Apart from the occasional gumming of an air stewardess’s ear Joseph behaved himself pretty well on his first flight. Clearly a budding engineer, he mastered the seat belt buckle in seconds and once he had been transferred to the bassinet, he made repeated attempts to get at the screws which held it to the bulkhead. When awake he gahhed and burbled, noises which were lost in the white noise of the engines. When asleep he lay stretched out and tucked in, and I gazed at him partly in awe but mostly with the exponentially increasing envy known only to the economy traveller.
I had been a bit apprehensive about taking Joseph back to England but I desperately wanted to him to meet all the friends and relatives. The flight was the main issue. Neill and I had done a couple of weekends away with him and even then the car had been stuffed to the gunnels. How would I manage alone with a six month old baby? How would I feed him? Would he sleep? Would he scream? Would everybody hate me? I had 12 hours non-stop Cape Town to London to find out.
The first hurdle was applying for a passport for Joseph, then remembering to collect it, then remembering where I had put it. Then remembering where I had put mine.
I wrote a list of what I would need on board: nappies, wet wipes, Vaseline, baby paracetemol just in case, a nozzle to administer the baby paracetemol, muslins, baby food, spoons for baby food, bibs, toys (nothing too noisy, nothing that might roll away down the aisle), bottles, spare bottles in case the others rolled away down the aisle, baby formula, dummy, his own blankets to make the boy feel at home and to avoid the static of the aeroplane ones, a couple of changes of clothes for him just in case, a change of clothes for me just in case. And a book and a packet of tissues. And the tickets. And the passports. Where had I put those again?
There wasn’t a hope of an upgrade (is there ever?) so I dressed for comfort in cast-off maternity trousers and slippers. Somewhat dishevelled by the last minute packing, I shuffled around stopping every now and again to hitch up the old elastic on my waistband. I think people were genuinely surprised to see a baby in the pram rather than a pile of old newspapers or a flea-bitten mongrel.
Despite this – or quite possibly because of this – I was fast-tracked through the airport and was even able to wheel the pram right up to the door of the plane. Things were going surprisingly well.
As I was travelling with an infant, I was one of the first to be shown on board, and had the joy of a completely empty overhead locker above my seat. I manhandled my bags into it while balancing the boy on my hip, but having got up 10 times in the next 15 minutes to retrieve various items, I dragged them back down again, so that they were right in the way when 40-a-day Rita came to sit beside me. She was great, entertaining Joseph just the right amount (a lot) and talking to me just the right amount (hardly at all). But it was even better when she was asked if she would like one of the few available seats. With my prompting she took up the offer, but she popped back a couple of times during the flight to see if she could help. And I’d thought I’d be met with hard stares from my fellow passengers.
Which reminds me. Next time you are on a flight and you see a parent doing a soothing dance with their baby at the front of the section, don’t think, “Why are they facing me? Aren’t they embarrassed that their child is crying? Are they showing off?” These are desperate people. A child that already has its parent bobbing up and down like a pantomime policeman is not going to be soothed by a sea of scowling faces. No, it’s he poor parent who has to gaze into the middle distance so that the child can look at a blank grey wall.
All in all the flights were remarkably straightforward. Negotiating all the friends and relatives was a far more hazardous undertaking. But for those of you considering coming to Cape Town with children do not fear: it is perfectly possible to survive the journey. And once you are here, you’ll find it is one of the most child-friendly cites in the world. Welcome to the Mothercity.