When Debbie’s mum Glenys passed away in June 1998, her father Cliff Price came to live with us for about six months in Southcote Avenue, while I completely renovated his house in Merthyr Vale. The kids had always affectionately called their Welsh grandfather “Popsy”.
Although things were a bit crowded with three children and three adults living in a three bedroom semi-detached, it did allow Cliff to go on one adventure involving his first ever flight on board any kind of plane, aged 85, from Heathrow to Edinburgh.
You have to remember after a failed operation to correct a detached retina he was blind in his right eye, rather infirm and could only walk a short distance without his stick.
Nonetheless one morning in September a local taxi firm called Ronia arrived at our house ready to take Cliff and I to the old Terminal One at Heathrow where we were met by a British Midland passenger assistance chap complete with a wheelchair, escorted to check-in and then through security to the gate where the plane stood waiting.
After a short wait we were allowed to board first and we were seated on the right hand side of the Boeing 737 fuselage looking forward just behind the wing. Pops had the window seat while I sat next to him. I could tell he was both nervous and excited at the same time as the plane gradually filled up and the safety procedures were read out. Then as the plane taxied towards the runway I could hear his walking stick tapping the floor with increasing frequency (and volume) as we started accelerating into take off.
As we left the ground he could be heard to say “dieu, dieu, dieu” a favourite saying of his (which in Welsh sounds like dew, dew, dew) when he was expressing amazement which is more akin to my “good god” utterances. As we passed through the clouds and levelled off he was amazed to find you could get a complimentary small bottle(s) of red wine and so “purely for medicinal purposes to soothe the throat” he really started to enjoy himself!
Around about this time I realised that I didn’t actually have a clue what I was going to do with Cliff on arrival given the fact that he wasn’t very mobile. I needn’t have worried though, once the wheelchair process was done in reverse and we were in a taxi bound for the city centre I asked the oracle of all earthly knowledge (the driver) for some ideas. Luckily he suggested the Dome which was a bar converted from an old bank.
On arrival we were escorted to a table near the old circular bank teller area in the centre of the ground floor. Even luckier that day they had live Jazz music and in particular a rather attractive lady who seemed to find the pair of us, steadily making our way through 5 pints of Guinness each, rather interesting to talk to.
About 5 hours later, not having seen anything of “Auld Reekie” apart from the bar where we tasted the delights of Arbroath smokies for a late lunch, we were literally “poured” into a taxi ordered on our behalf by the bar staff and whisked back to the airport to start the whole wheelchair process again in reverse.
This time the flight held no surprises to Cliff who suitably anaesthetised treated the experience like any other frequent flier. The taxi picked us up again at terminal one like clockwork and breathing deeply the both of us tried to sober up before we crossed the threshold of home and failed miserably…
A day to remember for both of us! 🙂
Addendum: Ten years later I took Debbie to the Dome when we made a quick excursion into the city after flying in from Stornaway, before flying back to Heathrow. I really enjoyed bringing this story to life for her and we raised our glasses to his memory.