Travel. We all have to do it on a regular basis. Most of us do it without even batting an eyelid. Most of us.
Not my mother.
I don't deny that it can be stressful at times. But it's never as stressful as when I do it with my 5 foot nothing mum. She brings the worst out of me.
Just yesterday we flew from Brindisi to Birmingham. A direct flight for this route does not exist. So we had to get creative.
After an hour of research we found that our best (admittedly extortionately expensive) bet was to fly Brindisi-Rome with Alitalia, and then Rome-Birmingham with Monarch (I'd never heard of them either; my mum suggested it all gooey-eyed because it's the company she used to fly with to visit my dad).
We scheduled in a two and a half hour stopover to give us plenty of time, and set off on our journey, carefree and light, the picture of confident travellers, suitcases rattling jauntily behind us.
Sidenote: my teeny mum likes to avoid stress of any kind when flying, so arrives at least two hours before any flight.
'I always say it's better to be waiting at the airport than at home!' she'll say. (I think it's better not to be waiting anywhere, but what do I know?)
So for this 8am flight, we left at 6.15.
I'm not complaining. She could be a lot worse. My friend, M.H.'s dad lies to his family of seven about what time their flights are so as to stay on top of things, and none of the children (all 18 and over) are allowed to carry their own passports (but neither is M.H.'s mum come to think of it...) 'just in case.'
So, at 23 years of age, I'm just happy to be entrusted with my own travel documents.
Picture us yesterday morning... We're swimming in time to spare, there's no queue to check in because it's such a small airport, we're talking about all the duty free shopping we'll be able to cram into those two hours that we have in Rome airport. This is the life! What larks! The holiday continues! If things were any better it'd be illegal!
Get to the desk.
'Scusa, ma c'e un'ora e mezzo di ritardo.'
For all you pesky non-Italian speakers (what are you thinking? Buy a Rosetta Stone!) that translates to... my mum having a breakdown.
That simple delay meant that all our plans were scuppered. Forget duty free, we'd be lucky to even get on our second plane. It meant that we had 40 minutes to get off the first plane, collect our case from baggage reclaim, find the desk for our second flight and check in, go through security again, and all in flip flops. And Roma Fiumicino airport is so big.
It didn't help that my aunty (my mum's equally panicky sister) had driven us to the airport, and so was essentially our support network at that crucial moment. Not only did she not help, but when she heard the news she had to sit down and take deep breaths.
'I'm not leaving you here,' she said as I rubbed her back.
'Yes you are,' my mum said.
'Come home with me,' my aunty said.
'No,' I said.
'We have to at least try!' shouted my mum (cool and collected as ever.)
We went back to the desk quite a few times during our wait for the first plane. In fact, I'm not ashamed to admit it, I'd go as far as saying that we harassed the staff. Not me. I'm British. I don't like to kick up a fuss. But my mum? A different story altogether.
She tried sob stories - 'we paid a fortune for our second flight, where am I going to get the money to pay for another one?'
She tried gentle persuasion - 'can't you just squeeze us onto an earlier flight?'
She gave them tips on how to do their jobs - 'MAYBE IF YOU WERE MORE HELPFUL, YOU'D ENJOY YOUR JOB MORE!'
She tried to humiliate them into helping us - 'you fly with Alitalia in good faith, thinking you'll be looked after...'
She suggested alternative solutions - 'why don't you just get our suitcase back out of there and we can have it onboard with us to save time later?'
And when all else failed, she just glared at them from afar.
My mum's coping mechanism was scarily similar to the five stages of loss and grief.
1. Denial and isolation
When she was told of the delay her face drained of all colour and she said, 'not our flight?', then, 'an hour and a half, are you sure?', then, 'no. Check again!' She then went back and forth from the departures board regularly to double check, each time more surprised than the last, shaking her head in bitter disbelief. When I tried to talk her off the bridge, she asked to be left alone to digest the information.
She started off by asking the staff very sweetly if there was anything that could be done. When they politely said no, (being as the second flight wasn't even with their company) she politely told them that it's no surprise their company's going bust, and were they being so rude because they couldn't be certain they were going to get to keep their jobs?
After she'd calmed down somewhat and had been talked into sitting down, she started with the irrational 'what if's.
'If only we'd gotten here 10 minutes earlier they would've put us on the earlier flight...' (the earlier flight was at 5am.)
'If we had only brought hand luggage, we'd be fine.' (We'd been in Italy for a fortnight. I don't think you can even fit 14 pairs of pants into hand luggage.)
We even weighed up the pros and cons of just abandoning the suitcase in Rome to save time - 'maybe they'd send it back to us...?' (neither of us were convinced of that one, plus there was no address on it anyway), 'what was even in there that you'd miss?' (loads of things), 'do you think we could re-buy everything that was in there for less money than it'd cost to buy two more flights home?' (no.)
At which point she just melodramatically slumped in her chair, refusing even coffee ('I couldn't possibly eat a thing; my stomach's completely closed up.')
And then all of a sudden, she was smiling again.
'Oh well! If we miss it, we miss it! It's only money! We'll make a holiday of it! I still know people there! Three nights in Rome it is! (Not sure why it had to be that long, but that part was non negotiable.) It's not like you've got a job to go back to! (Thanks mum.)'
Once on the plane, everyone had calmed down. Apart from the fact that my mum had found a particularly docile stewardess to bother all flight. She cornered her as soon as we got onto the plane, asking her numerous questions while the other passengers filed on, getting in everyone's way and causing the stewardess to get flustered and forget to check half the people's tickets (safe.)
Each time the stewardess walked past my mum had a new question that the poor girl couldn't possibly know the answer to.
As the stewardess brought drinks through, my mum shouted, 'do you think we'll make it?'
As the stewardess collected the rubbish, my mum shouted, 'what are the chances of us making it?'
As the stewardess handed out in flight magazines, my mum shouted, 'what are your tips for making it?'
The flight was only an hour long, and before the 'fasten your seatbelts' sign was even off we'd grabbed our hand luggage and were standing by the door.
I ran, oblivious of anything else. I pushed a man with a cane out the way. My mum ran her trolley wheels over an infant's feet.
As I ran for my life, I noticed my minuscule mum lagging behind. I lost 3 seconds turning to look for her. She wasn't running right.
'I need a wee!' she said.
'YOU CAN'T HAVE ONE!' I shouted.
'I'm going to do it now.'
'YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO!'
'I'm really going to do it!'
'Fine!!!' I growled.
So we lost 2 minutes for a toilet break.
As my mum emerged from the Ladies' I threw her bag at her and carried on running. No more stopping.
An unhelpful fellow passenger shouted after us, 'I heard your connecting flight is at half 11?' (Of course he heard that, the whole plane heard that...)
'Good luck!' someone else shouted.
'Remember to breathe!' shouted another person.
At baggage reclaim there was no baggage. Obviously. We'd outrun the baggage.
The fellow passenger from before joined us as we paced the hall.
'God, it's so bad about the delay, isn't it?' he said.
'Mmhmm,' I said.
'I mean, I don't have a flight to catch, but, you know, you make your plans, don't you?'
Thanks for that.
After approximately one minute's wait, my mum lost all patience.
'WHERE ARE THE BAGS FROM BRINDISI?!' she screamed at nobody in particular, looking around accusingly.
Thankfully they came within 10 minutes. I grabbed ours and ran. The wrong way.
Once again, my mum resorted to shouting, 'HOW DO WE GET OUT?!', directed at absolutely anyone who might know. A terrified cleaner pointed us in the opposite direction to the one in which we were throwing ourselves.
My mum followed me.
We ended up turning on each other.
'Are you sure this is the way to departures?!' my mum asked me, panic-stricken.
'YES, OBVIOUSLY!!' I screamed back (even though I wasn't sure at all, and had only seen signs for 'arrivals' for the last 500 metres.)
We found the check in desk with mum's usual method - 'WHERE'S DESK 234?!'
Unsurprisingly it was last call and there was nobody else in sight.
When we saw the enormous queue for security I could've sworn I saw my mum swallow a sob.
'It says Terminal 3, 5 minutes!!!!' she wailed, despairingly.
A member of staff took pity on us; she hustled us to the front and winked.
'Just this once!' she said.
My mum almost leant in to kiss her.
As we waited for our stuff to come out the other side of the machine, mum was hopping from foot to foot. She shoved a woman's bag out the way to get to hers, and the woman in question started to say, 'ma che cazzo...', but we were running off before she had a chance to say any more.
As we neared H3, I almost turned religious.
'Please, please, please, please...' I chanted in my head, as I ran.
As we skidded round the last corner, we found a long line of people by H3, all patiently waiting to board.
Swimming in sweat, but amazed by our good fortune, we high fived, hugged, and called everyone who would care to tell them that we'd made it. (Even though most of them didn't even know that we'd feared we wouldn't, and J.G. wasn't even awake yet.)
Then we waited 45 minutes to board.