“Are you going to play for the Pope?” Terence asked, as he snipped the hair that was a good deal greyer since the last time I’d seen him, just before Covid. “Well, you should.”
That was a few days before I left home, in the last week of May. Not the Pope himself, I thought; but how would you go about getting permission to play in St. Peter’s Square?
I had a quick look at the Vatican’s websites. But they were too complicated, and I gave up. There were lots of other things to do, and Rome was a long way off.
But now here I am. I must have been in a hurry. The miles flew by, and after an hour I was sixteen miles out of Bracciano. I had to ring the reception committee, and tell them I’d be early.
Committee? Not exactly. But Jenny and Alfie are going to meet me at the Vatican. BBC Look North, who made quite a feature of my departure, want to make another of my arrival. Do it on a phone, they said; make it look homemade.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So I approached the Carabinieri, four of them, chatting outside their van with a soldier, his finger on the trigger.
“We don’t have jurisdiction,” they agreed. “You have to ask the police.” I didn’t have to look for the police. When I returned to the bike, there were half a dozen of them, wondering to each other whether they should arrest it.
So I asked. I’ve come from Hadrian’s Wall, yes, on the bike, yes, with the cello. Please could I play for five minutes in the Square – a fitting end to the journey.
“We don’t have jurisdiction,” one of them said. “That’s another country. You have to talk to the Vatican State Police.”
Where, I wondered, aloud, might I find the Vatican Police?
“You don’t. I call them for you. Show me your documents.”
So with my passport open in front of him, he rang his office, and explained the unusual request. “Normally of course, this isn’t allowed. But I think they might say yes.”
Ten minutes later the yes arrived, a phone call, followed not far behind by a large but un-uniformed Vatican official.
The policeman, from the neighbouring country, held onto my passport until I’d finished playing. He handed it back with a broad smile. “Complimenti”, he said, “Welcome to Rome.”
So I’ve played my cello in St Peter’s Square, outside the Vatican. My arrival has been officially filmed, in a homemade kind of a way, and should appear on the BBC later, by way of proof.
I’ve arrived. And in 1800 miles, and forty days, I haven’t had a puncture. I’m going to lie down.