The driver has the radio on in the taxi. “And here’s Arwen Foley with AA Roadwatch…”
“Thanks Áine. And to begin with, this morning, we’re getting reports of loose horses in the Jobstown area”
Loose horses in Jobstown. No less than the sun setting on Galway Bay or the shine on an olive in the English Market, when you hear tales of horses with questionable morals roaming around Tallaght, you know you’re home. I’ve been away for a month in Edinburgh. It’s the longest my wife and I have been apart from each other. I’ve missed her and home. It will be a happy reunion.
There are other times where homecoming is less auspicious; when events are coloured forever in the memory by a twist in the plot. After returning from a J1 Summer in New York in 1999, my flight into Cork Airport arrived early. Passport control and baggage retrieval was incident free so I was ready and waiting at the airport before my parents came to collect me. I sat for a while in Arrivals admiring my tan. I felt urbane and sophisticated and was hoping someone would come up and ask me where I’d come from so I could show how sophisticated I was. “Yeah, just flew on the red-eye from NYC actually. Doing a bit of work on the Upper East Side. Hey, It’s a living, you know” .
I glanced across the concourse and spotted my parents’ arrival and walked over for the reunion. After fourteen weeks away, it was a highly charged moment as the emotion of seeing loved ones was mixed with hurried how-was-the-journey questions and answers. And even though it was too early for a full debrief I was already launching into excited snatches of accounts of my travels. I was 21, just back from New York and convinced that everyone would find me fascinating for the rest of my life. The combination of all of these things meant that, as a family unit, we were a bit distracted as we negotiated our next challenge: Getting out of the airport.
Because my arrival preceded theirs, my parents’ stay in the car park was short. In fact, when we put the ticket in the machine, the digital display said: “AMOUNT TO PAY: £0.00”. This day was just getting better and better. Free parking and the youngest fella home from Amerikay; it was like the antithesis of Angela’s Ashes. A few minutes later we were driving out of car park. I was still brimming with anecdotes. We approached the barrier. After that, lay the road for home.
Here’s the thing about electronically operated car-parks. They don’t ‘do’ nuance. Even though parking was free, the barrier didn’t know that. We would still need to put the validated ticket in the machine as we exited.
We didn’t know that the machine didn’t know. As red-and-white stripey pole grew closer, I distinctly remember hearing my mother say. “Patsy I wonder is that barrier going to raise at all. Maybe we should…KERTHUNK!!!!”
Actually my mother didn’t say KERTHUNK. She is not one for onomatopoeia. In fact it was the barrier that said it. As we drove straight through it, smashing it in pieces. We were still moving when I looked out the back window to see those pieces roll uselessly on the ground and had the brief sensation of being in the A-Team. I half expected to see Colonel Decker’s hired mercenaries firing after us and miraculously missing. I contemplated lighting a cigar.
But we were not soldiers of fortune on the run for a crime we didn’t commit. We were not in a black GMC Vandura van leaving a hostile compound. We were a law abiding family from Dripsey. With responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities was to turn the car around and explain to the airport authorities why we had broken their car-park.
My father drove back to terminal. We were silent. A measure, perhaps, of the even three-way split on blame. No one had covered themselves in glory. Having parked – carefully – he went inside the building. We could see him approach a group of security guards who were leaning at a variety of angles, against a wall. I believe the collective noun for security personnel is a ‘laconic’ .
My mother and I waited in silence as we watched him explain his situation. We saw him wave his arms once as he mimed the denouement. The guards listened. One spoke. There were some nods. Then my father returned to the car.
“They said them yokes are always breaking. They said go on away home, ’tis grand.”
If ever there was a phrase the more eloquently summed up the more innocent pre-9/11 security policy it is ‘go on away home ’tis grand’
This time my return is, thankfully, not as eventful and I’m soon outside my house. The door opens and then a wife-sized bundle of hugs is launched at me. No barrier would have stopped her.