MAN’S WORLD: A trip to Italy

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“Can you come in the lounge?” Ben said.

“I need to talk to you and Mum.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” I said, immediately panicking.

Trouble at school. Something bothering him. Personal problems. No, it couldn’t be that. He always told his mum first.

We sat nervously on the settee. Ben perched by the window. A girl? Did he want to bring a girl home at the weekend? “How would you feel...” he said. If I brought a girl home at the weekend. If I said I didn’t want to go into the sixth form. If I...

“If I went on holiday with my friends?” he said.

Oh. Hadn’t expected that one. He was too young, surely? Only 16. Jessica went at the end of the sixth form. Tom in his first year at university. Then again the youngest does everything early...

“Where to?”

“Italy.” Italy? With his friends? My natural inclination is to say ‘yes’ to my children.

But Italy at 16? Four or five boys? I don’t think so.

“We’d be going camping. Somewhere near Venice I think.”

A stab of jealousy intruded. I’ve never been to Italy. I have some serious catching up to do. About three months, a hundred plates of Parma ham and a small wine lake should do it.

“Who are you going with?”

Ben rattled off the names of his four best mates.

“And how do you plan to get there?”

“We’re going to fly to Budapest. And stay with Michal. Then we’ll drive there.”

“So Michal’s parents will be with you?”

“Yes, of course. We weren’t going on our own.”

No, of course not. I never thought you were.

Ben has a friend whose parents are Hungarian. They spend summers in Budapest and – as Google maps later told me – sometimes make the relatively short journey to Venice.

So they’re sorting out dates. Some time in the middle of the holidays.

Tom will be working; Jessica ditto. And now Ben will be in Italy via Hungary and – according to Google – Slovenia.

So just the two of us. Second honeymoon, you think. Yep, maybe.

But when your youngest child announces he’s going on holiday with his pals it’s a big deal.

Another of those pivotal moments in parenting. Especially when you had a chat with your daughter at Christmas...

“Look, you and Tom finish uni at the same time Ben finishes his exams. Mum and I thought it might be nice to have one more family holiday. Maybe book a cottage like we used to...”

“Are you asking if I want to come with you?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Then again, we’ve known it’s been coming. And I’ve had a few fantasies.

“I thought Mum and I might drive across America in a mobile home,” I told Ben over the dinner table.

“I don’t think Mum would like that, Dad. Remember you got lost in a supermarket car park.”

I didn’t, but you know what family myths are. Once the legend has taken hold it’s set in stone.

“That was in France,” I said. “Before SatNavs were invented. And I wasn’t lost.”

“Well why did you swear so much?”

“Scandinavia,” I said, decisively changing the subject. “We’d drive across that bridge from Denmark to Sweden.”

I chatted happily to myself while Jane and Ben got on with the rather more prosaic business of eating.

Iceland, New Zealand, that luxury train across Canada...

“Three hundred and fifty pounds,” Ben suddenly said.

“I forgot to say. That’s what it will cost.”

Yes, of course. And there was Jessica’s hockey tour to pay for. I mentally drew a line through the Royal Canadian Pacific. And substituted ‘weekend in Whitby...’