ELEVEN in the morning, Customs area, Stansted airport — and no amount of wishful thinking is going to turn my over-stuffed canvas holdall into “a second small carry-on bag, no bigger than 35cm x 20cm x 20cm, which will allow a bottle of wine or equivalent to be carried”.
No amount of positive visualisation — or breath-holding or prayer — is going to make my daughter’s sports-bag shrink to 10kg, either; we’ve taken Ryanair’s recent relaxation of cabin-luggage restrictions too far. I know it, my daughter knows it and the Customs lady definitely knows it.
“They won’t let you on the plane with that,” the Customs lady says, banging my canvas holdall into a tray where it lies with its pattern of small black love hearts, looking criminal.
“What are we going to do Mum?” my daughter whispers, looking terrified.
“Go vague,” I hiss, “she’s only bothered about contraband. It’s the Ryanair staff at the boarding gate we have to worry about. And that metal bag-measuring thing.”
“And they won’t let you on with that either,” the Customs lady barks, slamming my daughter’s sports bag into a tray. “What you got in there? A dead body?”
“For God’s sake go vague,” I hiss again, but my daughter’s ‘vague’ is rubbish. Her ‘ingenue drugs-mule’, on the other hand, is absolutely spot-on.
12.45pm, gate 40 — and we’re looking at Ryanair’s metal bag-measuring device. No-one is manning it, which is a godsend, for my daughter’s still doing her ingenue drugs-mule thing, and even if wishful thinking could get our bags into the metal frame, it would never, ever get them out.
1.20pm. On board flight FR901 to Cork. I can’t fit my rucksack into the overhead locker so I’m grabbing fistfuls of clothing from its front compartment and stuffing them into my canvas hold-all. I’m doing this in an empty row of seats while passengers board the plane, in such frenzied manner as to make my daughter mouth, “calm it” from four rows behind.
1.30pm. Bags sorted, buckled-up and about to take off. “We can relax now,” I pant. “You can drop the vague.”
1.35pm. There’s uproar four rows ahead. A large group of exhausted-looking stags are creating some sort of ribald ruckus. My pulse-rate has slowed, we’ve outwitted Ryanair and we’ll be home soon; I’d like to be in on the joke. I sit up and look four rows ahead. The front of the plane seems to be laughing itself to death.
1.36pm. I spot a man holding his right arm straight up above his head. He’s spinning something around his index finger very, very fast, while his fellow-stags cheer. I wonder what it is, and then my blood runs cold. I crouch down in my seat and face right, across my daughter’s seat, towards the window.
“What’s he doing?” my daughter asks, craning her neck to see.
“Sit back down,” I hiss, “and keep your voice down.”
My daughter crouches back down and faces left towards me. Our noses are nearly touching. “He’s got your knickers,” she whispers. “I think they’re the black lace ones Granny bought you for Christmas.”
“I said keep your voice down. They must have fallen out of my bag.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Go vague,” I hiss, “and if you give me away, I will kill you” and by God, my daughter gets ‘vague’ spot-on now. I’ve never seen such nonchalance. She keeps the nonchalance going right up until the man flings my knickers across the aisle to his friend, shouting “d’you catch a smell off ’em?” which is when she goes pale.
“Please tell me they’re clean?” she whimpers.
I’ve seldom felt such a thud of relief. “I washed everything yesterday,” I whimper back.
1.37pm. Take-off engine-noise drowns out the ribaldry but once we’re airborne, knicker-frisbee resumes.
“This couldn’t get any worse,” I whisper.
“It could,” my daughter whispers back.
“How, for god’s sake?” I hiss furiously.
“It could have been your Spanx,” she says.