Mothering Sunday Memory


I’m writing this on Mothering Sunday. Inevitably, it’s a day when one’s thoughts turn to mothers who are no longer here. But, rather than dwelling on the sadness of missing, I have been thinking about a holiday I had with my mama, just the two of us. It was one of the happiest weeks I have ever spent.

I had been given a week in a little house in Sardinia, high in the hills above the Costa Smeralda. The person who kindly gave me this holiday suggested, with a beaming smile, that I might like to take a “lover” with me. Which made me snort with laughter as I was lover-less. I asked if the week at the house was dependent on me finding a man for 7 days which, for some reason, my benefactor found terribly funny.

A week on the Costa Smeralda: with nobody to go with me. I had the use of the villa and a car, with the prospect of being taken out on the boat a couple of times. I asked one of my greatest friends if she’d like to come. The dates didn’t suit. I asked another pal. She was going to Cornwall with her husband and army of children. Short of propositioning some random man in the village (and the candidates were somewhat lacking in, um, vim and verve), I thought perhaps I’d go on my own, but that seemed a bit bleak, however beautiful and wonderful and spoiling the place was.

Finally, but not really out of desperation, I asked my mother if she’d like to go. She said it all sounded perfectly wonderful. The one thing my benefactor had said – semi-jokingly, and he was a family friend who had known my mama since she was a teenager – was “just don’t tell me you’re taking your mother”. He said if I didn’t have a lover on tap, perhaps I’d find one in Sardinia and my mother might cramp my style.

It was impossible to hide the fact that Mum was going with me: I did try for a day or two, saying I’d found a friend who’d jumped at the opportunity of a week at the house. I forgot that I would have to disclose the friend’s name for the plane tickets.

It all came spilling out that Mummy was, indeed, my travelling companion. Which was greeted with hoots of laughter. The benefactor’s partner asked if we would be safe and mightn’t my mother run off with a gigolo? I reported this to Mum who, in what I thought an unnecessarily coquettish manner, said anything was possible. My father – who was detailed to look after the dogs and the cat in our absence – said he wouldn’t dare read the papers while we were away, for fear of a report of an elderly (his word) woman running off with a snake-hipped wonder (his words).

Away we went. For the most magical week: one of the best weeks ever. The little house was divine. Small but perfectly formed. The huge terraced area on different levels dwarfed the actual building, with a forest of bougainvillea creating a riot of colour alongside ginormous pots of geraniums. Set above an olive grove, there was a view that defies description. A perfect place.

We didn’t do a lot. Having arrived with reams of instructions about where to eat, beaches to go to, which shops to use and which to avoid, we did our own thing. Leisurely breakfasts on the terrace and then, braving driving on the wrong side of the road, setting out to a beach with a picnic. Or, sometimes, just a drive to a beach, a swim and then back to the house to try out another aspect of the terrace…by which I mean a sleep in the sun.

We did go out on the boat. Which was the day I think my mama enjoyed the most because it became wreathed in drama. Which made us both weak with laughter. We arranged to meet the benefactor’s man-of-all-business at Porto Cervo Marina. And got on the boat. Not a big boat, and certainly nothing like the vulgar gin palaces parked (I know, I know: boats aren’t parked) all around but a very agreeable LITTLE boat. The idea was to go up the coast a bit to a fishing village which has a very, very, very good restaurant (our eating out until then had been modest…usually not eating out at all, as the Costa Smeralda is fearfully expensive), stopping en route for a swim.

Such excitement leaving Porto Cervo and going north. My mama was grinning from ear to ear and looking more and more wonderful and bronzed. We stopped in one bay, but it was judged there were too many people (three) on the beach. We continued on this great voyage and found a bay which was totally deserted. The boat was parked…no: we dropped anchor. Suddenly, the bright blue sky changed to ominous black clouds, the sea lost its emerald colour, and, in minutes, the temperature dropped. It got really rather cold. Mum didn’t do swimming, apart from wallowing in the shallows, but she told me I had to, I must, dive into the sea from the boat because Paolo (the man-of-all-business) would be upset if I didn’t. It’s a brave child who ignores a mother’s instructions. I dived in. And came up screeching that the water was freezing cold, I would probably die from shock and could I please get out again. Mummy, clutching her sides with laughter, told me I had to swim round the boat at least five times. Which I did. Paolo and his son (the assistant boatman) were beyond speech at the spectacle of me swimming at high speed in circles.

After hauling myself out of the water, I sluiced off in very hot water and changed into going-out-to-lunch clothes. We chugged along the coast towards the village with the very, very, very good restaurant. The very, very, very good restaurant at which a table was booked.

The heavens opened. The sea got rather rough. And the boat’s engine started to cough in an alarming way. Our progress turned into a very slow creep towards our destination. We got to the harbour in the middle of a Mediterranean monsoon. The boat’s engine died. We sat inside what I think is referred to as the saloon, gazing at a waterfall of flood water flowing down the hill…the hill upon which sat the very, very, very good restaurant. It was a big storm, not just a little bit of rain. And the boat was broken. Paolo started to nearly hyperventilate that the outing was turning out really rather badly – poor chap, it wasn’t his fault.

The deluge eased off after a while but still the water came coursing down the hill. And the boat remained broken (a lot of tinkering in the engine, to no immediate effect). Paolo said there was a restaurant right by the harbour, but it was nothing like as good as the very, very good restaurant up the hill. Perhaps we should go there, and perhaps his son might be able to mend the boat while we had lunch. Paolo knew the owners of the (second best) restaurant and he said we would eat beautiful food. He, my mama and I left the assistant boatman and assorted mechanics peering into the boat’s innards.

What a lunch. It was completely and utterly delicious. Paolo spoke to the owner – no question of a menu – and a vast platter of seafood appeared. Followed by an outrageously delicious pasta dish. Which was followed by something else. And then something else. And we had wine (of course!). The storm returned – lashing rain, humongous claps of thunder and spectacular lightning – while we happily chomped our way through course after course of heaven on a plate.

On leaving – quite a long time later – the quayside was totally flooded. Up to one’s knees in water. We waded our way through the floods and got back to the boat. Which was semi-mended. Paolo said it would take a while to get back to Porto Cervo and he would arrange for a car to take us back to the Marina. My mother was horrified at the idea, saying it had been one of her most fun days ever and she wasn’t going to be done out of going back in the boat.

It took ages at half-speed. It rained. It blew. The water was choppy. But it didn’t matter. Mum and I kept looking at one another and grinning. We’d had an adventure.

As for the gigolo business. Well, Mummy did get picked up in a) a shop b) on a beach and c) in a restaurant on our final evening (this by a young English yachty-type, in Sardinia for a big sailing regatta, who thought Mum was a principessa and spoke to her in Italian). All to her joy.

And, no, I didn’t have a sniff of a picking up.