Although I am no stranger to celebrity (did you know that I have been on Bulgarian television and euronews ?), it is with a certain amount of pride that I tell you that I am going to be two radio programmes this weekend. Before we started, the presenter of one said to me “I gather you have a blog, can we talk about that?”. My almost overwhelming desire for increased readership (my ego, my ego) fought a severe, though ultimately unavailing battle, with my desire to maintain some anonymity. Anyone who finds me on the radio, gets the usual prize, yes, yes, a reply to your comment.
My appearance on Bulgarian television merits, I feel a full description. Many years ago, when it was still a distant and exotic country and not somewhere three quarters of the Irish populace had bought summer houses, I travelled to Bulgaria for work. When I left home, it was snowing and many flights had been grounded but I fortunately (ha, ha) got a flight for the first leg of my journey to Germany. When I got there, it was to find that Lufthansa had dug in its heels and was refusing to go anywhere in this kind of weather but, it did offer me the alternative of travelling with the plucky Bulgarian flag carrier (the name of which temporarily eludes me). As the meeting I was speaking at was the following day, I felt I had to travel with them though I noticed that most of the other passengers, including many of the Bulgarians were refusing to do so and demanding the Lufthansa flight for which they had paid. Funnily enough, this did not inspire confidence.
Anyhow, I travelled on to Sofia uneventfully but arrived very late. Whereas I had been due to arrive at 6.00 in the evening it was closer to midnight and very cold and snowy when I got in. Inevitably, my luggage was lost. I had packed in my luggage details of the hotel where I was staying. I was a lot younger then. It was before mobile phones were as prevalent as they are now. I looked around the depressing airport (if you’ve ever been to Charleroi airport, it was like that but without the glamour) and the couple of slightly sinister smoking male figures hanging round and felt nervous. All the shops and desks were closed and the person scheduled to meet me at 6 had, obviously, long since trotted home to bed. When one of the sinister figures sidled up to me and asked “you need hotel?”, I think the answer was clear to both of us.
The sinister figure said he needed my passport to book the hotel so I handed it over and hopped into his cab. Mercifully, sometimes being foolish and naive doesn’t lead to disaster as all was as he described and he dropped me safely at the Hilton or some such bastion of American imperialism. I got my passport back too, though, for all I know, not before it was copied a number of times.
After all this trauma, I phoned various people from the hotel to share my anguish. This was my first experience of a satellite phone. Did you know that they were ferociously expensive yokes? I didn’t until I came to pay the bill and the cost of non chargeable to my employer phone calls considerably exceeded my room charge.
The next day, the day of my presentation, was Sunday. To summarise: I had no luggage, no idea where I was supposed to be staying, the vaguest idea of where the conference might be, no presentation (also in my luggage), no washbag, no knowledge of Bulgarian and no possibility of ringing the office to solve some, at least, of these problems (Sunday, remember?). Nothing daunted, your heroine began to wander round Sofia in the snow looking for a half remembered hotel location. I ended up in a government ministry building. A caretaker there whose job seemed to come with a bedsit, from which he operated, took pity on me, brought me in, looked at my travel stained, grubby and damp (from falling in the snow twice) clothes and called someone. In due course, his neighbour, a doctor who spoke English came in. Not only could she speak English but she knew about my conference and where it was. And because she was a saint, she brought me there on a tram.
When the conference organiser saw me, she started blessing herself in reverse (orthodox, you will recall) which I found unnerving for a number of reasons, and thanking God for my lucky escape from all the dangers which might have beset me late at night in Sofia. She also told me I was on next, so on I went, presentationless, unmade up and uncombed, dressed in quite filthy clothes. Wasn’t it great that Bulgarian telly was there?