Excerpt from Chapter 6, London 1988

She could see signs everywhere and arrows and exits. There were members of staff stood around not doing much at all and others who looked rushed off their feet, so she wondered why they didn’t get better at sharing the workload. The first bag came around the corner and a very happy couple grabbed it finding it hilarious that they didn’t have to wait and could beat the traffic queues. Mary hoped that the smug couple’s car battery had run down like it had on her mum’s car when they were due to go to her gran’s once or that they couldn’t find their keys. Then she silently had a word with herself for being so cynical as they were probably lovely people, she was just bored of walking then waiting then walking so much.

Once they had grabbed their bags and Séan had figured out taxi numbers and prices with the very helpful lady in the tourist information centre, they headed to the rank for another waiting episode during which Mary observed maturely the goings on around her. She often did this and anybody who she openly spoke to about what she perceived would tell her that she had an old head. She never knew what they meant by this expression but nodded and continued her inspections.

The taxi driver was very nice, but he too had that funny accent the same as the man on the passport desk. The taxi was also something new and one thing about England that she had seen photographed – the black cab. She couldn’t remember where she had seen it and gathered that tourist shops in Ireland wouldn’t be promoting very English memorabilia, but she had definitely seen a picture of the famous British feature. She thought it was surreal to be witnessing the reality of these vehicles and cooler still to be travelling inside one.

Mary had always felt that the traffic was bad in Dublin but London trumped Dublin’s busiest times. For the entire journey all Mary heard was the beeping of horns from angry drivers. She found it funny to watch the anger show all over their faces and in the dramatic hand gestures which were sometimes quite rude. What all the fuss was about she didn’t know, nor could she understand why people thought that making this commotion inside your car would help the traffic move more smoothly.

Luckily the two of them were in no rush so the traffic was ok. It will be different when her dad begins work, she noted. This train of thought entering her head made her wonder what her dad was planning to do for work over in London and whether he had sold McDintons or kept it in case they decided to move back home.

All of these questions she stored away for a later date because she felt it too soon to be bombarding her dad with them. Besides, for all she knew he could be feeling quite nervous too.

She couldn’t believe how absorbed in the goings on back home she had been not to notice conversations about the pub or her dad’s work. She was used to listening in on her parent’s conversations always wanting to know absolutely everything but without her mum she figured that no conversation was interesting enough for her to care about anymore.

The chat between her dad and the taxi driver was pretty boring in Mary’s opinion which was why her mind was focussed on other topics. She hadn’t been in many taxis in her lifetime because mostly they spent their free time in the city; if they had gone away it would have been with an auntie or her parents, so they would have taken the car. She did remember in the few taxi rides she’d had there were similarly dull discussions during them though. It was full of what she understood as being small talk. She’d never wanted to travel far if she was with her mother because she worried it would get awkward as her mum often ran out of things to say. Séan on the other hand never had this problem and was the king of this small talk which he was demonstrating in the current situation.

As they got closer to their destination which was unknown to Mary, the houses became larger and less cramped together. The tacky looking newsagents which were cropping up every other building before had vanished and the dirty streets had become much cleaner. Some of the fronts of the buildings looked more like palaces than people’s homes and Mary wondered which one the queen lived in. Perhaps it was one of those. Perhaps they were to be staying with a member of the royal family. She swiftly stopped those thoughts knowing with certainty that the Queen lived at Buckingham Palace and hoped that her dad would take her there quite soon.

Even though it had been drilled into her from a young age that she had Irish blood and the English were very much a separate entity, one thing she had always loved about England from the little that she knew was the royal family. She had watched Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding on her auntie’s television during the summer holidays. She sat there for the whole day being fed ice cream and fruit but not moving her eyes from the box. Her aunt was having a party which most certainly was not in aid of the wedding, but Mary removed herself from this and was utterly absorbed by Dianna’s beauty and the sheer Britishness of it all. She realised that this was going against all morals that her parents had taught her but, in that moment, she didn’t care at all.

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