Ireland, 2004

The bearded stranger gave me a withering glare when I sat down next to him on the flight from Dublin to London.


I was a little rushed because there had been so many distractions in the departure lounge and I just didn’t realise the time. I had been talking away in the bar, being friendly and accepting another drink, when some of the groundstaff had found me and kindly helped me along all those corridors to the boarding gate and then onto the plane.

After we had finally taken off, the bearded stranger told me what had happened from the other passengers’ point of view. They had boarded, sat down –and waited.  They sat there ten minutes or more, departure time past, maybe their flight in danger of delay or cancellation, before a steward had addressed the queries and protests.

‘Well’, he had announced over the loudspeaker, ‘we’re all ready to go. Except for the presence of one passenger who has his boarding card but hasn’t answered the calls to come to the gate.’

And a few minutes later, the stranger related to me, the steward had spoken again, with more sarcasm this time: ’We have found him. Slumped in the bar, drunk. Groundstaff are helping him. I am sure you’d all like to give him a rapturous welcome when he arrives on board.’

A rapturous welcome? Sarcastic or not, there had been no welcoming cheer or boo for me when the steward drew back the first-class curtain to let me stumble into the main cabin. Maybe because the passengers noticed my priest’s clothes?