Carol the expat wife has done this journey more times than she would care to remember. The long haul flight back home sends feelings of extreme dread through her, but it is so important to ‘get out’ of Africa sometimes and reconnect with home. Every year, Carol’s husband Graham thinks up some spurious reason why he can’t possibly fly with Carol, five year old Freddie, Cressida who is two and baby Josh. There is generally an important meeting that clashes with Carol’s travel dates or it may be the fact that he simply can’t leave the office for so long. Carol knows that Graham prefers the peace and quiet of flying alone and often snags a business class seat when sufficient air-miles allow it.
This leaves Carol going it alone in economy as usual. Graham drops the family at Jomo Kenyatta airport and his heart lifts as he waves them off; relishing blessed respite from continually disturbed night’s sleep with Freddie’s nightmares, Josh’s night feeds and Cressida’s snoring. He will no longer have to endure the evening dose of Eastenders on Sky – but instead will be free to watch Top Gear and the Super Sports without the whinging and prodding from Carol that usually spoils these guilty pleasures.
Now that Carol must pay for a proper seat for Cressida on the plane (she is over 2yrs old), she decides to try to ‘carry on’ the MaxiCosi car seat, in the hopes that she will be able to strap her daughter into it for much of the journey. The only problem is that after checking in the bags, Carol is left juggling the car seat, the pushchair, her own bulky hand luggage and the three children. She straps little Josh onto her chest in the BabyBjorn, then balances Cressida on top of the car seat, which is in turn balanced on top of the umbrella pushchair. Freddie is complaining of being too hot and begins to peel off and drop layers in the middle of the airport. Carol ignores disapproving glances from childless fellow travellers and strides purposefully on ahead. At the x-ray machine there is an ear piercing screech as Cressida face plants onto the floor and the MaxiCosi lands on top of her. Red faced, Carol puts the ensemble back together and miraculously finds a conciliatory packet of Smarties in her bag. Nobody around her says anything.
In spite of the fact that the Java Coffee Shop is miles away from Carol’s departure gate, she makes sure that the entire posse make a detour there so that she can grab a life giving latte. Once at the departure point, Cressida pulls all her crayons and colouring book out of her tiny rucksack and scatters them on the floor. It’s time for Josh’s feed, but Carol has to spin it out until she is onboard so that the bottle can be heated so she bounces him on her knee. Freddie has gone to stare at the big planes through the sheet glass windows.
There is some to-ing and fro-ing on the plane itself, as there are initially no bulkheads available for baby Josh’s ‘skycot’. Some grumbling fellow passengers get moved from the seats of plentiful leg room and shoot death looks at Carol and her brood.
Once in the plane and after takeoff, Cressida rejects the car seat idea, preferring to chase Freddie up and down the aisles in full cry. Freddie knows that when the seatbelt sign goes off he is free to roam, he takes the ‘ping’ sound as his cue. The British Airways hostess scowls at the children running about and reluctantly agrees to warm Josh’s bottle (but not in the microwave, because of health and safety). Carol struggles to get the other two under control while holding Josh under her arm. After struggling with a non functioning TV screen, she swaps everyone around again and finds some cartoons for Cressida and Freddie to watch. Josh is screaming as it is now two hours past his feed.
‘Where the hell is that airhostess and dammit, what on earth did she look like again?’ thinks Carol. After numerous request, the bottle finally arrives but sadly Freddie has now taken a liking to pressing the stewardess button on the armrest.
During lunch Carol is left literally wearing everybody’s food. Trays fly, Freddie rejects the food saying it is ‘yukkie’ and Carol tries to post bits of bread into Cressida’s mouth. Josh is in his sky cot, but not sleeping. First he is sitting up; then precariously trying to break for freedom. Carol catches him with her knee just as he topples out head first.
After lunch, Cressida wails because Freddie keeps unplugging her earphones. Carol smacks Freddie’s hand, then readjusts Cressida’s earphones that keep falling off by wedging a clean nappy on top of her head to keep them in place. Josh vomited in his skycot after his feed. The airhostesses are tutting again. On numerous trips to the bathroom with Freddie and Cressida, Carol gets weed on the children who fail to aim properly and hopes that Josh won’t get baby-napped. She then worries that Freddie and Cressida might go missing when the airhostess tells her that she is not to change the baby’s nappy on her lap, but must go to the bathroom instead. Eventually Carol just tunes into ‘Marley & Me’ on the TV and tries to shut out the mayhem around her.
Frazzled, covered in sick, food, poo, wee and spilt coffee, Carol emerges at drizzly Heathrow and almost weeps at the sight of her old Dad in his anorak, patiently waiting in Arrivals to take them all back ‘home’.