Venice, part I

The time has come for the Vogalonga trip. For those of you who have not picked up on this so far, Vogalonga is a route through the lagoon, round Murano and back into the Grand Canal in Venice which can only be completed by man-powered boats. Well, I should say people-powered but that sounds a bit daft. I am sure you understand. So this is why Mr Mason and I find ourselves leaving the house at 2.30 in the morning to jump in the car, collect Ms Marsden from her home and drive to Gatwick for the ridiculously early flight we have booked ourselves. It is cold, I am in flipflops and it’s not a good start to the day. I have been having some pains in my left chest/lung area – enough to make sleeping and getting a full breath possible – so I am not feeling on top form but we have been planning and training for this for so long, there is no way I am going to miss it. At Gatwick we separate as we are flying with Monarch while Ms Marsden has splashed out on British Airways, complete with a snack breakfast. On Monarch we have 2 attendants with a tea trolley, rather reminiscent of train service. We also bump into fellow paddler Ms Betab in the queue for security and find out she is on the same flight as us, sitting just across the aisle. For the first time in ages, I do not have a screaming baby sitting anywhere near me which is something of a relief.

Arriving at Marco Polo airport, we manage to work out how to get tickets from the machine for the waterbus which will take us to Venice proper. So clever are we that we can even help other people. I don’t loiter deliberately in order to look smart, but both Mr Mason and Ms Betab have to relieve their bladders so I am left looking after the bags and helping people. Once we are through security, we head for a cafe and wait for Ms Marsden who, once she arrives, tells us she didn’t even eat the complimentary breakfast. Oh, the thought of those scrambled eggs and little squashy sausages that you only get on flights going to waste. We point out there are chlldren starving in Africa etc etc but she is unrepentant. Once we get outside, we realise how hot it is. The forecast has shown us good weather for the whole weekend with temperatures around 29 degrees. This will make for hot paddling and I am immediately hot and bothered in a most unattractive way. The waterbus arrives and we all pile on and are made to cram into the fore cabin which is already pretty full. Bags are slung this way and that and we squeeze together in the hope of not being bounced off our seats by a recalcitrant wave. But it is fine and we arrive at Rialto to find the place fairly heaving with people. The hotel we are staying in is one we have stayed in before and somehow, digging into our memory, we manage to find it. As it’s early, we leave our bags there and go back out into the sunshine to find Ms Marsden’s hotel which is down a side alley and looks nothing like a hotel. She is pleased with it, though, and says the rooms are fine and the people running it are helpful so all is well.

I would like to tell you in detail what we did next but I can’t remember so you’ll have to make that bit up. At lunchtime, we find a nice restaurant and sit at tables outside. For some reason, I order a pizza and, thinking it is just the lunchtime menu, expect it to be small. It is huge when it arrives and way more than I can eat. I get a little help from Ms Marsden but in the end we have to admit defeat and even shun the offer of a takeaway container for it. Gradually, we all start to wilt with both heat and tiredness so we take ourselves off to our respective hotels for a snooze. A quiet meal at the hotel in the evening and we are ready for Saturday and whatever that brings!

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One wheel on my wagon

Following the cracked window episode, we have a total disaster with the shopping trolley. OK, so I have to admit to having a shopping trolley but, in mitigation, I bought it when I was first having chemo. It has done sterling service in hauling massive amounts of cat and dog food home, wine, beer and a variety of other comestibles and has saved me carrying it. Looking at it another way, it has probably cost me a lot of money as I would not have bought half the stuff if I’d had to lug it home. But I digress. On Thursday I go to get some shopping. There is not a lot on the list but it is surprising what I find and how much space 4 loo rolls and some kitchen towels take up. As locals will know, there is not a wide selection of shops in West Ealing but there are some darned good food shops and it’s certainly easy enough to fill a trolley. Even a short shopping trip like this is exhausting me at the moment so I have a tried and trusted method of getting round. 1. Walk to Sainsbury’s then rest on the benches there whilst checking emails. 2. Do a bit of shopping and then pop into a local cafe for a drink and a rest. 3. Complete shopping and rest again outside Sainsbury’s before heading home.

I go to our local cafe which is really a greasy spoon and provides a huge community resource. I never have to place an order as they know what I will have. The tables are often filled with elderly people who meet there and sometimes people who have mental health issues. Oh, and me and my friend, Francesca. Everyone is welcomed. At the moment I am blessed with an abundance of Francesca’s. When we gave our daughter this beautiful appellation, we knew no other Francesca. Now, when referring to a Francesca I have to specify which one I am talking about or Mr Mason gets very confused. And I meet my Italian friend Francesca in the cafe quite often so when I say “Francesca said….”, Mr Mason regards me with a quizzical look on his face until I have clarified for him. But I digress. It can be a bit of a battle in the cafe sometimes, particularly if I have the trolley in tow. There are older women who are more experienced drivers and who have the type with 4 wheels on, a little like juggernauts, but I stick to my 2 wheels on the grounds that I’m not old enough to have one of the bigger trolleys yet.

By the time I get to Sainsbury’s, the trolley is pretty full but I realise there is quite a lot of shopping I still want. I phone Mr Mason and say I have overdone it again and will he walk up and meet me? Before we go through the check-out (half of which they have removed recently to make way for more self-service tills and fewer staff) I take out the lightest items so I can carry them in a bag. Mr Mason is in charge of packing the trolley. Remember this point as you will need it later on. After I pay, I turn to leave the shop and suddenly there is a crunching sound and Mr Mason cries “The trolley has broken!” On looking down, one of the wheels has buckled underneath. I suggest he should go and fetch the car but Mr Mason is more upbeat and is sure he can get the fully laden trolley home with only one wheel and several curbs to go up and down. I am an optimist whereas Mr Mason lives in cloud cuckoo land. I did hear where that phrase came from a while ago but now I don’t remember. Sorry, that’s a bit annoying, isn’t it?

There we are, 2 middle aged people (in appearance only, I hasten to add) one of whom is dragging a heavily-laden shopping trolley along with the benefit of only one wheel. What is left of the axle gradually disintegrates as Mr Mason hauls it along with a noise resembling fingernails scraping down a blackboard. Surprisingly, I am agile enough to distance myself from him as we walk a route observed by our friends and neighbours looking for all the world like a couple of, as Mr Mason puts it so succinctly ‘old loonies’. He tries the pulling method and the pushing method and the going-round-in-circles method but they are all found wanting. In the end he hauls it home like an unwieldy sack of spuds, my suggestion of getting the car ringing in his ears.

Saturday sees us back out on the water. We are lucky most weekends in that Saturday mornings are sunny and even warm but this weekend we are out of luck.  The wind is quite high and the clouds scud briskly across as we change from blue sky to black clouds. For some reason we are all feeling a little tired and jaded and it is cold out on the water. It does not get any better when it starts to hail. Big fat chunks of hail thunder down on us, the wind blows and we can only sit and laugh and scream as we are pelted with frozen water. After an hour of paddling we decide it is time to finish for the day. Our coaches are getting seriously cold and we are all feeling a little demoralised. As you may know, I am not the most nimble-footed of creatures so get help in and out of the boat. We have a new member on the boat today who is paired with me and I am pontoon side on when we dock so I will get out first. I force myself into a standing position, not wishing to burden the new member with a list of my ailments and aching limbs. After shouting for Mr Mason for some moments, I eventually make him hear me and he comes to give me his hand and help me out of the boat. Mostly I have been aided by sympathetic, kind team members like Eddy or Wendy. Today, Mr Mason grabs hold of my hand and simply yanks. He doesn’t even stay in the same spot but takes a step backwards so I am jolted out of the boat and onto the floating pontoon, sprawled head-first. “What did you do that for?” he asks, as though I suddenly took it into my head to provide a floor show for Mr Vyas, newest member and Hare Krishna devotee. It takes me some time to regain my senses and about 4 people to help winch me onto my feet. I am wet, cold and humiliated. For some reason I cannot load the video of us sitting in the hail storm so instead I will give you the song that kept running around my head as Mr Mason brought the bacon home. Enjoy!