March 27th, 2008


A flight to Northern Ireland

By popular request, (no, really!)  I have agreed to post the diary I kept while looking after Dad when he had his knee replacement surgery.  At Norwescon I mentioned it and so many people asked me to share it, so here it is.  This entry describes my journey there: 

 Monday 20th June, 1130

Woke up after about four hours restless sleep and got to PDX in plenty of time.  Usually I fly Alaska, so by habit I entered the airport close to their desk on the far left of the building.  Unfortunately, Continental, with whom I've never flown before, was at the complete opposite end.  Once I'd dragged my three suitcases and ostentatious Chanel purse through the thronging crowds in between, all went well.

Continental's plane was rather smaller than I'm used to.  One has to battle for arm room and the seat is small and uncomfortable and I dreaded the longer international flight ahead.  I paid $5 for the privilege of using headphones to watch the in-flight movie - I can never sleep on airplanes.  However, Murphy's Law kicked in and I promptly fell asleep, missing most of the movie.   The flight therefore passed quickly and we soon landed Newark where I'd change planes for the international leg.

At the Belfast flight desk I inquired about upgrading to Business Class, but upon hearing they wanted $3,000 for free booze, a better menu, but not much more room than Economy, I passed.

After only three hours wait, we boarded.  I found myself seated next to a middle-aged man with very chapped lips.  He wore thick-lens glasses and had a ponderous look about him.  Although it was warm on board, he wore a tweed jacket, complete with shirt and tie.  Blasting grotesque halitosis over me, in a Northern Irish accent he informed me he worked for the airline and could be up in the cockpit if he wanted.

"That's nice," I replied, at a loss for anything else to say.

"Oh, yes," he continued, warming to his subject.  "I was in the Concorde, you know."

"You never were!" I exclaimed.

"Oh, yes," he insisted.  "They let me co-pilot it, you know."

"Uh huh," I answered, American style.  Before he could regale me with more juicy details, I continued, "I'm learning to fly on a Cessna.  At what velocity did you need to be to start your descent in the Concorde?"

His muddy green eyes focused sharply on me for a second before he looked away.  "Em..."  Promptly, he put on his headphones and stared at the blank movie screen ahead until Continental's safety measures were displayed.

As we took off all the islands of New York lay below, glimmering in the afternoon sunlight - the Statue of Liberty guarding all.  It was so beautiful.

After dinner I visited the restroom and attempted sleep.  Mister Halitosis waited until I had settled myself with blanket, pillow, secure safety belt, and had closed my eyes before he tapped me sharply on the arm to indicate he wanted to get up.  Growling, I disentagled myself.  After he returned I must have dropped off, thank God.  In no time it was breakfast, then our approach to Belfast International. 

I wonder what the American tourists must have thought of the place.  The fields below were dull and rain-soaked; it looked like November instead of June.  Disembarking, we walked about half a mile through damp-smelling and moldy corridors to Immigration.  Outside, one forlorn plane sat on the tarmac, seemingly abandoned.  A lone football lay nearby.  One imagined the employees putting in time kicking it about between the infrequent arrivals and departures.  It all felt rather depressing.

At Immigration, five youngish women and one obviously gay man sat behind high desks.  As I waited in line, I overheard parts of the various interviews.  The women seemed hostile, asking the American citizens who had Northern Irish accents if they still owned British or Irish passports.  Considering we're actually EEC members, this question was irrelevant. 

I was delighted when the man motioned me forward for I've noticed that much younger women in general seem to feel they have so much more to prove and make life difficult for others.  Older women and men, regardless of their sexual preference just get on with it and are much more pleasant to deal with. 

He did ask if I still had a British passport.  I countered with a comical roll of the eyes, asking, "Am I allowed to have one?"

"Yes," he smiled.

"In that case I do," I winked.  He grinned and stamped my American passport.

I must say it feels very odd to come into one's home country as a foreigner!  But I have no regrets.  I am proud of my American citizenship, where I am (mostly) treated with respect and rarely talked down to.

To be continued.... :-)