I was thinking the other day, as you do, about our friends in Northern Ireland, Jim and Heather.
We still keep in touch on a fairly regular basis by phone, and we have seen them since we moved out here. I can't tell you why the following story popped into my head, except to say that it involves them, and it had to be the silliest time we ever spent together.
The husband used to go to Northern Ireland on a fairly regular basis, if it was Tuesday, it must be Northern Ireland sort of thing. Jim was the husbands agent there, so they would go off and see customers together, talk business etc,etc,. On many occasions I would fly out on a Friday and then we would all enjoy the weekend together. We also used to go over every New Year, as they would always have a New Year's Party to which we were invited, and it became quite the joke as Heather used to be smitten with a stress migraine on the day of the party, and I would invariably end up doing most of the cooking. The evenings were very jolly and Heather usually perked up as it went on. It was always the joke that "the caterer's were coming from London" for new year.
A couple of times a year, they would come and stay with us, and for some reason I was thinking about one particular occasion when they came over, and we went to France for the weekend.
Heather was in the process of having her kitchen remodelled. Some of the work had been quite major, and every time we spoke there was a new tale to tell, usually quite hilarious. The work had more or less come to an end at this point, and so it was that we decided it would be nice to go to France. I had at some time, bought a useful little book on "Factory Shopping in France", and the husband and I had been over at some point, and found our way to the Le Crueset factory. We told Heather what deals we had found there, and this was partly the intention of our trip in that we would go to the factory shop whilst there.
We went on the Chunnel so we were able to take the car, and had booked a really lovely Chateau Hotel through a club that we had signed up for which got really good deals on hotels and travel, so it wasn't in the same league as Relais et Chateau, but not bad. The Hotel was lovely and we had a very pleasant room and it was maybe an hours drive from Boulogne. Details of where it was have faded from my memory now annoyingly, (why does that happen when you leave somewhere you lived most of your life? There is so much I have forgotten), but I can see this huge Chateau in my minds eye and discreet and pleasant staff.
So there we are. We awoke the next morning and had planned our day around visiting Le Creuset. I do remember that it was quite a drive to get there, maybe a couple of hours, and the area the factory was in seemed to be around the back of a small town, with an uneven car park, and a small low building which was the factory shop. In we troop. On our previous visit, the husband and I had bought a couple of pieces to go with what I already had at home. I love Le Creuset, and had a full set of pans, and a couple of casseroles, if you know it you will know how heavy it is, but it lasts for ever. Although I now have new pots I still have my original set which must be thirty years old now. We had also discovered that they spoke not one word of English, but we managed to make ourselves understood to each other, and worked out from what she was saying that different countries went for different colours, e.g., the Brits loved the Flambe Orange whereas another country would prefer the deep red and so on. Very interesting to know what the nations psyche was up to.
Anyway, Heather was looking at pots, and had decided that she would go with a deep bottle green to match her kitchen, so she picked up a pan here, a pan there, when Jim said, "Sweetheart, have whatever your little heart desires! Get the casseroles as well!" So we are now in a flurry of activity as she is choosing all sorts of pots, frying pans, casseroles, my head was spinning. Jim looked at the husband and asked if we could get this home to which the reply was yes, of course. So the transaction was done, one very happy friend got what she wanted and the husband and Jim were left to load the purchases into the car.
It was at this point that the husband said to Jim, "When we get this home, how are you going to get it back to Northern Ireland?" It was at this point the blood drained from Jim's face and then they both started laughing hysterically because he had absolutely no clue!!!!! Oh well, we'll work something out.
Once back in the car, this fact was relayed to Heather who was then, through her laughter, worrying that she had bought so much. Don't worry, says Jim, we need a new ski bag and that should be big enough to put it all in,and with that thought, we continued our journey back to the hotel.
We duly met in the Restaurant of the Hotel for dinner, and were a little subdued as we were all so tired. The restaurant was quite large and there were a few other diners quietly having their meal, and we sat there quietly when all of a sudden, we got the giggles.
It's bad enough when one person does it, but when four of you start laughing hysterically, it's even worse. The service was very good, and they were infected by our good humour. When the main course was brought to the table, the plates were covered with big silver lids, and then a great show was made of removing all the lids, voila!! There was your meal sitting on the plate. For some reason, that set us off again, and by this time the repartee was flowing thick and fast.
We managed to get through the meal, and were then asked if we would like dessert? Oooh, yes please, may we look at the menu? We duly ordered from it, and sat there waiting. By this time we had managed to clear the entire restaurant, so we were the only patrons left. Would you really want to have your meal with four maniacal idiots? No, I thought not.
As we awaited this wondrous delight to appear from the kitchen, we suddenly heard the most enormous sneeze. This set us off again and I jokingly said that it was probably my dessert that was sneezed over, all we could hear from the kitchen was laughter. Eventually one waiter and the maitre d' came out and with due aplomb, removed the silver lids while trying very, very hard not to laugh. By this time we were almost puddles on the floor, with the kitchen staff peering round the door enjoying the joke too.
The next morning we were due to go home and we had the car loaded and ready to go. The husband was busy paying the bill, and mentioned to the maitre d' who was putting the transaction through, that he would love to know what they were laughing at the previous evening, he was swiftly told, "No, you would not", which almost set us off again.
The journey home continued uneventfully, and we stopped in Boulogne at the Carrefour supermarket where Jim purchased a very large ski bag, and then we continued the journey back to London. The next morning the husband went to work and left me to sort Jim and Heather out as I was taking them back to the airport.
Jim had packed the Le Creuset in the ski bag, and was standing there practicing how to pick it up without breaking into a sweat. We loaded everything into the car and off we went to Gatwick. We found a cart for the luggage and wheeled it to the check in desk for their flight back to Belfast. There was a short queue with a very irate passenger at the front of it who was arguing with the check in desk about her overweight luggage. Eventually she went off to pay her excess baggage and the girl looked across at us and said she could help.
Here was the big test.
Jim gamely lifted their suitcase on and then the ski bag. "I'm sorry sir, but your luggage is overweight".
"Oh! I didn't think there was a weight limit on domestic flights". (Try that one now and see if you get away with it).
"Hang on, I'll ask my supervisor", whisper, whisper. "No that's fine sir, it won't be a problem".
You have never seen three people walk away from checking in baggage holding each other up as their sides ache from laughing so hard....................