly take some Valium with you as the Italians walk so so slowly. They say they walk a lot but it’s only because it takes so bloody long for them to get anywhere. The Valium will calm your nerves and relax your back muscles as they struggle to cope with the snail-like pace. It will also be of benefit when you sprain your ankle on the ridiculously uncared-for cobble stones or non existent pavement.
If you like Italian food you’ve come to the right place. But don’t hope for some respite with a cheeky Mexican or whatever. There is NOTHING to eat but Italian food. Also, don’t eat eggs or cheese for a week beforehand as every meal contains both it would appear.
Rome is a lot older than it appears. The new stuff like St. Peter’s Basillica is five hundred years old and they nicked a lot of it from the old stuff to make it. The old stuff is really really old. As much as two thousand years old. But mostly these are now ruins. They may have the assets but they don’t know how to display them. Not like us Brits who can turn a muddy farm into a theme park. These guys can’t even show you how the Coliseum would have looked. I expected a model at least. But no. Anyway, there is so much of this archeological gold all over the place it would be impossible to do it all. Which probably explains why there are no new buildings. As soon as you dug a hole in the ground. Wham! Yet another bleeding temple discovered and bang goes your building project.
Pedestrian crossings require a leap of faith as they do not stop they drive around you. At least you probably won’t be hurt as the cars are either tiny battery powered things or soft-bonneted BMWs. Long gone are the Maseratis, the Italian government used to own 37,000 of them but now they drive BMWs. Finally the Germans won.
Our arrival at Villa Spalletti Travelli was greeted with the usual fanfare you would expect for someone with blue blood like Lady S. The Italian green carpet was laid out and we were given a right royal welcome. The place felt a bit like a smaller version of home. Nice. The open bar was a nice touch but I don’t think my Italian chum realized how much damage an Englishman could do when given such an opportunity. I regarded it as a challenge and decided to put my back into it.
Back to the matter in hand. It was the day of the visit to the Vatican. Lady S hadn’t used the ‘V’ word since she first revealed her plan to me but I knew a lot of background work had taken place. Our cover story was that we were a couple of tourists with a private guide taking in the delights of the Vatican museum then Michelangelo’s neck busting effort of painting a ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about personally. I’d have fired our decorator if he took that long. Five years! Don’t take the piss. And finally the awesome St. Peter’s Basilica. It was at this point that I began wondering when the main action of the day would occur. As if on cue a flunky appeared from some huge glass doors. An odd chap, orange and blue striped jacket with matching bloomers and a black beret. Actually not a bad idea for my next golfing outfit but I digress. Apparently he’s from the Swiss army. Haven’t they heard of camouflage? He gestured lady S to follow.
She just had time to whisper to me “wait here…. not sure when I will be back” before she was whisked away through the glass doors. Watching her disappear I settled myself in for a long wait by finding my page in Angels and Demons. I was just getting to the juicy point where anti-matter was putting the Vatican in grave danger. Apt I thought.
I could see through the glass doors over the top of my book. Lady S was standing confidently waiting, the beautiful marble room framing her perfectly. Chicly dressed, elegantly poised, parcel in hand. Where did that come from? Then a greeting. A slim-framed man dressed all in white. Confident. Ernest. A huddled conversation. Nods of agreement. A shaking of hands. The white figured man backed away with a wave. The guards re-assembled and the doors opened again. And that was that! She walked back towards me. No parcel. What on earth?
“Was that the man ? ” I asked. “What happened?”
She increased her pace while saying “Come on. Let’s get out of here.. I’ll tell you all in the taxi.”
Well this was mysterious. I was expecting some more intense. A long meeting. Arguments made. Fingers pointing. But no.
“Come on dear, was it good or bad?”
“Oh good…… Verŷ good actually.”
I had mixed emotions. Obviously something good had happened but what? More than just a discussion. An agreement. Had she converted the Pope to her sect thereby instigating probably the greatest schism the Roman Catholic church had seen? What else could it be? I looked towards her.
“Come on girl, spit it out!”
“He’s bought us out.”
“He’s what? He’s bought the Sect? I thought he just wanted to discuss you business plan?”
“Yes but he changed his mind and decided to buy us out thereby removing competition and allowing control of those wo-persons who are not comfortable with current society. AKA members of my sect.”
“Won’t it cause ructions with your members? I was particularly thinking of two key ones: Lady BSM and Lady Bennoir. They’ll be angry with you won’t they?”
“Not when they see the size of the cheque for their share of the sale…. Don’t ask how much… but you can buy that yacht you’ve been hankering after and I can buy a ballroom just for the Lippizaners.”
Well the old girl had done it! I was very impressed and remained silent for the rest of the taxi journey.
I was hoping I might be introduced to the Papa being a catholic an all. Maybe given a chance to break the ice. Perhaps with a couple of jokes selected from my vast repertoire, I had a couple of corkers lined up; one from Billy Connolly about the Pope and the other about the Falkland War. May be another time. So what will she do next with her spare time now that the sect was of her hands….