In high spirits and with even higher expectations for our mini break to Ireland, we arrived at the airport with our single allotted piece of hand luggage per person. Prior to leaving and already several hours down on sleep, courtesy of my son, C’s persistent night- time cough, I had bowed to pressure and allowed him to pack his own bag. Having already squeezed enough socks, pants and T-shirts into my own hand luggage to clothe a small African school, I did not fuss too much over C’s choice of accoutrements. Little did I know at this stage, that C had packed a particularly authentic looking toy replica sword, which inexplicably made it through security.
None too keen on flying myself, I headed for Boots to buy some drugs. Thanks to the Al Qaeda chemists, gone are the days when I could board a flight with a plastic water bottle full of home measured G&T. Anyway it’s far from seemly to accompany one’s six year old onto a plane and attempt to coax the airline stewards into hosting a karaoke contest in the middle of their delivery of the in flight safety instructions. Or, for that matter, to shout drunkenly: “Thank fuck for that!” upon landing.
This time, I opted for some herbal pastilles purported to calm nerves. The instructions suggested consuming one, as required. Once on the plane, I crammed a fistful into my mouth, which, within minutes, had amalgamated into one large and highly adhesive mass of jelly. This made it difficult for me to talk, the mass having stuck fast to the roof of my mouth. Unfortunately, C took this as a sign of high anxiety on my part and promptly burst into tears. I managed to prize the goo from the roof of my mouth and explained to C that everything was fine and that he should, "Look out of the window with Daddy".
Caroline and family provided a healthy distraction. I watched as she busily force-fed a variety of dried snacks into her infant daughter Charlotte’s mouth so that she couldn’t scream or cry. At one stage, I became a little concerned that Charlotte might sneeze and block the air vents with congealed flour based products, but this passed.
Once in the air, I felt the pastilles taking effect. My hands were placed neatly and semi-relaxed in my lap throughout the journey, as opposed to clenching the armrests or repeatedly adjusting my seatbelt to the point of cutting off my blood supply. I also accepted my husband’s explanations of the various noises I could detect as opposed to convincing myself that an announcement of terminal engine failure was imminent. However, I still allowed myself an expression of relief upon landing, although this took the form of a little cheer, rather than the usual profanities.
The remainder of the journey passed without incident and I was feeling optimistic about the B&B I had discovered on line and booked with the curt, but professional Morgan. I felt qualified to describe to Morgan as “curt” despite the fact that we had until now only communicated by email, because her responses were, shall we say, without frills. I put this down to running a busy B&B and not having time at her disposal to lavish on linguistic flourishes when confirming bookings. However, on arrival, I realised that first impressions often prove to be accurate.
Morgan was immediately christened “Mrs Tweedy” by our party; Mrs Tweedy being the psychotic farmer’s wife in the film “Chicken Run”. The uncanny resemblance was acknowledged by us all and was made all the more disturbing as a result of her take on hospitality (or should I say hostility?)
Even though the property had polished floorboards throughout, save for the occasional rug, Mrs Tweedy was able to approach from behind without making a sound. This was most disconcerting, particularly given that on those occasions, we were usually talking about her.
Caroline and Bob were most freaked out about Mrs Tweedy, convinced that she had taken an instant dislike to them. This belief manifested itself within 12 hours of our arrival as a result of Mrs Tweedy’s failure to a) shake their hands on arrival and b) offer tomato sauce at breakfast. Bob, who dislikes eggs (the only moist foodstuff on his plate), therefore tucked into a breakfast as dry as a desert with only limited tea to wash it down.
Mrs Tweedy had an economic approach to table laying and portion control. At breakfast, we each received one knife, which performed doubly as an eating iron and butter knife. The watered down orange juice was served in glasses from a doll’s house. Toast was issued by hand, two slices at a time. For some reason, the brown bread was never toasted - only the white - and Mrs Tweedy seemed to appear on cue when the last slice had been consumed in order to dole out our ration of two more slices. There was a resulting frisson of excitement over whether the toast would be brown, white or a combination. On at least one occasion, I found myself checking the portraits hanging on the walls, suspecting that the subjects had moving eyes.
No one dared to make a specific request for white or brown bread or coffee or tea. I vaguely recall being given a choice of coffee or tea on the first morning, but we were then committed to that choice ad infinitum. We took what we were given and asked for no more. Only my husband, (who was bullied into doing so by his cowardly companions), had the audacity to ask for anything over and above what appeared onto the table. He tentatively approached Mrs Tweedy for a glass of milk for C. His wish was granted, but only after an awkward moment during which a handful of miniature cartons were thrust into his hand, thereby forcing him to expand on his definition of “a glass of milk”, to which Mrs Tweedy responded: “We are only a B&B!”
On the first night, we ensured that our children were fed and watered early in the evening. Taking no chances, we provided them with the standard fare guaranteed not to provoke discord in ninety per cent of children – sausages. However, when we had settled our children and were able to think about our own evening meal, it occurred to us that we were somewhat stuck, given that Caroline’s youngest was in bed.
I remain convinced that Mrs Tweedy read my thoughts as she appeared without warning in the doorway, armed with a leaflet on local eateries. At this point I seized the moment and muttered something along the lines of, “We haven’t eaten yet, but the children have and I don’t suppose it’s possible to get a takeaway as we are in a B&B…?” thus leaving the door open for Mrs Tweedy to protest loudly at my negative train of thought and insist that we purchase a takeaway forthwith and bring it back to our digs. Instead, there was a classic tumbleweed moment. A different approach was required.
This time Caroline came to the fore and asked if it would be possible to bring back a selection of “nibbles” and eat them in the dining room. Morgan managed a clipped and disingenuous, “Of course.”
Our version of “nibbles” it transpired, differed greatly to our respective husbands, who spent a grand total of 50 Euros on continental cheeses, meats, bread, crisps, dips and wine at the local supermarket. Our nibbles filled the dining table and we devoured them with gusto. Naturally, Mrs Tweedy appeared at the precise point we were busy scattering crumbs all over her tablecloth and said: “Oh, you’re still here”, should we remain in any doubt as to her disapproval.
Strangely, as the weekend wore on, Mrs Tweedy seemed to warm to us, even venturing to ask what brought us to Ireland. But by now, we were under no illusions that the thawing of her attitude towards us was due to the fact that in less than 24 hours, she would be rid of us.
We parted company on Sunday morning and Mrs Tweedy said – genuinely through gritted teeth – “Maybe see you again next time you’re over.”
Our return journey was a little more eventful. Derry security detected C’s sword in record time and promptly confiscated it. C took this better than I expected, probably because he seems to have convinced himself that a replacement sword will be delivered to him any day now, courtesy of Ryan air.
As the airport gates opened, C’s lip began to wobble and for a moment or two I feared that he had inherited my fear of flying after all. Yet somehow he was enchanted by the whole night flight experience. The things that I find daunting (the lights being turned off, the fact that we are so far off the ground), C found mesmerising. He even swapped seats with G and stared in awe out of the window throughout. As I read and re-read a particularly boring article on a boutique hotel in some far flung destination I am unlikely to ever visit, I couldn’t help but feel proud that C had proved himself a free thinker. It would be impossible for him not to have detected my anxiety and he was old enough to work out that those illustrations on the back of the headrests have nothing to do with inflatable toys. He had decided all by himself that being elevated above the clouds and gazing at the twinkling lights below, were nothing short of thrilling. Either that, or he mistook the light on the wing for the control tower light!
Until next time…