Entering the spacious British Airways 777 and locating our seats at the front, with ample legroom and a pulldown table on which to place a bassinet for our 19-month-old, my fiancé and I may, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling just the tiniest sproutings of optimism. Here we are, about to embark on a two week holiday in the Caribbean on a nice, mid-morning flight, and said 19-month-old has been deprived of a suitable amount of sleep so as to, surely, guarantee an imminent and long nap. We’ve equipped ourselves with an immigration-busting amount of toddler snacks and an assortment of new and old favourite plane-friendly toys, as well as a laptop full of Peppa Pig and In the Night Garden. And, if that wasn’t enough, we have the assurance of six additional members of my other half’s family sitting behind us and dotted about the plane. As we sit down we notice another, similarly aged small child sitting in the row opposite. Looking back, I’m not altogether sure why this was a reassuring sight… Perhaps I had illusory expectations of empathy, or the conspiring whisper of a failsafe tip to amuse a bored toddler shared across the aisle? Perhaps my innocent, pre-11-hour-flight-mind entertained deluded visions of the two toddlers amusing one another as we parents sat back and watched The Imitation Game with a nice beaker of white wine?
Needless to say, within 40 minutes of take-off all expectations, illusory or otherwise, deluded visions and certainly any remaining straggling, apocalypse-defying roaches of optimism have pelleted, bird-poop-like, back down to the Gatwick runway. Gone, too, are 80% of Lara’s carefully selected and rather expensive plane snack selection. Toys old and new lie in ruins a toddler’s throw span from our feet. It’s around this point our dour-faced air host duly hands us our ‘bassinet’ – read slightly larger-than-average baby bouncy chair harnessed to the pull down table in front of us, rendering our pull-up entertainment systems un-pull-up-able (not that we’ll even be able to contemplate any entertainment during the next 10.5 hours). A foul smell drifts into my nostrils and I look, innocently, towards the toilets at the front of the plane. Across the aisle, the sweet-faced toddler settles at once into his bassinet, cuddled in a blanket and gently suckling on his dummy.
Lara has never liked a bouncy chair. She was never one of those small babies you could strap in and then allow to gently undulate themselves to sleep. As I recall, she only really started to appreciate her bouncy chair when she discovered she could bend double and access delicacies on the floor from it. So one can perhaps understand her rage when her hapless parents attempt to strap her into one on a plane full of un-asleep people. Never mind my subsequent discovery that the terrible smell lurking like a guilty, gassy dog about my nose is not, in fact, coming from the toilets up ahead but from the chair itself, or, more precisely, the still-ominously-damp strap that goes between the legs. Call me paranoid but I know what baby diarrhoea smells like. And now my baby, her clothes and my lap, despite none of us having committed any such defecatory offence, smell that way.
Two hours later and I find myself keenly resisting the urge to throw hateful looks at the couple opposite, tucking neatly into their in-flight meal as their toddler continued to slumber without a peep. I, meanwhile, am busy spooning actually-quite-tasty pasta into mine and OH’s mouths due to his heroic (well, it would have been if he’d had a choice) relinquishment of his chicken tikka to our still-very-much-awake, curry-loving offspring… all the while trying to avoid breathing through my nose owing to the still-present ‘bassinet’, mocking us odorously from its entertainment-restricting perch.
Time seems to coagulate into pools of scorched-eye misery as Lara rages, literally, against us, the bassinet, the machine (being us, again, wrestling her into her gro-bag to encourage a sleep-like environment) pausing only to gratefully accept some desperate (and ultimately useless) Calpol. We manage, at some point, to corner our sour-faced host and tell him he might as well take the bassinet away. I tell him it smells. He protests that he “got it from its packet, it will have been cleaned”. Me: “Well it smelled like baby poo and it was still wet.” Him, very uninterestedly: “Oh. Well, maybe it wasn’t cleaned very well.” And that was that.
Grateful respite comes as members of the family take turns attempting to entertain Lara, who is by now at the mood-swinging, unpredictable stage of toddler tiredness, roaring with laughter even as the tears of rage continue to track down her cheeks. I attempt to watch several inflight films, from Cake (too depressing) to Little Miss Sunshine (a trusty favourite but had forgotten the ear-splitting scream at the beginning. Too reminiscent of real life) to The Imitation Game which I can tell is good, but I’m not quite getting enough of to actually retain chunks of the plot, due to a squint-inducing screen and a strange audio quirk which renders Benedict Cumberbatch all mumbly but Keira Knightley almost unbearably shrill.
Toddler across aisle eventually wakes up and begins to play happily with Play Doh. Lara steals his book and my hopes of their playing happily with one another are dashed in twenty seconds of baleful stares. They spend the rest of the flight ignoring one another. He sweetly watches Peppa Pig on his mother’s laptop with some cute child-friendly headphones. Lara, probably wisely given aforementioned audio quirk, refuses the inflight headphones so we have to play our episodes of Peppa and Night Garden on very low volume. Having been awake for more hours than she usually sleeps at night, we attempt sleep-lulling Lara with the jigglyshuffle, which, probably because she hasn’t gone to sleep this way for at least six months, renders her perplexed, rather cross and still very awake. Toddler across the aisle settles down for his second nap, bottle in mouth, and his father throws us a judgey sort of look as Lara continues to whine miserably. I wonder, briefly, if this is karma for ever having felt a scrap of smugness at Lara’s never having needed a dummy or a bottle to sleep.
Plane lands in Antigua and perfectly-nice-but-now-unfortunately-enemies-for-life family disembark along with 80% of plane’s passengers. Lara has now gone from tired and irritable to riding her 38th wind and is quite happily playing peekaboo with her grandparents, who’re sitting behind us. We complete the last stretch of the journey to touch down in Tobago an older, wiser and decidedly smellier family than before. Upon the retrieval of Lara’s buggy at baggage claim and the insertion of her into it, she promptly falls fast asleep and stays that way until we reach our holiday home about 45 minutes later. Despite it being gone midnight UK time, Lara uses the tantalising new reality of finding herself in a whole new place to fuel her 39th wind, running up and down the veranda and then gifting me with such a huge nappy-full of defecation I do not realise that it has stained the only-really-useful-holiday-vest I’ve just changed into until the next morning.
Things, I’m happy to report, have become decidedly better since then. Despite a fairly sleepless first night (during which I spent at least two hours being beaten about the face by my suddenly-desperate-to-co-sleep child) the second night went like a dream and we’ve all caught up on sleep and settled quite happily into island life. Our party has enjoyed incredible views, paradisiacal beaches, rainforests, waterfall swims, varying degrees of burns, many pina coladas, awesome food and some excellent snorkelling – leading to an equally excellent ‘shark scare’ for one of us – and, of course, the obligatory contribution of our blood and flesh to a variety of oddly silent insects. All chronicled in much better detail by the blog of my future brother-in-law and his OH here.
As I write, the breeze is gently lapping at my face as the Caribbean sun beats its unforgiving steel drum upon the dancing palm trees, potted asphalt, obscenely lush flowers and flattened creatures surrounding our villa. In a short while Lara will wake up from her nap and we will wander the quarter mile or so down to Stonehaven Bay, our local stretch of idyll. There, I shall have a suitably calorific cocktail, either a pina colada or an island-style margarita, and then take a dip in the bath-temperature sea as OH dances Lara back and forth from the lapping waves.
On tomorrow, that barb on the horizon, that bitter little cinnamon twinge at the back of my tongue, we will dwell not. Tomorrow our little scoop of tranquility reaches its crescent of conclusion. Tomorrow is the bastard flight home.