There can be few things in life more stressful than being on an aeroplane with a baby.
Our return flight last week from Montreal, where we have been on holiday (which is stating the obvious; it wasn’t just a very ambitious day trip), was overnight.
Mrs Canavan and I thought this a good thing as we assumed, optimistically as it turned out, our 15-month-old daughter, Mary Beyonce, would sleep through.
(That’s not really her second name by the way, but I like to tell people it is just to watch their reaction – their eyes momentarily widen and they kind of grimace as if they’ve caught their finger in a car door, before catching themselves and saying, ‘oh, how lovely’).
We boarded the plane at 9pm. Mary had been asleep for two hours in the departure lounge and her eyes flickered open as we picked her up to carry her on board. I’m guessing she didn’t like being abruptly woken from a deep and peaceful sleep because she reacted by screaming at a volume I’d not heard since I stood too near the speakers at an AC/DC concert last summer.
Several of our fellow passengers, who until that moment had been commenting on what a beautiful baby she was, now looked over in concerned fashion, with the dawning realisation that they were about to spend six hours on the same plane as this squawking, crying, wailing thing.
The one good thing about travelling with a baby (and it really is the only good thing) is that you’re allowed to board first, so, feeling like VIPs, we were ushered to the front of the queue by a very kindly British Airways woman – who, when I told her the baby’s name was Mary Beyonce, wrinkled her face in peculiar fashion, then said, ‘oh, how lovely’.
Once aboard we spent several minutes rummaging through our hand luggage taking out anything that might, if we were lucky, keep Mary vaguely quiet during the flight (crayons, Lego, a wide variety of snacks, cuddly toys, a gag, arsenic, a shotgun).
By this time, our darling daughter was wide awake but it turns out she isn’t at her best after only two hours sleep as opposed to the usual 12 and she was in furious mood.
Even before we’d taken off, and displaying surprising strength, she hurled her water cup eight feet up the aisle, almost hitting an elderly woman in row 23 seat E flush in the face. It was slightly embarrassing but also encouraging – a potential future career as an Olympian shot putter may await.
As the rest of the passengers boarded and the crew went through the safety instructions, we weren’t so much cradling an enraged Mary as restraining her in the manner of a police officer attempting to pin a burly armed robber to the floor.
I can categorically say that no one in our section of the plane heard what we should do in the event of a sudden loss of cabin air pressure because Mary drowned out the instructions with a high-pitched shriek so loud it caused a taxi driver outside terminal two to swerve and narrowly miss an oncoming vehicle.
It was at this point I noticed the man in the seat just to the side of us. It was hard not to notice him for he was glaring right at me, clearly holding me responsible for the actions of my child (which is fair enough as pre-becoming a father, I’d have done exactly the same).
This fella was in his late 50s, so large his belly overlapped onto the adjoining arm-rest, and looked like he last laughed sometime in the late 1970s.
‘Is she going to be like this the whole time?’ he actually asked as we began taxiing towards the runway while Mary continued to howl.
Mrs Canavan, more aggressive than me, looked like she might jump from her seat and punch him in his big gut, so I – not one for conflict – jumped in and said, “I’m very sorry – we’re doing our best, hopefully she’ll settle soon”.
He leant his head back and peered at me through the bottom half of his glasses – which meant I could see right up his nostrils; not a pleasant sight – tutted slightly and turned away.
It took us a full three hours to calm Mary down – we did this by feeding her more ginger biscuits in one sitting than she’s previously had in her entire life – and it is no exaggeration to say that our bad-tempered fellow passenger spent the entire period shooting angry looks at us every time Mary uttered so much as the slightest whimper. I must confess that from time to time, on the odd rare occasion Mary went quiet, I deliberately jabbed her in the chest to make her cry, just to annoy him.
Next time we go abroad, we’ll take a boat – or leave the baby at home.