I did come back from Rome.  Sunshine, blue skies, thirty degrees, umbrella trees; history at every turn, Cervaro at The Hassler, Vincent van Gogh … and then Ryanair!  In the words of John Lennon, ‘Reality leaves a lot to the imagination’.  He was right and, admittedly, an active imagination is a salvation of sorts but, sadly, mine has not stretched, as yet, to the manifestation of a private jet.  So, it was that we were forced to join the throngs at Ciampino, last week, in a bid to return to the land of our birth; the one with no sunshine, no blue skies, fourteen degrees, endless rain, wind and roadworks and not an ancient ruin in sight – don’t tempt me!  To think we, voluntarily, put ourselves through the airport experience for this …  Way back when, someone by the name of Clive James presented a programme in which he showed clips of ridiculous programmes popular in other countries.  The most memorable of those was one set in Japan in which contestants were subjected to the most absurd challenges – most, horrendous – in a bid for money.  All in the name of comedy, of course, and it was funny to watch but, to this day, the words ‘Japanese torture’ still slip too readily from my tongue.  Yet more prime fodder for these little people with nothing better to do …

Ryanair.  There’s no avoiding; a proverbial monopoly!  Is it fair to blame one airline for the whole horrendous airport experience, though?  Perhaps not.  Although, on the rare occasions when I have flown outwith Ryanair – and its popular times in the middle of the night – for some reason, the airport appears almost civilised …  Like everything else, it’s self-service now – well, in Edinburgh, at least.  Makes sense.  I mean why should a multi-million-pound airline bother providing jobs when the tortured customer can do it him/herself?  It’s not as though there’s anything dehumanising at all about the snaking queue which goes on forever as one pulls and pushes one’s case and cabin bag, inch by inch, while sandwiched between one’s fellow travellers, positive mirrors of oneself!  Finally, one is politely gestured to the dreaded weighing machine, a form of Russian Roulette, as one awaits the verdict, eternally grateful – and surprised – when a length of sticky label spills from some orifice ready to be attached, firmly, to one’s suitcase in a bid to prevent one’s precious belongings ending up in Magaluf!  Phew.  Job done, follow crowd and lift said suitably attired case onto conveyer belt round the corner, pausing, as it disappears into some black hole, for prayer.

That wasn’t Ciampino, though.  Somehow, the Italians still provide a service of sorts and an actual person checks one’s details and dispenses with one’s suitcase leaving one free to follow the crowd to the melée called security.  My bugbear.  Boots on, boots off.  Belt on, belt off.  Scarf, laptop, phone, camera, liquids … five basins later, moving swiftly along the conveyer belt together with one’s passport and boarding pass, how the hell is one supposed to keep track of all one’s stuff, let alone get dressed – and look cool?!  Hey, look at me, the seasoned traveller, just nipping over to New York on business, or to Paris for an exhibition …  Hang on a minute, when I left Edinburgh, that was me: just off to Rome to see my daughter, celebrate my Birthday in The Hassler and take in the new Van Gogh Exhibition … if I could just find my clothes!

There is comedy in everything – for those who choose to see.  Airport security is an obvious gift and, much as I hate it, of late, I usually get through unscathed.  Salzburg Airport is the best, though – or the most accommodating, should I say – considering the ‘must haves’ with which we have returned.  The looks say it all as they, no doubt, question our sanity but every last piece has made it home.  There is, however, an old, hand-painted kist which I covet every year … too much?

Among the throngs at Ciampino, last week, I was unusually confident.  All bangles removed, liquids in bag, laptop in basin, forward through the body scanner.   Sorry!  Step to the side.  Any jewellery?  Belt? Anything in your pockets?  Negative.  Frisked, to no avail … Just walk through again.  Still beeping.  Becca was killing herself laughing behind me but then came the pièce de résistance: Have you had any hip replacements?  Any knees?  What?!  Are you serious?!  All I could hear was Becca shouting ‘Not yet!’, as the lady apologised.  It was funny; is funny.  What a ridiculous scenario.  Of course, there was no explaining the beeping – I believe it is just random – but who could possibly suggest that someone of my youthful looks and physique is held together by metal?  I know.  Laughable.  Told you there was humour in everything … good job my eyesight hasn’t gone, too, or I wouldn’t see it!!

‘You’re only given a little spark of madness and, if you lose that, you’re nothing.’   Robin Williams

So important is that quote to me, for I would be nothing without that ‘little spark of madness’.  The ability to find humour in even the worst situations; the ability to laugh.  While life if pretty miserable for most, there is still no excuse for the mundane – and, yet, the mundane seems to be all-encompassing.  Is it just me or are the majority of the population humourless?  I’ve noticed it more since the pandemic and the propensity for imitating sheep; the desire to be the same, to state the obvious and never think outside the box.  In short, the blanket acceptance of a smaller world, dumbed down, content with one’s lot.  Help!  No!  My world is shrinking because of it.  The individual is a dying breed.  He/she of intelligence, possessing of curiosity, a need for fulfilment, an appreciation of a great, big world out there … and that all-important sense of humour.  Look around.  Where are they?

Television serves as a reminder of how few possess that ‘little spark of madness’.  I wrote down a couple of examples …  We happened to catch a bit of Matt Baker’s programme, Our Farm in the Dales.  Now, one couldn’t meet a nicer guy but it is so boring!  Five minutes was enough but, put it this way, his mother was in a field with two baby goats and explaining why she named one of them Wednesday.  Turns out, it was born on a Wednesday.  Who’d have thought?  She was happy with that.  Me?  Surely, it would have been much more fun to call a goat born on a Wednesday, Thursday?!  Dare to be different.  Make people smile, for goodness sake.  Mundane equals boring!

Similarly, all these competitions on television when they ask people what they would do with the money, should they win?  Go on holiday.  Buy a car.  Always.  Yes, that might be exactly what they would do with the money but it’s boring!  You’re on TV.  Make something up just for entertainment’s sake.  Dare to be different!  How about, I’d take a private jet to Las Vegas to see Donny en route to Triple Creek Ranch in Montana?  Who’s Donny? (Don’t be ridiculous!)  Where’s Montana?  For God’s sake, nobody tell them!!

I can’t sign off without mention of Sam Smith.  Yes, more than a little left-field for me.  Not a fan.  However, he was on Ken Bruce’s show on Radio 2 this morning, a guest artist in the Piano Room.  I had no idea who was coming on as Ken began the build-up: ‘They’ve played to packed stadiums around the world, blah, blah, blah …’.  Who was it?  Coldplay?  Deacon Blue?  Texas?  In other words, a band!  No, it was one person: Sam Smith.  Ken Bruce, then, continued to refer to him as ‘they’, a plural pronoun; a pronoun referring to more than one person!  How utterly, utterly ridiculous! Now, I like Ken Bruce.  He is my go-to and I have written before of the entertainment I glean as he struggles with the numpties on PopMaster.  I have to concede that sometimes he earns his big salary but … never more so than today.  How it must have stuck in his throat uttering that ridiculous ‘woke’ vernacular.   Did he have a choice?  God help us all.

I can hardly bear to mention Matt Hancock in the jungle …

Acutely aware that it is Armistice Day, I am ashamed of what we have become; of what this country has become.  Gone is the pride, the courage, the values and the respect that made it ‘Great’.  The Queen was one of our last connections to those who fought so bravely and selflessly for our freedom; those to whom we owe eternal gratitude.  Sadly, with each passing year, their loss is ever greater.

‘They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen.

This is Trish, signing off.