Public speaking can broaden your horizons. I recently accepted an invitation to speak on the credit crunch at a dinner in Ireland. I had not been to the Republic of Ireland since a freezing weekend in November 2008 when I went stalking in County Galway. I woke at 3am drenched in perspiration and resolved to go straight to the doctor on my return and get some HRT. Then I realised that I had left the electric blanket on.
On that occasion, I flew from Luton to Galway; this time from Heathrow to Dublin. What a difference 18 months makes. Ireland has not had a good recession. Just to make the point, the lunchtime Aer Lingus flight my hosts had booked for me included no lunch. You could buy some very average sandwiches from a trolley after consulting a laminated menu. If I had wanted to order average sandwiches from a laminated menu, I would have travelled on a budget airline! I’d deliberately avoided EasyJet or Ryanair in case I was charged for the privilege of breathing. But I still ended up reading a laminated menu.
The story didn’t get much better once we touched down. My hosts had arranged for a taxi driver to meet me at the information desk in the arrivals hall. I waited. And waited. Then I called and got the number of the taxi company, which led me finally to the number of the driver. After some challenging communication (received pronunciation English meets vernacular Irish) I established that he was in the vicinity, but was not planning to park and come to meet me since that would cost money. Didn’t I know there was a recession on? I was directed to go upstairs and meet him outside Door 2 of the departure hall.
Next time any of you are in Dublin airport, have a look at the doors in the departure hall. They are numbered only on the outside. By the time I found the taxi driver and made it into Dublin, I was fainting with hunger. I ventured out of the hotel and found a branch of Tesco, where I bought some lunch and stocked up on supplies for the flight home the next day. I was even starting to regret telling my hosts that I would prefer to speak during dessert. (I usually do this to avoid eating yet more unnecessary food. To paraphrase Bette Midler, my view on dessert is that I can either eat it or rub it on my thighs, because that is where it is ultimately going.) But I need not have worried. There was no dessert! My hosts explained that having dessert might have seemed like unnecessary largesse. There was, after all, a recession on.
Back in the UK, I decided not to charge for my next dinner speaking engagement so that my hosts might be able to afford dessert. When I got there, they asked me if I would like a present in lieu of a fee. What a nice idea, I said, thinking a case of wine (or possibly some dessert) might arrive at the office.
The next day, the organiser’s office phoned Observant Olivia. My host, it was explained, was very grateful for my speech and wanted to buy me something. Not a case of wine, but something I really wanted but couldn’t justify buying for myself – an aviation GPS. OO thanked them kindly but explained that, just as I aspire to eliminate laminated menus from my travel experiences, I also aspire to a Garmin 486, which might look like unnecessary largesse. There is, after all, a recession on.
Amazingly enough, a Garmin 486 duly arrived at our office. This produced whoops of joy rarely observed in a 48-year-old mother-of-three. I spent Mother’s Day prevailing on the goodwill of my children to get it set up, loaded up with the right software and pressed into action. (For those of you reading this outside the UK, I fly planes, but am not a time traveller. Our Mother’s Day is in March.) Thanks to the speech I gave, there will be no more laminated menus for me, and much broader horizons. Next time I visit Ireland, I am going to fly myself.
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