Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A reluctant high flyer
recalls bowler hats
and leafy suburbs

Waiting for the flight to Stansted at Dublin Airport this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am on my way back to Stansted Airport after a working day in London. I no longer stay over on working visits like this, thanks to the efficiency of Ryanair, and the need to be more efficient in my own time management.

This is going to be my seventeenth flight in six months, and I need to be back in Dublin tonight so I can travel to Armagh tomorrow for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, which is meeting for three days until next Saturday.

Ryanair, for all its efficiency, has taken the glamour out of air travel. But thanks to Ryanair, I can now get from Knocklyon in south Dublin to a meeting in London or to the doorstep in Lichfield in far quicker time than it takes me to get by public transport from the same house in Knocklyon to the Rectory in Askeaton.

Members of my family have good reason to be thankful to Ryanair not only for its efficiency but for their helpfulness and courtesy of its staff. And Ryanair’s pricing has opened up Europe to everyone in Ireland and Britain, which was not possible when the air routes were monopolised by the big names in the 1960s and 1970s.

I remember how, as a child in the 1950s and 1960s, a day trip to the airport seemed like a glamorous and exciting occasion. But I could never imagine myself as a ‘high flyer’ or one of the ‘jet set.’

These are phrases we used in the 1960s and 1970s, but they have been redundant for a long time. I was thinking during absent-minded moments today of other phrases from the past that have been consigned to the recesses of my memories.

The Jet Set: This concept from the 1960s and the 1970s has faded from popular use as Ryanair has made air travel accessible to all. Indeed, all planes on Ryanair routes are what we used to call ‘jets’ and the equivalent of the ‘jet set’ today may be the people who can afford to travel in or even own their own private planes.

High flyers: Most people can afford a package holiday in the sunshine. The truly expensive holidays are enjoyed by the ‘staycationers’ who stay at home in expensive hotels in the west, whether that’s West Cork or Devon and Cornwall. The television comedy series Benidorm explains precisely why all-inclusive hotels in the Mediterranean are no longer attractive.

There were no bowler to be seen in the sunshine in the City this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Bowler Hat Brigade: One of my stereotypical but slightly comic images surviving from the 1960s and 1970s is of tube carriages on the London Underground crowded with men in bowler hats and pin-striped suits, carrying The Times, neatly-rolled brollies, and polished briefcases. They must have been bankers, stock brokers, estate agents, accountants or surveyors. All in serried ranks, with clipped moustaches and old school ties. I haven’t seen one brolly or one bowler hat on the Underground or in the City today – indeed, the last bowler hats I saw must have been in Monty Python comic sketches or in a news reports of Orange Order marches. There must be some association with the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Leafy suburbs: Flying over Dublin and East Anglia this morning, I realised how we live in a ‘green and pleasant land,’ whether it is Ireland or England. The vast amount of green space in the Greater Dublin and Greater London areas is still a pleasant sight to behold. There are leafy suburbs in Tallaght and in Essex, and there are leafy streets in the inner city in both Dublin and London.

Millionaires: Those houses in the leafy suburbs, in many cases, are worth anything between 400,000 and 1 million (place a € or £ sign in front of the appropriate figure, Brexit makes no difference to these numbers). We have uncountable numbers of millionaires on these islands today. Sadly, for most of them, these are fixed assets rather than liquid assets, and to realise their worth most people would have to make themselves and their stay-at-home adult children homeless.

Working mothers: The now-forgotten phrase shows how women were usually forced to leave the workplace when they married in the 1960s, 1970s, and sometimes even later. Now the people who are being forced to leave work inequitably are the ‘Windrush Generation’ – or EU citizens living and working in Britain who are thinking about leaving because they feel insecure with Brexit and fear for their future.

Works like clockwork: Public transport in Britain is unimaginably efficient compared with public transport in Ireland. Despite frequent complains by my English friends about ‘leaves on the line,’ you would realise how little you had to complain about if you realised there is no direct train between Dublin and Limerick, the first and third cities of Ireland, and if you had to change trains frequently at Limerick Junction, which is not in Co Limerick but in Co Tipperary, which is near no known town, where there are no facilities, where inevitably you have to wait in the rain surrounded by smokers. I was going to say public transport in England ‘works like clockwork’ – but no-one knows how a clock works anymore, and we all check our phones to what time it is, in digital formatting without hour hands, minute hands, and second hands. Indeed, ‘second hand’ has a different meaning these days.

It’s not rocket science: Those mobile phones and wrist watches owe everything to rocket science. Retired astronauts seem to turn up at every second school science fair. I too can reach for the stars. I know the benefits of rocket science … even if I still do not understand it. It all reminds me how was ‘prepping’ for a radio debate a few years ago on the connection between the nuclear arms race and the nuclear industry. The presenter of the show wanted to tell me I was making a very technical argument, but instead told me I was being theological. I reminded him that I am a theologian … of course, Thomas Aquinas regarded theology as the queen of the sciences, probably just future planning to annoy Richard Dawkins and others who think science contradicts religion.

To these I could add a number of oxymorons that have become redundant.

I used to joke about both ‘British cuisine’ and ‘Irish cuisine.’ But eating out in both countries has become a true delight in the past decade too. The Guardian reported yesterday that Ireland is among eight countries in Europe, alongside Spain and Greece, promoting the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Not that that’s the sort of food they seem to eat in Benidorm.

Travelling through Essex this morning … the trains run like clockwork, and England remains ‘a green and pleasant land (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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