KILDARE OPINION: Days when a Hiace van with airplane seats was an adventure

Niamh O'Donoghue reflects on a unique mode of transport

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KILDARE OPINION: Days when a Hiace van with airplane seats was an adventure

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The legs went up in the air, the seats upended by the sudden halt.

The two lads gingerly picked themselves up and gathered their gear bags as we watched on with amusement.

The seats had flipped with the impact of the stop.

It’s fair to say that when we were growing up, we probably had the most unique mode of transport in Kildare, if not the most exciting — a blue Hiace van with the windows cut out and replaced with oval panes of glass, complete with a green wooden bench behind the driver and front passenger seats.

To the rear, the unusual sight of the green Aer Lingus airplane seats, with flip-up tables at the back of the chairs and recliner buttons, were the star attraction.

Covered with the familiar green upholstery, they also had pop-out ashtrays concealed in the armrests — from an era when you could smoke on planes.

The seats were being discarded from an old aircraft and my parents jumped at the chance to acquire such a seat.

Like any rural community, Rathangan neighbours gave neighbours lifts. When my da was playing sport, and later coaching football and rugby teams, he would bring players to training and matches.

There were always bags of rugby balls in the back. No seat belts. All of us squashed in. There were no car seats. It was a time before road safety had come to the fore.

When the snow came, or the school bus broke down, everyone bailed in and got lifts. Although, looking back, a back-wheel drive van in frost and snow is not the best option for that weather.

Even when the van was parked up in the yard, we used to spend ages pretending it was an airplane, and we were the air hostesses and passengers.

There were often rows over who would get to sit on the airplane seats, and often we had to take turns.

Of course, these days such a contraption wouldn’t be allowed on the roads, and rightly so.

But back then, things were different.

The roads were quieter, no one was ever injured and we had the best fun.

Large families all crammed into small cars, that was how it was. It wasn’t unusual to see child after child pile out of the back of a car when parked up.

I even knew someone who had a couch in the back of a van to cater for an entourage of kids.

Our family was delighted to have such a fetching way to get around, and the only drawback was that the seats weren’t bolted down.

Any sudden braking movement and they would flip backways with the occupants getting the shock of their lives — similar to the impact of Graham Norton’s ‘Red Chair’ chair swinging backwards on his chat show to dump out unsuspecting guests. When it happened, my parents would apologise profusely. Luckily, my granny never experienced the whirling motion of the flip.

On this occasion, the two lads, who were on my father’s rugby team, scrambled to their feet. The van was pulled in. A bit shook, they accepted apologies.

The seats were returned to their vertical position and the players sunk back down onto the seats, wondering what had happened. Their expressions soon gave way to grins and on we went.

That was another chapter in the story of the blue hiace van with the legendary airplane seats.

I can’t remember how long the seats were in situ but we definitely got great mileage out of them — in driving and in fun.