But by night it is a fairy-tale city, descending over lighted terraces to the sea

Date: 26 May 2018

Location: an Airbnb, party district, Bairro Alto, Lisboa.

It’s been a hell of a week. I don’t know how, at 32, I so consistently fail to see these weeks coming and manage them a little better. Sheer optimism? Self delusion? Monday was boxing with a friend, Tuesday was board games and pizza at the pub (featuring Panda’s new paramour!), Wednesday was steak and (just a. little bit too much) red wine with another friend, Thursday was a dodgeball tournament and then recovery beers. By Friday I felt shredded, and not in the fitness way.

I felt like I was been physically forced through a shredder.

In such tattered state, I braved the pre-Bank Holiday exodus hour on the tube out to Heathrow (could have sworn it was Gatwick, oops, lucky I checked) to catch the last flight to Portugal for the night.

I don’t know what I expected of Lisbon. Sunshine? Some cute architecture? Loads of custard tarts, oranges and green wine? It delivers on them all eventually — but not tonight. It’s around midnight and my cab driver and I are having communication issues. I speak French and a tiny bit of Italian, and a pinch of Spanish. Turns out that none of these help at all with Portuguese, which is his sole language. Eventually we communicate through Google maps andI understand that he can’t drop me at the apartment because it’s a one way street but he points me in the right direction and it’s only cinco minutos. It is indeed only cinco minutos but it’s cinco up a steep hill and through the thick of what seems to be one giant bucks party. Bar after bar spills out into the street. Everyone has a mojito in a plastic cup. There are different house tracks and 80s pop playing from each narrow doorway. I should hate it, but it’s actually just lovely. It’s so alive. I’d been feeling like a corpse (as discussed) but this revives me and I’m almost tempted to stop and pick up my own 3 euro mojito. But not, bed is calling too powerfully. I find the flat and gratefully fall not Lady Lovelylocks and then into bed.

Lisbon is a lovely city. It’s just charming, possessing all the things that make a European city charming. A shoreline: yes, views over the Tagus, the North Atlantic just around the bend. A castle: present, in the form of St George’s. A local delicacy: please see pastel da nata, the flaky Portuguese custard tart from the nearby city of Belém. A good piazza or ten. Sunshine. A good local beer in Super Bock. Cobbled streets, flowering trees, an indecipherable language. Tick, tick, tick.

But the defining feature of this trip and, to be honest, the reason I’ve guiltily slunk back to this blog, is that I’m here with not just Lady Lovelylocks but her parents, Mr & Mrs Lovelylocks, and her sibling, brother and sister Lovelylocks. That’s right: I’m crashing the Lovelylocks family holiday! I could not be more excited. (The lovely Lovelylocks parents are the proud owners of their very own travel blog and, let me tell you, it’s a gift.)

We spend Saturday morning on a walking tour lead by a very handsome, very intense, very young Portuguese man. He’s more passionate than he is organised.  Three hours later I’m not much the wiser about Portugal’s long and bloody history. It was fascist and then there was a world war? Which one was it, first or second? And what was the 1975 protest about, exactly? . In fact he only thing I remember about that was the carnations they put in their guns and tanks to show that they came in peace. The only other thing I remember from the whole tour is that Portugal’s slogan — referring to the conflict between the first and second worlds, capitalism and Communism — was ‘proudly alone’. I remember this because, sniggering, I lean over and tell Lady Lovelylocks that this is also the slogan of my dating life. Our lovely guide doesn’t  even point out when we cross a short bridge and stroll onto the famous Santa Justa Lift (we only piece it together much later, when we see the terrifying metal tower from a lower piazza and, shocked, realise that we’d stood at its top. Lisbon is so hilly that maps basically need to be three dimensional to make any sense!)

We finish up 3 hours later, tip and flee towards beer and food and a chance to rest our weary tourist feet. Our lunch spot of choice could have been quaint and local or slightly dodgy. We get on the wrong side of the waiter quite quickly (by sending back the tapas he, smilingly, sneaks on to our table and plans to, smilingly, sneak onto the bill later) and it becomes the latter. We don’t really mind though as it’s sunny and we’re in Portugal and we have beer and everyone is having fun telling stories.

In what might be the bizarrely cutest familial moment I’ve ever witnessed, the whole family get all excited to tell me one particular story. Lady Lovelylocks pinkens and takes a long sip of her Super Bock. They take it in turns. Her dad begins by describing how, in San Sebastian, he starts up a friendly chat with a couple of Aussies: an accountant and his friend, some sort of female engineer (whose intelligence was somewhat masked by her broad Australianisms). Lady Lovelylocks’s brother picks up the story and relays how the whole group of them continue from bar to bar through San Sebastian until they end up at a nightclub — and it’s time to coax dad to go home. Sister pipes in and describes how Lady Lovelylocks has taken somewhat of an obvious shine to the accountant. Lady Lovelylocks herself then admits to agreeing to go home with her new friends — at which point I jump in and clarify the exact situation: wait, are they together? No? Oh phew. And, like separate hotel rooms? She blushes and confirms very separate rooms. She then describes sending her sister an early morning message to confirm that the coast is clear. Like any good sibling would… said sister immediately rouses the whole family. Finally it’s over to mum who proudly tells how, upon entry into their Air BnB, Lady Lovelylocks is given a hero’s welcome: her entire family holding their hands up to form a victory arch under which she has to run.

By this point, I am crying with laughter.

It’s with this story that I realise this is not your ordinary family holiday. This is a Lovelylocks family holiday.

There’s one more of these moments, later over dinner. We’re discussing the upcoming Stones concert and conversation turns to what their first hit single was.

“Ruby Tuesday?” I guess.

“Brown Sugar?” Brother guesses.

“Fade Away?” Lady Lovelylocks guesses.

Mrs Lovelylocks looks it up on her phone.

“Not Fade Away.”

“So, what was it?” Her husband wants to know.

“Not Fade Away.”

“Yeah, we heard you, not Fade Away — but what was it?”

“Was it Ruby Tuesday?”

“No! I told you —it’s not Fade Away.“

This goes on for a while.

It’s a beautiful Who’s On First kind of moment.

The Rolling Stone’s first hit single was, of course, ’Not Fade Away.’

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