Summer weather in the Outer Hebrides (Rousse)

NP had persuaded her friends to accompany us on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. This was on the basis of my large archive of photographs of the deserted white sandy beaches that fringed the sea of Caribbean blue, sparkling in glorious summer sunshine under vast cloudless skies.

The problem was that this collection of pictures had been assembled over several years, and it was not representative of a typical leaden-sky week in the Western Isles. Worse still, so far this trip had also been marred by a downpour that had started as soon as we disembarked the ferry. It looked like the rain would never stop.

NP gathered her friends together and announced to all that her patience had run out. She was returning to the mainland with anyone else who wanted to give up on this sodden holiday.

I had a feeling that as soon as NP and her followers stepped onto the boat, the sun would come out again.

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Pork for Jews (Rousse)

Imogen was hopeless as a member of our book/gourmet dining/art and literature travel club. Who else would ever try to argue that a pork stew fitted with the dietary requirements of our Jewish member?

No matter the butchery method, I insisted, pork is always the flesh of a pig.

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A wedding in the north Lake District (Rousse)

The Cumbrian pub just off the M6 was crammed with wedding guests. They queued everywhere – for their room keys, to use the bathroom, at the dining room door at breakfast etc.

The low bathroom to guest ratio meant that sharing the bath water was expected. I jumped in after TPR, forgetting to take off my T shirt and mint green cardigan.

As I set off back to our bedroom, a wedding guest in the bathroom queue spotted my soaked clothes. It was only when she joked that she hoped that I had another outfit for the wedding ceremony that I realised that I had not packed anything suitable. Another person joined in the conversation with the suggestion that if I was no longer planning to come to the ceremony, perhaps I could babysit her son for the afternoon?

Meanwhile TPR was fielding questions from others about our connection to the bride and groom. He batted them away with replies along the lines of ‘They are friends of my wife’. However, when I checked the names on the blackboard in reception that listed wedding arrangements, I was certain that I had never heard of this Stephen and his fiancée.

In fact, we had only booked this accommodation to give us a break on our journey north away a holiday in the south of England. We had nothing to do with the bridal party, their family or friends. Rather, everyone else had just swept us up into their plans, assuming that our booking was for the same reason as theirs.

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The dead with an Egyptian theme (Rousse)

I tucked myself under my father-in-law’s shoulder as we walked up Edinburgh’s London Road together. He was so warm and loving towards me, displaying far more affection now than he ever did when he was alive.

Meanwhile, in the grounds of Stirling Castle my girlfriends and I were decorating the inside of the shrine to ED, whose funeral had taken place at the same time as that of my father-in-law. Someone asked if it would be appropriate to contribute a model of an Egyptian pyramid to the construction. I supported this idea wholeheartedly – not least because I had already bought a replica golden funerary mask of Tutankhamun to take pride of place within it.

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Gifts and guests shattered in Sunderland (Rousse)

M and AP hosted their joint 60th birthday and ruby wedding anniversary party in Sunderland – a place with which they had no connection whatsoever. I travelled most of the way there by car up the A1, finishing the journey by local train.

As their honoured guests, TPR and I were accommodated in the same huge hotel bedroom as our hosts with two adult couples (our hosts’ children and spouses), and two toddlers (their grandchildren). To us, this was no treat, but a promise of certain insomnia.

On top of everything else, with the exception of a bottle of ruby port, all the beautiful presents that I had packed carefully in a gift box had smashed in transit. I blamed MP for hurling our bags onto the floor of the shared bedroom at the time of our arrival.

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Shameful colonial furniture (Rousse)

While JM popped out to buy éclairs (or similar) and TPR tackled the washing up, I took a close look at the crumbling antique furniture that was rammed into the space at the bottom of our stairs.

Why did we own a tatty Victorian secretaire covered in cursive script that charted its heritage? I recognised the name ‘Sadie’ from the early twentieth century, but none of the others were associated with my family.

At the centre of the secretaire’s ‘lid’, the wording and carved images indicated that the first owner was a military officer in colonial India. In that case, I was not too sure that I wanted to find any family association with this shabby wooden object.

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Holidays for widows (Rousse)

Out of earshot TPR’s earshot, DJ told me that he and his wife FB were making plans for future holidays with me.

‘What about TPR?’ I asked?

‘He’ll have died of stress by then’, he responded without emotion.

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Dressing secrets of the French royal family (Rousse)

The curator passed me the tiny fitted eighteenth century jacket. The solid gold buttons, along with the hand-stitched trimmings in precious threads, stood out against the beautiful dark blue velvet.

‘Check the silver embroidery on the seam of the sleeve’, instructed the curator.

I traced a name thinly stitched in cursive writing. It was not that of the prince who wore the garment, however. Rather, like all the clothes of the children of the French royal family, the jacket sported the name of his mother the Queen.

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Restaurant food with conditions (Rousse)

The view from our well-equipped black metal balcony was of the beautiful mountains – and if you wanted to make a phone call, or post a letter, the facilities were right here too, painted traditional pillar box red.

In the evenings, we walked from our bed and breakfast and across the road to dine in the nearby restaurant with the rest of our family. My Polish colleague ES was one of the waitresses, working under a rather flamboyant manager. The latter wore his wavy black hair long, and paraded through his domain in black jeans, cowboy boots, and a green tartan jacket.

Most nights we remembered to book ahead for a table, but on the very last we forgot to do so. Fifteen minutes before we were due to set off, I contacted ES by phone to ask whether they would have room for us. She hesitated, and then confirmed that a table was available.

On arrival, we were guided to the bistro rather than the main restaurant. There ES presented us with a menu that comprised croissants with a range of unhealthy fillings (only). We were happy with our table but not the choice of food, so I sought the manager to ask whether we might select dishes from the main restaurant menu.

To begin with, the manager appeared to be sympathetic to our request, but it came with conditions. The first was to admire his 100% plastic game of Settlers of Catan, which he kept permanently in his jacket pocket. Another was to watch a strange musical performed within the restaurant. Very poor singers entertained their audience from hanging positions high above the dining tables.

When the manager made to drag my octogenarian mother across the restaurant floor to position her to observe yet another of his displays (and ruched up her delicate lilac evening dress in the process), I greatly regretted the amount of money that we had handed over to this business over the course of our holiday.

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A pedalling peril (Rousse)

It was very difficult riding round the city on a tandem carrying a king size duvet. Barely able to see over the handle bars, my greatest fear was that we would take out an unseen cyclist just ahead of us.

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