Gate Expectations

On Friday night, LSB and I were to return to Berlin after spending a warm, damp Christmas in Dublin.

The day had been stormy and the queue at the airport was frightful. IMG_7793[1]

The woman before us looked particularly dismayed so I said: “Well, you’re one ahead of us!” to which she replied, “that’s not saying much given the circumstances.”

It took us an hour to reach the check-in desk, where calm was restored. Our luggage was within the weight allowance and the lady helpfully circled the departure gate on our boarding pass with a biro. It was quite old-fashioned really. Almost worth the wait.

We pulled our little carry-on cases to Gate 412. LSB whipped out his first ever smart phone – a Christmas present from his siblings – to connect to the free wifi. I reminded him of the time he used to read books, speak to me and look at me lovingly. I said those things because now I am the only person of my generation without a smart phone. He was too busy playing with his German grammar app to pay me any attention, so I took out my laptop and logged onto the free wifi too.

Moments later, a bell sounded and a soft female voice from the void said: “Attention: passengers of Flight EI330 to Berlin: this flight has been cancelled.”

image source: Wikipedia

image source: Wikipedia

LSB and I gaped like goldfish, our eyes meeting as we tore them from our respective screens.

I issued an expletive.

Soon after a tall, clean-looking man dressed all in blue appeared. He was proportioned like an ice pop. Perhaps this pleasant association explains why I took an immediate liking to him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said. “I am extremely sorry but my supervisor has informed me that this flight has been cancelled. Unfortunately, Aer Lingus will not pay for accommodation as this is a weather event.”

A rotund German man in a brown coat erupted in indignation. “You are obliged to take us to our destination,” he spat.

The man said he was extremely sorry. He was merely repeating the instructions of his supervisor.

“You can re-book free of charge online,” he said. ” Which is what I’d advise you to do. The alternative is to queue downstairs, but you will be waiting for hours.”

An Irish woman with pink skin and mousy hair piped up: “Well what about all your taxes and charges shite? Will you be charging us again?”

“No, Madam we will not be,” said the man in blue.

LSB and I retreated to a corner with our electronic devices. His smart phone didn’t live up to its name – but after a few stressful minutes we had managed to re-book our flight for Sunday night using my laptop.

An elderly German lady was most perturbed by the commotion.

“What is going on? Does anyone speak German?” she asked.

I put up my hand and explained the situation.

“I am officially attaching myself to you” she said.

The tall, blue man appeared again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to reclaim your baggage.”

The German lady who had attached herself to me, said “where are we going?”

“We’re collecting the bags we checked in an hour ago,” I said with cheer that belied the dread I was feeling at having to call my office in Berlin to let them know I would be unable to work my weekend shifts.

As our dejected group was making its way to the baggage reclaim – I still had my laptop in my hands – a woman with blonde hair, red cheeks and a course voice pushed me to the side and said “Get off your fucking computer! Fuck off and let me by! I’ve been waiting for nine fucking hours!”

“You’re not the only one,” said LSB.

She stuck up her middle finger.

“Céad Míle Fáilte!” I said.

We retrieved out suitcases from the luggage belt. Then I sat down with the elderly German lady, who told me she was on her way back from Belfast, where she had been visiting her son – a translator who had married a Northern girl.

I explained that to re-book her flight, we would need her booking reference, as well as the e-mail address which had been used to buy the ticket.

She took out a small black notebook which was neatly filled with useful information. (I believe all German women of a certain age have a notebook just like this.)

She produced her booking reference, which she insisted on calling out to me in English. But the e-mail address presented a problem.

“My son booked!” she said. “And I don’t know what e-mail address he used!”

We tried three but none of them worked.

She called her son on her mobile phone but appeared either not to get through or to be unable to hear him.

At one point she said: “I am now hanging up! Alright, goodbye. I cannot hear you.”

The whole process took about an hour. I found the lady grateful but impatient.

In order to exit the airport, we had to go through passport control.

In an act of pointless confession, I told the passport control man that I had in fact never left the country and that my flight had been cancelled because of the storm.

image source:

image source:

“I understand,” he said kindly.

The elderly lady with the notebook got on a bus to Belfast. My father collected LSB and me.

We spent the weekend drinking Guinness with friends who thought they’d seen the back of us for another six months.

And who did we see at the airport on Sunday evening but the blue ice pop man from Aer Lingus.

“Remember us?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “Flight to Berlin.”

“Rough night on Friday, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“You’ve no idea,” he said.

Nothing but the tooth

When it comes to wisdom teeth, the world is divided into haves and have-nots. Those that have suffer stoically while those that have-not continue on, blissfully unaware of their good fortune.

Sometimes the have-nots playfully roll their tongues to the back of their mouths and say: “Oh, I don’t think I’ve got any! But I’m honestly not sure!”

You’d know, trust me.

Not only have I got a wisdom tooth, I’ve also got a wisdom tooth infection. Just in time for Christmas.

Arriving home to my parental home in poor condition has become a festive tradition. Last year I spent Christmas wrapped in a blanket hogging the sofa nursing Lemsips.

This year I came in dental agony, prompting fears that I am in fact poorly all-year around.

Having never experienced intense, shooting pain like it before, I asked my mother tearily how she ever managed to give birth.

“Your toothache might be worse than giving birth!” she said modestly. “At least with childbirth you know it’s going to be over in a while.”

My father took me to a dentist in Sandymount.

image source: Wikimedia Commons

image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Oh, you poor pet,” the dentist said, looking into my mouth.

Then she sent me to stand in an X Ray machine, clasping a piece of plastic in my mouth.

“Your tooth needs to come out,” she said. “But it’s too risky for me to do, as it’s right on this nerve.”

My nerve is a long white snake stretching from my tooth to my ear. Pain has been shooting along it for days now. I will probably need to go to a German hospital to get my tooth pulled. My way of dealing with that eventuality is to ignore it.

My father came with me to Rathmines to pick up some antibiotics and intense painkillers.

I paid for them using my VISA card. Then I went into the hairdresser’s to book an appointment.

Last night my father said: “I marvelled at the debonair confidence with which you sailed through your errands in Rathmines earlier.”

I blinked at him.

“You remind me of your sister (the one in America)” he said. “She also pays with plastic.”

“How do you pay?” I asked him.

“I pay with cash,” he said nostalgically.

“Yes, but what do you do when you don’t have enough?”

“I write cheques,” he said. “A dying art.”

My father opposes change of any kind. As long as we avoid talking about politics, it’s not much of a problem.

In fact, as an emigree, the certainty that nothing will change at home can be reassuring.

My father’s constancy is primarily associated with food.

Therefore, I can be absolutely assured that no matter what time of year I return home, there will be a bowl full of soaking butterbeans on the kitchen table and a half-open packet of Lidl cream crackers.

Yesterday my mother made her trademark exquisite celeriac soup. Later she hung up our walnut baby Jesus on the Christmas tree.

In the evening we watched a poorly-dubbed version of Ceclia Ahern’s “PS Ich liebe dich” on German television.

And I curled up wrapped in a blanket munching Dominosteine on one side of my mouth.

There’s no place like home.

Christmas with Frau B

Willy Brandt wouldn’t really have been my type,” Frau Bienkowski says, examining the Tagesspiegel’s full-page spread in his honour.

“Nor mine” I say.

“He was a bit of a womaniser.”

“Well, just as well he’s not our type!”

Willy Brandt  source: Wiki Media

Willy Brandt
source: Wiki Media

She laughs. “Shall we get some coffee?”


“So Katechen, tell me about your week.”

I tell her about my friend’s visit and our trip to Dresden. And about work and the Christmas parties I’d been to.

She tells me her niece is arranging a little Christmas party for her and that the cooks downstairs have agreed to roast them a goose.

This will be Frau B’s 95th Christmas. She has decorated her room with electric candles (real ones are deemed too hazardous in the home), a bunch of deep red flowers and a table cloth she made herself.

We agree that Christmas is an event choreographed by women and enjoyed by men.

“I remember my father standing by the fire once. It was just after Christmas and he was saying ‘Oh, it’s a wonderful time of year! I could do this all over again.’ Quick as lightening my mother piped up ‘No wonder – you didn’t have to lift a finger! ’”

Frau P smiles. “I’ll never forget that!”

I take out my gift for Frau P.

It is poorly wrapped in grey tissue paper.

She opens it gingerly and fingers the picture frame.

Because she has impeccable manners she says immediately: “Oh, it’s lovely!”

But I can tell she hasn’t seen it properly yet. I wait for a moment while she examines it more closely.

“Is that… us?” she asks.


“But when..?”

“Do you remember my parents when my parents came to visit in the summer?” I say.

“Oh yes!” she says. “Thank you, Katechen – that makes me really happy!”

“Now,” she says. “It’s my turn.”

“What? Frau B … you’re shouldn’t have.. ”

She hands me a little package wrapped in reindeer-themed paper. “It’s just five bars of chocolate,” she says. “You know I can’t get out to the shops.” Then she presses an envelope into my hand.

“Open this at home,” she says. “It’s for you and Andrew. I made an attempt at writing but you know I’m no longer capable of it.”

I stammer a thanks and tuck the envelope into my bag.

I pick up the book about the Irish nuns.

(My current fine on it is €8.75)

“It’s amazing how long we’ve been at this,” she says. “We are just so good at chatting!”

“I reckon we’ll have it done by this time next year,” I venture.

“Oh come on Katechen,” she says. “How long are you expecting me to live?”

“Oh, there’s life left in you yet!” I say – brightly because that is the only way to talk about death to a 95 year-old.

Later on at home, I open the envelope. Inside is €30.

I can’t make out much of what it says in the card inside but I can discern the word “Katechen.”