The further adventures of Stan -12
I called a taxi to pick us up at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. Everything went smoothly at the
airport, but each new thing, which is so familiar to me know, having flown so often over the years, was a thrill to Stan. He was nervous when he presented his passport, worrying that even now, somehow, his misdemeanors of the past would come back to bite him. But everything went through without a hitch. I had suggested he bring a photocopy of his passport and his birth certificate with him, just in case.
“In case of what?” he asked.
“In case you lose your passport or it gets stolen,”
“Surely that is unlikely,”
“It does happen.”
“Did it happen ever to you?”
“No, but I have been thoroughly grilled when I once forgot to take my old American passport back to England with me when I returned from the States. They said I had no proof of right to live here, and it turned out the proof was in the old passport. The rules had changed in the meantime, and I hadn't bothered to check about them.”
“And did they let you in, in the end?”
“It took a bit of crying and begging, but yes, they did. But after that, I applied for British citizenship. Somehow it made the whole travelling thing so much easier after that.”
We had only brought carry on luggage each, to make the whole trip easier, so we made our way through check in and then the security measures, without any problems what so ever. Having known all the pitfalls from previous flights, I made sure Stan had his shaving materials and deodorant in a plastic bag separate from the rest of the case.
“Do they think I'm going to take over the plane with my poison deodorant?”
“Makes you wonder, doesn't it – how they can consider these lipsticks and tooth paste tubes as dangerous.”
Being his first time at Manchester airport, Stan didn't want to just sit still and wait for our flight. He wanted to see everything there was to see. First off, I went with him, pointing out things – but then it just seemed easier for me to sit down and read my book and let him get on with it. He went off on his tour but came back to where I was sitting every ten minutes or so, just to reassure me that he hadn't got lost.
Finally our flight was called and the gate posted, so we took the electric walkway down to the right place. After again more sitting and waiting, our seats on the plane were specified, and we got up to have our tickets scanned and our passports checked one final time.
The flight is quite a long one. It was now 9 a.m., and we were due to land at 2 pm. Croatian time – but there was an hour's time difference, with them being ahead of us.
The flight was full, so by the time we got to our seats, it turned out that the third seat in our grouping on the plane had already been filled, by a large man.
“I'll sit in the middle, shall I?” I said generously, as I far prefer being on the aisle.
“But I won't be able to see much out of the window then,” he said.
“Once we're up in the clouds there isn't much to see anyway,” I said.
“Oh, but I want to see us take off and fly over Manchester so I can see if I can spot Marple and Hyde.”
“Sounds to me like this is your time on an iron monster, young man,” said the gentleman, who was bald except for a fringe of curly white hair around the edges. “I would be pleased to have you take my seat at the window.”
“Do you really mean it? You really don't mind swapping?”
“Not at all. I like being on the aisle as well, and I have been on more flights that you have had hot dinners, I expect.”
“It is very kind of you,” I said, after Stan had crawled over to the window seat, and I had settled myself in the centre one.
“My pleasure,” he said.
“I can't quite place your accent,” I said, rather boldly for me, but he intrigued me.
“I'm from Georgia, USA,” he said.
“Surely not,” I said, “At least not originally.”
“What gave me away?” he asked with a laugh.
“To be honest, everything gives you away. So are you going to tell us where you are really from, or do we have to guess?”
“I moved to Georgia when I retired, a few years ago now, Before that we lived in Texas. I recently lost my wife,” he added.
“I'm so sorry to hear that,” I said.
“Thank you, but it was expected, and I am starting to get used to living alone again now.”
“But you aren't from Texas originally either.”
“Fair cop,” he said, and his choice of words sounded so odd, as if he was speaking a foreign language.
“So did you come to Britain from Georgia or have you been in lots of other European countries? You obviously are now going to Croatia, as we are.”
Stan had been half listening to our conversation but also was busy looking through all the documents in the seat pocket in front. He had fastened his seat belt, and looked anxious to leave.
“How much longer?” he asked me.
“They have to get clearance from the control tower, and then taxi to the place for the takeoff, and even then, we sometimes have to wait 10 minutes or so before we actually takeoff. Relax. This is Stan's first trip abroad too,” I explained to the man. “Sorry we should have introduced ourselves. My name's Liz.”
“And I'm Sven,” he said.
“You're Scandinavian,” I accused him, as if he had been trying to pull a fast one over on us. “ You wouldn't have been Christened with a name like that in Texas.”
“Swedish, if you must know. But I thought my English accent was pretty good.”
“You pronounced iron – as if is spelled – I-ron – and Americans and the British would have said, I -yearn.”
“I've lived in the States for the last 50 years, and nobody ever told me that before.”
“Surely you must have heard other people say the word and realised it was different.”
“I thought they were wrong. Americans often pronounce things incorrectly. I learned my English in Sweden, but we were all bi-lingual, and felt quite pleased with how often we did get away with pretending to be English. American was more of a problem, but after all those years of first going to University and then teaching in one, I really thought I had it down to a tee.”
We had to stop our little chat because Stan was wanting to watch and listen to the video of the cabin crew member who was explaining about the oxygen masks and using the jackets under our seats for floatation. He took in every word, and wanted to get out his life jacket to see how it worked at close quarters.
“No Stan,” I said. “You can worry about that when it happens.”
“You weren't even paying any attention,” he accused us both.
“I've heard it all so many times, although occasionally airline do something different to make people pay attention – like dressing up their actors as animals or using children to take the parts.”
Our plane had finished its taxiing, and was just waiting for the control tower to give them permission to take off. Stan was absolutely transfixed.”
“Are you nervous?” I asked him.
“Yes, sort of, because they say you are most likely to crash during takeoff, but mostly I am just so excited to be doing this.”
The plane started moving, and increased its speed quite quickly, and suddenly we were off the ground.
“We're up,” Stan said, somehow marvelling at the mechanics of the whole procedure. The plane climbed sharply and then banked to the right, turning to go across the city.
“Look at the motorway, Stan,” I said. I expect that's the M6. But we probably will be flying in a sort of southeast direction, so I doubt if you will be able to see Marple. But those hills in the distance are the Pennines, so you get a rough idea of where it is from that.”
“I love this,” he said. “And look at those little puffy clouds. You get such a different view of them from here. And the plane isn't bouncy at all like I expected it would be.”
“We have three and a half hours to go,” I said. “You will be lucky if we go through the whole flight without any turbulence. If it's raining hard or very windy, you will probably know it.”
The plane continued to rise steeply but before long we were at cruising altitude, and the sign for keeping your seat belts on flashed, to show that you could take them off. The cabin crew started down the aisles to do their various duties. Stan was watching the patchwork of fields below, and
commenting on the various cloud formations – each one more spectacular than the one before, according to him.
Giving my attention back to Sven again, I said, “You do speak proper English and your accent is very good. I shouldn't have said that everything gave it away. But surely you must know that you don't sound like an American.”
“I thought I could fool you,” he said.
“Did I fool you?” I asked in return.
“What do you mean?”
“I'm an American.”
“You're not,” he said. “You sound so British.”
“She does not,” interjected Stan. “She may not sound like an American to you, but she certainly doesn't sound English to me, ” and I'm English so I should know.
“So why do you live in England then?” Sven asked.
“I married an Englishman, who didn't take to the idea of living in the States,” I explained
“He's dead too, “ put in Stan, which annoyed me no end, but I laughed to lighten the moment. Nothing like having Stan trying to set us up on a date.
“You still didn't tell us where you've been on this trip,” I said.
“I came back to Sweden this summer to see my brothers and my old home. My parents are long dead, and my wife was an American. Our children all live in the States, and I see them quite often. But the summers in the South can be a bit on the hot side, so I thought it was a good time to take a
sentimental journey back to the old country. And I thought I would finish off my stay with a visit to Croatia. I spent time in Yugoslavia when I was a teenager, and found Dubrovnik a delight. So again, it is a chance to visit the places of my memories, and perhaps to make new ones. Once my week there is up, I will have a weekend in Manchester, and then fly back to Atlanta.”
“If you've been to Dubrovnik before,” put in Stan, “you can recommend places for us to see.”
“Where are you staying?” Sven asked.
“At the Torkovik Apartments in Mlini,” said Stan. “Apparently it's about five miles from the city.”
“I'm staying at a hotel right in the middle of Dubrovnik – the Pucic Palace. I'm not worried about going to the seaside or getting a tan. I want to see the wall and the old Roman bits, and the museums.”
“Are you meeting up with anybody?” asked Stan.
“No, I'm all on my own. But that doesn't worry me. I make friends easily.”
“Maybe we could go on the wall with you. It's one of the things we planned to do, and if you have been there before, you will be able to guide us and tell us all the interesting bits.”
“It's been over 55 years since I was there, so I expect it has changed quite a bit. But I would love your company on the walk – and I will take you out for a meal afterward. How about that?”
“Wonderful,” said Stan, not even thinking of consulting me, “and you can come to visit us in our little village, because there are lots of Roman ruins in the neighborhood, and I expect you won't have seen them before.”
“It's a deal,” said Sven, and reached across me to shake Stan's hand. “Although you have to agree too,” he said suddenly realising that I hadn't been invited or done any inviting.
“Sounds lovely,” I agreed, so he and I shook hands as well, to seal the deal.