Dear Readers, back in 2016 I visited Venice with my friend Margaret Lovett. She was 89 and a bit years’ old then, and had mentioned, rather wistfully I thought, that she’d love to see Venice one more time. I had been visiting Venice regularly, and usually stayed in an apartment right on the Cannaregio main canal, so I said I’d be glad to go with her. And so, off we went.
Margaret had had an interesting life. She was the daughter of the Vicar of Sherbourne in Dorset, and lived in the town throughout her life, when she wasn’t off on some adventure or another. She trained as a nurse, and for a while she was living and working in Samoa. In her forties she had had a spinal fusion operation, which she said had made all the difference to her mobility, helped by the fact that she had assisted the surgeon who operated on her during many similar procedures, and therefore was confident that he ‘knew his stuff’.
When she retired, Margaret took up travelling with a vengeance. We met in China, on a gruelling expedition along the old Silk Road to Kashgar, the centre of the Uigher community at that point. Margaret was in her 80s then but bore with the extreme heat, the dust, the dodgy toilets, the tight timetable, and even the being manhandled on and off of a Bactrian camel in the Gobi desert. We became fast friends, but catching up with Margaret was always tricky – she returned to the Silk Road twice more, and also spent months in Australia, visiting with her nieces and nephews.
Margaret never married, but she has a whole raft of people to buy presents for, and so visiting a gift shop was always high on the agenda. In Venice, we’d accidentally left it until a day when the Aqua Alta (the occasional minor flooding of the streets) happened, but, undeterred, Margaret paddled through the water in her sandals to buy the necessary trinkets. Her suitcase, which was light as a feather when she arrived in a country, was always perilously close to over-weight by the time she left.
Margaret had a tricky relationship with Venice – on her previous visit, she had tripped getting into a Vaporetto, and got a nasty gash on her leg. She told me with some glee that she’d been blue-lighted in a water ambulance to the hospital, and that she’d watched with interest as her leg was sewn up, much to the surprise of the surgeon, who’d expected her to look away squeamishly. On our trip, she tumbled over once but bounced, and was quickly relieved by a sit down and a prosecco. In fact, Margaret loved a prosecco on every possible occasion – lunch, with dinner, after dinner, and on one memorable occasion, at breakfast.
I thought I knew Venice, but Margaret persuaded me into many churches with Veronese and Titian altarpieces. I’d never visited C’a D’Oro ( a palazzo come art gallery) either, in spite of it being so close to where we always stayed. And when we went to Murano, so that I could buy a genuine Venetian chandelier (a very small one I should add), Margaret galloped through the streets so that we could visit a church with a famous altarpiece before it closed at noon.
It’s rare to find such delightful and congenial company, but Margaret was the perfect travel companion. She never complained, she was clear about what she wanted to see but was always interested in what you wanted to do too. Every morning we’d work out what we were doing, and there was never a cross word. She saw the positive in everything, even when we had to get up at 4.30 a.m. on our last day to beat yet another Aqua Alta. She was learned, but she wore her learning lightly, and her smile lit up the room.
Earlier this week, I discovered that Margaret died back in May, aged 97. I had been meaning to get in touch, but hadn’t done so, and now it’s too late, so let that be a lesson to us all. I am sure that she will be missed in Sherbourne, on the other side of the world in Australia, and by everyone that she came into contact with, and there can be no better memorial than that. Farewell, Margaret Lovett, and safe travels.