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Open Features: The Proposition – 4

At last the Scottish party who are to perform a canticle written by their local priest reach their destination – Assisi, Italy.

But organiser Linda McLean’s problems are far from over.

We disembarked from the coach, everyone happy and ready for a good meal.

But when I went inside to announce our arrival I was told there would be no food. I argued of course, but I was told this was the situation. The chef had left and the kitchen was closed.

Our party became an angry mob when they realised there would be no meal. And their anger was directed at me. There were apparently many omissions of which I was guilty. The situation was becoming increasingly unpleasant.

I asked if at least a snack could be organised for the children.
I was told there were no facilities for snacks.

Was there not even a packet of crisps?

The machines which dispensed such things were turned off.

Could they be turned on?

No.

What about drinks?

There were no drinks. Only those in the machines, and the drinks machines were also turned off.
Is the water drinkable?

No.

To face sixty irate adults with this news was not pleasant.

My husband left me to it while he phoned got on the phone to the travel firm which had arranged the trip, pointing out that the distances and times they had arranged could not be driven legally in a day. The firm insisted that it was possible. We had merely been unfortunate in because our drivers had driven too slowly.

I was furious! To encounter this, after all our efforts.

Our bus drivers had been re-checking the distance to Assisi, and were not happy at what they discovered. They wanted to set out again at 6 am, two hours earlier than planned, and even then they thought it would be difficult to reach Assisi by 8 pm, the planned time of our arrival.

A phone call to Assisi established that food would be available, no matter what time we arrived.

Meanwhile, as midnight neared, I was still dealing with numerous questions and complaints, all of which had to be translated for the hotel’s Reception staff.

This gentleman wants to eat. Where is open at this time?

This group should have three beds. There are only two in the room.

The beds have not been changed in this room. The linen is dirty.

The water in the taps is lukewarm. Can you supply cold water for drinking?

My translating duties were taxing. If Reception could not supply a good answer, and that was invariably the case, I was the one who received the grief.

When the last problem had been dealt with I fell exhausted into bed at 2 am. Then came the joy of getting up at 5.30 am to be on the road by 6.

Alana appeared at breakfast, in her usual anxious state. She was laden with copious bags, and insisted we fill all of them with any and all spare rolls and croissants in the event of having no food.

“Take everything! Take everything!” she shrieked. “We don’t know when we’ll see food again! Take the butter and the jam too. Don’t leave anything!”

This direction had the most comical effect, People started to fight over a pain au chocolat, without even knowing what it was. A siege mentality had been born.

The next stage of our journey began, and we were making good time until we stopped at the Italian customs.

These musical instruments? How did the total come to £15,000?

We listed all the instruments.

Could you please write out exactly what you have, and the cost of each instrument.

It was unbelievably frustrating. Two hours passed before we were released. The time gained by an early start had been lost. We entered Italy as siesta was starting, so there was nowhere for us to eat. Now we really needed the breakfast rolls and bread.

On and on we went, and at last good fortune shone on us. We came upon a small Italian café which was run by a Scottish girl. Could she feed us all, we asked?

She hesitated. “I would need help with the serving.”

Having learned from Father Francis, I said quickly; “Oh, I can get you help.”

The mums on the bus were delighted to have something positive to do. Their children were pleased to be fed. The café owner worked out how much we had eaten by the few morsels remaining on her shelves.

We set out again in a much better frame of mind. Night fell quite soon. On we travelled, hour after hour.

A woman sitting behind me had been offering a running commentary to her long suffering male companion throughout the journey. It became priceless.

“There is a sign that says Roma.” she said. “Where is that?”

“That’s what the Italians call Rome,” he informed her.

“They call it Roma? Why would they do that?” she asked.

“It’s their name for it.”

“Why?” she persisted.

“Oh, well, you know, when in Rome do as the Romans do,” he offered, rather out of ideas.

“I’ve always wondered about that,” she said excitedly. “What DO the Romans do?”

**

We arrived in Assisi at 2 am.

There was no food.

Unlike the first night, no-one was really surprised. They all dispersed quietly to their bedrooms, for which I was eternally grateful. I was reprieved, or at least I thought I was. Having waited until everyone else was settled down, we asked where our accommodation was.

“Outside,” we were told.

“Outside?” We were confused.

“You are “il duce”. You have the honeymoon suite,” the beaming night manager informed us.

This was good news. We took the keys, and followed directions to another building. And there we were stopped in our tracks. We were dismayed. There were twenty-two steps up to the honeymoon suite – and my husband could not walk.

He had to use a wheelchair at all times. Though his upper body was extremely mobile and strong, it was difficult to contemplate going up and down those steps three times a day for the next four days. How would I manage the wheelchair on my own?

We asked if there was another room.

No, the hotel was full.

We were obviously going to be challenged throughout this trip in more ways than one.

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