“Public transport wasn’t intended for People Like Us. It’s for the poor”
‘ Public transport wasn’t intended for People Like Us. It’s for the poor and the fallen’
So I call to see the old dear – yeah, no, too nice for my own good, that’s me – and I end up hearing her before I see her. Which isn’t unusual, given that it’s 11 o’clock in the morning, the time when her fifth mint julep of the day is generally storting to kick in. In fact, I can hear her as I’m putting my key in the front door. She’s going, “I want to know how something like this could have happened?” her voice all loud and screechy like one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons. At first, I presume that Marija must have, I don’t know, spilled bleach on the armoire and that the old dear is about to reenter the morket for a new cleaner. But it ends up not being that?
She’s actually on the phone, giving out yords, going, “Don’t place me on hold again! Do not place me on hold again!” except they end up doing it anyway. Which is when I happen to walk into the kitchen?
“What happened?” I go. “Have the makers of Jim Beam storted putting child- proof lids on their bottles?” I can be very funny sometimes. “Worse,” she goes. “Look at that… thing on the table.”
So I do. There’s, like, an envelope, which has been torn open, then next to it some kind of letter, which I couldn’t be orsed reading, then next to that – I actually laugh when I see it? – a Free Travel Pass in the name of Fionnuala O’Carroll- Kelly.
“It’s not funny,” the old dear goes. “Why would they send me such a thing?”
I’m there, “Presumably because you’re an old age pensioner.”
“An old age pensioner? You’re being ridiculous, Ross!” “Er, you’re 70 next month?” “Seventy? What ever gave you that idea?” I pick it up and I study it closely. I’m like, “Date of birth – the 29th of September 1947. I’m no Maths whizz – NGs right the way through school – but it sounds to me like you’re in that kind of ballpork.”
“I’m not in the humour for any of your unpleasantness, Ross. This has all come as a nasty-. Hello? Yes, hello, please do not put me on hold again. If I have to listen to Greensleeves one more time, I shall lose my reason. This is Fionnuala O’CarrollKelly, the author and humanitarian, and I wish to know why I’ve been sent a – what does it say on it, Ross – Free Travel Pass?” I laugh. I’m there, “I love this photograph of you, by the way. We actually have a copy of it on our mantelpiece – to keep the kids away from the stove heater.”
She goes, “What do you mean I’m entitled to it? I’m 59!”
I shout, “Don’t listen to her – the woman’s as old as the Bible! I think she might even be in it!”
She’s there, “It must be some kind of clerical error. You really should do something about your records – this whole episode has been deeply, deeply embarrassing for me and my family… I beg your pardon? No, don’t you dare put me on hold again! Don’t you-.” She gets put on hold again. I’m there, “Why don’t you just keep it anyway?”
She goes, “Keep it? Why on Earth would I keep it? I’m proud to say that I have never set foot on one of those public omnibuses. Or is it omnibi?”
“I think they’re just called buses these days. And – yeah, no – maybe you should stort using them. You’re the most terrible driver I’ve ever seen. And you’re getting worse as you’re getting older and your eyesight is failing.”
“Public transport wasn’t intended for People Like Us. It’s for the poor and the fallen. And anyway that’s not the reason I’m upset. It’s this age business.” “What, your true age being exposed?” “How many times do I have to tell you, I’m 59, Ross.”
“Just because you’ve been drunk for the last decade, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In a way, this kind of serves you right, doesn’t it?” “I beg your pordon?” “I’m just saying, you actually laughed a couple of weeks ago when Sorcha told you that I had to have a hip replacement operation.”
“Well, it’s just that I always associate hip replacements with the elderly and the infirm.”
“You laughed in my actual face.” “Well, may I remind you, Ross, that you did something very similar when I came home from America at Christmas. You accused me of having my breasts enlarged.” “You did have your breasts enlarged. Jesus, look at them – you look like a monster truck from the waist up.” “You’re fixated with my breasts – and it wouldn’t take a psychiatrist long to figure out why… Hello? No, I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to my son. What have you managed to find out?” I whip out my phone and I take a photograph of her Free Travel Pass, which I’ll stick up on Instagram later. She goes, “Entitled to it? Just because you’re entitled to something doesn’t mean you have to take it. It’s like the old age pension. I have no interest in it whatsoever – even though I’m a long way from being eligible for it.” I shout, “Liar!” Suddenly, her voice become more – I think it’s a word – shrill? She goes, “What do you mean, ‘ Why did I apply for it?’ I didn’t apply for it!” And I laugh. I have no choice in the matter. Because the penny has finally dropped with her. She just puts the phone down. She’s like, “You did it! You filled in the form!” I’m there, “Hey, like I said, you thought it was hilarious that I have to get a new hip. And you’re walking around town all summer in a tight top with the all- new showgirls on display. I just thought it was time someone reminded you of your true age. Which, like I said, is nearly 70.” And suddenly I watch the pulleys and levers in her face crank into action until they’ve formed what passes for a smile, which tells me that the woman is already plotting her revenge.
ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE