Sorry, that title shows the influence of a WWI novel my darling fiancee gave me to pass on to a mutual friend, and which in his absence I’ve been gorging on myself.  What I mean is that I’m back from a most happy two weeks in Seraphaville (and Nulliville) and am digging in and making all necessary preparations for the Spring assault on… [digs self in ribs] er, my wedding to the Dear Creature in (what we hope will turn out to be) early May.  This long Lent of the heart will, please God, be punctuated and fructified with a long visit from the DC to the Borgo Ben’Ambrosiano in late February—and should this prove to be the case, these 8-ish weeks will be the longest we will ever need to be apart.  Ever.  Amen. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, innit.

 Anyhoo, after the bliss of my extended but all-too short stay with my affianced and her friends and family, I was not looking forward even a wee bittie to the long journey back to what is my and will be our home.  Transatlantic travel is seldom recommended as a rest-cure by even the most eccentric of physicians—add to this quotidian trauma the wrench of leaving my bride-to-be in another continent and you can perhaps imagine my state of mind upon embarkation.  I was kindly dropped off at the aerodrome by Mr and Mrs S, even although they had not long before that day picked up their youngest son from that very same same spot.  After a fond but brief valediction discouraging (rather than forbidding) mourning (Readers, I was less brave than I appeared), I made my heavy way to the check-in point. 

 I was approached during the long wait in the queue by a chillily polite representative of my chosen airline who offered me an immediate upgrade to the “lounge” class in airport and aboard ship—and for what was admittedly a perfectly paltry sum.  Alas, even this small consideration, so potentially transformative of my “travel experience” was beyond my currently cash-blocked means.  I scraped together all my readies into one disappointingly small heap, tormented by their closeness to the sum required to alchemise me from steerage dross to jet-set gold.  My tormentress (almost) imperceptibly suppressed a sneer as she passed on to the next candidate for promotion.

 Once on the plane, however, I thought I had cheated her of  victory.  With but a minute to go to the scheduled departure time, not only was the seat next to mine free, but the one next to that was also: elbow-room for me, my baggage and my expansive consciousness.  Thus it was that, as I grinned smugly to myself at the prospect of a soul-roomy journey, I found myself joined at the last possible moment by a late arrival—a Dutch-sounding, bluff and cheerful man who immediately betrayed all of his restlessly bulky stature by flinging himself about in the seat next-but-one to mine.  “There’sss supoast to be anithor guy sittin’ here but we’ll see, eh?” he jollied to me, pointing to the seat between us.  I was on  no mood for small-, medium- or large-talk and so just smiled and grunted.  The smile, forced anyway, slipped right off my face as I saw the “ithor” guy approach within a second or two.  The Dutchman slipped straight over to me and let the large new arrival sit on the aisle seat. 

I forestalled several attempts at friendly banter from my Netherlandish companion, politely but definitively.  I said so little in response to his conversational ovetures that I was quite prepared for his judgement that I was an imbecile.  It was a seven hour flight we had ahead of us, and if he had turned out to be a manic bletherer I would have had to feign sleep for almost the whole of that time.  As it was, I seemed to have succeeded in conveying my non-communicative message within ten minutes or so, since after that he seldom thereafter addressed me in a way requiring a response.  I felt, it must be said, like a bit of a heel and a grouch—but bitter experience of early conviviality in such circumstances had taught me not to encourage too much banter at the beginning.  And besides which, I knew pefectly well that my rawly lovelorn mood would scarcely sustain a civilised conversation for long.  I was on several occasions awoken from my genuine attempts at slumber by his fidgety sighings and wrigglings.

I was all the more penitent at the end of the journey then when I at last relented and entered into a bit of pre-landing chat with him.  He turned out to be a Canadian Dutch ex-pat of some thirty years’ standing, on his way to his mother’s funeral back in Holland.  He had two grown-up children, one of whom had stood just six feet away from our Sovereign Pontiff gloriously reigning at the Sydney World Youth Day and was now engaged in work in the Catholic mission field. 

My next travel-trauma was the realisation that I had vastly underestimated the length of my stopover in Amsterdam—by about five hours.  Instead of a comfortable transfer time of 120 minutes or so, I was in for a seven-and-a-bit hour stretch in the corridors of Schiphol. 


Things to do in Schiphol when you’re Dead-beat and Lovelorn 

  •  Wander around dazedly looking for somewhere you can e-mail your ferne geliebte with cash rather than a credit card (which I do not own).
  • Find some cheap, palatable grub to keep your blood-sugar level from reaching “ready-to-cry-on-the-nearest-shoulder” level.
  • Find “meditation room” to pray rosary in.  Use muslim prayer mat (suitably folded) as kneeler whilst gazing at table with flowers opposite Mecca-oriented corner.  Avoid beheading by potential mad mullah potentially outraged at such origamic sacrilege.
  • Check wilder islamophobic worries in at end of session.
  • Prowl vulture-like around quiet lounge area, waiting for napsters to vacate their reclinable couches.
  • Scowl at those keeping their couches for others long-absent, whilst chatting to neighbours.
  • “Get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eyeballs and head ever aching,” whilst avoiding falling so deeply asleep as to miss one’s flight altogether.  Listen to sporadic snoring of fellow napsters, drifting like bullfrog-song across marshy plains.
  • Stand immediately at gate when boarding call is first announced, impervious to entreaties from flight-staff to sit back down again because boarding is prologedly delayed.

 Well, it kept me occupied for seven hours anyway. 

When we finally disembarked at Embra, I had one final ordeal to undergo.  A fellow Scot loudly, grandstandingly and rather bewilderingly complained to his toping companions at the length of the passport-inspection queue: “Is this what we fought the bloody war for, eh?”  He was rather red-faced, not with shame but with booze, and couldn’t have been a day over fifty. 

 Welcome back to Scotland!  And more from me anon.