Driven to distraction…

When I was a child it was necessary for me to do things accompanied by an adult – learning to swim, riding a bicycle, reading, writing and so on. Now I am a (pretty senior) adult I find myself begging to be accompanied by a child, my grandchild to be precise. Things of a technological nature are becoming increasingly mysterious and confusing. Just when I think I have a thing cracked, it changes and my confidence and capability are crushed. For instance:

Arranging to pick up two friends from the City Airport who were visiting from South Africa, I was looking forward to showing them a fun, interesting and welcoming Northern Ireland. My son, who knows about collecting people from airports, advised me to park at a nearby supermarket asking my visitors to phone me when they had landed. Airport parking fees are exorbitant and should there be a delay in a flight, this is a way of avoiding extra cost.

My first problem was negotiating the complex junction leading to the said supermarket which, when approached from the south side of Belfast, is high up a hill to the right. “Approach any road junction or crossroads slowly and carefully” I heard my father say from about sixty years ago, which I did. This occasioned angry tooting, one raised fist, various fingers (also raised) and an ugly screeching of someone’s tyres that might have been mine. I am afraid I eventually closed my eyes and went for it, ending up parked and shaking somewhat, sure that angry drivers were going to seek me out and be extremely nasty.

I then recalled my friend, Brenda, who, when she was required to drive into Belfast or any other strange place, always did a timed ‘Dummy Run’. I am ashamed to say I thought this extremely amusing at the time. Now I was filled with remorse for having scoffed and wished I had not only done the ‘Dummy Run’ but had Googled the road map for more explicit directions.

It was somewhat exonerating when my visitors texted me to say a lack of baggage handlers in Edinburgh had caused a two hour delay and then, I think, I probably had a nap.

A text message from my friends woke me to say they had landed and I had to face that junction again. I phoned my son to ask which lane I should get into when leaving the supermarket and heading for the airport. I am glad he told me because I think I would have taken the wrong one and ended up in Bangor.

On arrival at the entrance for the City Airport from the dual carriageway, the lights were red. Huge excavation machines were moving about, heaving stuff, blocking the entry and the lights were obviously going to stay red while these machines did their business. At one stage there was quite a gap where one could have driven through to the airport but the lights did not go green. The car behind me gave a blast on its horn. I could see the gap but the machines were turning and moving and I wasn’t going to ‘go’ on a ‘red’. I was not going to be moved! I could feel the anger behind me but a red light is a red light. I must have dozed off again because a frantic tooting made me realise the lights were now green and I had an extremely angry person in the car behind me. Before I reached the picking up place which is also the car park, I had to stop at a barrier. It used to be that one pressed a button and a little card came out to be used at the exit but all I could see was a compilation of screens, slots, flashing and non flashing lights, more slots and screens – a man-sized construction of unbelievable invention. I felt like saying ‘take me to your leader’.

At this stage I realised my friends, who had reached the pickup place, had recognised me and were hopping up and down waving enthusiastically. I got out of the car and approached the machine for a more comprehensive study as the driver behind me got out of his in a somewhat threatening manner, gesturing and yelling something like, ‘Hit it with your card!’ I indicated I was confused and scrabbled about in my handbag for my card (I only have one and hoped it was the right one) and waved it about in a frantic fashion at the machine. I must have done something right because the barrier lifted, I dived into my car and was able to let the man behind me get to whatever he was wanting to get to – hoping it wasn’t to annihilate me.

By the time I reached my friends they were killing themselves with laughter. Well, I wanted them to have fun – didn’t I? Of course when it came to getting out of the car park… The same performance again but the waving of my only card didn’t work. Bobbie, my visiting friend, tried with her South African card and that didn’t make one bit of difference to the barrier. David, her partner, sat and cackled in the back of the car.

I was getting desperate, visualising a night of encapsulation in this somewhat souless place (and I had a stew waiting for us at home) when a knight in shining armour wandered by. ‘Excuse me – could you help?’ Suffice it to say two helpless damsels were rescued by a gallant swipe of his card.

It was only when I came home and had time to think, I realised I should have looked for and extracted an exit card at that entrance machine, there must have been one, somewhere. One thing is certain, if I had been accompanied by my grandson, this would have just been a silly story.

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