On the 16th of May 2017, at 7am, I boarded a flight from London to Venice.
You know. THOSE flights. The bastard-early ones which sound all fine and leisurely when you book them -
“It’s only 7am, honey. We’ll be there by mid morning and have the whole day!” -
when the eyeball-busting reality is you set the alarm for 3am, to leave by 4, to arrive by 5, to spend an hour trying to re-pack all your mini toiletries seven times into one frickin’ TINY plastic bag
(Have the Ryanair cabin-allowance team ever HEARD of ‘cleanser-toner-moisturiser-other much more expensive moisturiser-primer-foundation-concealer-eyeliner-mascara-toothpaste-mouthwash-hand cream-lip balm-cuticle oil-facial mist stuff-gin???!! ONE BAG.🙄)
and jostling with your fellow zombie-faced travellers to get through the scanning machines, scrabble to gather all your loose change from the corners of a giant plastic tray, and even though you’ve only got ten minutes until boarding, decide it’s definitely enough time to leg it to the Duty Free to see if you can get away with asking both the Jaegermeister and the ‘Whiskey I Don’t Even Like Because I Literally Never Drink Whiskey’ reps for six samples of each, and still leave time for a double G&T in Wetherspoon’s, and then fork out the money you’ve saved on the killer 3am start by buying a tub of ludicrously expensive face cream you can’t afford but you’re pissed on Jaegermeister and whiskey so you don’t care, and whaddayaknow, you miraculously CAN take this liquid on board with you, even though it quite clearly doesn’t fit into your one frickin’ permitted plastic bag.
Why is it OK to have it with me now, when it wasn’t OK just over there, ten minutes ago?!
When you finally arrive at your holiday destination it’s well after lunch, what with the time difference, and you look and feel so shit you have to go to bed for the rest of the day so you can look less deathly in the selfies you want to share all over social media to show everyone what a fab time you’re having, and how amazing your new glowy skin looks.
There we were. On our way to Venice.
There were three of us travelling together that day, on only two seats.
Not because I’m a spectacular cheapskate (though I am), but because travelling with us, and making me sicker than a giant wave of turbulence in a tumble dryer on a ship in a sea of rollercoasters, was our 12-week-old baby embryo.
I didn’t know it then, but I was never coming back.
Physically I was. There was half a jar of Marmite in the kitchen cupboard, so HELLO UNFINISHED TOAST BUSINESS.
But emotionally, as the wheels left the tarmac, I was on a one-way flight to a new life.
(Ryanair do some amazing ‘whole new life’ tickets if you download the app and tick ‘go on, for £14.99 surprise me.’)
I also didn’t know, as we cruised 35,000 feet over Northern France and the stewardess offered me a G&T, which, being pregnant I obviously refused and had two straight vodkas instead, how many of our small party of three, one now snoring loudly beside me and the other busily dividing into ever more embryonic cells, were going to be on the return flight home.
The last 12 weeks had been the most stressful, difficult start to any pregnancy I’ve ever had. ‘Morning sickness’ had got way above its station and seemed to have graduated to 24-Hour-Hurling, Sainsbury’s had stopped making the exact porridge I like, and the new series of Shetland hadn’t started yet.
IS THERE NO END TO A WOMAN’S SUFFERING?
I was also 42, and well within the ‘at risk’ category. And I’d already had two episodes of bleeding.
Unless something in my life changed for the calmer, and soon, it was very possible that only two of us would make it home.
As the Alps rose beneath us an hour later, and my breakfast threatened to do the same, ‘home’, was already far behind us.
And Venice, a place I first set foot in in 1984 as a gawky, nine-year-old with a mullet, and with whose limitless gelato supplies I had fallen instantly in love, was drawing ever closer.
Even though my last visit was ten long years ago, I knew exactly how I would feel when I saw her again - and why I needed to go back.
To see the light on the lagoon. To watch children pull each other’s hair in the campi. To hear the bells ringing above San Marco at night. To breathe.
I knew why I was going.
I just didn’t know how much it was about to change all of our lives.
I definitely should have had the gin instead.