There is Nothing like a Dame Chapter 11


There is Nothing like a Dame

A novel by Bronwen Welsh

Copyright© 2017 Bronwen Welsh

A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'

Chapter 11    On a wing and a prayer.

For a couple of minutes nobody spoke. I think we were all in shock. Gradually the shuddering eased until it was barely noticeable. Nevertheless, I think we were all suddenly aware that we were travelling in a metal tube about thirty thousand feet up in the air and while gravity would inevitably bring us back to earth, the manner in which we did so would be largely due to the skill of the flight crew. At least for the present we seemed to be maintaining the same height and the aircraft was level. That in itself was a relief.

“Good afternoon, everyone, this is the Captain speaking,” said a voice over the loudspeaker system. “You will be aware that we have had a mechanical incident, and as a result we've had to shut down one of our engines. I'd like to assure you that this aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on one engine.”

“So long as that one doesn't stop too,” muttered the passenger sitting next to me.

I gave him a steely glance, and somewhat to my surprise he appeared embarrassed and muttered: “Sorry, I suppose that wasn't a very helpful thing to say.”

The captain continued: “Your comfort and safety is our first concern and we have therefore decided to divert to Gander Airport in Newfoundland, where arrangements will be made for you to continue your journey to Boston in another aircraft. We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause you, and assure you that as soon as we land, we will arrange for you to contact anyone awaiting your arrival in Boston to let them know what has happened. In the meantime, please remain in your seats unless absolutely necessary, and keep your seatbelts fastened. Thank you.”

What is it about airline pilots? They always manage to sound so calm even in an emergency. I suppose they are trained to do that so that panic doesn't break out on board. After all, there was nothing anyone else could do but sit there and perhaps pray. For myself, I hoped that Mum and Dad had some influence so that their daughter's career was not going to come to a premature conclusion.

What the captain did not tell us was that Gander was chosen partly because it has a very long runway, ten thousand five hundred feet, originally installed for emergency landing by the Space Shuttle, but also because an aircraft with only one engine using reverse thrust needs a longer distance to stop after it touches down. This information I found out later.

It's a funny thing about being in a precarious position, it causes people's behaviour to change. When I had been shown to my seat, the one beside it was occupied by a handsome older man, in his early fifties at a guess, since his hair was greying at the temples. It doesn't seem fair that grey hair in a man makes him look 'distinguished' whereas in a woman it makes her look, well, old!

After a cursory 'Good morning', he had taken out his briefcase and buried his nose in some papers, totally ignoring me. I was a little surprised but supposed that this was the way people acted in First Class. Apart from speaking briefly to the cabin crew when he ordered his meal, he had maintained this silence, but now, with us no longer feeling quite as confident in a happy ending to our flight, suddenly my neighbour became talkative.

“You were right to reprove me for my comment before, which was uncalled for,” he said. “By the way, my name is Robert Redford, not the one of course. In fact I'm sure there are plenty of us around besides the actor. Most people call me Bob.”

I smiled. “I'm Harriet Staunton. I don't know if there are any other people around with my name, but as it turns out, I am an actor.”

Bob smiled. “Your face is familiar. Have you been on any television shows?”

'That's an old 'chat-up' line,' I thought.

“Very few,” I replied. “I spend most of my working life in theatres. I was recently playing in 'Much Ado About Nothing' at the Globe in London.”

That's where I saw you!” he exclaimed. “I took my wife to a performance a few weeks ago for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We enjoyed it very much. Are you going to Boston to perform?”

“Partly,” I said. “And partly to tutor a small theatre group on performing Shakespeare. They call it an 'artist-in-residence'. Well, that's me, may I ask what you do for a living?”

“Nothing so interesting. I'm a corporate lawyer and I'm travelling to advise a big company who are considering a take-over of another company.”

I smiled. “I've often thought of lawyers and courts as not being so very different from actors and theatres. The main difference, of course, is that you don't work from a script, so your job is probably harder than ours.”

“We may not work from a script, but we always have plenty of notes about what we wish to say in our arguments,” Bob said.

We chatted away amiably and didn't notice that we were nearing Newfoundland until it became obvious that the aircraft was gradually losing height.

The captain's voice came over the speakers again. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be arriving at Gander Airport in about ten minutes. Please make sure that your seatbelts are securely fastened. We will be landing at a slightly faster speed than usual and it will take some time before we bring the aircraft to a halt, so please keep your seatbelts fastened until we arrive at the terminus and the cabin staff tell you that they can be removed.”

He was right, we did seem to be travelling quite fast when the wheels touched the ground, but this didn't stop a spontaneous cheer from many of the passengers. We heard the engine go into reverse-thrust mode, but it seemed a long time before the aircraft slowed to about walking pace and turned to taxi up to the terminal. When we walked down the steps to alight from the aircraft, I was reminded of one of the popes, John Paul II as I recall, who used to kiss the ground at each new country he visited. Perhaps he was a nervous flyer, but I'm sure quite a few of us were tempted to follow his example.

When we reached the terminal building, like many others, I took out my phone. My first call was to the Thompson residence, purely because Magnolia had told me that they were sending a car to pick me up, and I didn't want the driver to have a six-hour round trip for no purpose. The telephone was answered by an unfamiliar voice which I took to be a maid, and she informed me that both Mr and Mrs Thompson were not at home.

When I explained who I was and that I hoped to save the driver a wasted journey, she replied “Well Henry's already in Boston (she pronounced it more like 'Bawstin' and I realised I would have to get used to the accent), he dropped Mr Thompson at the airport this morning and is waiting to pick you up.”

I told her that I had no idea what time I would be arriving as a replacement aircraft would have to come to Gander to pick us up, and asked if she could contact him on his cell phone to let him know. All I could do was ring again as soon as I knew more details.

She promised to let Henry and Mrs Thompson know, and finished with the standard 'you have a nice day'.

I nearly laughed at that. It had certainly turned out a nicer day than it might have been!

I checked my watch which was still set to U.K. time and realised that Reggie would probably still be at a lecture, so instead I phoned Emma to tell her what had happened. She sounded quite alarmed even though I assured her that thanks to the skill of the pilot we were all fine.

“So what happens now?” she asked.

“Well they'll have to send another plane for us. You can't swap an engine in five minutes,” I replied. “I'm going to text Reggie but I'll ask him to ring you for the details in case he can't contact me.”

I composed a text which read 'Engine trouble. Landed at Gander so delayed. All fine. Love Harriet'

Within a minute the phone rang and it was Reggie, sounding very concerned. I assured him that I was fine, in fact we all were and that he wasn't to worry.

“They'll send another plane for us and the odds on something happening to that are very remote,” I said.

“Don't tempt fate!” was his reply. After a bit more chatting, I told him that I loved him and was missing him already, then I hung up and walked into the terminal building to find out what was happening. The first person I saw was Bob, waiting by the door.

“Oh there you are,” he said. “I thought you were lost. They've just made an announcement that we will be leaving on a replacement plane in about three hours, so how about a drink and something to eat? It's 'on the house' of course.”

With so much time to fill, I accepted his invitation and we walked into the café. It was packed with people from the flight and the staff were rushed off their feet. We had to share a table with a young couple and in a way I was glad. So far Bob had done nothing to arouse my concerns but I had heard of businessmen who use trips as the perfect opportunity to 'spread their wings' as it were, and I was also aware that some people think that actresses are 'easy'.

The couple introduced themselves as Evan and Mairwen and it was very evident when they opened their mouths that they came from Wales. We introduced ourselves and then we all perused the menu. The food wasn't up to the standard of First Class catering of course, but it appeared that it could fill an empty stomach satisfactorily. While we waited to be served we chatted.

“Is this your first visit to America?” ask Mairwen, and it appeared from the way she addressed us both that she thought we were a couple too.

“I've visited the States about ten times with my work,” said Bob, and I added “It's my third time.”

“Harriet's an actress and she's going to teach the natives how to perform Shakespeare,” Bob continued, much to my annoyance.

“They're quite capable I'm sure,” I cut in before he could say more. “There's plenty of groups already performing his plays here. I've just been asked to provide some tips.”

“May I ask who you usually work with?” said Mairwen.

“Mostly with the Imperial Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon,” I said.

“But she's just been at the Globe Theatre in London. My wife and I saw her perform there,” Rob cut in again. This was really getting most annoying, but I managed to keep my cool and my smile.

“Oh!” said Evan. “I thought you were a couple.”

I smiled. “No, we were just sitting next to each other when the 'incident' occurred.”

“That will certainly be something to tell our grandchildren, Mair, and on our honeymoon too!” Evan said to his new wife.

Mairwen blushed and I think Evan had put his foot in it.

“Is this your first trip to America?” I asked, trying to smooth things over.

“Yes, I have an aunt living in Boston, so we're going to see her first before going on to New York,” said Mairwen.

“Well I'm sure Bob can tell you about Boston; I haven't been there before. I'm not long married myself, and my husband Reggie took me to New York as a honeymoon surprise,” I said. “It's an amazing place, you'll love it.”

Evan and Mairwen looked at each other and smiled. It was delightful to see two people so much in love.

At that point Bob excused himself to go to the toilet and I took the opportunity to take my business card out of my handbag and handed it to them.

“I don't know if Shakespeare is your 'cup of tea', I know he isn't for everyone, but if you're ever in Stratford give me a call and if there's a play you'd like to see, I can get you a discount, whether or not I'm in it. By the way, not a word to Bob, alright?”

“Right you are,” said Evan as he put the card in his wallet.

“My husband Reggie has an aunt living in Swansea,” I said. “We drove around Gower, it's a beautiful place.”

“Nage ddim!* We're from Neath, not far away at all. If you're ever in Swansea again, give us a call,” said Evan. He wrote their names, Evan and Mairwen Thomas and their phone number of a table napkin that I placed in my handbag.

Bob returned to the table then, so the conversation turned to other things.

I had found out that the flying time from Gander to Boston was about two hours, so when our replacement aircraft landed and we were given a boarding time, I rang the Thompson household again to give them an estimated time of arrival. This time Magnolia Thompson had returned to the house, so I was put through to her.

“I'm sorry to hear your trip has had such a bad start,” she said. “Blossom told you that Henry is still in Boston, so I'll let him know when you are arriving. It's about a three hour drive back here so would you rather stay there overnight?”

“Thank you Mrs Thompson, but I'll sleep on the plane, so if it's no trouble for Henry, I'm happy for him to drive me to East Devon today.”

“As you wish, my dear,” she replied. “We have your room ready for you and we look forward to seeing you. Hiram had to make a trip to Lubbock, but he should be back in two days. Meanwhile you can settle in.”

To be continued.

* 'Nage ddim!', 'No indeed!' Welsh expression of surprise.

Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing.

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