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Things to do before you die

February 24, 2017

Back in the day, she’d stayed at some of the best hotels in the world: the Ritz in Paris, the Savoy in London, the Cipriani in Venice, the Sherry Netherland and the Plaza in New York, to name but a few. It would be lovely to get back to some of these hotels, but she’s done that.

Back in that day she’d once taken a train from Paris to Venice, but it wasn’t the newly refurbished Orient Express. She remembers making a drunken plan with some friends to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 swilling champagne on the Orient Express. Best plan ever for the start of a new millennium. Of course it didn’t happen. Bit optimistic, even at the time, to think it might. She’d still like to do that train trip, although she’s not sure the Orient Express is still running. She should check.

Even if that train is no longer running, there’s another journey she’d like to take: the sports car drive from the French to the Italian Riviera. She’s wanted to do this ever since she saw Two for the Road on the telly when she was about fourteen. At the time she wanted to be in the sports car with Albert Finney, although she hoped it would turn out better for her than it had for Audrey Hepburn. Yes, she’d still like to do that drive, but she doesn’t particularly want to do it alone. At the moment there is no Albert Finney – young or old – replacement prospect in sight.

Perhaps that drive should take place after the year she wants to spend in France, finally mastering the language. She can, on a very basic level, make herself understood in French, but she knows she speaks like a seven-year-old. She can, if people speak slowly and not for long, generally get the gist of what is being said, but if they offer a long explanation or comment she quickly loses the plot. If she tries to watch a French film without subtitles, all she hears is a lovely French noise. One of her fall back statements is: “Je parle une peu, mais je ne comprends riens.”

She’d love to take an intensive course for at least a month and then spend the rest of the year living in Provence or Languedoc, immersing herself and hopefully becoming fluent in French. She can picture the old stone cottage in which she will live. It will smell delightfully of the lavender that surrounds it. With a bit of luck there will also be wisteria. With even more luck, while she’s living in the cottage she might stumble across some Albert Finney replacement. If she’s really lucky he will already own the sports car.

For as long as she can remember, no doubt from the first moment she saw one as a child, she’s wanted to go for a ride in a hot air balloon. In her thirties she’d tried to fulfill this wish. This had involved a country house dirty weekend with her married lover. The hotel was lovely and every bit as luxurious as the ones she’d stayed in during her twenties. The food in the restaurant was wonderful. The breakfasts in bed were the last word in self-indulgence. As for the sex, well, let’s just say it was the first time in her life she’d ever had to beg a lover to stop because she honestly thought if she had one more orgasm her head was going to explode. Yes, that good.

Unfortunately the hot air balloon ride didn’t happen. Not in the early evening as they’d originally planned, nor the early morning alternative they were offered the next day. The weather was wrong. It was disappointing, yes, but the sex had more than made up for it. Then her lover said they would try again in a few weeks. She hadn’t been expecting that, but she was very pleased. Back they went to the country house hotel. More luxury, more great food, more great sex, but alas, more bad weather and no balloon ride. Time was up. In ten days she would be moving thousands of miles away to put a final end to this on again off again affair which had consumed much of her life for the past two years.

She joked at the time about picturing herself as an old woman who, on her death bed, looks out the window and sees a hot air balloon drifting by. The old woman swears. Quite graphically. Then she dies, filled with regret.

She needs to figure out how to get that hot air balloon ride in before she really is that old woman.

In her early days working as a journalist, she’d had a chance to do a sky dive for a story she was writing. This was something else she’d wanted to do for a long time. Her stupid bloody editor nixed it as an insurance problem. Twat. And then in her forties, another opportunity finally presented itself. A friend was doing a charity sky dive, asked if she wanted to jump with her. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “I’m in!”

There were various locations the jump could be done. They picked one in the west country, figuring they’d make a weekend of it. Off they went on Friday evening. Lovely grub and excellent ale in the pub where they were staying. Up early the next morning to head to the airfield. The fact that it was a bit windy didn’t strike them as a problem. It was. There would be no jumps that day. And, assuming there were any jumps on Sunday, they were already fully booked. The good news was that they could try again some other weekend. They thought they’d go for one of the closer-to-London airfields for their second attempt, but this turned out not to be an option. They would have to come back to Salisbury. Annoying but not the end of the world.

A couple of weeks later they were back. This time they were kitted up in their orange jumpsuits, given some instruction, taught how to roll when they hit the ground. Finally. She was actually going to jump out of a plane. Then the wind started blowing. The last plane that had taken off would be the last plane that took off that day. Jump suits handed back. Day a bust. After two attempts they could request a refund. She didn’t want to do this, but she and her mate couldn’t be traipsing out to the west country every other weekend indefinitely. Another one bites the dust. Still, it’s never too late. There was a story in the paper recently about a 95-year-old man who’d just completed his first sky dive.

What else? Well, she wouldn’t mind seeing the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls. She’d also like to see Petra, but the time to visit Jordan has probably come and gone. She’s not sure she’d want to try that now. Machu Picchu? The Egyptian pyramids? Yes, those would be nice if someone offered her a free trip, but they’re not really on her bucket list.

She opens her eyes and there it is: the hot air balloon floating past the window. She curses. Her daughter’s worried face hovers above her, asking what’s wrong. She looks at the balloon again. No, not floating past the window, but a framed print of a hot air balloon hanging on the wall opposite the end of her bed. Except it’s not her bed. She remembers now where she is. No doubt the image is supposed to uplifting. Pun intended. She tells her daughter to get a nurse to remove that goddamned picture from the wall. No wonder she’s been thinking – dreaming obviously – about all the things she wanted to do before she died. Her daughter hesitates. She tells her to go. Shouts at her. Her daughter leaves to find a nurse. God, I’m a cantankerous old bitch she thinks. Then she remembers that afternoon, in another bed, begging a man she’d once loved to stop what he was doing because another orgasm might actually kill her. She smiles. There are much worse ways to go. She wills herself into that hot air balloon. Then she closes her eyes.

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