Listen to Karen tell the story…
On a recent trip home to Ireland, I was a wrecked aul one, not wrecked from the drink, no, sure I’d had those awful shingles back again, and they drain the life out of you. However, not to be deterred from spending time with my lovely family, I was determined to travel, one way or another. On seeing the state of me the day before the proposed flight, a kind friend suggested I get Special Assistance at the airport. However, I’d already checked in, so didn’t know if it was possible at that late stage. ‘Call them’ my friend urged, so I did.
Getting through to the airline was surprisingly easy and though it was answered in the UK, I got a lovely Irish young fella on the other end of the line. He was fierce helpful and said he would sort all of that out for me and added that he’d put me on the Special Assistance list for the return journey too. Not having done this before I asked if it was possible, when I was being brought to the boarding gate, on one of those buggy thingymajiggies, if they might stop somewhere and let me have a coffee. Was that a giggle I heard him suppressing as he replied ‘You can always ask, I’m sure they’d have no problem with that’.
It was only when I put the phone down, that it occurred to me that he must be having a right laugh with his colleagues. What a stupid thing to ask. Sure, can you picture the state of me, one of the aul lads driving maybe six of us through the airport and I’m the only one who wants to stop and have a coffee. Sure the other five would have to wait on the buggy and I’d have to be throwing it back. That wouldn’t do, with hot coffee. It might be better for them to drop me at the bar, then I could get a brandy, that’d be easier to throw back. And sure, I could give them a little wave and before we knew it, they might all decide to join me and we’d have the craic. The buggy driver mightn’t be too impressed, he wouldn’t be able to join us, not being allowed to drink and drive ‘n’ all that! No, best skip the coffee, sure isn’t it a diuretic, they’d have to stop again for me to go to the toilet.
So, off I went to the airport on the day in question, found the Special Assistance desk and to be honest, felt a bit of a fraud. There I was in my long coat with a fur collar, wearing my signature red lipstick, not a crutch or a stick in sight. I felt the need to explain my request for the service, waffled on a bit, about being able to walk, just not far, lack of energy ‘n’ all that. Ah sure they were lovely, asked me if I could walk the short distance through the fastrack security and meet their colleagues at the Special Assistance desk at the other side. Nodding, I obliged and sure it was great getting through security so quickly, though as usual, I had to stand in the glass box, with my hands above my head and my feet apart, as my prosthetic knee set off the alarm. I’m always guaranteed a good grope, when going through any security with metal detectors and that day was no different.
Reaching the desk on the other side, sure the staff had feck all to do, so much so they were having the craic, one sitting in a wheelchair, while entertaining his colleagues and others joining in the laughter. To be fair to them, as soon as they clocked I was there, they were on the ball and had me checked in, in a jiffy. I was given a little alarm, on a ribbon, to put around my neck, so that I could be called when it was my turn to be brought to my gate. Meanwhile, I could sit in the Special Assistance area, shop, have a coffee or whatever in the restaurants. Sure I was in my element, didn’t want to shop but I always love a coffee and food is my middle name.
After a short walk to Starbucks, balancing hand luggage and a takeaway coffee, I returned to sit with my fellow travellers, noting as I did so, that there was a young fella sitting there, without an alarm around his neck. Sure he was relaxing in one of the chairs, just watching the world go by. As people watching is a hobby of mine, once I had sat down to enjoy my hot drink, I glanced in his direction again to see if maybe he was travelling with anyone, but no, the lad in question seemed to be solo. Distracted by the sudden activity around me, as there seemed to be multiple alarms going off, in quick succession, I forgot about the young fella. Watching travellers being identified by staff who were accompanying them to their gate. I noticed wheelchairs being brought to transfer these tourists. ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph’, I thought, ‘I’ll be mortified if they want to wheel me through the airport in one of those, sure maybe I’ll get myself a few energy drinks to get me to the plane’. Knowing that this was not really an option, I resigned myself to accepting whatever mode of transport was offered to me and be thankful for it. Best to drink my coffee and use the ladies, well in advance of my wheel of shame. Not that it’s shameful for anyone to be in a wheelchair, I just felt I was doing it under false pretences. Like if I’d had shingles on my face, instead of my back, people might have understood why I was in a wheelchair. Or, maybe I should have worn a backless top, so they could see the rash. But sure they might just think I was a spotty aul one, never mind a lazy aul one.
It was as these thoughts were going through my mind, that I saw that young fella look in horror at all the wheelchairs, grab his belongings and move rapidly out of the special assistance area. It had obviously dawned on him, that those weren’t general lounge seats, to relax in, in the duty free area. Or maybe his alarm was in his pocket and he’d had the same thought as myself, thus legging it to the shops, to try the energy drink option.
It wasn’t long before my own alarm went off and I turned to see a wheelchair being wheeled in my direction. ‘Mother of Divine Jesus’, I muttered to myself, putting my head down towards my lap. Hearing the wheels turning, I realised the chair was being pushed on by and puzzled, looked back up to see an elderly lady being helped into it. I was about to reluctantly put up my hand to indicate that the gent pushing the chair had the wrong person, when the alarm sounded again. Looking at the contraption on the ribbon around my neck, I realised, it wasn’t beeping at all. As there was nobody on either side of me at that stage, I was lost for an explanation until I realised it was my feckin phone alarm reminding me of my flight. What had possessed me to put in an alarm for an hour before my flight. Sure if I’d forgotten I was flying that day, it was hardly going to give me enough time to get to the airport. However, the relief was palpable, especially when, minutes later, the real alarm went off and I saw a middle aged, kind faced aul lad walking in my direction, not a wheelchair in sight. Accompanying me towards the lift to the ground floor he explained that there was a buggy available to take me to my gate.
The lift doors opened as we reached our destination, to reveal a couple of buggies parked up. When the kind assistant pointed out which one I should climb into, I looked around for the other passengers, with whom, in a parallel universe, I would have been having the craic, in the bar, over a couple of brandies. They were nowhere to be seen. Likely still in the bar, in that other universe. If I had been mortified at the thought of being wheeled through the airport, multiply that ten, as it soon became apparent that this buggy was all for, not so little aul me. When have you ever walked through an airport and not noticed the buggies beeping, to get you out of the way, or even just observed them as they drive by? Embarrassment was quickly replaced with sheer entertainment, so much so that I had to put my head down, as the kindly aul lad drove and beeped and chatted, such was the grin that I couldn’t suppress. I felt like the Queen of Sheba being driven around the place. And it was to get worse…or better, if I’m honest!!
Always having been a lover of male attention, the fun was only just beginning. My buggy destination was a random gate area where fellow special assistees had also been deposited. Cheery assisters of various ages, height, build, degrees of attractiveness, gathered together, with one thing in common…they were all male. To say this aul one was in her element, is the understatement of the year and one absolute ride of a young fella checked my passport and boarding pass, then unfortunately left. The assister lads were chatting amongst themselves, then chatting with me and sure once the other assistees were taken off to their planes, there was only me left, with a few of the lads to keep me company. Sure wasn’t there some aul fella who was on the assistance list for the same flight as myself who hadn’t turned up yet. Whether he had missed the Queen of Sheba ride through the airport or was one of those in the parallel universe who was in the bar with me, swigging back brandies, he hadn’t managed to get back in time for his plane. According to the lads, he had checked in alright but they reckoned he must have decided he could manage the walk to the gate after all. Jaysus if he had those brandies in him, it’d be a wobble, more than a walk. He’d likely be spotted by the assisters, as needing a ride after all.
After giving that aul fella enough time to redeem himself, the cute lad who was assigned to myself, decided we’d better head off. Down the lift we went, out on the tarmac, I didn’t even have to pull my case, he did it for me. Jaysus, it was grand being looked after. After loading myself and my hand luggage into the van, the young fella had to drive to the gate from where my plane was scheduled to leave. Once there, another handsome young fella, who I mistook to be the same one as earlier, opened the van to check my passport. ‘Hello again’, I said as I smiled at him but he looked puzzled. Likely he was thinking ‘Jaysus, did I meet this aul one in some pub late some Saturday night recently, Mother of Divine Jesus, how much did I drink?’. It was only when he had shut the door hurriedly that I realised that he wasn’t the same lad at all.
Before the hastily shut door scenario, the cute passport checker had had a conversation with the cute driver discussing the fact that the ‘hoist’ hadn’t arrived yet for me to board the plane. Now, I know I’m a tad overweight, but surely be to God they didn’t think I’d need to be hoisted onto an aircraft. ‘Ah you’re grand’, I interrupted, I can walk up the steps. It’s only the distance in the airport that I have a problem with’. So, it was decided that, as my seat was nearer to the steps, than the back of the plane where the hoist, which was really like a lift sort of thing, would have been placed, they’d go with that. However, it would mean that my driver would have to drive halfway around the airport in the one way system to get me to the front of the plane. It didn’t help things to hear that the hoist in fact arrived, just as we drove off. Imagine, the cost of the hoist, for one shingles infested aul one, unless that aul fella dropped out of the other dimension in time.
Ten minutes and lots of interchanges later, having managed to tell my chauffeur my life story (that’s how being able to speak faster than the speed of sound works), we parked near the plane, waiting for arrival passengers to finish disembarking. Meanwhile my fellow departure passengers were waiting at the terminal building. My obliging driver went ahead and had a word with the crew, who were happy to allow me to board before they had finished their quick tidy up. Whilst he was carrying my luggage onto the plane, the lad managed to throw in an aul compliment about how an attractive aul one like me, must have had lots of offers. Jaysus, I was scarlet. Dismissing this with a sweep of my hand, like any self-respecting Queen, of Sheba, or indeed anywhere else, I eventually conceded with an ‘ah well, maybe a few’. As a wise man once said to me ‘Sometimes the fantasy is better than the actual reality’.
Once seated, with the other passengers held back until I was on my throne, I relaxed into my middle seat, wondering who would be either side of me. I didn’t have long to ponder, as shortly afterwards, a fit guy with a slim blonde young one behind him, stopped by my row. Thinking that each of them would be sitting either side of me, I rose from my seat, only for the fit lad to say, that no, he was sitting on the outside seat. To my absolute delight, Barbie continued along the cabin. ‘That’s a windy one out there’, fit boy announced as he sat in his seat. Realising he might be worried about turbulence, I suggested that he could always order a brandy to settle his nerves, should it be a bumpy ride. ‘I haven’t touched a drop for 12 years’ he replied. There went my size six, wide fitting aul one’s shoes, right in it!! ‘But now you mention it’, he continued, ‘it sounds good.’ Mother Mary of Divine Jesus, I was going to be the cause of a fit guy falling off the wagon. The plane hadn’t even taken off and I had taken up a whole buggy, wasted the cost of a hoist, further wasting more of the airport’s petrol, held a plane full of passengers back, while I got comfy and now this.
Anyone else would have shut up right there. Not me, that’s not possible for me. nNo, sure we ended up sharing stories of our alcohol fuelled shenanigans, the beer goggles that followed the filling of our hollow legs, you name it, we discussed it. Turns out this lad was a retired professional rugby player, which only added to the surreality of the experience, however, he loved writing too. The conversation turned to me assuring him that he was meant to meet me to encourage him to do something with his writing…the aul maternal instinct coming to the fore. Anyone else might have got his name and number, he was only about 10 year younger than me, just the right age. Not this aul one…I may have had a few offers in my day, but making them was a whole different ball game. I’m not even a rookie at that, haven’t a feckin clue.
Coming in to land, keen to maintain the image of Irish Mammy as opposed to the reality of energy challenged Granny, I silently willed the rugby player to get out of his seat. However, he patiently waited for the rows in front to disembark, calmly got up and with a swift ‘See you around’, moved along with the other passengers. Not so fast that I didn’t clock what a great bum he had though. ‘Thanks be to Jesus’, I thought, I didn’t want him to be there when the crew offered me special assistance. I needn’t have worried, by the time all of the other passengers had disembarked and I was the only one left on the plane, the crew hadn’t even noticed. I had to wave and ask where I should go and to their credit, they announced that yes, the lift was at the back of the plane. No disembarking for me down the steps so. I made my way to the back of the plane, with a member of crew carrying my hand luggage, surmising that I’d be lucky to continue to get such excellent care. Silly aul one…sure wasn’t I in Dublin, Ireland’, where a welcome is as traditional as Paddy’s Day. I wasn’t to be disappointed as the back door of the aircraft was opened and there stood a cheeky fecker who greeted me with ‘Howaya, are YOU the only survivor!’ mThat was it, I was in love. You could have your fit rugby players, your hot young fellas and the like, give me an aul lad with a twinkle in his eye, who knows how to make a woman laugh, any day.
The cheeky aul fella, sorted me out, gave me a ride….to the terminal, in his big truck, making me laugh all the way. Sadly, it was there that our love story ended, as I was transferred to a wheelchair….a feckin wheelchair…but sure I was grateful. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a buggy. I didn’t have to walk, that was all that mattered. Through passport control I was wheeled, past queues, didn’t even have to lift my passport up to the desk, that was done for me. With my fur collar and my freshly applied red lipstick, I was only short of wearing shades, like a celebrity being discharged from the Priory. On we went, though crowds, nearly colliding with those on mobile phones as we continued towards the baggage hall. Moving swiftly along, I suddenly noticed a familiar butt and unfortunately the owner of it was not on a mobile phone. He was very much alert and chose that particular moment, to cross our path to walk towards the Gents toilets. Nearly tripping him over, I wished I had had those shades, as he may not have recognised me, but fate was not on my side as he looked alarmed and said ‘Sorry’, walked on, looking back, with puzzled recognition, nearly colliding with other would be toilet users.
With a choice expletive emanating from my foul mouth, the nice lad pushing me, thinking I had hurt myself, enquired as to what might be the matter. Dismissing it aside, I thanked him for his help and asked if he could leave me at the baggage hall, as I didn’t want to go through arrivals in a wheelchair. Though already pre-warned, the airport staff would have had to scrape my sister up off the floor as she waited on the other side, had I come through in such a manner. She’s a cheeky fecker ‘n’ all, it might have been worth it for the entertainment.
Rising out of that wheelchair, like Clara, in the 1937 movie ‘Heidi’, as if, like her, a miracle had been bestowed upon me, much to the amazement of onlookers, I walked the short distance through customs. Suddenly I was blinded, with flashing cameras and crowds milling together in the arrivals area of Dublin airport. ‘Jaysus’, I thought, ‘did someone mistake me for a celebrity after all’, but sure I didn’t have my sunglasses on. Though people do think I look like Bette Midler..oh the embarrassment…. I was just about to milk it and wave back, when I heard an Irish sounding name, that wasn’t my own and sounded decidedly male, being shouted out by the crowds. Looking behind me, in the direction they appeared to be calling, there, looking more attractive than ever, was none other than my fellow passenger, the cute rugby player, waving enthusiastically to the crowd. So much for motherly advice, this fella was a lot more famous than he had let on…no matter what he wrote, it would be revered. Feeling rather foolish, I stepped aside, to let him pass, not a sniff of alcohol to be smelt from his fit body. Thank heaven for small mercies. Could you imagine the headlines…’Famous Rugby Player pushed off the Wagon with the Special Assistance of an Irish Granny….!!
“… neither Jesus, Mary, or even Joseph would have been of any use to her, because they were outnumbered.”
“…However, these fights were the exception rather than the rule”
“…As long as that guy was working in the vegetable shop, there was never a lack of potatoes in our house”
“…Ah sure, for us, there’s always a hot toddy (Irish slang for a hot whiskey, not to be confused with a really attractive man called Todd with the nickname ‘Toddy’)”