I’M IN Stansted airport with two of my sisters, heading for Lisbon, where our youngest sister is waiting for us.
Or that is our hope. Her safe arrival there depends on too many variables, such as having to travel overnight from Sligo in a car worse than mine, then a coach worse than that. All we’ve received by way of updates is a Whatsapp photo of her new hens and the following text: “On coach full of piss-heads from Carrick FFF’s sake def drawn the short straw.”
We’ve heard nothing since. Not a dickie bird.
I, however, made sure to draw the long straw and set about hijacking my London and Devon sisters’ travel plans weeks ago so I might enjoy the comfort of travelling in safer hands than my own or my sister’s (obviously).
But now, in Stansted, I’m discovering something I didn’t know about straws: just because a straw is long doesn’t mean it always feels long.
“Christ, I’d forgotten about the noise pollution,” London sister says, striding towards Customs and glancing over her shoulder to look at me, “CLACKA-LACKA-LACKA-LACKA- how could I forget?”
Or at least that’s what I think she said, it’s hard to hear anything over the racket of my luggage wheels which, being made from composite boulder or whatever else they used before vulcanised rubber was invented, make the same kind of noise a microwave would if dragged along rocks.
“Mum’s old suitcase,” London sister says to Devon sister, “she bought it when pull-along suitcases first came out. When was that?”
“Late eighties,” Devon says.
“At least we’ll never lose her,” London says, “not with that racket.”
“At least that,” Devon says.
“Come on Clackalacka,” London says.
“Come on Clackalacka,” Devon says.
“Sorry, I can’t hear you” I say, “you’ll have to speak up.”
“Have you got your boarding pass up on your phone like we practised last night?” London says, gliding through the passport control machines without so much as a fumble.
I look around for Devon. She’s already through. “I’m just getting Downloads up,” I say to London as she joins Devon on the other side.
They wait, while my phone decides my fate.
“Sixty, forty against,” London says.
“Fifty, fifty,” says Devon.
The gates open. I boot microwave through the machine, following quickly before the machine changes its mind.
“Nice work Clackalacka,” London says.
We regroup in Duty Free.
“Thank God I found it, ” I say, “or I’d have had to go into my email and my data doesn’t seem to be working for some reason.”
London turns towards Devon.
“Is it an Irish thing?” she says, “to travel abroad and spend the entire holiday wondering why you can’t get your phone to work?”
“No,” Devon says, “it’s a sister thing.”
We are seated at our boarding gate. London says, “could be worse” and describes the last time my Sligo sister flew with her four children to France.
“She smuggled a six-man tent, fold-up table, blow-up mattress, a bag of tent poles and six sombreros past the Ryanair official and onto the plane.”
“Sombrero-shame or noise pollution?” Devon says.
“Can’t decide,” says London, “just imagine if we were travelling with them both.”
We arrive by Uber in Bairro Alto, the heart of historic downtown Lisbon. Picturesque buildings with tiled facades. Narrow streets.
“Oh look, just what we need,” London says pointing down at the street, “cobbles.”
“As if we weren’t deaf enough already,” says Devon.
We wander up and down cobbled streets, looking for number 62. Devon and London are hunched over their iPhones trying to get hold of Sligo.
I follow behind them. An elderly lady stands in a doorway, points at microwave and covers her ears.
From above our heads we hear a shout. Sligo is hanging over the balcony three stories up. “Oh my God, it’s you,” she shouts down, “I only came out to see what all the racket was.”
We climb four flights of stairs.
My sister flings the door open.
“What a relief,” she says, “I’ve been trying to reach you all day. It’s so frustrating — my data doesn’t seem to be working. I think there’s something wrong with my phone.”
It’s hard to hear anything over the racket of my luggage wheels
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