Wednesday was my last night in Dublin. Unbelievably, I was fully packed, had sourced my passport and boarding pass, had cleaned my flat and ordered a taxi to the airport by 11:30 pm. I have never been this ready for a flight before. I wasn’t flying until 9:15 the next morning. I felt like an Organisation God, like Martha Stewart, Mussolini or Florence Nightingale.
In theory, this should have made for a smooth journey to Ljubljana. However, there is always a Connor factor. Always. I was reading a book. A long book. A book that was 1105 pages long. I had got to page 900. I wasn’t going to take an eleven hundred page book all the way to Slovenia just for the sake of the last 200 pages. I also wasn’t going to abandon it for two whole months until I got back to Dublin. There was clearly only one choice. I had to finish the book before I left. So I stayed up and read. And finished the book. And as a result, I only got two hours sleep before I had to get up and get my taxi to the airport. Bleurgh.
A warning: if at all possible, don’t go to an airport the day after an airline strike ends. It was manic.
I stood in a queue to drop my bag off for an hour. For those entire sixty minutes, I regretted my life choices and eavesdropped on the group standing in front of me. There were four women in their early twenties from County Tipperary. They were going to Peru. I knew they were from County Tipperary because of their thick Mattie McGrath-like accents and the fact that they all had the Tipp colours plaited around the handles of their suitcases in wool. I grew to love the idea of Tipperary being represented in Peru. It’s high time. The four girls were accompanied by one young man, Shane, who was a boyfriend of one of the group and had driven them up in to Dublin airport in the small hours. He was very awake and very loud. There was a very big departures board, listing flights to lots and lots of destinations. Shane decided to “entertain” the queue by reading out every single destination. In the appropriate accent. So he said “Stansted” like he was on Eastenders, “Newark” like he was in The Sopranos, “Paris” like he was Maurice Chevalier and “Cork” like he was Jimmy Barry Murphy. Shane was a new type of morning torture I have never experienced before and the three Tipperary women who weren’t his girlfriend ignored him. The one who was gazed adoringly at him and even managed to laugh once or twice at his deathless litany of airports. When the Tipperary gang got to the top of the queue, there was a bit more drama. Two of the four of them weren’t guaranteed seats on the flight. It had been “oversold”. They’d get there eventually, but mightn’t all be on the same flight or on the same day. And their reaction made me love Ireland. When they heard the news, they burst out laughing. “Overbooked? I’ve never heard of that! That’s gas!” and they decided to do a group selfie Snapchat with their thumbs up to mark the occasion. I think that’s a uniquely Irish reaction and it sort of makes me proud.
I got to the top of the queue, checked my bag through to Ljubljana and made my way to the security queue, where things were also moving very slowly. I was in a queue behind an Irish Mammy. Not a glamorous Mammy. More the type of rural Mammy that was EVERYWHERE when I was growing up in the 1980s and seems to be disappearing now. The kind of Mammy who had short hair, who had probably never had her hair long, because it just gets in the way. The kind of Mammy who didn’t hold with make-up, and who never wore a dress. The kind of Mammy who spent most of her time in tracksuit bottoms and was No Nonsense. I don’t know where all these Mammies have gone, but here was a real live one standing in front of me, clearly tired and nervous. She had been a victim of the airline strike and was on the phone to someone called Brigid (of course it was someone called Brigid. If I was making this story up, and choosing a name for the person she was talking to on the phone, I would have chosen Brigid. Today was a day when God was writing the best story.) I think Brigid was her sister. She was breathlessly telling her that she’d got onto a flight and was going through security and that her husband (disappointingly called John. If I had been choosing names here, I would have gone with Tommy.) was being let through security too, even though he only had a ninety percent chance of boarding. The next sentence was what made this story an epic, “Everyone in the airport had heard about Monica’s dress, Brigid and they couldn’t have been nicer. They were all wishing us luck and they were doing everything they could to get us out there in time.” Oh my God. She wasn’t just a Mammy. She was a Mammy of the Bride and she had a wedding dress and there was a air traffic controllers’ strike. This was true drama. I heard her have this phone call a number of times as she told four different people that she was getting on the flight and so was the dress, but John only had a ninety percent chance. Unfortunately, we were sent into different queues and I never got to find out if John made it to Monica’s wedding.
I slept through my flight to Paris and felt better by the time I had to race through Charles de Gaulle airport to make it from one terminal to another, clear security again and board my flight in 45 minutes. I did it, and I had a lovely flight to Ljubljana. The Air France stewardess didn’t speak great English and when she was coming through the cabin with lunch she offered me two options: a salmon bagel, or a bacon and nuts sandwich. I thought a bacon and nuts sandwich sounded atrocious enough to be amazing and I went for that. I could taste neither bacon nor nuts. It appeared to be a cheese sandwich. French cuisine is special.
I landed in Ljubljana and discovered that my suitcase was still in Paris. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this as there’d been such a short connection time between my two flights. Last summer, when my suitcase didn’t arrive with me in Russia, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. No one in the airport spoke English, they all blamed me for losing my bag, they all behaved as if this was the first time anyone had lost a bag in the history of the country and they re-routed the bag through Kiev and took two days to get it to me, before I eventually rode to the airport in the middle of the night to collect it because Siberian Airlines don’t deliver. In Ljubljana airport, everyone speaks English, they filled the forms in for me, they gave me an Air France overnight kit that included all kinds of French scents, potions and lotions and they apologetically promised to deliver the bag to a place of my choosing within 24 hours.
The school I’m working for had arranged a transfer from the airport to my accommodation. I arrived to discover that I was living in university accommodation, because change comes dropping slow and why change now. It’s a large, oddly laid-out building and I have my own little mini-apartment, much smaller and barer than my quarters in Hall were. I have a kitchen, with no oven, but with two big plates, two little plates, two saucers, two mugs, two glasses, two forks, two knives, two big spoons and two little spoons. It’s like the Noah’s Ark of kitchenware. There’s also a little bathroom. When I looked into the shower, I discovered that it was full. There was a large clothes horse, a sweeping brush and dustpan, and a bulky, bubble-wrapped ironing board. The bedroom is big and would have more than enough space for an ironing board and clothes airer, but why put them in the bedroom when you can store them conveniently in the shower? The bedroom had two single beds, two little wardrobes, two desks and two chairs. The whole place has a monastic feeling. There’s a little kitchen table and there are two desks, but there’s no sofa, armchair or obvious place to put a TV. This is a serious apartment, where eating and studying are allowed, but there is to be no frivolous television watching, and as you’ll read shortly, no hanky panky in the beds.
I’d forgotten how lovely Ljubljana is. I think it really might be the prettiest place I’ve ever been. Both my fellow tutor and I were very tired on Thursday, so we had one glass of wine in a riverside bar and went to bed. The wine cost one euro thirty. I don’t know how the place isn’t overrun with stag parties, but it isn’t.
The next morning, we got up early and went to school to prep the course we’re starting on Monday. I arrived at school and was welcomed very warmly. The entire staff there seems to smoke and they all remembered sharing many smoking breaks with me throughout the courses the last time I was there. They were disappointed to hear that I’d given up. They also wore name badges, so I was spared the embarrassment of admitting that I didn’t remember any of their names.
While we were working at school, I was sitting when I turned to speak to someone else and all of a sudden, the chair I was sitting on fell apart and my bum was on the ground. Chairs broken: One. It’s a while since I’ve broken any furniture, but it’s something that I’ve done more than once. I remember in summer 2006, when I was doing my DELTA in Wroclaw, Poland, I managed to break three chairs in eight weeks.
The owner of the school very kindly had presents when she came to greet us. She gave us each a little bag with a t-shirt that had the school’s logo on it, a bookmark with the school’s logo, a pen with the school’s logo, a guidebook to Slovenia and fridge magnet promoting Slovenian tourism. I was delighted to get a fridge magnet, as my little monastic flat is lifeless and I need my tat. This magnet has a picture of an owl and it says “Lowly Slovenia”. The letters O, W and L are in a different colour and I think it’s meant to be a funny joke about owls and “Lovely Slovenia”, but it’s not. It’s a magnet that says “Lowly Slovenia”. I love the idea that the magnet was designed by a compulsively honest, gloomy advertiser, who has slogans like “Waterford: It’s mediocre!” and “Undistinguished Moldova!”
I was at the school when I got a phone call from the airline to say my suitcase was on its way. The man who delivered the suitcase said “I suppose you are Connor” with a smile on his face. I said I was, and he winked at me. Winked. When I opened my suitcase, it was clear that someone had rummaged through it, which is only to be expected if they are trying to identify who owns it. But there is one item in there that I’d rather people didn’t see. I call it Rudolfo and no one needs to know what I do with him. And the delivery guy smiled and winked at me. Morto.
Anyway, I went home on Friday night, and fell into bed, tired from a day spent in hot muggy weather. I moved and heard a snap and felt the bed give way. OH NO! I had broken the bed too! I moved carefully and heard more creaking. I tried to spread my weight out so that I wouldn’t break it again. But the constant creaking and my stress meant that I couldn’t dream of sleeping on the bed. I got up and lifted the mattress to see that I’d snapped two of the planks that were meant to hold me up. I considered sleeping in the other bed, but couldn’t face the idea of breaking two beds, so I lifted the mattress onto the floor and slept there. It was fine, but in the morning I had great difficulty getting up. One side effect of my weight is that I break beds. Another is that I have a lot of difficulty getting up off the ground. I can’t really do picnics (there are worse plights I know!) and the mattress on the floor thing is untenable.
So tonight, I’m going to risk it. I’m going to sleep on the unbroken bed and spread my weight as much as possible, so that I don’t end up putting too much weight on one plank.
Cross your fingers for me readers. I only have to last 59 more nights without breaking another bed.