Jinnie and Paolo finally broke their clinch and for a moment stood holding hands, looking at each other lovingly. Then Paolo took half a step back and pulled a ring box out of his jacket pocket. Flipping open the lid he revealed a solitaire diamond and platinum engagement ring. Going down on one knee he said, “I told you I would get you a proper engagement ring. I hope you like this and still want to marry me.” With tears streaming down her face Jinnie could only say, “Yes, Yes, Yes.” With a shaking hand, she took the ring from the slit in its velvet cushion and slipped it on her ring finger.
The sudden silence in the room had Jinnie looking around her. She realised the quartet had stopped playing, everyone had stopped talking and were looking at them. Suddenly all about her the guests in the meeting room spontaneously burst into applause and started cheering. Wishing the ground would open up and swallow her, an embarrassed Jinnie blushed bright red. Next to her Silvio Berlusconi put out his hand and shook hers saying, “May I be the first person to officially congratulate you.” While Berlusconi turned to Paolo, General Bramble took her hand saying, “Congratulations Miss Walsh, if you weren’t SIS this would make tremendous publicity, mind I think we might be able to work with it.” Jinnie was beginning to feel she and Paolo had been manipulated, this had the fingerprints of Nigel Farage and Dirk all over it.
Berlusconi was determined to make the most of the situation. He took to a raised dais, next to the string quartet, where he was handed a microphone and proceeded to make a speech. He started off by congratulating the young couple on their engagement and explaining that they had met while both were studying at university in Berlin. Fortunately, he didn’t mention that they had both been in the Resistance. He continued, telling how they had been cruelly parted by the War of Liberation which had broken out while Jinnie had been in England over Christmas and had kept them apart.
The more the Italian PM spoke the more Jinnie became certain that he had been well briefed and was not going to reveal either Paolo or her secrets. Was this the work of SIS, Dirk or Nigel Farage? Berlusconi spun a tail that was correct but coloured by the omission of many of the details. He explained how on meeting the young English girl he had been impressed by her beauty and fluent Italian. He had learnt from the British PM that she was also an officer cadet and an expert shot and he had asked Mr Farage to let her accompany him when he returned to Rome as an interpreter/bodyguard/contact with the British PM. Then he told a few white lies to embellish the story which the reporters were gobbling up.
Berlusconi said he had enquired why a young lady who had been studying German in Berlin and was fluent in it had suddenly decided to learn Italian. He explained that was when that he learnt of the Italian electronics student she had been separated from. Since he had returned to Rome, Jinnie had worked tirelessly assisting him in setting up the elections and the military agreements with the allies. Now that she was about to return home to complete her degree he had decided to do something for her. He had set the police looking for her boyfriend and having located him at his parent’s home near Livorno, invited him to the party. Jinnie was clutching Paolo’s hand and giving it the occasional squeeze, all she wanted was to slip away and be alone with him.
Berlusconi said he was delighted for the couple and they represented the future. A future of freedom for Italians to join the free world and its friendship with Britons who had risked their lives to help Italy. Finally, he announced he had one last surprise for the young couple. He had that morning agreed with the British PM that Italy was to open an embassy in London. An advanced party of diplomats was to depart for London that weekend and if he was willing to accept it, he would like to offer Paolo a position as an assistant to the commercial attaché.
With the speech over Jinnie was certain she saw the hand of Nigel Farage behind it, he was the person who knew what was happening, her background and he and Berlusconi stood to gain the most politically. A continuous stream of faces congratulated them, many women cooed over her ring, one or two even did their best to speak to her in English. Eventually, the general pulled the couple to one side and after congratulating them for a second time, said he hoped they would forgive them for the little deception. He explained that everything that had been disclosed in the speech was easily verifiable if the media choose to dig into their backgrounds but what they didn’t want broadcasting was well hidden. They might have noticed that the only cameras present had been filming the party for TV and they had been under strict instructions not to film Jinnie and Paolo so that they were recognisable and to concentrate on the speech. He then told Paolo that he could join Jinnie on her British Airways flight to London the following evening, handed him an Italian diplomatic passport and told him that his ticket could be collected when he checked in at the airport.
For the young couple it had seemed hours before they had managed to slip away to Jinnie’s quarters in the palace where she had a bedroom, living room and bathroom. For a long time they lay in Jinnie’s bed just holding each other, luxuriating in each other’s company before eventually dropping off to sleep. The following morning the couple were up early and breakfasted in the palace’s dining room. It was while eating that Paolo suddenly realised that he had only brought a single change of clothes with him and said to Jinnie that he couldn’t travel to London that evening, for a long period, with only the clothes he stood up in. As an unemployed recent electronics graduate his credit card was maxed out and he wondered who he could approach for an advance on his diplomatic service salary which, by the way, he had no idea how much it was to be!
Jinnie realised that Paolo had no idea that she was comfortably off because of her inheritance from Ethel. She decided that right now was not the time to tell him, it could wait until he was settled in London. Instead, she told him she had plenty of credit on her card so they should pop out and get him a few basic outfits. Once in London, there were plenty of gentlemen’s outfitters to choose from she told him, from Primark to Savile Row. He asked, “What is Primark?” and she laughed and hugged him.
Late that afternoon when Jinnie and Paolo got to the check-in at Leonardo Di Vinci the ground stewardesses had clearly been warned to look out for them. As soon as Paolo showed his diplomatic passport and asked for his ticket the “system” swung into action. Paolo was issued with a business class ticket and Jinnie was upgraded to business class. The girl on the desk apologised that there was no first-class on short-haul flights but the airline would do their utmost to ensure they had a good flight. Their luggage was plastered with VIP stickers and disappeared down the conveyor. As the passports and tickets were handed back to them a steward silently appeared to escort them to the virtually empty VIP lounge.
The single other occupant was being served a coffee from the well-stocked bar. He smiled at them, called them over and introduced himself as the newly appointed first secretary for the new London embassy, as a “manager” he was on his way to help prepare things for the ambassador and his diplomatic staff who be following in a few weeks when the building had been refurbished. He had been warned that Paolo and Jinnie would be on the same flight and said he was happy not to be on his own as he was worried about his ability to speak English well enough. Jinnie decided to test him and switched from Italian to English. After a few minutes she told him he had nothing to worry about, his English was excellent. The first secretary told Paolo that they were taking over an old German diplomatic building and he was going to have to oversee its refurbishment and Paolo’s electronic skills were going to be needed to oversee the telecommunications and computer network installations.
They boarded the Boeing 767 and for the first time in Jinnie’s life, she turned left. In business class as well as additional legroom every middle seat in the blocks of three was a table. The three of them were joined by two more passengers who had been in the business class lounge. Although an excellent flight, it could not compare to the VIP flight out. At Heathrow, a BA official came aboard and led the first secretary off to meet the press. Meanwhile, Jinnie and Paolo were taken directly to a government car and driven away through the cargo tunnel, before joining the M4 into central London.
The car dropped Paolo off at the Park Lane Hilton where he and the first secretary had rooms reserved for them while the refurbishment of the old German building chosen for the embassy was being carried out round the clock. Once complete the embassy would have accommodation for their ex-pat staff. On the flight to London, the first secretary had suggested to Paolo that he should get a cheap mobile phone on a British network for personal calls as his Italian mobile would probably prove unusable until roaming agreements were agreed. Eventually he would be issued with an official mobile phone but it might be a while before that was sorted out. Paolo had said he would love to but was currently reliant on Jinnie for money. The first secretary opened his briefcase and pulled out a wad of twenty-pound notes and a credit card in Paolo’s name. He explained that on Monday morning he would arrange a UK bank account for him, complete with cheque book and debit card. In the meantime the cash should be considered an advance on his expenses.
It was mid-evening when the government car dropped Jinnie off at Potters Bar. The chauffeur insisted on carrying Jinnie’s luggage to the front door. As she approached the front gate Larry rushed out to meet her and mewing loudly he rubbed himself around Jinnie’s legs. Jinnie let herself in and shouted “Hello”. Her sister appeared from the living room, while her mum rushed out of the kitchen holding a tea towel and threw her arms around her. As always Dad was down at the bottom of the garden working in the greenhouse.
Jinnie was sitting in the living room enjoying her first decent mug of tea in months talking to the family about Rome when Penny suddenly screamed. She had spotted the engagement ring and after hugging her she wanted to know the story. Who was it? How long had she known him? Where did they meet? Was he handsome? When were they getting married? The questions just kept coming.
Eventually her mum asked where Paolo was now and Jinnie explained he had been appointed to a job in the new Italian embassy but until it was open he had been given a room at the Park Lane Hilton. Mrs Walsh said, “You mean he is on his own?” Jinnie said, “No he is with the first secretary and on Monday they will be starting work.” Ever practical Mrs Walsh said, “We must meet him, phone him and ask him to come for the day tomorrow, he can see what a British Sunday roast lunch is like. I am doing roast beef and all the trimmings and it will easily stretch to one more.”
Jinnie rang the hotel and asked to be put through to Paolo’s room. He was watching Saturday evening TV. He said he was trying to improve his English but Jinnie could hear Match of the Day in the background. He leapt at the invitation, Jinnie hoped it was because he wanted to see her and not because he wanted a roast beef dinner. Jinnie suggested he should get the concierge to put him in a black cab to King Cross Station from where he could get a direct train to Potters Bar and she would meet him at the station.
Jinnie was waiting nervously at the ticket line when she suddenly saw him walking towards her. They had only been apart a few hours but she was surprised how much she had missed him. Having greeted each other, Paolo said he wanted to get the cheap phone that had been suggested, so that they could easily keep in touch. Jinnie thought for a moment, it was Sunday, where would be open, then she remembered Tesco was just a little further up Darkes Lane and the deal was done.
Her dad and Paolo were sitting on the patio in the early September sun drinking a pre-lunch beer and Jinnie was drying the lunch things while her mother was doing the washing up. Penny appeared in the kitchen and with a grin asked Jinnie if Paolo had a younger brother. Jinnie hit her with the tea towel, but the cheeky remark made her think that she knew little knew of Paolo’s family. She asked Penny how she was getting on with Daniel and with a huge grin she was told that something had perked up the relationship since they had been to France.
When Jinnie dropped Paolo off at the station for his train back to London they arrange to meet in London after work for dinner and Jinnie added his new phone number into her phone’s contacts list. She gave him long enough to get back to his hotel and rang him, she said it was just to check she had the right number, but she really just wanted to hear his voice. Thirty minutes chatting later they had agreed that they would meet in the hotel reception at 17:00 and she would take Paolo shopping in Oxford Street before the meal. He said that to start with he needed a couple of suits, shirts, trousers, jackets, underwear, in fact almost everything as he had only been able to purchase the basics before travelling.
The following morning when Jinnie, Penny and Gretel took their regular seats on the train to work Penny could hardly constrain herself in pointing out Jinnie’s engagement ring and Jinnie had to go all through the tale of meeting him in Berlin all over again. In Oxford Street that evening Paolo made purchases in Marks & Spencer and Selfridges. Laden with carrier bags and a suit carrier, Jinnie suggested a Chinese meal in Gerrard Street where they were sure to get a table somewhere amongst the myriad of Chinese restaurants.
The couple of weeks until Jinnie was to return to Cambridge fell into a pattern. On most weekday evenings Jinnie met Paolo in London and on weekends he travelled to Potters Bar. Jinnie took him to the Trattoria Trevi on their first Saturday night in Potters Bar. The staff remembered the pretty girl who spoke Italian like a native and were delighted that she had brought a true Italian to eat there and treated them like royalty. For a few weeks it became their Saturday night regular haunt.
Once the new term started Jinnie’s evenings in London had to stop, instead she and Paolo spoke on the phone most nights. However, on Friday evenings Paolo got the fast train from Kings Cross to Cambridge and stayed over until Monday mornings when he got the train back to London. The only problem was that Jinnie occasionally had a cadet unit engagement, whether it was a weekend camp or shooting competition. But Paolo was now a member of the household and was welcomed by everyone, especially Larry who liked him because Jinnie liked him.
Just before Christmas, the new embassy was officially opened and Paolo moved out of the hotel and into an apartment in the building. It was around then that Jinnie and Penny returned to Potters Bar for the university holidays. Back at Vauxhall Cross, Jinnie resumed the weekday evenings in London and the weekends at the family home. It was during Christmas that they started to talk about when they were going to get married. Paolo wanted to marry as soon as possible and would be happy with a civil ceremony. But Jinnie had always wanted a fairy-book white wedding in a church with all her family and friends invited and of course she got her way. So over Christmas they agreed that the wedding would, if it could be arranged, be in August after she had graduated. Then came the rush to sort out a venue, a reception, a guest list and a honeymoon. The chief bridesmaid was easy, it had to be Penny, Jinnie’s father was to give her away, and Carole, Gretel and Camilla were pencilled in as bridesmaids. When Penny asked if she could have Daniel added to the official guest list, Jinnie realised they must be getting serious.
The only disappointment was that they would both have liked Simone and Jan to be there, but they knew it was impossible. Jinnie felt that Simone would have made a brilliant bridesmaid and Jan had been Paolo’s first choice for best man. Instead, he asked Dirk who was only too happy to accept the honour. That left Nigel and Jason as ushers. Paolo laughingly complained that his side of the church wasn’t going to be very full, at the moment the only people he could guarantee were his parents, his sister, the ambassador and the first secretary and their wives.
Mrs Walsh was more excited than Jinnie. She was already planning her ‘mother of the bride’ outfit. Jinnie, Penny and Mrs Walsh set about sourcing the wedding dress and bridesmaid’s dresses. A wedding boutique in the High Street had just the dress Jinnie wanted and although it wasn’t cheap Jinnie decided to buy it, it just needed a few minor alterations to make it a perfect fit. They then picked out a pale lemon bridesmaid’s dress which looked wonderful on Penny. Getting Gretel to the shop for a fitting was easy, she only lived a little way away, but she had a bit more of a problem getting Camilla and Carole there, but they managed it.
Jinnie wasn’t a religious person but she was adamant on a church wedding but she didn’t know where. In the end, it was while she was visiting the three oldies to deliver their Christmas presents and verbally invite them to the wedding that it hit her. She would love to get married in King Charles the Martyr Church, where the funeral for Ethel had been held. Not only was it a beautiful church but she felt that Ethel would be there in spirit. Jinnie wasted no time in contacting the vicar and when the vicar said she had an opening at two o’clock on the third Saturday of August Jinnie grabbed it with both hands. She then started phoning the local hotels and halls looking for a place to hold a reception. She spent all afternoon phoning around but had no luck in finding anything.
That evening sat in the Trattoria Trevi, drinking their post-meal coffee, Jinnie was telling Paolo of the problem. He said that if they really couldn’t find anywhere they could always use one of the big meeting rooms at the embassy. It was then that the restaurant manager spoke up. The waiter who had served the coffee had overheard them discussing the problem and had come to him with the idea that they use the restaurant. He said they were sure they could close the restaurant for an evening and they could seat around 80 at a pinch. Jinnie hugged him and said that would be wonderful, the capacity was more than enough. Finally the plan was coming together.
Jinnie wanted shoes to match her wedding dress so as soon as he reopened his shop after Christmas she visited Arty to have a pair made. While there, she ordered shoes for her bridesmaids to match their dress. Of course, this was easy for Penny as he had previously made shoes for her, but for the other three, new lasts were necessary entailing organising visits to the little shop. Then there was the guest list, who was to be invited and who wasn’t caused not a little angst.
Where she had heard of her she couldn’t remember, but at some point she had been recommended a makeup artist called Melissa who could do a special make-up job for all the bridal party. Jinnie hunted about and found Melissa’s site on the internet and liked what she saw in the pictures of her past brides. It was then that Jinnie discovered Melissa also did hair and was willing to come to her house for a trial. Melissa was an elegant blonde and a cat lover who own two Ragdolls and immediately ingratiated herself by making a huge fuss of Larry.
Melissa had arrived with a small suitcase full of makeup, she explained that she had to be prepared for all skin colouring and types. Melissa had trained as a professional makeup artist, had worked at an airport store until her family arrived and the odd shifts were no longer possible. Together with Penny they talked through suitable makeup shades and hairstyles, tried out a few ideas and settled on one all three agreed was right for her. Jinnie called her mother in for her approval and she burst into tears saying she had never seen her daughter look so beautiful. Jinnie loved the look and hadn’t realised just what a difference a professional make-up job could make. She decided to book Melissa to do herself, the bridesmaids and both her and Paolo’s mother and sister’s makeup and hair. Melissa said that eight was a bit much for just her, so she would bring a friend, who she often worked with to help with the workload. When she told her parents, her practical father realised that trying to sort that lot out in their ordinary size four-bedroom house, even if they did have an extra downstairs shower room, wouldn’t be easy, so a marquee was ordered for the garden.
Larry listened to all these arrangements with interest. Things were so much easier in the cat world! All he was worried about was where did he fit in in these arrangements? Would he be forgotten in Jinnie’s married life? Where was he going to live? He thought he was settled living in Cambridge with his holidays in Potters Bar. He told his worries to the skewbald mare, who told him not to be so stupid, Jinnie loved him and wouldn’t let him down. Jinnie was sat with him on her lap one evening after they had returned to Cambridge for Jinnie’s penultimate term. She was talking to him gently and stroking him and she told him that she and Paolo were going to live in Cambridge and commute into London after their honeymoon. Penny would still be with them as she still had two years of her course to go. A relieved Larry rubbed himself against her.
Time ticked on, Jinnie had regular meetings with Dirk and occasional phone calls from the PM. Dirk told her that everything had settled down after the events in Italy and following the unprecedented huge election win for Berlusconi Italy were moving closer and closer to the west and the country was beginning to prosper. There was a standoff along the Italian and Spanish borders with the Third Reich. At the moment nothing was planned that required her skill set, so she was allowed to prepare for her finals, serve in the student bar, carry out her cadet force duties and spend most weekends with Paolo.
The last day of term was Friday the 3rd of June everyone in the student house was edgy. Although sure they had got degrees they just weren’t sure what grade. Was it decent or had they just scraped through with a third? For Penny it was a little different, she wanted to be sure she had done well enough to continue her course. Larry picked up on the tension in the house and kept out of the way. He had heard the expression “kicking the cat” and didn’t want it to come true. When the notice of the result went up on the board it said against her name, “First Class with Honours”, and she burst into tears of joy. Her phone rang and Nigel, the maths genius, told her and anyone else who would listen he had also got a first. Carole and Jason had both got 2.1’s or upper seconds as they preferred to call them and were delighted. Even Penny was happy as she had been ranked 3rd in her year.
Back at the house, the housemates realised that this was the end of an era although they would see each other at Jinnie and Paolo’s wedding, then at the graduation ceremony in late September and some of them would no doubt be in Vauxhall Cross, it seemed strange for three of them to be leaving the house. Jinnie’s phone pinged and when she checked, it was a formal email from the college informing her of her award. Over the next few minutes they all got their formal emails. Then Nigel’s phone rang, he was only saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but when he rang off he looked a little embarrassed. He look at them all and blurt out that Camilla had just rung to remind him they had agreed to marry as soon as they finished university. As he had done nothing about it, she had arranged a civil ceremony and with the minimum 29 days notice in mind it was booked for the Oxford registry office on Saturday the 2nd of July and he hoped they would all be there as they were all now close friends.
The day of Jinnie’s wedding was a perfect summers day, warm but not too hot, with a clear blue sky and a gentle breeze. The marquee in the garden gave them the extra room they needed. Melissa and her friend Amy Jane turned up early and got everyone organised and all the hair and makeup were done with plenty of time to spare. Melissa had talked Jinnie into having her long blonde hair in a half up half down style. She hadn’t been sure, but when she saw the result in the test, combined with the immaculate makeup she had been delighted and agreed. Her mum and sister helped her into her dress, Melissa made good a slight smudge in the makeup and she was ready. The cars arrived for the bridesmaids, the mother of the bride and Paolo’s parents and sister to take them to the church. Melissa and Amy Jane packed up and left, leaving Jinnie alone with her father and Larry who had permitted Penny to put a Union Jack bow around his neck for the occasion.
Jinnie scooped up the cat and undid the bow, telling him that they were off to the wedding and she didn’t want him hurting himself with the bow while he was alone. Mr Williams from next door would be in to give him his tea as Mr and Mrs Walsh would be late home. She told him she and Paolo would be away for two weeks on honeymoon, Paolo wouldn’t tell her where they were going only that it was warm and she needed her passport. They would be back for him in a fortnight, to take him to Cambridge with them. Then the old Rolls Royce arrived to take them to the church and Jinnie took her father’s arm and they walked across the green to the car. To her embarrassment there were dozens of neighbours standing outside their houses applauding as they crossed the green.
The car pulled up outside the church and the photographer got Jinnie and father to pose for a few photos before entering. The ushers held the double doors open for them and the bridesmaids fussed around arranging her dress. Then the organ started to play and she and Dad moved off. At the rehearsal they had been told to walk slowly, to look to either side at the congregation and to smile. Coming out of the bright sunshine and into the dimmer light in the church it took Jinnie a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the different light level. When they did, the first person she saw was the prime minister. “My God,” she thought, “can we squeeze him in at the reception?” Then from the other side of the nave she heard a baby cry. Turning towards the sound, there seated on the groom’s side of the church were Simone and Jan with a tiny baby. All she could think was how the heck was that arranged.
In Chapter 28 – Epilogue.