My mother is a remarkable woman. When my father passed away, she began to go on walking holidays booked through the Ramblers’ Association. This meant that every year, she would travel from South Africa, arrive in the UK, see us here for a bit and then head off somewhere in Europe for a couple of weeks’ walking with a group of people.
She kept fit, she saw new places, made new friends and had a great time.
Each year, we would go through the brochure of new trips and she would excitedly point out new places to go. It got to the stage where she had done so many of them, there WERE no new places to go.
One year she suggested that I came along. She would pay and I would be the go-for, the fetcher, the carrier, the “Yes Mum, no Mum”.
The first year we went to Menorca and it was fabulous. I was happy to haul mum’s suitcase up and down staircases as there was no lift, organise our evenings out- this was generally a potter along to the edge of the village and back and to also organise our packed lunch made up in the local shop for the following day.
I learnt very quickly that it was a great mistake to believe that when Mum asked for my opinion, she actually wanted my carefully considered answer or to believe she actually wanted me to choose her dinner for her. I made the mistake only once and then silently handed over my own choice when her meal arrived. She had looked at it in dismay and then began to cast longing looks at mine.
The next time, someone else thought they would offer their opinion and again, I handed over my meal, gave the plate of whitefish I had been presented with away to the other diners, ordered a bottle of wine and stared out at the sunset.
The next trip was to Ischia- a beautiful Italian island in the Bay of Naples. I had settled Mum in the ferry terminal whist we waited for the ferry and then when the tour guide asked for our passports, realised that Mum had slipped hers into a side pocket of her trouser suit and that it was lying on the floor of the bus, heading back to Naples town centre. Managed to get the passport back by contacting the coach station who persuaded the driver to make an unexpected return journey with it.
From then on, I always had both passports and checked them compulsively throughout the trip.
We went on a walking cruise to Norway during which I spent a day in Mum’s lightweight, missing-buttoned lilac mac. I had handed over my heavy-duty waterproof coat as it was pouring with rain. It was raining so hard that one group, with my mum, headed back to the ship whilst I, in her pathetic mac carried on with the others. That was a many-bottles of wine evening for me, just to recover.
On the final trip we did she was as chirpy and upbeat as ever, especially so as my daughter had come along too. Because of this we referred to ourselves as The Three G’s- three generations.
We went to Portugal where part of the walking was to include some sections of the Portuguese Camino- the medieval routes the pilgrims would have walked, braving bears and robbers in order to prove their devout natures.
We would see the modern-day pilgrims staggering along under the weight of their huge packs and the tour guide told me as we strode along, that when she completes a Camino- she had just completed a 600km one a couple of months before- that the one item she would not travel without was a bar of soap so she could always smell nice. Other than that, she carried a light daybag only.
I did have some sympathy with the travellers though as some days I too, would be staggering with Mum’s day bag on my front, my own on my back and most of her bodyweight on my arm. The daughter came into her own then and they would both be chuckling together over a shared moment as they negotiated the steep trails and boulders together and I was given a bit of a reprieve.
One day a strong hurricane hit the town and whilst we had ventured out in most weathers that holiday, even the tour guide balked at the idea so we decided to catch a train to a town, go in the museums and see what we could find.
I remember looking back through the strong winds and torrential rain and could just see a tiny figure heading towards me. As we both hurried to get her, she remarked, “Phew! A bit breezy today. Haha!”
Mum’s zest for life and “have-a-go attitude” was truly remarkable and when we have our weekly phonecall, she still talks about doing another trip. Yes Mum.
I am so grateful that my daughter has developed this same resilience and positivity and that if anyone can survive a lockdown in a foreign country, she can.