My eldest niece turned 18 this year. Ah, the memories. My 18th birthday was spent at boarding school, where I was gifted with a bottle of booze and a few condoms (marking the legal age for alcohol consumption and consensual sex), as well as other, less memorable, presents.
That was the year I came home to enrol at university, as well as embarking on a professional ballet career. Most of my schoolmates went on to do the final year of school, filled with auditions and teacher training certificate courses, while others moved on to university as well.
As the years passed, I kept in touch with these friends through letters sent in the mail and visits every other year or so to London, until I started working and had less time for travel.
My last trip to Europe was in 2001, to visit my sister who was then doing a degree in Public Art, and to see my old friends. Big A and I had started dating a few months before this, and he was in France and Spain with a friend to run with the bulls and drink plenty of wine at the same time I was in that part of the world. We met up in Paris, and then he spent a week or so with us in London.
In the intervening twelve years, my sisters and their families, and my parents, have been back to the UK countless times, but I've not managed to make another trip there, for budget or timing reasons. Until now.
My parents decided to gift their eldest granddaughter with an overseas trip, and London was the location of choice, since she'd been to Paris and Germany over the summer, and my folks normally visit the UK in October to celebrate my mum's birthday.
Last month though, they decided it might be more fun for an 18 year old not to travel with two people over 60. So I was elected to take my dad's place. In two weeks, my mum, my niece and I go off to London for eight days. It's hard to tell who is the most excited.
My mum had grown used to spending weeks in London visiting a daughter at school. My parents usually travelled separately unless the entire family was together, as the other would need to look after the kids at home, but since my dad retired, they have always travelled together. Not the best thing for my mum's shopping habit. Since opening her little shop, their European trips have been scheduled around the spring and autumn buying fairs, so none of these have been "proper" vacations.
This will be the first one in a long time - mum can browse the shops to her heart's content, I can see West End shows and visit art galleries, and my niece can come with either of us or go meet her godparents in London.
Naturally, I'm apprehensive about leaving Big A and Little A to their own devices, and have warned them both not to overload the Au Pair with too much responsibility. I will be doing all the laundry and buying an excess of groceries before leaving, and will be gone over Little A's half-term break, so there will be no school.
I pray there will be no medical emergencies or accidents, and that all goes well. It will be Little A's longest time to go without my putting him to sleep since he was born. I hope we both manage the separation anxiety. Wish us luck!!