Travelling with kids: It was all going so well that one flight attendant had taken a Polaroid to celebrate the fact that it was my four-month-old daughter's first flight.
Passing the mummy test
'Please. I don't know. I just come to work and then go home." I'd first met the helpful young woman standing in front of me at the departure gate about four hours earlier, when I had checked in for the EasyJet flight from Rome's Fiumicino airport to London Gatwick.
At the time, I was feeling slightly euphoric. I'd managed to survive the Emirates' flight from Dubai to Italy's capital, with only my four-month-old daughter for company. She'd slept for most of the six-and-a-half-hour flight, thanks to the soft vibration of the aircraft and the makeshift bed of pillows and blanket rolls that the cabin crew had given me to pad my lap. I'd taken the trouble to book a seat with a bassinet but it goes without saying that my daughter had woken up the moment I put her into it, so it was marathon cuddles time.
Still, much to my relief and everyone else's, Thora slept as if she'd been tranquilised. It was all going so well that one happy flight attendant had taken a Polaroid to celebrate the fact that it was Thora's first flight. She looks angelic in her white all-in-one; I look a perfect fright. No make-up, hair awry, wearing a smile tinged with fear. It's as if I'm anticipating some mid-air disaster. Not the fall-out-of-the-sky-in-flames variety but a seeping nappy, perhaps.
Changing even a small, practically motionless baby on the hard flap that pulls down over the toilet bowl in an airplane is a challenge: it's hard to lift and wipe without crowning your little darling with the wall. Ask the attendant to put the flap down for you, carry everthing you need tucked under one arm, with the baby wipes ready poking out of the packet, then be quick about it, is all the advice I can give to first-timers. Don't even attempt the manoeuvre in turbulence, however light. Luckily, I didn't need to go to the toilet as well; adrenalin obviously soaks up excess bodily fluids.
It wasn't until Rome that my luck changed. I'd managed to keep Thora entertained for nearly an hour in the check-in queue for EasyJet, a low-cost airline that seems to keep its costs low by not hiring enough ground staff. At least on this occasion, anyway. I didn't have the guts to muscle to the front saying, "Excuse me. Baby coming through." A lesson for next time. Finally, Thora and I made it to the departure gate, exhausted but both dry-eyed. A victory of sorts.
It was at this point, some 10 hours into my journey, that the mummy test actually started. My onward flight was to be five hours late taking off because the aircraft was apparently making an extra hop to Venice. I asked the woman tasked with telling passengers this good news, if there was anywhere I could take refuge. She offered me a beverage voucher instead. Unable to summon the energy to carry my baby and hand baggage any further, I sunk down on to a perforated metal chair. And just sat there, arms numb, occasionally clenching my butt cheeks to keep the blood flowing. Thora slept on. I pondered the insanity of flying indirect and who I would trust my baby with if I ever needed the loo.