By the time my husband and I got around to tying the knot we’d already been a couple for seven years and were parents to a four and nearly two year old. The marriage ceremony itself was a very practical, low-key affair one Saturday morning, with only our parents and children in attendance. It seemed fitting that as we made our vows, there was a member of the registry office’s cleaning staff loitering just outside the room in which the ceremony took place, wielding a mop. Allied to a fondness for bleach, I consider mopping floors to be one of the nation’s favourite pass-times in Portugal.
We went on to celebrate our nuptials with family and friends both in the UK and Portugal. I christened the prolonged celebrations that took place that summer The Seven Year Hitch. Somehow along the way, amid the simultaneous monotony and madness of having two small children, we’d neglected to formalise our union. That said, we had still accomplished an exhausted and slightly nauseous mid-flight engagement on our way back from visiting my parents for Christmas while I’d been in the early stages of pregnancy with baby number two.
We were bestowed with many generous gifts by friends and family upon our marriage. One of these was an all-expenses paid night in a hotel, including dinner and a his-and-hers massage the next morning. It followed that after the festivities had concluded in August, we set off for a relaxing mini-break as a foursome to a pretty little town north of Lisbon called Peniche that September.
Not unlike Sintra, Peniche possesses a unique micro-climate. We left a blisteringly hot late-summer Lisbon on a Saturday afternoon and arrived in a slightly overcast Peniche about an hour later. Storm clouds were gathering, physically and metaphorically.
As it was, we enjoyed a perfectly pleasant late afternoon by the hotel pool. Having freshened up afterwards, we availed ourselves of the hotel buffet dinner. All that was left for us to do was retire to our room, pop the little ones to bed and enjoy the bottle of wine we’d brought along with us on the balcony.
There were, however, serious flaws in our plan, principally our naivety in assuming that our little angels would drift off to sleep without any bother. As it was, the excitement of all four of us being in such close proximity in, what by this point felt like rather confined quarters, sent the children into overdrive. Essentially what unfolded was a farcical pantomime in which two nearly forty year olds attempted to contain two hyperactive small people that were intent on sitting on or kicking us in the head. Our plan to sip wine romantically a deux while the children slept was quickly superseded by us taking it in turns to supervise our demonic progeny while the other dashed onto the balcony to imbibe as much wine as was humanly possible in the space of 10 seconds.
Nearing midnight things began to settle down. As we lay calmly in bed, we were jolted back to consciousness: first by throaty, revving motorbikes, then by repetitive Heavy Metal guitar chords which resonated loudly and persistently in our direction. We later learnt that, as luck would have it, we’d managed to coincide our trip to Peniche with a Hells Angels convention that was taking place at a water park near to our hotel.
It probably goes without saying that nobody was particularly well-rested by the the next morning. At least we had our massages to look forward to though….
Our masseur was a stern-looking, silver-haired and moustachioed man called João, who was sporting what resembled a white doctor’s coat. He solemnly beckoned my new husband into the treatment room and by all accounts proceeded to tear him limb from limb, all in the name of Reiki. My husband was puzzled by João’s occasional hand gestures which appeared as though he was shaking invisible water from his fingertips. I ventured that perhaps João had been dispersing bad energy, although in hindsight perhaps he might have been discarding a stray arm that had become detached in the course of his vigorous massage techniques. Far from the relaxing experience he’d envisaged, my husband reappeared, quite literally, a broken man.
In fairness to João, he was gentler with me and perhaps this kindness was his mistake. Whether it was down to lack of sleep, or misalignment of my chakras, my response was to sob humiliatingly throughout the entire process. João felt no need to flick away my bad vibes: he was no doubt too busy wringing his hands, wondering what on earth to do with a woman on the cusp of middle-age, lying prostrate and hysterical on his massage table. We slunk deliriously, but miraculously still happily married, away from Peniche not long after.
My husband and I often comment that what doesn’t break us makes us stronger. This was without a doubt a unifying experience for us and proof that nothing – not even a preternatural massage therapist – would tear us apart.