‘Isn’t this exciting?’ panted Anne as she was shown to her window seat and the steward helped her to put on her seat belt and explained what all the switches were in the bulkhead above her head.
‘Is this your first flight?’ asked the sulky-looking teenager who slid into the seat beside her.
‘Oh yes. I’m going to Boston, you know, to see my nephew and his family. I’ve never even met his wife or the children. I’m so excited’ Anne repeated, barely able to contain her emotions.
‘Yes, well, we’re all going to Boston, unless we’ve got on the wrong plane.’
‘Oh dear, aren’t I silly. Of course we are! And is this your first flight too?’
‘Not so you’d notice.’ The lower lip made an ugly pouting shape of the young girl’s pretty face.
‘Aren’t you lucky. I’d love to have travelled when I was your age, but it was wartime then and the only people who travelled were servicemen and seamen engaged in fighting the enemy or trying to bring vital food and supplies to Britain.’
‘Well, I don’t call it lucky. I have to make this rotten journey three times a year to see my Dad. His wife hates me.’
‘Do you mean your mother dear? Surely she can’t hate you.’
‘No not her. I mean Dad’s new wife. He’s got three squalling American brats, and doesn’t have time for me. But Mum has to work, so she sends me off to Dad for the holidays. She doesn’t trust me not to do drink and drugs and things if she leaves me alone in the flat.’
‘Oh my dear, I’m so sorry. It must be really hard to leave your home and friends behind if you’re so unhappy with your father’s new family.’
Tamsin thought about it. ‘Oh, I suppose it’s not all that bad, really. I’m just in a foul moody.’ There was a pause while Anne stared at the girl, who suddenly spoke again. ‘Here, have they warned you about your ears? They’ll hurt like anything if you don’t clear the pressure when we take off.’
‘I don’t think so dear. How do I do that? I’m Miss Bunting, by the way, and what’s your name? If we’re going to sit next to each other for twelve hours, we really ought to introduce ourselves properly.
‘I’m Tamsin. Tamsin Sebastian.’
‘How do you do, Tamsin’
‘Gosh, how formal! Now about those ears. I learned this when I was diving last summer and it works a treat. You hold your nose, like this,’ and Tamsin suited the action to the words. ‘And then you blow down it as hard as you can, with your mouth shut.’
‘Are you having me on?’ queried Anne.
‘No. Honest. That’s how to do it. You try now.’
Anne blew down her tightly clamped nose, and then let out a delighted giggle. ‘Do you know? I can suddenly hear better.’
‘That’s no surprise, it always happens,’ laughed Tamsin, her sulky face transformed. They were interrupted in their conversation by the demonstration of safety precautions by a stewardess.
Anne was still laughing, but stopped abruptly. ‘Where is that life jacket? I can’t see anything under the seat.’
‘There’s no need to worry. You can feel it strapped under the seat. See?’ and Tamsin guided Anne’s hand to the right place. ‘I’ve flown the Atlantic dozens of times and haven’t needed it yet.’
‘That’s all right then. Now when do we set off?’ At that, the aircraft, which had been taxiing slowly into position, suddenly became a different animal altogether. The engines roared, the brakes were off and the powerful acceleration pushed the frail old lady back against the seat. She peered out of the window, and suddenly realised that they were airborne and the complex network of roads and runways and buildings was rapidly slipping from view.
‘Don’t forget your ears’ reminded Tamsin, and Anne obeyed, her eyes still glued to the sunlit view of the network of suburban streets below. As the plane climbed steeply through a bank of clouds, to emerge into magical blueness, Anne turned to her neighbour.
‘But this is wonderful. I’d no idea. I love it.’
Anne’s enthusiasm was, as ever, infectious. The young girl beside her grinned, and started to relax. She’d been dreading this flight, and hadn’t been too pleased to find herself seated next to a wrinkly. She had planned to sleep through as much of the ten-hour flight as possible. But somehow she was enjoying herself, and before they knew it they were chattering away as if they’d always known one another.
‘Have you finished with school?’ asked Anne.
‘No, I’ve another year after this one.’
‘And then what?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t a clue. I’ll probably just get a job, as neither Mum nor Dad can afford for me to go to Uni – or at least that’s what they say – and I don’t fancy starting life with a load of debt.’
‘But that’s terrible’ protested Anne. ‘You’ll end up in a dead-end job like I did. And you’ll always regret it. You need all the education you can get and then some. And young people seem to have such fun at university. I wish I’d been able to go – I feel that youth is something I completely missed out on, with looking after my parents when they fell ill and then with having to earn a living. Vicars never earn very much, and they don’t even have their own houses to leave to their children.’
‘There you are then’ replied Tamsin. ‘We’re in the same boat.’
‘But you don’t need to be. What do you really like doing? What would be your ideal occupation, if you didn’t have to worry about the money?’
Tamsin reflected briefly. Should she confide in this nice person, or would she be laughed at? ‘What I really, really would love to do would be to be a marine biologist and conservationist. Have you ever seen what’s under the sea? It’s a fabulous world. Beautiful. Exciting. But it’s in danger from all sorts of things – pollution, climate change, mass tourism.’ The girl’s face lit up as all the passion that had for so long been pent up inside her poured out. Anne was fascinated. That glow of enthusiasm was something that shouldn’t be snuffed out by a humdrum life in a shop or an office.
‘Where would you have to go to study all that?’
‘Oh, there’s really only one place I want to go, and that’s Hawaii Ocean University. I’ve researched all the degree courses on offer and that’s the one for me. OK there’s loads of marine biology courses in England and in California, but Hawaii combines it with oceanography and conservation.’
‘My word. Well, I think we should work on your parents to change their minds. It’s such a worthwhile plan. And maybe I could help a bit too. I’ll ask my nephew Lawrence to sort it out for you, if you like.’
Tamsin looked sideways at Anne who didn’t look as though she had two ha’pence to rub together. ‘You can’t mean that. It would cost the earth.’
‘Just you try me. I can work miracles when I set my mind to it.’
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t anything like this. Anne stared open-mouthed at the view of the magnificent house that greeted her as they swept through the electronically-operated gates and up the tree-lined gravel drive. She glimpsed the bright blue of a swimming pool beside a gazebo at the edge of a sweeping lawn. The half-timbered house resembled an English Tudor mansion, with many-paned casement windows jutting from the bright white walls.
‘Lawrence, dear, this can’t be where you live. Can it?’ She had known that Lawrence and his family were comfortably off, but had envisaged something on a much smaller, humbler scale: something like one of the Solihull villas to which her old friend from work had moved when she married.
‘Now, now, Anne. Relax. This is my home and you’re going to enjoy a bit of spoiling for a change.’ Lawrence was fully aware of how his home must look to the unsophisticated Anne, but he was not about to let her be upstaged by a mere house. He was determined to see that she had a good time, with nothing to worry her or make her feel uncomfortable.
Before she had time to take in the scene before her, they had crunched to a halt by an imposing front porch, the heavy oak door opened wide and an excited Elaine was running down the steps to envelop her in a scented hug. Anne struggled for breath as Elaine was joined in a group hug by David and Jennifer. Extricating herself with difficulty, Anne said ‘careful now, I might break. Stand back and let me look at you. Your photographs don’t do you justice. David, you must be even bigger than your father! And Jennifer, how beautiful you are.’ She turned to Elaine. ‘You must be so proud of them. Jennifer is the image of you, Elaine.’
Tears of happiness threatened to overwhelm the entire family, so Lawrence interrupted, before the scene could descend into farce. ‘Come on folks. Let’s go inside. Anne must be exhausted.’
Dear Lord, Thank you for bringing me safely all this way across the Atlantic. Isn’t it wonderful to find I have such a lovely family? The welcome was overwhelming.
I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all this – this huge room and all these frills and fal-lals, that incredible bathroom just for me. They aren’t exactly what I’m used to, but they’re certainly luxurious. Compared with my lovely little home in Edgbaston this is an absolute palace. I do hope I will be able to fit in with them all and not disgrace them with their friends. Nothing I’ve ever experienced has prepared me for this.
By the way, Lord, I did enjoy sitting by that lovely girl on the aircraft. Please could you do something to make her happier. At her age she should be laughing and having fun, not worrying about how she’s going to manage in the future.
I hope you are keeping an eye on Malcolm and Patsy and Maggie. They’ve done so much for me. People have such awful problems, and thanks to my lottery win I have been so lucky to be able to help just a little. It would be good if you were to find me some more people to help.
Goodnight Lord, and thank you again for this wonderful trip. Amen.
© Vivienne Blake 2008