Why do we keep travelling down memory lane?

Now there are lorries pounding past and the local shop sells its white Alba truffles on the Net'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

We've been coming to the hotel Approdo on the Italian lakes since 1986, and if you ask me it's time we stopped. Trouble is nobody asks me.

We've been coming to the hotel Approdo on the Italian lakes since 1986, and if you ask me it's time we stopped. Trouble is nobody asks me.

It's taken as read that one week in August the family, or what's left of it, will occupy small, slightly shabby rooms by Lake Orta, and in between swimming and eating pizza and taking boat rides to the market in Omenia, we will reminisce, as we always do, about the wonderful time we had that first summer of 1986. It's never been quite the same.

So why do we keep coming back? Because grown men and children are creatures of habit, I suppose. They like pointing excitedly out of the car window and saying: "Oh look, isn't that the restaurant where Nellie threw up?"

And at dinner, my husband beams when the waiter remembers the name of his favourite wine. Except it isn't his favourite wine, it's a different vintage and rough enough to take the rust off a bicycle.

The garden beyond the swimming pool has been turned into a caravan park full of German hausfraus polishing the plastic windows of their striped canvas caravan extensions. But we forgive everything because we haven't forgotten the way it was.

It was fantastic. There were eight of us, two adults, five children and Rachel, the 17-year-old daughter of neighbours offered by her mother to help us with the children. In the bar on our second night in Italy, Rachel met Gieppi, the young man who taught wind-surfing, and after that we hardly saw her.

The day before we were due to leave, Rachel announced that she wasn't coming home with us. She was moving into Mario's flat in Gravellona: "Don't you mean Gieppi?" I said. No, said Rachel, she meant Mario the policeman. I telephoned her mother.

"Listen," I began nervously. "We've hit a problem: Rachel says she's not coming home..." "Thank God for that," said her mother. "How much do we owe you?"

Fourteen years ago there was almost no traffic, and you could hire a boat and row to Isolabella for lunch. The children organised themselves, leaving us free to lounge and read and drink cocktails.

Now there are lorries pounding past our door, and the village shop sells its white Alba truffles on the internet. The teenagers have become restive, and I think wistfully of Argyll.

We only started coming back here four years ago, mid-way through the wettest summer Scotland has ever recorded. Even my patriotic Scottish husband admitted that 27 days of consecutive rain was a bit depressing.

So we drove to Glasgow and jumped on a plane. It didn't rain the next year but we still came, and this year we left Scotland in a heat-wave.

I've done Italy. I was a student in Florence, an au pair in Rome, a bride in Venice, a reporter in Sicily. A mad relative invited us once to his house in Capri, the highlight of the visit being lunch with Gracie Fields, another islander.

Her garden table was an exact miniature of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a red sun umbrella stuck in the middle. Miss Fields told us that she had had the table coated with laminate so that she could wipe away sticky tomato sauce.

I want to go north, not south, for the summer. Someone told me about a Northern Lights cruise that starts in Norway and stops at Orkney, Shetlands, St Kilda, the Faroes and ends up in Nova Scotia.

It's not a luxury cruise, the cabins are basic and you eat a lot of herring, but the scenery is spectacular. If Harry Chandler had invited us on a Northern Lights cruise 14 years ago would we feel the same nostalgia as we do for funghi porcini?

Nostalgia is an odd bird. The most unlikely things revive rosy memories of holidays that at the time weren't rosy at all. Ten years from now, as we're cycling round St Kilda in the rain, and as I stop to wipe the rust from my bicycle chain off my trousers, I'll say: "Remember that delicious red wine we had at the Approdo in August 2000? I'm bored with all these bleak storm-lashed islands and herring. For heaven's sake, let's go back to Italy."

Comments