A live concertina and harp duo launches merrily into diddly-eye in Shannon airport, to cast a magical spell of Celtic charm over the departing tourists. Sallow middle-aged men in IRELAND t-shirts glance over their shoulders, impassive. They turn back to the bar, where they're sinking a last pint of Guinness before departure. It is 9am.
There is a little cardiganed woman with a slightly flattened grey perm sitting next to me, reading a prayer book. It has a gold embossed chalice on the front. She's holding the book in two hands, thumbs at the seams. Her lips are moving as she reads. A perfect image of Catholic Ireland.
A bit too perfect. I suspect she might be a tourist board plant.
The diddly-eyers have handed over to a fiddle, flute and piano. The pianist is oom-pahing energetically as the soloists skitter unsteadily through a set of reels. Bar lengths are being squeezed like accordions, beats skipped. Some fairly idiosyncratic harmonisations are emerging in the melée. He bashes out a panicked sequence of descending major triads, in an unrepentant cascade of parallel fifths. He probably thinks nobody noticed.
'Would passenger, eh, Mindy, Sha-ra-pi-ro’ - slight pause, ruffled papers, was that right PJ? Jaysus, what kind of a name is that at all? - 'please return to passenger screening.'
Why is it that American tourists are so instantly recognisable? Especially considering their ethnic diversity. Their sallow skin, maybe. Something about their posture. The moustaches and neck chains. The headwear; Irish people don't tend to wear hats. There are baseball hats, and even wide-brimmed wax hats on display here. The sensible shoes. The high-waisted jeans. The baggy shorts, the LL Bean rucksacks.
I suppose it's not so surprising after all.
'Passenger Sharapiro to passenger screening, please.' No hesitation this time. In a booth somewhere, PJ shakes his head in silent admiration. Sure we're after getting fierce cosmopolitan altogether here in Shannon.
I feel an odd desire to try to make sure the tourists enjoyed their holiday. Tug my forelock. Give them all a hug. Did you have a nice time, did you? and were they nice to you now? And did you get any souvenirs? Here, have one of my shoes.
A nun is waiting to board, four-square, indomitable. She has a sensible hold-all and a battered black handbag. Socks pulled up halfway up her nylon-sheathed calves. A cylindrical skirt. She stares resolutely into the distance, half-moon glasses hanging lopsidedly from a lanyard around her neck. The obligatory pair of standard-issue nun Eccos.
They must come as part of the uniform, like in the army. They probably make them clean them with toothbrushes, line up for inspection in the morning. The chief nun runs a gloved finger over the proffered runners, holds it up to the light. A pregnant pause. You call that clean? Ten decades of the rosary and five Hail Marys. On your knuckles.
Impossible to tell if she's Irish or American. Hard to tell with nuns anyway. An inscrutable bunch.
I always think it will be a safe flight when there's a nun on board. I will affix myself to her like a limpet if things get rough. I'll wrap my arms around her waist, eschewing the flotation device, burbling half-remembered prayers. Pray, sister, for Jaysus' sake!