When Irish eyes are ….missing ?!

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We returned to Stansted airport at the crack of dawn as the last chavs glassed each other on their way out of the Black Lion pub in Stortford and the most conscientious milkmen began their rounds.  We fought our way through another badly managed security checkpoint and within an hour we were on a tiny little plane packed to the brim with Essex men and women.  We were packed in tighter than the contents of a Scotsman’s wallet but their was a cheery mood on board and everyone seemed ready for some fun and frolics.  I half expected Cliff Richard to appear and hand out some beach towels but alas he was a no show.  The flight was fairly tolerable aside from the fact that we had 4 peroxide blond foghorns with umpalumpa orange tans sitting in front of us loudly fantasising about their upcoming “Hen night”.  Having been subjected to their war plan I couldn’t imagine that the eligible bachelors of Dublin would be lining up to meet them but perhaps the free flowing alcohol and deafening night club music would compensate for their amoeba-like intellects.

On arrival we quickly broke away from the rabble who had been on board with us as they wandered about in bewilderment looking for passport control.  We hopped on a bus which took us to O’Connell St. right in the city centre.  For me it was quite a poignant moment not because I had an ancestral connection to this street but because I had once spent 2 quid on a cheap plastic framed picture allegedly of O’Connell Street in 1901 and at least I could now honestly say I had been there.  Five seconds after arriving we realised that O’Connell St. hadn’t added many places of interest in the preceding 107 years and we boarded one of the garish yellow buses that take your directly to the main tourist destinations.  The bus claimed to have running commentary in 5 languages but only the Spanish version seemed to be working.  The Spaniard did a good job of making everything sound interesting even though I couldn’t understand a word he said.  We made our first stop at Trinity College Dublin which is home to the book of Kells.  It is a document used to list famous Irish people called Kell like Kell-y Ripa, Kell-y Osborne and of course R Kell-y.  The college itself is a nice stop off point and it has a library that I am sure was used as the model for Disneys Haunted mansion but anyway we didn’t have all day to hang around so it was a case of a taking a few quick snap shots and moving on to the next place of interest.

The most fascinating place we went to was the Irish National Museum.  It had the usual assortment of things you’d expect in an old museum such as spearheads, Victorian chamber pots and enough gold jewellery to keep Mr T clothed for weeks but it also had a new display of bog-men.  These poor old fellows were prehistoric murder victims who had been perfectly preserved in peat for a few thousand years until a farmer was out giving his new combine harvester a spin happened to stumble upon them.  The weird thing was that they were all red heads and all were at least 6 foot tall.  No wonder the petit skirt wearing Romans had so many issues conquering the Celts.  These guys would have eaten a couple of Lucius’ for lunch with a nice Gaius for dessert.   It seemed a bit disrespectful to permanently store someones dead uncle in an air tight glass capsule but I guess it’s a step up from a smelly peat bog for these lads.

By midday I had noticed that something very curious had happened to the Emerald isle since my last visit.  In the past one of the things that had helped to make Ireland seem so Irish was the abundance of Irish people there.  I don’t know where they went but these days you’re more likely to find a Predrag than a Paddy or a Miljana than a Molly in Dublin.  We had to walk for 45 minutes at one point to a find an actual pub that served Guinness.  When I say a pub I mean a real pub as opposed to an “Irish style Italian restaurant” (whatever that is) or a “pub style French restaurant” (What ??!!!)  These were places where in the past flat cap wearing drinkers sat with a cheap fag in one hand and a betting slip in the other hand wondering why they never had any money.  These days the same locations were full of Czech hair stylists talking about the merits of knee length fur boots as opposed to leather ones with their Parisien customers.

Before we knew it the day was over and it was time to head out of the city and board our toothpaste tube sized plane for the journey back to the mainland.  I would have liked to have had time to venture out of the city and see the real country.  For example there is the small matter of checking on the “leprachaun trap” I made out of a wheel barrow and some brussel sprouts with the aid of an Isle of man politician in 1984.  The last time I checked ( in 1998 ) it had still failed to yield any results but the aforementioned MP assured me that it would “eventually” net me a pot of gold so until then I intend to keep checking.  I would also have liked to catch up with an childhood friend called Brian O’Brien and make sure he gets a good baby name book before he has to name his own offspring but alas God set the Earths orbit in 24 hour spells and the next day I was due in London.

The Return

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One thing that really buggered me off last time I visited England was the fact that we had to fly to Heathrow airport.  Heathrow for those not familiar with it is like a giant greyhound bus station packed with sun burnt prematurely bald English soccer fans, Asian businessmen a small smatering of Hare Krishna book pushers, homeless hippies and at least 3 nuns reading Agatha Christie books.  The journey from Heathrow to my parents house is one of the most miserable experiences you could ever imagine.  You can get to their humble abode either by a series of filth ridden, rickety tubes and trains or in my Dads car with him driving.  I prefer the former because at least the train drivers typically travel somewhat faster than a snail across salt and you don’t have to watch out for white van drivers or deranged truckers trying to run you off the road.

We hadn’t been to England in four years for a number of reasons a) My family keep coming here to go to Disney every time I am off work.  b)The exchange rate is terrible so my mickey mouse money is worthless there c)Because due to my own self importance I think my visits should be a major event like the Olympics and come only once every four years although hopefully without condemnation from Richard Gere.  Since our last visit a certain airline had started flights to Stansted which is about 20 minutes drive form my parents house which means only a 2 hour round trip with my Dad driving.

The thought of flying direct from Orlando to Stansted seemed too good to be true … and it was… thanks to probably the worst airline in the world.  I know lots of people complain about airlines but my last trips with Airtran and Maleev had gone very well and I naively expected the same treatment from the airline I shall refer to simply as Crankey Yankees but was I in for a surprise. 

The intial arrival at the airport went fairly smoothly and after brushing off the saliva that was propelled in my direction by the phlegmatic check in clerk I was only moderately irriritated by the mute security officers who communicated only with eye rolls and sighs.  On arrival in JFK I was surprised to see that the weather forecast which had predicted “sleet and rain” was a little off track.  In fact we landed in a scene reminiscent of the opening part of the “Empire Strikes Back”.  Everything was covered in feet of snow which meant the Wookie ground crew were working over time as their human counterparts sought shelter.  Now I am not an aeronautical engineer but I did think that it might be a good idea to remove the 4 feet of snow that buried our plane before we took off.  How wrong can you be ?  The staff told us the flight was running on time.  The only qualm I had at this point was that for some reason they had separated our party.  Someone incompetant or evil (Darth Vader ?) had decided it would be a good idea for my daughter to sit by herself three rows away from my wife and I and between a couple of geriatric brothers from Guadalope who couldn’t speak English.  After being told by the stewardess that we couldn’t switch seats we soon discovered that the airline used a lottery system to decide on seating and NOBODY was placed together with their own groups.  Despite protestations from the cabin crew we revolted and everyone amicably moved around until we were back alongside our own families.  There were one or two suicidal teenagers and lecherous old men who were less than happy about being reunited with their kind but for the most part a degree of relief descended across the cabin.  Just then the captain spoke.  “Ladies and Gentlemen we are waiting to be de-iced but we will lift off on 15 minutes.  Until then I will be turning off the AC because of the fumes from the de-icing process.” We didn’t realise it at the time but this was the start of an Andy Kauffmanesque comedy routine that would last for four hours in the hot sweaty confines of the dingey plane.  Without fail and without a hint of a laugh the pilot repeated the same line every fifteen minutes for the next two hundred and forty minutes.  To make the situation more humourous from his sick point of view he kept the “seat belt fastened” sign on the entire time to ensure that all the incontinents on the plane could add their own fresh scent to the already stale air.  I thought at first we were on an episode of “You’ve been framed” until I saw the headline of the “Sun” newspaper being read by the guy next to me which read “Beadles not about.”  With him off the suspect list I figured this must be the work of either Fox TV or former presidentail candidate John Kerry.  There is no reason to think that John Kerry would have the ability or desire to delay a flight but since I routinely blame him for everything I decided to stick him with this one as well. 

I was in the midst of suffocating myself with a “complimentary blanket” when we finally took off.  I would have been dead already but for the fact that my obviously second hand blanket had a series of holes on it that were either bullett holes or evidence of a new breed of polyester eating maggots.  The ironic thing was that I had spent all day saying private “Hail Marys” to myself and praying that our plane would not crash but by the time we were airborne I was so so sick of being on board that I viewed a potential crash differently.  “Shit happens” I thought to myself as the engines stuttered away from JFK. 

The rest of the flight was pretty unpleasant.  The stewardesses were not the Hollywood variety of old.  Instead the blonde hair and tanned skin were replaced with wrinkles and toupees.  The glistening white smile was replaced with a raised middle finger.  The passengers were made to feel about as welcome as a Bill Clinton speech at a Hillary rally.  Finally though as my ninth set of earphones packed up during my third viewing of “What’s new on CBS this fall” I saw a glimpes of green outside the window.  We were finally there.  This was it.  This was England.  God save the Queen ………

To be continued ……..