On the way over in the plane, I was sitting in the window seat 1A, and in aisle seat 1C was a darling old fellow who said he was 87 but I think he might have been fibbing or possibly just mistaken. He looked in his late nineties, and I was surprised he was travelling alone. He probably thought the same about me.
He was having hell's own trouble doing up his seat belt while everyone else was boarding, so I got up and helped him. 'You've made my day,' he said in a thick Irish accent, a direct into-your-eyes smile in his beautiful watery blue eyes.
His name was Tom. He chatted all the way to Cork, me with my neck turned to him until I thought I'd never be able to straighten it again. I only understood half of what he said. But each time I turned back to the front, he'd start chatting again - about how since he was a boy, he's loved opera. Those voices! How once as a small boy, he saved up, through all sorts of means and his parents made up the difference, 17/6d (seventeen shillings and sixpence - a king's ransom!) for a ticket. He loves Chopin particularly.
'Mind you,' he confided, 'I love Abba too. Those two girls can really sing.' And then he told me his favourite piece of music: Sicilian Wagoners, by Gibilaro. I'm listening to it as I write now.
It's about an old Sicilian urging his donkey home.... "c'mon little one, not far now....' brings tears to my eyes! So appropriate.
By the way this is Ireland in drought.
When the plane came to a standstill, the hostie gave Tom his brown paper bag of possessions. We were standing at the head of the aisle with the crowd behind us ready to surge out.
He chose that moment to put out his hand to me. 'It's been such a privilege to sit next to you,' he said slowly. Pause. 'I've really enjoyed our conversation, and I hope you love Ireland. Now don't forget to.....'
The aircraft door had opened. The hostesses were standing ready to say goodbye. Not one person moved or jostled. They stood quietly behind us while he made his little speech.
I'd like to think that would happen in Australia - or would someone say 'Oh for god's sake do that in the terminal!'
It may not always be the case here either, because I'm sure Irish people are on just as short a fuse as anywhere else....
Proper post next time, until then buddies,