E Jane Dickson: 'Mum, that man over there fancies you," says Clara. Con is beside himself with mirth'

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The Independent Online

"Gross!" Breathes Con, admiringly, as we stand before a not-terribly-miraculously preserved body in the cathedral in Arezzo.

"Gross!" Breathes Con, admiringly, as we stand before a not-terribly-miraculously preserved body in the cathedral in Arezzo.

"I don't think it's a very nice kind of miracle," says Clara, wrinkling her nose at the grey, pulpy mass in the glass-sided coffin. She is more taken with the jaunty figure of Santa Lucia proffering her eyes, like party snacks, on a silver platter.

"Why are they so keen on dead bodies and horrid things?" asks Conor, eyeball to empty socket with a 16th-century mystic's skull.

I explain that the dead bodies are memento mori, to remind us of the passage of time and the fact that one day we will all be dust. The horrid things, I can only surmise, are just to keep us good and scared. "I'm not scared," says Con, but he gives the bleeding-hearted statue of Jesus a wide berth all the same.

Frankly, I'm glad of the gory distractions. At least they keep Con away from the flickering ranks of candles, which he has already tried to blow out. I remind myself that it would be an alarming kind of child who enjoyed church architecture for its own sake. It was bad enough two days ago in Florence, when Con shouted: "Look, Mum, the crest of the Medici!" and drew a look of pure hatred from the jolly English family enjoying ice creams on the steps of San Lorenzo. I might have explained that "Spot the six balls" (with wildly inflated prizes) was a game invented to keep the kids amused/awake as we trudged around cloisters, but the concerned mum already had her mobile out for an international call to ChildLine.

Our Italian holiday was planned in the spirit of fair compromise: mornings spent hurling round water slides and shooting rapids on inflatable rubber boats at our Tuscan Villaggio di Turismo, with a little light sightseeing for the adults in the afternoon.

But it hasn't quite worked out like that. For me, the memento mori are of the sentimental kind. I watch sweaty English girls clutching copies of Gombrich's The Story of Art being buzzed by circling Italian boys on Vespas and memories of student trips to Florence come flooding back. And romance is still in the air. "Mum," says Clara, tossing her hair on my behalf, "there's a man over there and he's really staring at you. I think he fancies you." "Fancies Mum?" Con is just beside himself with mirth. "Where is he? Let me see."

Discreetly, I follow Con's gaze. My admirer meets my eye with a bold, rolling stare. He is about 70 and almost perfectly spherical, with trousers up to his armpits. He raises his glass to me with a quizzical "time is short, we'd better get on with it" gesture. He might just mean that he has to get back for his tea, but in my present mood, the sign is expressive of some millennial carpe diem impulse.

I wave back cheerily and set about wiping up Con, who has dived nose first into a gelato al cioccolato. On leaving the café, my suitor brushes my shoulder and murmurs a regretful: "Another time." In Italy, it seems, old charmers never die. They simply shorten their braces.

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