So much for the glamour of air travel. The wind whipped the rain cruelly across the backs of my calves as I walked the hundred or so yards across the tarmac.Yet this morning the sun shone and I sat in the garden grooming Westie Boy. Back at the airport, there was a queue on the steps to the plane. My hand on the rail longed to be inside a warm glove. The man in front of me swung his bag. If I hadn’t ducked I’d have been knocked out, maybe stretchered off to A&E at The Royal. Cousin unknowing, back in her house, imagining me safe in London.
Consolingly, once aboard I got my favourite seat at the front, by the window and escape hatch. The stewardess warned me I might get wet knees on take off when the water would run back into the plane. She was right. I forgave the toddler behind me for kicking my seat when I heard her excited voice as we rose over Belfast; “I can see the whole world!” Her accent was English. “Can you see Granny’s house?” asked her mother. They were an echo of how we must have been when we travelled to Ireland years ago; my mother’s country Derry accent contrasting with her two Home Counties bred children; how obvious we were visiting her family; how dépaysée she would have sounded In Surrey.
Maybe that was why neither she nor anyone else ever remarked how our accents went native on holiday. It must have been nice to have children who spoke like her for a couple of weeks each summer. Or maybe she never noticed, as I never notice her accent. So it was always the neighbours who laughed when we got home and made us aware that we sounded different. As we got older our accents became fixed. We went away with our Surrey voices and came with them unmodified. Did my mother feel sad at the loss of her Irish children? I don’t know. It’s a conversation I never had with her, one I’ll never have now.
I do know that in Ireland she became more animated. She loved the craic around the table; the ceilidh when visitors filled the house on a Saturday night and the stories kept us up late laughing and sighing. In England she was more self-conscious, more reserved. On holidays home she would relax, brightening visibly when we flew in over Belfast Lough and saw the famous yellow cranes of Harland and Wollf.
Last Sunday we had a family meet. The sort of occasion Mother loved. Her beloved brother Bill, ninety years old, still upright, still mentally alert and still driving, was there. So was her youngest sister who is frail but tough. My cousin Tom, who is my generation’s best story teller, hit his stride. He told stories I’ve heard many times, and one that was new to me. He changed schools and was judged to be ahead of the class. The teacher, reckoning that Tom could miss a year’s education without any damage, made him sit in his car all afternoon. Not idly you understand. He had a car that was a devil to start, so Tom’s task was to keep his foot gently on the accelerator for two hours so his teacher could drive home.
That story begat more car stories. I don’t know why Bill didn’t tell us about the sports car he built. It was very snazzy. But Tom in full flood is difficult to interrupt. So we heard about a time Mother’s brother Tom, who was Tom and Cousin’s father, took them reluctantly to the seaside at Portstewart in his employer’s car. They parked on the Strand. At the end of the day my uncle reversed straight into the holes his son had spent the better part of the afternoon digging.