Tales of the unexpected

This week I met a woman who had a large and prominent tattoo on her forearm. She showed it to me. The text said ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’.

When I asked her about it she told me she had it done because when she was younger it was the the name of her favourite Bob Marley song.

Then I pointed out gently that ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is actually a Bobby McFerrin song and she replied bitterly: ‘Yes, I know that now!’

For a moment she looked not at all happy, perhaps even a little worried. She looked at her tattoo sadly, then back at me and we both began to laugh.

The point, I suppose, is that things don’t always work out the way you expect. And that a lack of planning and research can lead to unexpected results later on.

Which made me think of my honeymoon a decade ago. My wife organised most of the locations and bookings, and everything ran smoothly. I organised two parts, which didn’t.

My first input was organising a night in a five star hotel on the Calabrian coast in Italy. 

The building and its surroundings, perched high on the edge of a cliff rising from the sea, were stunning. It was easily the most luxurious place where I had ever stayed and we expected to slip easily into its opulence like it was a warm, soapy bath.

But it didn’t quite turn out that way. The hotel, although architecturally magnificent, was close to empty and desperately soulless. The staff were stiff to the point of being comic. The dinner in its restaurant, which we had been anticipating for days, was the worst of our whole honeymoon, a series of plates of mess and confusion.

The following morning we arrived on the sunny patio at the edge of the mountain where they served breakfast. I ordered an omelette, perhaps thinking that at least that was one dish the kitchen could not foul up.

The omelette quickly arrived and, not having had a good dinner the evening before, I attacked it keenly. At this moment a wasp descended onto my plate. I waved it away. Then another wasp appeared. And another. Soon a whole swarm of wasps were buzzing around my golden omelette and I had risen from my chair, aiming a series of swings at empty air in growing agitation.

It now became clear to me why the few other guests staying at the hotel were breakfasting inside. 

Eventually, having given up on breakfast, but unwilling to admit defeat with dignity, I lifted my plate and hurled the omelette off the edge of the cliff, yelling ‘If you want it that bad, just fecking take it!’ as it plummeted towards the Tyrrhenian Sea with a hoarde of angry bees in pursuit.

As we packed later that day to move onto the next location my wife quizzed me on how much research I had done into the hotel. The answer, of course, was none.

As I said there were two parts of the honeymoon which I organised. That was the good part.

A week later we were due to fly from Sicily to Athens to continue our break. I organised the flights and was able to save some money by making a booking which included changing flights in Naples.

I had already made a serious error by failing to realise that there were two airports on Sicily. And the one where we had to get an early morning flight was 120 miles away from our hotel. This meant having to rise almost before we’d gone to bed to get a hugely expensive car transfer while my wife scowled at me between yawns.

When we reached the airport our bags were checked in all the way to Athens and we began to relax. I think it was only when the small plane was on the runway that I considered how little time there would be between us landing in Naples and the next flight to Athens taking off.

Of course once the time conundrum was in my head I couldn’t shift it and fretted the whole way through the flight that we were going to miss our connection.

At the time our plane arrived in Naples it was already past the hour when check-in for our next flight was supposed to close. We rushed past a surprised Italian air stewardess in a red uniform at the top of the steps and headed for the terminal.

There was a long queue at arrivals and we had to elbow and push our way past several grumpy tourists just to get into the main body of the airport.

We went to the check-in desk. It had closed. I pleaded and argued with the receptionist to let us through. Eventually she did unwillingly.

Then there was a long queue at security. Taking my wife by the hand we forced our way through it, mumbling apologies and half-explanations. When we got to the front of the queue they didn’t want to let us go any further because the flight had already closed. I argued and pleaded with the staff and they eventually relented.

This brought us to the departure gate which was deserted. I found an attendant and told her we needed to get through. She told us the bus to the flight had gone 15 minutes ago and it was already fully boarded. Once more I argued and pleaded and, astonishingly, she finally agreed to summon another bus just to take my wife and I to the plane.

It was only as we were being driven across the tarmac that I remembered about our luggage. I had to accept if we made the flight to Athens then the luggage would be left behind and we’d have to make some later arrangement to get it sent on. This was not how I had imagined our dream honeymoon.

Then the bus pulled up at the plane, which was about to close its doors. It was a small plane and seemed familiar. Then I saw the surprised Italian air stewardess in a red uniform at the top of the steps and realisation began to dawn.

It was exactly the same plane I had dragged my wife off less than half an hour ago to take her on a crazed and panicked journey through Naples airport. The surprise of the air stewardess was probably explained by the fact that we were never meant to get off the plane. Our luggage was safely stowed in the hold below, destined for Athens.

We took our seats. The same ones we had vacated a short time before. Then we flew towards Greece. Not much was said. It might surprise you to learn that I’m still married ten years on.

When we talk about our honeymoon now the bits that I cocked up are always recounted fondly. It is often the case that the memory of things which go wrong lingers around longer than what proceeds as expected.

The most memorable holiday we ever had was backpacking around Eastern Europe and Italy several years before we were married. Everything went wrong on that occasion.

We missed our outwards flight and spent a drunken night in Luton airport.

Our accommodation in Split was an exact replica of Nelson Mandela House from Only Fools and Horses.

We got lost at night in Budapest and spent hours wandering the streets.

I almost drowned in the public baths in the same city.

Our feet swelled up to elephantine proportions through too much walking.

Our bus travelling to Dubrovnik crashed.

I almost fell off the back of the train travelling to Sarajevo.

My feet got soaked multiple times and when I had to remove my shoes at a mosque the smell of my socks disgraced me.

Our Italian accommodation, which was supposed to be in central Rome, was about 50 miles from the city.

The same accommodation turned out to be a metal box with no windows which was crawling with ants.

That night I got so drunk that I missed the bed when I went to lie down.

The hotel we moved to in Rome the next day put us in a room which smelt of dead cat. The hotel only agreed to move us after my wife burst into tears at reception, pleading that she couldn’t take any more.

I couldn’t make the pharmacy assistant understand my ailment so had to present my swollen bare foot for inspection on the chemist counter.

My wife and I had a huge row after I failed to flag down a taxi amid 150,000 delirious Romans who had just attended a free Billy Joel concert in front of the Coliseum.

My wife packed 18 pairs of shoes as well as a hair dryer and straighteners into her backpack which she then asked me to carry.

All that, and more, happened on one single holiday. And that’s the one we most often talk about. And will likely be the one I remember when everything else has faded into fuzziness. The adversity, when resisted, brings us closer together.

As Bob Marley almost said…don’t worry, be happy.


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