Scotland and back again
I just got back from visiting my brother Steve, and sister-in-law Moya in Inverness, Scotland. We packed a lot into a few days, and the time just sped by.
I’d arranged to park my hired car in the IKEA parking lot near to the George Best Airport in Belfast, and prepaid. It worked out well and I was quickly deposited at the drop-off point to the front entrance. As I entered, I was struck by the thought that the last time I saw Mum alive, was almost ten years ago to the day when she and Dad saw me off here. I remembered the exact spot where we hugged goodbye, and I slowly walked through it on my way to check in. It was such a shock how it happened. On a Monday morning I’d taken my flight from here to London, then from there to Seattle and down to Portland, arriving late Monday night. At 8:30am on Wednesday morning I got a call, which at the time I didn’t pick up as jet lagged, I was still dozing in bed. I heard Dad’s voice and hurried downstairs. By the time I got there he’d finished, so I played the message. “Your mother died forty minutes ago. I can’t get hold of anyone.” With disbelief and shaking hands I called him back, and he verified that she’d died of an abdominal aneurysm, having just gone to lie down for a while because of a bad pain in her side.
To this day we’re not clear if Mum knew what a deadly ticking bomb she’d had in her body for several years. We found out that her doctor had told her, but somehow the information never got filtered to the rest of us.
Fortunately, ten years is enough of a time buffer so I didn’t dissolve into tears in the airport. I remembered her with love, and went on to check in at the Flybe desk.
The whole process was gratifyingly efficient. Once through security, which is pretty much the same process as the TSA in the States, you emerge into a huge open area with seating and Duty Free stores. They do have gates, but you had to wait until your flight was announced and flashed up on the many television screens, then you went through the door of the gate without passing any flight staff or checks, through a myriad of stairs and corridors, and then out onto the tarmac to walk several yards to the tiny, wee plane waiting there.
Only at that door to the tarmac did someone finally check my identification. Security, compared to what it used to be in Belfast, is really laid back. I remember when they used to pack us into a makeshift waiting room in a hut far away from the rest of the airport, and held us there pretty much as captives until time to board the flight. Full body pat downs, all luggage personally sifted through, humorless officials wearing peaked caps asking intimate questions. Smoking and non-smoking crammed in together, and no bathroom facilities… them-was-the-days!
The flight was fun. I sat in the very front with lots of leg room, and of course got served first when the flight attendants wheeled the cart down the aisle. The beginning of a mini-break merited a Bloody Mary. Flybe charges for their soft drinks on top of alcohol, so the vodka and tomato juice chocked up a whopping £5.40, which is about $8.00 or so. But I enjoyed it, nonetheless.
Twenty-five minutes into the flight, they gathered up our trash and got the cabin ready for landing. One of the flight attendants perched on her fold-down seat, not far from me. I noticed her looking at me and gave her an inquisitive smile.
“I was just admirin’ yer ring,” she said, in a deliciously rich Scottish accent. Her appearance was terrifying perfect, from her coiffed dark hair, gathered in a bun atop her head, to her gleaming leather heeled pumps on her delicate feet.
“It’s the brightest diamond I’ve ever seen,” she continued. I opened my mouth to respond. “I wouldn't dare wear mine,” she said, “I’d be scairt I’d lose it in the bin or something.”
“That’s easily done,” I replied. “That happened to me once.”
“Oh, no!” she sympathized. Then the conversation led into how she’d recently gotten engaged, and how she found the perfect wedding dress and is having it imported from New York, and where the reception is going to be. She was so excited about it I couldn’t help but join in and ask the right questions so she could talk about it all. Bless her; I hope it all works out and she’s happy. We were still discussing it by the time the plane had come to a stop and the doors opened. I wished her well as I disembarked, and stepped out into a glorious Scottish Highland morning.
Rolling green hills as far as the eye could see, and a glimpse of sparkling blue ocean in the distance. Everything looked so beautiful.
Another walk across tarmac and into the airport building. One small luggage carousel sat idle and I almost bypassed it and out through some sliding doors to the main concourse, but hesitated. “Is this where we get our bags?” I asked a couple of men walking behind me.
“Haven’t a clue,” said one, so I held back and waited. In moments two bags appeared, one of them mine. I grabbed it and wheeled it through the sliding doors, and there was Steve and Moya.
They looked so relaxed and happy. The last time I saw Steve was when he came all the way from Scotland for my St. Patrick’s Day party in 2012, and to visit me as I recovered from the Graves’ Disease aftermath. I hadn’t seen Moya since my last visit to Northern Ireland in 2011.
They don’t live far from the airport, so in no time we were back at their house, enjoying a glass of champagne. The next few days were a flurry of exotic dishes prepared by them, and sightseeing. We drove out round nearby Loch Ness, and climbed up high to see the rock fortress where legendary Deirdre of the Sorrows was purported to have hidden with her lover, as they fled from the High King of Ulster. It was quite a vertical climb, with an incredible view over the loch.
Then we drove across the Highlands to the Isle of Skye, where Flora MacDonald took Bonnie Prince Charlie of so long ago, to save his life. The only thing we could find in reference to that was a memorial in a graveyard, dedicated to Flora. I must admit, as we crossed the sweeping bridge to Skye, I wondered about some of the lines in the famous songs, SKYE BOAT SONG. Baffled our foes? Stand on the shore? Follow they would not dare? Why not? It’s not far at all; you could swim it. What was baffling? Inquiring minds want to know!
We stayed overnight in a wee hotel in the town of Portree, and headed back the long way to Inverness, looking at sights on the way. What incredible sights they were. Breathtaking cragged mountains and rocks, turbulent waterfalls, shimmering lochs. We stopped at them all to marvel and take pictures.
The visit was over very quickly. In no time I was on the little plane back to Belfast. I’d stayed an extra day, so expected a large parking bill. But the guys who were on duty in the minibus and booth just winked at me and told me to, “Go on wi’ ye!” and didn’t charge me. Amazing.
That’s the sort of thing I love about Northern Ireland. Our people are mostly kind to each other, and help each other out when we can. That’s the Belfast I remember. That’s the Belfast I love.