Stephen and I were exhausted. For the best part of the week we had been travelling without knowing where we were going, where we were going to stay, what we were going to do , or whether we would be able to afford it. Crazy, really, but it wasn’t as stressful as it might have been, I suppose. What I found annoying however were the two enormous jerrycans full of holy water. It didn’t seem to be reviving my spirits at all after we had carried it all the way to the station together with the plastic gondola – separate – and all our other bits and pieces. I have since learnt to travel light – or at least more lightly than then.
So we clambered onto the train to Milan and this time at least we knew more or less where we would be staying – with our Lebanese friend George and his friend whose name I cannot remember. in Milan we somehow arrived at their flat. I don’t know whether we took a taxi (this would of course have been my choice) or if we walked, but we did get there and they were extremely generous and welcoming. They cooked us a delicious meal and when they found out what time our flight was the next day they insisted on taking us for lunch at the university and then sightseeing. We had a wonderful day and then we caught our flight back to London.
Before we could do so, however, we had to explain ourselves at customs. Although this was long before the water ban on airlines – nothing was banned except for drugs or guns, I believe and we certainly didn’t have those, but we did have two white jerry cans full of liquid. The customs men spoke little English – our Italian was even less. But somehow or other Stephen managed to act out going on a pilgrimage to see Mamma Rosa of San Damiano, and to explain that the liquid was indeed holy water and that we had promised to take it back to England to hand over to some Dutch people. Eventually they waved us through and we took it into the plane with us. Minor miracle number 8.
I timorously asked Stephen what he actually planned to do with it. He already had his degree but I was going back to Sheffield to do my final year. He mumbled something about my taking it with me as the people it was intended for lived somewhere in the north of England. It would be nearer for them to come and collect it in Sheffield than in London.
I seem to remember being less than happy about this – after all I didn’t want to be carting it up on the train. But Stephen has a way with him and so somehow or other my father was persuaded to take them up in the car when he next took me. And so they stayed in the corner of my room for several months in 95 Brunswick Street while Stephen tried to persuade the rightful owners of the water to come and collect it.
What actually became if it I have no idea now. Possibly we gave it to the parish priest. Needless to say no one ever came for it. George and I corresponded for several years after that. Stephen became a Capuchin Friar and then a priest about ten years later but has remained an extremely good friend. When I got married three years later he was witness at our wedding. His mother, Naomi, accepted my husband into the bosom of her family and we all remained very close.
Moral of the story: this was the only pilgrimage I have ever been on. It was a fascinating experience and in many ways very uplifting. It had been absolutely the right thing to do in the circumstances. I was completely out of my comfort zone most of the time. That is no bad thing apparently. But would I do it again? I have no idea.