Flying by the seat of our pants

Flying by the seat of our pants

Dublin to Istanbul. Isanbul to Tbilisi.Tbilisi to Istanbul.Istanbul to Geneva. Geneva to London. London to Dublin. No, there was no danger of this traveller becoming a poster boy for Extinction Rebellion this past week, as six flights in six days were required to ensure coverage of Ireland’s back to back qualifiers in Georgia and Switzerland.

And, with further apologies to Greta Thunberg, I have to say that if the day does ever come when we find we’re all back to having to set sail for our jaunts around the globe, I for one will mourn the passing of an era when, relatively guilt-free — if not so light in pocket — a lot of us got to ride in the belly of the Great Silver Bird. Not that there aren’t downsides to the high life, of course.

Obviously, I would be only to happy to never again have to experience that irritatingly edgy feeling which comes with shuffling in queue at the airport security check, both hands fully occupied with juggling the removal of laptop, phone and washbag, the divesting of outer garments and the fishing of coins out of the deepest recesses of pockets — at least one of which is sure to fall and, with hypnotic effect, attempt to break the world record for continuous rolling in concentric circles on the floor — as, all the while, you try desperately not to misplace your passport and boarding card.

That everything? Think so. Final patting of pockets. Ah. Discover bit of tin foil gum-wrapper still buried in one. Take out, throw into tray. Right, that’s it. Ready now. Definitely. Saunter confidently through scanner, scanner goes bleeping mad, and that’s when you remember your belt. Of course.

A thousand apologies. Backto the x-ray machine, off with the belt, trousers fall down, revealing embarrassing novelty underpants, and everyone in the airport starts pointing and laughing. (This is usually the point when I wake up in the bed in a cold sweat… ah, but if only it was all a dream).

No, I won’t miss any of that. Nor,as someone at the lankier end of the spectrum, will I miss the experience of being stuck in the middle seat on a long flight when you get that restless sensation in your legs but all you can do is move them ever so… slightly forward and ever so … slightly back. And just when you’re trying to make the most of the brief spasm of relief you get from that, well, of course, then the old crick in the neck starts demanding your attention.

No, won’t miss that either. Of course, things can get much worse — and I don’t even mean something as extreme as, say, finding yourself in close proximity to some drunken dingbat building up to a full-scale eruption of air rage. No, even the nicest people can be a trial when you’re locked together in a big metal tube at 35,000 feet.

On the night flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi on Sunday, one of the other Irish journalists found himself sitting next to an elderly lady who was full of chat.

But, having put in an unbroken 24 hours of work and travel, my colleague’s main concern was to get some badly needed shut-eye and, after about a half-an-hour of pleasant if largely one-sided conversation, he politely informed his new companion that he was going to go to sleep now and, no, thank you very much for asking, but there was definitely no need to wake him when the in-flight meal came around.

And out he went, like a light.

Next thing he knew, he was being brutally wrenched from the arms of Morpheus by a tremendous blow to the chest. In a state of bewildered shock (he’d probably been having the novelty underpants dream too), he turned to find his travelling companion smiling sweetly at him. She explained:

I know you told me not to wake you for the meal but if you don’t eat now you’ll be hungry later.

My colleague, a very peaceable man by nature, reckons it’s the closest he has ever been to murdering another human being in cold blood.

So, for sure, there’ll be lots not to miss when all the planes are finally grounded. But for me, all the hassle can still seem worth it when, as happened last week, I was lucky enough to be at a window seat as the plane approached Geneva and I could drink in the incomparable visual sight of the snow-capped Alps glowing deep gold in the evening sun.

And, as the bould Trap was wont to put it, it was a case of the ‘same, same but different’ descending into Heathrow on the second-last leg of the journey home, the flight-path taking us low over the heart of London, so that I could indulge the almost childish joy of picking out landmarks like the Eye, the great river itself , the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and, a bit further off in the distance, the white arch towering over Wembley stadium.

Which brings us, via an appropriately circuitous route, back to the whole point of the exercise. Ah, yes, the football, of which perhaps enough has been said already for now.

Mick McCarthy’s relations with the media appear to have come under growing strain since last weekend and, while I always suspect that such matters tend to be of more inflated importance to the two parties involved than to anyone else with a consuming interest in the game, it might be worth saying for the record that, on this globe-trotting sports reporter beat, nothing shortens a long journey home or eases the pain of a red-eye departure, quite like having a positive result or two to send us merrily on our way.

But one point from six out of Tbilisi and Geneva, on the back of performances which, from the middle of the park forward, were for the most part alarmingly lacking in creativity, cohesion and composure, provided almost nothing of cheer to write home about.

And yet, as the manager can hardly be faulted for insisting on pointing out, his team are still just one win away from the Euro Finals — and with the insurance of a play-off parachute all but officially tucked under the seat in case of (another) emergency against the Danes.

So the journey continues and, as so often with Irish teams in the past, whether it’s by car or train or bus or plane, we will find ourselves travelling, once again, more in hope than expectation. Onwards if not necessarily upwards. Flying by the seat of our pants, as it were. But, hey, we’ll take that over being grounded already, right?

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