Travelling on a long haul flight on your own with two toddlers is something to be avoided if at all possible. For me, the stress is divided equally between the two main stages of the journey. In Stage One, The Airport, the kids run away at top speed through the departure lounge, tripping up humourless businessmen or disappearing into lifts with the doors closing. Stage Two, The Aeroplane, is 9 hours of complete confinement where The Naughty Spot becomes noticeably absent and air stewardesses who clearly don’t have children get really uptight about air turbulence and the lack of seatbelt wearing.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m their mother, but it is my strong opinion that actually my children behave quite well on aeroplanes. I’m edgier than most when it comes to strangers viewing my – or their - every move, so I think if I’m feeling relaxed about what the kids and I are doing, it really must be going ok. On this flight, we hadn’t yet taken off and were all looking out of the window, when the man in front of Bill turned around and, using absolutely top-level Childphone, told me he was kicking his seat. I replied, using Childphone back, that he wasn’t kicking his seat, which he wasn’t. But I knew right then, 5 minutes into sitting down, that we were in for it.
Apart from the 5 or 6 times an hour he turned around to complain about absolutely nothing with increasing nastiness, I could really only see the top of this man’s head. It was entirely cuboid, with thick hair on top of it that looked spongy, like a cake. He reminded me of Simon Cowell, only he was more sarcastic. Bill would press his touch-screen tv, which by definition needed touching, and Simon Cowell would instantly pop up over his seat like a perfectly square, burning piece of toast and say plaintively, “Buddyyyyyyyy?” We would all stare blankly at him. Bill grazed his seat with his toe because, horror of horrors, he needed to shift an inch in his seat after sitting still for 4 hours, and Simon was there, with a gritted smile, saying, “You gotta take it easy on me, maaaaaan!” I think if Bill had been a plant placed in a chair for 9 hours, it would still have been too much movement for Simon.
I explained to Bill, when Simon was in the bathroom, that actually he was being really good, he just had Mr Fussy in front of him. Bill nodded quietly and then bellowed upon the man’s return, “Mummy! Mr Fussy’s back!” It didn’t help. Mr Cowell took it up a notch, actually punching the back of the chair intermittently; then he started yelling at the cabin crew about the quality of scones the airline served and the length of time he was expected to sit in a seat, especially (with a gesture backwards at my mildly-mannered 4 year old) ‘in front of THIS’. Had I been a braver, more confrontational adult, or had I been Frank, I would have suggested he get off the flight right now, and handed him a life jacket. Or forgotten to.
By the time we landed I had a banging headache and was twitching every time either Bill or Olive moved a toe. Then the pilot announced that there was a slight delay because the doors of the plane were frozen shut, and they were just trying to get a heater of some kind. I think I saw Simon Cowell scrunching the in-flight tea menu into a ball and looking for his lighter. I am happy in the thought that I will never, ever sit next to that man again. For the next flight over, as a pre-emptive strike, I’m making t-shirts for the kids. Bill’s will read, “Welcome to Public Transport.” Olive’s will read, “My mum travelled with other people’s kids for years. Your turn.”