Sunday, May 06, 2007

Checking in and checking out

I knew I had to fly over to Ireland. My mother sounded forlorn and lost in her calls. She said: “Your father’s managing very well.” Then, later: “We’re too old for this.” They were staking out the sickbed of my 86-year-old aunt in a nursing home. Holding her thin hand; saying prayers; doing what you do, as someone you love, fades back to black.

My little family was supposed to go away for the bank holiday weekend to a hotel. “We will go another weekend,” I told them. “OK? My aunty is ill. I should tell her goodbye and I have to go look after granny and granddad.” My six-year-old, phlegmatic: “If she’s your aunty. You should go watch her die.” My four-year-old, passionate: “I’m coming with you.” The baby, disappointed: In me. Again.

Newcastle airport; seven o’clock in the morning, Friday. The hen party jet set. Brides spouting tulle veils and sporting hope frothed garters; bridesmaids dropping Tupperware strawberries into plastic glasses; almost pink champagne. Blonde. Slim.Tanned. All of them. Even the ones who weren’t. Pink champagne at dawn can do that for you.

The hen parties made me feel glad for them. Sad for me. I wanted to catch a flight to New York. Make taxi drivers ramp up the sound system. Dance in cars. Stay up all night. Catch the eye of a handsome stranger. Try on my best friend’s lip gloss. Sparkle. Say: “No it suits you better,” and not believe it. Be born again. Blonde, slim, tanned. At the very least, I wanted the pink champagne.

I take comfort in the fact that once I have, literally, shaken off the children, who make a last ditch bid to smuggle themselves through to departures, I am a World Traveller. I decide the new laptop I am carrying makes me look like the professional I once was. I might even be on a business trip.

As I walk though security, a guard who has used his X-ray vision to look into my handbag calls over his colleague. I wonder if he admiring the laptop. He points to something and a security guard walks back over to the belt. He nods to the bag. I say: “Absolutely.” I want to be helpful and support the fight against world terrorism. Even in my handbag. He takes out and moves aside my laptop, two notebooks, some papers, a black leather diary and a cosmetics bag. He puts in his hand and extracts a jammy knife. I had cut bread in the kitchen, brought the slices and a pot of strawberry jam in to the car. I jammed bread for all three children before I lost the knife. I twisted and turned in my seat to find it but it had disappeared. It reappeared. In time to have me labelled “the madwoman “ at airport security. At Heathrow they would have taken me away to a little room and strip searched me for the matching fork and spoon. As it was, the guard held up the knife for inspection. He looked at it. Then at me. “Don’t get jam on yourself,” I said.

I made it to Dublin. Being away from your husband and children is both wrenching and empowering. These step-away moments make you remember there was a time you could cope on your own; obtain euros, hire cars, figure out how to reverse them. Particularly empowering is the moment on the motorway when you realise you are driving, not so much a sluggish car, as a car with the handbrake on.

It had its revenge. Arriving at the lakeside hotel, I shut the door. It locked. It would not unlock. I press the electronic key fob. (What is it with car keys?) Nothing. I had clicked a switch inside the car marked Lock;Unlock before I climbed out. I did not realise that meant for ever. I try a different approach. I abandon electronics and look for a lock to put the key in. I prowl the car in case a lock magically appears. It does not. I ring my husband. I say: “I have a bit of an emergency.” He says: “I’ll ring you back.” He does not. I have to ring the car hire company and explain. I try to explain without telling them I clicked the Lock; Unlock switch. I have to ring the AA and eventually, a nice friendly man with a garage rings me back. I explain what has happened. I skim over the Lock;Unlock switch. Since this is AA business, the man wants to know what make of car I am in and where I am. Since this is Ireland, he also wants to know who I am, who I am related to and why I am here at all. The young mechanic he sends shows me how to slip the tail of the key or a screwdriver into a small slit in the lower edge of the black plastic door handle to flip it off and reveal the metal lock underneath. I now have options; as a mechanic. Or a master criminal. The young man says I am not stupid, I just need a new battery for the fob.

About this time, my parents arrive back at the hotel. My aunt died in the early hours. I was too late to say goodbye. I am in time for the funeral.


Anonymous said...

So good to have you back in touch! As you can tell with the comments, many of us missed you and your posts.

It is endearing how much energy you put into being a good mother and daughter (and niece). It had better be appreciated, or we will all band together and come teach those ingrates a lesson or two!

Anonymous said...

How sad for you Wifey. One day you will be a business traveler again..I know it is hard . Stupid gadgets are a conspiracy against us all - and thats all these dumb lockless cars are. You should have put a rock through the window. There is no problem that is not improved by senseless violence.

FjordLine said...

I live in Dublin, and to make it out of Dublin to the country is, in my book, an achievement. Every time I go to the airport, I marvel at how visitors can follow the road signs. So, well done to you.
Delighted to hear too, that you have Irish connections,and that the AA did help you.Stupid cars, sometimes they're more bother than they're worth, tho I suppose bicycles do puncture!

Kim said...

"Too late to say goodbye."

I hope you take comfort in the fact that she must have known you were coming as well as the fact that you are now there, which must mean a great deal to your parents.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Condolences for your and your family's loss. Under the circumstances you didn't deserve the maddening delay caused by tech features no one warned you about...I have been in a similar circumstance and it is like the experience you have in a dream where you can't move fast enough away from the bad bit, like pushing through jello, to get where you need to go.

Anonymous said...

What remarkable insight your oldest had regarding your obligations. The down-to-earth sensibility of young-uns never ceases to amaze me.

Swearing Mother said...

As the late, great John Lennon wrote - "there's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be" so console yourself with the fact that if you were meant to get to your aunt in time, you would have done, but I guess for some mysterious reason you were meant to be locked out of your car somewhere near Dublin with a flat battery in your keyfob! Sometimes the harder we try to battle against the odds the less likely it is that we'll beat them, I find. You did your best for her which was lovely.

Hope your Mum and Dad are OK, it must have helped them tremendously to know you were coming.

debio said...

Who designs a car that once locked from the inside cannot be unlocked from the outside? Senseless.
A bit like seatbelts which are designed for the male chest....and I have little to be proud of!
My sympathies to you and your family - and much admiration for making the effort; I am constantly surprised and impatient with myself at how 'rusty' my travelling has become since I have forsaken the business life.

occasional northerner said...

It was a good effort to try and get there and I'm sorry that technology foiled you - what was wrong with keys without electronics - always seemed to work for me! If your readers have missed you this much just think how pleased your children will be to see you back.

Dare you to ask for the return of the knife on the way back through Newcastle Airport!

Anonymous said...

Good to know you have visited here in the Emerald Isle, though in most unfortunate circumstances. At least you can offer some comfort to your mum and dad. As you say, the experience of the AA man wanting to know about all your family connections is still typical Ireland and something I love when the impersonal service-by-numbers approach is so prevalent elsewhere. Sorry to hear car keys are proving a problem yet again. And that once again hubby wasn't much help.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

have just discovered your blogs. love them and am so pleased to have found you. sounds as though it was worth making the journey even though you didnt get there in time.

Eden said...

I love you blog -- its timing and humour, its tenderness and wit. Found you through Urban Chick and Mutterings from the Mill.

Motheratlarge said...

So very sorry for your loss.

Unknown said...

Love and light to you.

Anonymous said...

Nightmare journey for you.
When the computer chip in my car key died it took the garage a week to get a new one, during which time I had to hire a car.

jenny said...

Thoughtful writing and an eloquent way of putting things into perspective. Things happen in the oddest ways, and that jam knife turning up in your bag proves it. I'm sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

WITN, it seems you have a lot of car key related drama! And the jammy knife incident was pure comedy - I'm sure if it was me (which it easily could be!) I would now be well acquainted with the practical details of intimate body searches!

Condolences on your loss.

DogLover said...

I have read and enjoyed your blogs for some time, but not commented on them. This time I must.

Because I am sad you didn't get there in time. Your aunt may have been wondering where you were or why you weren't with her and it would have been a pity to die still wondering. But why is it sad? She is no more and so it doesn't matter to her. I personally don't believe in Life-after-Death, but if you do, you have the consolation that she now knows and isn't wondering any more!

If you feel you let her down, the answer is you tried your best so you shouldn't be too regretful.

You may think I don't know what I am saying ... I think I agree!

But I wish you happiness.


Cathy said...

You did your best and at least you were there in time to help your parents through their grief. As others have said, your aunt probably knew you were on your way. Sometimes people choose to pass precisely at a time when loved ones are not there, to spare them the farewells.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Daniele said...

So sorry about your aunty WITN. You did your best, as others have commented, she knew that I'm sure.

On the funny side, the knife story is hilarious. And you really don't get on with keys and locks of any kind it seems.

You are a great mom. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

lady macleod said...

I am sorry about your aunt. I very much enjoyed your descriptions.