Plane speaking

Spent the bank holiday enjoying a splendid long weekend in Portugal, where we attended a joyous wedding – the first of 8 that we’re going to this year. 

It had everything you could want in a wedding: happy couple, beautiful setting, charming toddlers, free-flowing wine, playlist primarily centred around dance-pop bangers of the mid-2000s. Perfection.

We then spent 24 hours getting intensely sunburned hairlines, as is inevitable when venturing outside in the summer months. (Have you ever thought about how truly miraculous sun cream is? It’s easy to take it for granted – but I would be completely housebound from May to September every year if it weren’t for the magic of Factor 30. Thank you, sun cream scientists of the world).

So far, so lovely. 

The journey home, though. Goodness me. We encountered some characters. 

The narcissist baby

There were more babies on the flight than seemed plausible. Every other seat seemed to have a baby in it. I am emphatically pro-baby, but even for me it was a bit overwhelming.

Like the menstrual cycles of ladies living in close quarters, these babies had somehow synchronised. Before the plane had even made it to the runway they all, as one, began to scream. It was not clear what they were cross about specifically, but it was evident that they all thoroughly disapproved of air travel. (They say that millennials are more environmentally conscious than Gen-Xers, don’t they? Perhaps the members of this new, as-yet-unnamed generation are voicing their concerns about carbon emissions early. Good for them.)

Over the course of the flight, they gradually settled down. One by one, they settled to naps or babbling or iPad time. All of them except the baby who was sitting across the aisle from us.

His parents tried many tricks. Was he hungry? Yes – but a bottle didn’t calm him. Was he wet? Yes – but changing him made no difference. He was unwilling to submit to distractions. He could not be coddled. 

Then: the big guns. Out came his mum’s iPhone. What would it be? A visual survey of his peers suggested that Peppa Pig might be the answer, but it clearly held no charm for this baby. He wanted one thing only: VIDEOS OF HIMSELF. 

His whole body relaxed as his screams gave way to chuckles. This was what he’d wanted all along: to watch himself in happier times. He had no upper limit for how many clips he wanted to watch, nor how many viewings of each were needed. Meta baby. I loved him. 

The nervous flyer

Takeoff was turbulent. The first time the plane jostled, the woman next to me flinched. The second time, she gasped. I, being Terribly British, stared fixedly at my book and pretended that nothing was happening.

(Have you all read Nancy Mitford already? Why didn’t you TELL me?)

The third time the turbulence came, the woman turned to me with panicked eyes.

“Will you talk to me?”

Unexpected plane small talk: a suggested list

  • Where have you been? 
  • How long for?
  • Did you have a nice time? 
  • Hot, wasn’t it?
  • It’ll be cold when we land though, won’t it?
  • Haha.
  • Haha.
  • Yes.
  • Um…

Finally, improbably, we hit upon something that meant we actually got chatting. Would it take me long to get home from the airport? Oh, no, an hour or so. What about her? She actually had another flight to catch. Where was she going?

Jersey.

Hold. The. Phone.

We’d been to the same school (but not at the same time). With shared reference points, we both visibly relaxed. (She relaxed even more when the drinks trolley finally arrived, obvs; I am not nearly as soothing as a G&T).

She’d lived in London for a while, and had interviewed at the place I work now. She’d moved back to Jersey a few years ago, and worked for a while as a fundraiser at the local branch of a big charity. Further shared references. Lovely.

All going swimmingly, until she told me about her current job.

“Oh! Fakename Von Pseudonym works there, doesn’t he?”

“Yes! You know Fakename!?”

Oh no oh no oh no oh no.

I do not know Fakename at all, really. More than a decade ago, our social circles overlapped. I remember him as being achingly cool and worldly wise, which seems improbable in retrospect given that he was seventeen and lived in Jersey. But he was the exact sort of cool that I found (and find) almost debilitating: losing the power of speech, becoming stilted and stuffy and stultified. He tolerated me, at best.

But he also did one of the kindest, best things that anyone has ever done for me. I owe him a debt of gratitude that – as the fog of embarrassment has gradually lifted over the intervening years – I have become acutely aware of.

At a mutual friend’s 18th birthday, I drank much, much too much wine. The situation was exacerbated when a well meaning friend who was meant to be making sure I drank water believed my assertion that I was totally fine and subbed it out for a pint of More Wine. 

I kissed a boy. He was the son of my (awful) Year 7 CDT teacher, and was wearing a necklace made of an old car part, and I was proving a point about something that is now long forgotten. 

It gets a bit hazy, here.

I was put to bed, and I was definitely alone. And then, I wasn’t.

I wasn’t saying no, but I also wasn’t saying yes, exactly. I wasn’t saying anything much: I hardly knew my own name. I really do not like to think about where the evening could have gone. 

It didn’t, though. Fakename Van Pseudonym burst into the room, pulled him away, shouted, shoved. He made sure the room was guarded, so I could safely sleep it off.

I think embarrassment stopped me from ever thanking him (or from looking him in eye, even), but I have never forgotten this noble thing he did.

It is beyond me how we ever became Facebook friends. A fit of enthusiasm in the early days when it was still a novelty, perhaps. But Facebook friends we are, and so I have an ambient awareness of what’s going on in his life.

“You know Fakename!?”

“Oh. A bit. Not really. I knew him slightly when we were teenagers.”

“Shall I say hello from you?”

“That’s ok. I bet he doesn’t even remember me.”

The Worst Man In The World

There was barely any queue at the ePassport gates, but the need to wait for any time at all had made the man behind us incandescent with rage. 

We were in the queue at the far left, just by the desks where the rejects get sent when their passports and the machines won’t play nicely together. 

“WHY DO THEY GET TO GO AHEAD, THEN? HAVE SOME PEOPLE GOT SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS?”

Largely, we all ignored him.

“OI.”

The security officer continued to ignore him. 

OI.

“Yes?”

“WHY CAN’T I GO TO THAT DESK? THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

“If you just wait a couple of minutes, sir, you’ll be through quite soon.”

A lady with two small children was escorted to the desks from the main, snaking, old-style-passports queue.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? WHY DOES SHE GET TO GO THROUGH THERE? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

There are not enough bold capitals in the world to capture how loud or how obnoxious he was being. The lady with the children snapped, “I have a disabled child!”

We all thought that would stop him. We had underestimated just how awful he was.

DISABLED? WHAT’S THAT THEN? WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THAT MAKE? IT’S IN A PUSHCHAIR, ISN’T IT? IT DOESN’T HAVE TO WALK ANYWHERE.

The entire queue was now united in a common hatred for this man.

Out of nowhere, the return of The Nervous Flyer! She was at risk of missing her connecting flight! Could the security man help her? Of course he could! She slotted into the line ahead of us.

WHY DOES SHE GET TO GO AHEAD OF ME!?

“She’s got a plane to catch!”

SO!? I’VE GOT A TRAIN TO CATCH.

I really do not feel I am adequately conveying this. He was, genuinely, The Worst Man In The World.

Something went wrong, and the bags from our flight took another 45 minutes to reach the baggage carousel. I enjoyed every delicious second that he had to wait. 

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