Brian Viner: I spent €250 and things started looking up

Related Topics

Last Sunday's opening instalment of BBC1's adaptation of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books, about an incorruptible detective in Rome – perhaps the incorruptible detective in Rome – got careful scrutiny in our house, because we'd only just come back from three days in the Eternal City. "That's where we had the ice creams," went up the cry, causing far more excitement than Zen (Rufus Sewell) being followed by a sinister fellow on a motorbike.

Our short holiday differed markedly from my last trip to Rome, inter-railing round Europe with my schoolfriend Mark in the summer of 1982. Chatting up 19-year-old American girls was obviously a no-no this time. Moreover, Jane and the children had never been to Rome before, so we were eager to cram in as much culture, as much history, and as much fettuccine, as we could.

Even so, I wasn't expecting the Sistine Chapel to feature. When we arrived mid-morning in St Peter's Square, the queue to get into the Vatican was about half-a-mile long, the kind of queue that my kids would contemplate standing in only if there was a really good rollercoaster ride at the end of it, or perhaps an opportunity to meet Matt Cardle from The X Factor. And although we were approached by any number of English-speaking guides promising tours which, for €45 a head (€35 for under-16s), would get us out of queuing, my instinct on such occasions is always to assume that I'm about to be ripped off.

In the end, though, we decided to dig deep, very deep, and take the tour option. I'd seen the Sistine Chapel and so had my mother, who was also with us, but when would the others next be in Rome? I suppose it could have gone either way, but it turned out to be the best €250 I've ever spent. Our guide was a chirpy Londoner called Luke Mullinger, who fed us all the standard stats (to spend one minute looking at each piece of art on show in the Vatican Museum would take 11 years), but also managed to weave Dan Brown and even, to my older son's delight, Pulp Fiction into the narrative. He turned what could have been a grim experience (cramming into the Vatican's halls reminded of me of fighting for elbow space on packed football terraces in the 1970s) into an enthralling one, and actually made a virtue of the crush, by showing us in the mobbed Sistine Chapel how to apply Alexander the Great's principles of warfare to a stony-faced Russian tour group bearing down on us.

Alexander taught his soldiers to deal with charging chariots by forming channels, through which the enemy would pass harmlessly. We did the same to the Russians. My sons loved that, indeed it's just possible that my younger boy will remember the Sistine Chapel for Alexander the Great's battle nous, which is not what Michelangelo had in mind at all.

As for what Michelangelo did have in mind, Luke explained it superbly, pausing only during the frequent demands, thunderously delivered in six languages over the loudspeaker system, for hush. I was prepared, almost 30 years after my last visit, to be underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel, but it fair took my breath away, and not just because of the chubby middle-aged woman from New Jersey jammed up against me.

It later occurred to me, incidentally, that she might have been one of the doe-eyed teenagers Mark and I chatted up at the youth hostel in 1982. Of course, she'd never have recognised me, either. There's nothing like a visit to the Vatican to remind you that only the folk represented in paint and marble are ageless.

Like my favourite tipples, I mix better with age

On New Year's Eve, back in Herefordshire, I waved my older children off to parties with an enjoinder not to mix their drinks. A few hours later I was sitting replete at a friend's dinner table, having enjoyed sparkling wine, sweet wine, dry white, fruity red and home-made damson gin, but at least I can say that I savoured the taste of everything I imbibed. And I'm in my late forties, not my late teens, so I'm allowed.

The faint fumes of hypocrisy do rise, though. Last night, it struck me that of the many well-known people I have interviewed down the years, the handful who are enduring friends became so because we got squiffy together at first encounter.

The thought struck because I was watching Alan Bleasdale's brilliant drama, The Sinking Of The Laconia, and Alan has remained a pal ever since he and I, in the course of a long interview, shifted several bottles of wine and, if hazy memory serves, possibly a few vodkas as well, 15 years or so ago. But even had there been no sinking of the sauvignon blanc, The Sinking Of The Laconia would still, in my estimation, be brilliant.

A farcical carry-on along the Via Veneto

Returning to Rome, it always cheers me on the Continent to spot the iffy use of English. We ate at one restaurant which on its menu boasted "chiarezza, trasparenza e impegno" and I'm sure that Italians would be more attracted by those virtues than would English-speakers by "clearness, limpidity and effort".

Best of all, though, was a chic children's clothes shop on the elegant Via Veneto called Carry-On. That must sound stylish to Italians. Little do they know that to us it evokes Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas