SUNDAY afternoon, Cork airport. My daughter and I are cutting quite a shape in the departures hall. A recent diagnosis of “bulging lumbar disc” means that I’m doing a syncopated, old-lady shuffle across the foyer, while behind me, my youngest daughter makes the slowest walk across the airport concourse in the collective history of walking and airport concourses.
My husband’s last instruction to my daughter as he dropped us outside the entrance before departing to park the car was, “be helpful. Mum is a cripple.”
As a consequence, she has placed three small rucksacks on a trolley and, exhausted by this exertion, now collapses over its handle like a popped blow-up doll.
“Quick,” I urge, shuffling forward, eyes front, spine locked, “we’re late.” There is no response.
Shuffle, shuffle, eyes front. “Hurry,” I say. Shuffle, shuffle, eyes front. “Hurry,” I repeat.
I stop at the foot of the escalators and shuffle my entire body 180 degrees right in an effort to establish my daughter’s exact whereabouts, for it suddenly strikes me as odd that my daughter has made no verbal acknowledgement of my commands. I shuffle it right, then left, then right again.
“And… she has vanished,” I think, at which point it dawns on me that I’m about to commence playing yet another protracted game of real-life “Where’s Wally?” in an airport.
All the usual tortuous rules will apply; my daughter and husband won’t be wearing any red and white stripy bobble to make the business of finding them any easier, and the game will be played against the clock — only this time, I’ll be playing Where’s Wally? with a bulging disc. This is a fact which probably reduces the odds of winning — which is to say locating and corralling husband and daughter onto the correct plane — from 10-1, to 20-1.
“I need a mantra,” I think, “what with the bulging disc and all. I need something doughty and heroic.” I decide that for the duration of our journey — a seven hour combo of car, plane and London trains — I will adopt a favourite apothegm of my mother’s: “Life is good, if you don’t weaken.”
After much jerky Dalek-swivelling, I locate my daughter lounging against the wall in arrivals. Joining me at the escalators, with the most put-upon facial expression in the collective history of faces and expressions, she says, “where the hell is dad anyway?”
“He’s gone off to park the car,” I say, “in that funny place.”
“Why can’t we park in the airport like normal people?” she says.
“Because the prospect of orienteering, combined with the thrill of illicit parking, avoidance of airport car-parking fees and the mile-long sprint back is impossible for him to resist,” I say.
“What is he for feck’s sake,” she says, “Bear Grylls?”
Bear Grylls arrives. “Have you seen my wallet?” he pants cheerfully. “Life is good, if you don’t weaken,” I intone silently.
“It’s got the boarding cards in it,” he says.
“It better not be in the bloody car,” I say.
He begins searching through our three rucksacks. The search is frantic but nevertheless conducted with an insouciant air.
“Stop pulling all my knickers out,” my daughter says.
“Got it,” he says.
Platform 4, Norwood Junction station, London.
I’m wondering whether the 20-1 odds have really worked in my favour: it is minus five outside and I’m sitting in a waiting room on my bulging disc. The tannoy has just announced that our train is due to arrive at platform 4 in one minute. I know, at least, where my daughter is — she stands opposite me, shivering like an expensive little poodle but I have absolutely no idea where Bear Grylls is. He vanished 10 seconds ago, and now I can see him legging it down platform 3 in a last minute bid to buy a sandwich, though how he thinks he’s going to pay for it I’ll never know; his wallet is poking out of the side pocket of his rucksack, which my daughter holds with supremely ostentatious effort, as if it is a concrete block.
“Life is good, if you don’t weaken,” I rally, “life is good if you don’t weaken.”