pret-air-porter

I’ve turned into airport ephemera: I’m one of those nameless ever-present creatures you half-see tripping over the bags under their eyes as they joylessly chase an infant around tables and chairs. About every ten minutes your eyes will be drawn to the shrill sound of an escalating scream, and in the midst of that, I shall rise wearily bearing a small wide-mouthed child following its collision with a chair leg, a table, a whatever-it-was.

Of the half-dozen or so flights he’s been on this was the first as a proper all-singing/dancing toddler. We’d already anticipated being one of those people that you’ll see walking up and down the aisle of a claustrophobic 737 with a determined infant but the airport lounge, whose only reason for existence is to facilitate pre-flight boozing, was never considered for a moment, and had it not been an issue it’d have remained incognito. In Stanstead, for instance, the ease of finding a high-chair in The Windmill public-house before we departed simply buried the free-roaming agonies of the bar/lounge at Bergamot-Milan.

This is typical of being a parent. You think you have everything sorted and in the case of travelling everything, quite literally, in the bag; then something (probably something that you could have foreseen if you weren’t already existing on sleep detritus whilst making Formula) leaps right out at you and knocks you sideways.

Most of the time these are small things, such as forgetting the wet wipes or a bib, for an entire airport lounge to slip the mind is either an indication of the sheer quantity of other stuff there is to do when travelling with a baby or just plain old incompetence.

If this all sounds like a bit of a non-disaster, I mean, so what if you have to chase a kid about for a couple of hours? Consider this. I hate flying, I mean really hate it. I used to self-medicate diazepam until I discovered booze was almost as effective, available at 39,000 feet, and I didn’t have to pretend to be friends with some salubrious character at the pub in order to get hold of it. I’ve subsequently worked out that I need at least an hour and a half in the bar before flying to calm my shattered nerves and am prepared to leave early in order to facilitate my needs.

Putting this into some sort of context, terrified I’d miss allocated drinking appointment at The Windmill, the National Express driver refused to take me from Stratford to Stanstead on the way out for ‘gesturing at him’. I’d like to make it clear, as I did to the driver, that I wasn’t ‘gesturing’ at him at all, merely flinging my arms about because I thought he was driving off two minutes before the scheduled departure time when he was, in fact, parking the coach. I had to summon all of my strength and appease him with theatrically profuse apologies which he only accepted on account of my family; my appointment with at least two double G&T’s had been saved.

The three glasses I’d envisaged at Bergamo-Milan were wholly disrupted by my having to follow a small chortling boy about an airport lounge, though I was occasionally able to guide him back to our table where sat my unenthusiastic glass of cool-ish prosecco. Ultimately I managed my booze quota with a bit of help from the better half so by the end I was stumbling after my little boy in as much danger of crashing into tables, chairs, whatever-it-was, as he.

Once on board the plane, following our having to re-arrange fellow passengers because fucking Ryan Air charges you extra if you want to sit next to the mother of your child, and therefore, the child, we took off. I was sufficiently relaxed to face the two-hours of aisle-walking once we’d hit the required height, not that it had really happened on the way out save a couple of inquisitive sorties to visit the hapless staff floundering at the back of the plane, I’d even managed to get a glass of ball-shrinking vino down my neck.

Then something unimaginable happened. He just fell asleep. For the whole flight he slept like, well, a baby. ‘Well I never,’ I said to myself, ‘who’d have thought, talk about swings and roundabouts, eh?’

“Yes, thank you. A bottle of the ball-shri… The red wine, please.”

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Chitty Chat

Lately, I have to stop myself from talking to the boy when walking down the street, and when I say ‘talking’ I mean indulging in voluminous and spontaneous one-sided conversation to the back of a pram. It’s not as if I mean to do it, even when my filter tells me to button-it the other part of my brain will take momentary heed before continuing to denounce spitting in public or twist ‘n’ go transport. The latter has become somewhat of a hot topic in my head because the little fella has now started to excitedly point at motorcycles which he’ll very occasionally confuse with some perfunctory git facilitator with the power of a hair-dryer and all the charm of colitis.

At seventeen months his development appears to have entered a new phase. Things change on a daily rather than weekly or even monthly basis, to the point that now you can even have some sort of rudimentary conversation with him. Fundamental questions, such as water? more? kiss? Will be answered, even if he’s not always on the money when it comes to the vigorous shaking of the head which can mean ‘yes’ as much as ‘no’. If he wants to go out he’ll bring over his coat, if he’s hungry he’ll walk to his high chair, little arms raised until lifted into position, and if he’s tired he’ll even lead you to his room after gesturing at the milk cooling in the kitchen. He also talks to himself like his dad (though I’m not as we’ve established), endless streams of excited chatter sustained by a remarkably varied vocal range from shrieking soprano to actual death grunts.

When not talking he’ll make impersonations of things around him, disregarding the learned animal ones (though he does do a good lion) it’s more the things he’s picked up on his own. He’s good at nonspecific engines noises when punting about on his ride-on toy car but it’s the drone of the microwave or the whoosh of the coffee machine that really indicate the seismic changes that are taking place. He even copies the Radio 4 pips because that’s all we listen to; I can’t do music radio, the so-called ‘rock’ stations are punctuated every five minutes by pyscho-inducing adverts leaving us with BBC Radio 6 which is so impossibly eclectic that after ten minutes my arse and elbow start to fuse.

So we’ve established that talking to the boy in the street, or oneself depending on how it might be perceived, could be seen as problematic to the casual observer, however, it’s an entirely different story at home. In the safety of these four walls, I’m at liberty to chat at my son to my heart’s content. But I don’t just chat, I gesture, cavort, and gambol with such abandonment I almost forget myself. Then I realise that I can be seen from the adjacent flats so I’ll excitedly lift my son up to the window so any curious neighbours won’t think I’ve gone insane.

I’ve not been sleeping at all well lately.