Off to London for the weekend on a cultural expedition (Lear at the National and Matisse at the Tate), I follow my usual routine: cheap flight to Stansted on Ryanair, making sure to get priority boarding and a seat at the front of the plane. It's late morning and the flight is almost full so I settle back as the stragglers board - my shoulder bag safely stashed in the locker directly above me. A stocky bearded guy stops beside me with a put upon wife in tow, her body language suggesting servitude and long suffering. He directs her peremptorily to move aside my bag while he attempts to shoe-horn a large, hard-shelled, bulbous (like himself) bag into a space that clearly isn't there. "Mind my bag" I interject mildly, mine is soft with an iPad inside. His struggle isn't getting him anywhere so he then directs the wife to remove my bag completely. I immediately go from mild annoyance to terminal velocity rage. "Don't touch that bag I roar", standing up grabbing it back from his poor discomfited wife and restoring it to its original position. Bulbous boy then barges into me and attempts to take it down again. I barge right back - and a full scale wrestle breaks out. I notice amidst the chaos that he's alarmingly sturdy - notwithstanding his shape. The full plane is being well amused by this cabaret and a couple of staff members get involved. I have visions of the Gardai and a night in Coolock Garda station. Instead, with remarkable sang froid, the female flight attendant placates us by saying there's plenty of room elsewhere and swiftly places his offending bag in a nearby locker. We both sit down - he's directly across the aisle from me - and silence reigns for a few minutes. Then, after the plane is airborne, he turns to me and says "I'll deal with you on the other side". "Are you threatening me" I respond in my most carrying voice (and that's pretty carrying). "Because if you are I'll arrange to have you met by the police in London". He denies he's threatening me but then suggests I might have an accident going down the steps. "You're full of piss and wind" I respond and we both settle back to brood. I open my Irish Times and read Brian Lynch's mild bleatings about Aosdana - no great argument in the piece, just trust me it's a good thing seems to be the gist of it. He is a member mind you. However at the start of the article there's a well-known quote from Patrick Kavanagh's Epic:
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
My antagonist picks up his book and I sneak a look at the title - expecting, I'll admit, a penny dreadful. In fact it's Sacred Keeper by Peter Kavanagh, a biography (or hagiography) of the self same Patrick Kavanagh. I'm titillated by this coincidence. Before we land at Stansted I tear out the Kavanagh quote from my newspaper and pass it across to the bellicose one. He reads it carefully, smiles and quotes back at me "I made the Iliad from such a local row" - a later line from Epic. I point to the locker and say "that's the half rood" and suddenly we're the best of buddies. He reaches across and we shake hands and we chat all the way to disembarkation - exchanging anecdotes about Kavanagh. It turns out he's a farmer from North Meath - not far from Kavanagh's Inniskeen. I still make sure he's not directly behind me when I walk down the steps.