The Brits Don’t Like me… and they Have Proven it Again!

28 Nov

November-December 2009

No, it is NOT my imagination: the Brits do not like me and tend to prove it in their airports. Each visit to Heathrow is a pain (extra interrogation, extra search, extra confusing), and now Gatwick did it.

First of all, finding the Aer Lingus desk to get my boarding pass could be described as a Quest because it is in an completely different area than the other airlines (through a door, down a ramp) and of course signage is too much to ask. Despite being sleep-deprived and in an enemy zone, I managed to get my boarding pass… with a mysterious code on the top right-hand corner – *SSK* – cruel cruel world.

I found my way to the main door to the gates (not as easy as it sounds), got my bag in order (finished my bottle of water, put my hand lotion in the plastic bag, etc. – you know the drill), put on my best smile (critical), and greeted the gatekeeper while handing my boarding pass and passport. :))

Even though everybody else was walking past her in a
couple of seconds, she made me stop, told me to look into the camera (Hello Big Brother), triple-checked my documents and then let me head towards the security check… where of course they decided my bag needed to be searched.

I am not talking the usual quick glance, nooooo this is England! A guy took out EVERY thing out (breathe in – breathe out), ran a hand-held metal detector inside the bag, and tested for something. Then he said everything was okay and did I want him to put everything back in… AS IF!

It is a science, ladies and gentleman, it takes time and a cunning mind to squeeze chocolates, books, gifts, essentials and clothing for three weeks in a (bulging) shoulder bag. Ok, my mind was no longer sharp so it took me forever but I made sure not to hurry – under Big Brother’s watchful eye.

I landed in Heathrow just before 7am (Tuesday Nov 17) and was in Gatwick’s waiting area before 9, with a flight at 12pm. Hunting for food in an English airport is perilous, so I focused on the duty free. Even that wasn’t safe: there was a clear sign near the alcohol shelves that if you looked 25 years old and under you would have to show an ID… but they didn’t ask for mine. Breathe in breathe out — the Brits think I am an old-looking terrorist. Insult to injury.

As usual, they announced the gate number at the very last minute and I had to rush through scary tunnels and corridors to get to a dead-end, freezing room without toilets. Before boarding I had my last extra security check (the only person who had to show her ID of course), then I was robbed on the plane – £2 for tea!!!

Virgin Atlantic had nice food, and since the plane was practically empty, the service was fine, but these people are security maniacs! They threatened to call the police because some dude couldn’t find his expensive earphones. They don’t tolerate thieves apparently.

Well, they don’t tolerate blankets on your lap during landing either so I froze for the last 30 minutes of the flight. And she made me straighten my seat way before the pilot said we should! Now you believe me? The Brits don’t like me.

I was counting on my aunt’s hug at the Knock airport to renew my faith in mankind and all that goes wit it. She wasn’t there — Mary was of course. Auntie Catherine had warned me by text message, but still it was not as joyful an arrival as usual. She broke a bone in her foot the night before and was getting a cast at the Sligo hospital.

She might be nearing 68 but this is an unstoppable woman who never sits; always keeping busy around the house and usually singing or humming. Crutches didn’t stop her… which means that I had regular heart attacks and kept jumping to catch her.

Also, as you might expect she is fiercely independent and doesn’t like to ask for help; and she would accept some assistance but only in clear-cut cases (after failing to do it on her own). She also had a tendency to leave her crutches in high traffic area, and we suspect that she was trying to trip us so she wouldn’t be alone in her misery – hihihi.

But the bruise healed,
and now she can hop around pretty easily with just one crutch (if that). They’ll remove her cast before Christmas – thanks for asking.

 This incident didn’t prevent her from pampering me, thankfully, and even if I had to help more than usual, I got my usual doses of food and love.

Penny (miniature dog who is going to celebrate her 13th anniversary) has been very weary of the cast and crutches, and quickly understood who she would have to charm to get her daily walk. So yes, I was unfaithful to cats of the world, and braved the elements (particularly ferocious this year).

We bonded over TV dramas (from Scotland’s Taggart to Australia’s WaterRats with America’s Without a Trace and England’s Hunter), movies (she likes Bruce Lee and Meryl Streep) or ballet — oh and I forced her to watch the finale of Dancing with the Stars.

We experimented with raw tuna (each creating our own tartare and then sharing – yummy), and baked a magnificent apple tart (mostly her doing – I peeled and cut the apples). Do you know what to do with leftover dough? Little pieces of butter, sugar, 15-20 minutes in the oven and eat it warm… a piece of childhood!

I won’t list all the delicious things I have eaten but I could! Apple pie made by a friend, home-made bread, Swiss chocolate (they each got me some from their trip in September!), two chocolate cakes (the first one wasn’t great enough and they had promised me one in their birthday card…), succulent veggies, hormone-free meats (so that’s what real chicken tastes like!) — have I 
mentioned desserts?

We do more than eat though: we froze walking around; drove around Mullaghmore’s Head (a peninsula we see from our windows where Mary grew up) to look at the gigantic waves crashing (really rough weather these days!!); we did some shopping in Enniskillen (Northern Ireland) and had lunch at Mark’s and Spencer’s; we visited relatives in Castlebar (county Mayo) and had lunch in a garden center with real deers — and amazing bread; we had dinner at the neighbor’s (Indian curry – nice!).

I’ve read a few books as well, nothing intellectual of course: Divine Justice by David Baldacci (that I had started weeks ago when coming back from NYC), The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (learned so much about Washington, DC!), Can you Keep a Secret (well, the character in the book sure couldn’t!) by Sophie Kinsella, and I started a book about a couple buying a farm in the Spanish hills and trying to have a garden — that was almost intellectual so I dropped it.

I have been 
meaning to read a non-fiction book about Mountbatten death but maybe next year! He was killed in Mullaghmore by the IRA 30 years ago. He lived in the castle (Classie Bawn) where Mary’s mother used to work.

I tried to paint that castle a few years ago, with Ben Bulben in the background — haven’t painted since, and the watercolors are thankful.
 
Catherine and Mary are great painters and pretty computer-savvy too! I introduced them to Youtube and Google Image — I got some serious soda bread points. My aunt has been listening/watching singers from her youth (Brel, Brassens, Barbara, Dalida, etc.) and discovering new ones.

I also showed them Facebook and explained how iPods work (though thankfully a kid from the neighborhood came over one night to help me out since I have never had one!). Catherine wants a Nano for her birthday. She is way ahead of me! Mary has published some of her poems and does a Sudoku every night.

As usual, I am the underachiever! Well, I wake up around 11, have breakfast, move a tiny bit, eat lunch, move a bit more (face the elements to walk Penny, for example) and read, eat supper, watch TV, have dessert, watch more TV, and go to bed around midnight. No time to accomplish anything!!

Anyway, all this fun and food is about to end. Sigh. Heading back to Gatwick tomorrow (cruel cruel world). Before facing Heathrow and Virgin Atlantic though, I am going to relax in Oxford for a few days — we’ll see how they treat me!

Now, I am feeling peckish… Lunch is waiting for me :))

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