Going out and about with a baby, particularly a very cute or an extremely ugly one, makes you both public property. Strangers stop to admire, question, photograph, even hijack my daughter for a cuddle on a daily basis. My very British instinct was once to turn away but by the time baby was big enough to cause chaos on an airplane, I'd worked out that the attention of strangers is most welcome. So much so that when an Etihad Airways flight attendant recently paused to cluck over the flailing bundle in my lap, I practically insisted that he take her for a wander up and down the aisle.
Something about the way he spoke to her engendered trust and sure enough, it turned out that the incredibly good-humoured man had once been a midwife. As I enjoyed a cup of tea in relative tranquility for the next five minutes, I could have pinned a medal to his chest.
Not every professional is professionally helpful, of course. I've almost rammed our pushchair into the glass-fronted doors of a five-star hotel because the smartly dressed doorman was too busy admiring his own reflection to notice my presence. Never afraid to ask for help - a travelling with kids' golden rule - I excuse me-d three times, ever more loudly, until he opened the door.
If you're truly desperate for a pair of helping hands, however, seek out a grandparent. My daughter's own live far away but many a random oldie has provided cover on our travels. I initially felt sorry for the sixty-something woman behind me on the same flight from Abu Dhabi to Athens who baby immediately started eyeballing between the headrests. The staring/smiling contest went on intermittently for the next four hours with both baby and the old woman equally entranced.
It didn't matter that the grandmother only spoke Greek, her shrieks of delight proved entertainment enough and my daughter's toothless grins the only necessary reward. I'd packed a small bag of toys for when she became bored of mouthing the "what to do if we crash" card and it remained unopened until half-way through the flight. A record.
Don't underestimate the value of youth, either, especially in an emergency. After a memorable but gruelling four-and-a-half hour ferry ride from Athens to the island of Paros, baby chose the moment that we sat down to eat our first Greek salad and souvlaki to relieve herself of three days' worth of meals into one woefully insufficent nappy. As my husband and I struggled to cope with the aftermath, stripping off clothes, going through wet wipe after wet wipe, and trying to screen other diners from the mess with the hood of the pram, the young waiter sauntered over with a plastic bag.
"Thanks," I mumbled, extremely embarrassed.
"Don't worry," said the still-spotty 20-year-old. "I'm sure it will happen to me one day."