Art smuggling wasn’t something that I had ever planned to do.
It all came about quite by accident when last Sunday I found myself at Manchester Airport flying home from a weekend in the Lake District. I was travelling with friends Patsy and Lena.
These little trips away are what keep me sane. The venue and location really don’t matter, it’s that sense of escape, fun and getting away from everyday life that does. We spent three days laughing, drinking and eating far too much and we all agreed, in the words of Mrs Valentine, “It was great to have the old Shirley back”.
The saga started because Lena purchased two beautiful, large paintings from a little shop in Windermere.
“They won’t fit in my suitcase” Lena groaned at as we went through security. The paintings were long and thin like two large planks of wood. We were travelling with Ryanair and the three of us knew that they would not show any pity if she tried to carry them on under her arms.
The rule is simple: one piece of hand luggage only. If Lena tried to carry them on she would be plucked from the crowd, the paintings would be taken from her and thrown in the hold with the pushchairs, oversize bags and ski equipment and they would charge her fifty Euro for the pleasure.
The thought of it all was giving Lena a panic attack until, “We could always smuggle them on to the plane up our jumpers!” Patsy piped up with a twinkle in her eye. I had read somewhere that people now wear special Ryanair coats with twenty deep pockets sewn into them and regretted not having bought one for myself earlier.
“I know a man who smuggled on a Paella pan last year,” Patsy went on, before going into a sneezing fit, “And a lampshade”.
She was sniffing her way through a head cold and suffering torn ligaments in both ankles. She also has a very real fear of flying. We decided that a little Ryanair smuggling could be the perfect adventure to end our trip.
Waiting for out gate to open, we headed for the packed restaurant area.
“I need a drink. My ankles hurt. What if the plane crashes?” Patsy quickly knocked back two glasses of wine.
Lena wasn’t coping either and joined her. “What if we get caught? My husband will kill me.”
“CALM DOWN” I hissed to them both. My accomplices were getting loud and panicking just when we had to avoid drawing attention to ourselves.
I looked around at the packed departure lounge like Michael Caine in The Italian Job.
The very worse thing that could happen was that the paintings would fall out from under out coats. There would be a smash of glass, possibly an injury or two and a few surprised passengers. My two companions finished the bottle of Chardonnay just as our flight was called and people began to board.
“Ready girls? Here we go!”
Standing up, I discreetly took one of the paintings and put it behind me, tucking it up under my shirt.
Next, taking the scarf from my neck, I tied it securely around the painting and my middle.
Finally, I put on my padded hiking jacket and stood up. The painting was long and I am short. My jacket poked up behind my head, like I had a large and pointy hump.
My two partners in crime were in no fit state to help. They were face down on the table laughing hysterically and very soon had the whole restaurant looking my way.
“SHHHHH!”. This unwanted attention would attract the Ryanair crew and we’d have to abort the mission. Pushing the painting down, I was now awkwardly bent over at forty-five degrees to stop it falling on the floor.
Lena stuffed her painting up her jumper, tied a scarf around her middle. Being tall she carried it off well, better than me.
Like Quasimodo, I waddled over to the gate and calmly joined the queue trying my best not to look suspicious.
“You look like you are wearing a back brace” Patsy whispered, boozy tears flowing from her eyes.
She and Lena were out of control and far too merry for the seriousness of the situation. They could barely focus.
e reached the front of the queue. I handed over my ticket. The Ryanair attendant looked at me, my nose almost touching my knees, my stiff back, my odd shaped, pointy little hump and said nothing.
What could she say? She was hardly going to accuse me of smuggling anything onto a plane when clearly I looked like I had just fallen from a horse.
Lena stood beside me, bolt upright, like an ironing board was taped to her back. The wine was helping her immensely.
She didn’t speak, just grinned wildly, eyes bloodshot. Patsy stood behind us hiccuping and sneezing.
Before we knew it, we had made it through the boarding gate. Climbing on to the plane bent double was not easy, it was blowing a gale and I could not look up.
Once inside, the cabin was packed but the back row empty. It was the most discreet place for us to sit. We carefully sat down and removed our coats, the scarves and finally the paintings. The flight attendants didn’t see a thing as we removed the art and hid it under our seat.
It was a hideous flight home, wet, windy and very bumpy but thankfully fearful Patsy didn’t notice.
The adrenaline and wine flowed through her veins. She sang songs from ‘Les Miserables’ for the duration of the thirty-five minute journey back to Dublin. The whole plane had no choice but to listen as she belted out “A Little Bit of Rain” and “I Dreamed a Dream”, even making herself cry at one point.
Next year’s trip is already booked. Forget Ryanair, we’re taking the ferry over. All things considered, it’s the sensible option.