We did it. Twenty-four hours, countless time zones, 14,617 kilometres, one international transfer, three children and no sleep. But we did it. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. I mean, granted, Ben slept for only 40 minutes in TOTAL, but hey, at least we now know how long my eldest son can go without sleep before he falls, elbow first, into his lasagne (43 hours, as you ask. FORTY-THREE FUCKING HOURS.)
There were tantrums, of course there were, and raised voices, and smacked bums, but there are tantrums and raised voices and smacked bums on an average trip to Woolworths, so that’s hardly breaking news.
It was chaos, of course it was, which started the night before we left, when I discovered that Ben no longer fitted into ANY of his jeans or trousers. And I MAY have thrown away his trackies in a house-moving purge a few months ago, cos they made him look like a fat tramp. Which left us in something of a pickle, given that we were travelling to England in the bleak midwinter, and the only clothes that fitted my nine-year-old son were football kits (“I’ll just wear two at the same time,” he said, “with football socks!”). And so it came to be that Ben travelled light, wearing shorts (elasticated) and a Manchester City football shirt, emblazoned with the name of our airline, because, Ben said, this would GUARANTEE US an upgrade into business class. A double guarantee if Frankie wore his, too. (It didn't.)
And then, on the day of travel, he went all Rain Man on our ass: “Is this the right terminal? I don’t think this is the right terminal. Is this our gate? What if we don’t hear the boarding call? We should be boarding by now. We should definitely be boarding by now. What if they don’t let us on the plane?” and so on and so forth, while Alice tried to feed her sucked-on lollipop to an infant and Frankie practised his tightrope-walking skills on the back of a row of chairs, and Paul said: “I suppose it’s good that they get it out of their systems now, eh?” and I said to the chilled-out mamma with her sleeping baby in a papoose on her chest: “Stick with one. For the love of god just stick with one.”
Surprisingly, they let us board, and, as we settled in for the 11-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, I launched stage one of my surviving-a-long-haul-flight-with-three-children action plan: charm the hostesses. It wasn’t me doing the charming, you understand, or even Ben, with his hacking cough, a snotty nose he refused to blow, and an increasing sense of delirium, but Frankie and Alice, who are cute, curly haired and – when they want to be – quite adorable, with their pweases and fank oos. Yes, the hostess thought Frankie was a girl, but fuck it, if it meant extra biscuits and more wine, then I’d put him in a frock and teach him to curtsey. The charm offensive worked, to the point that the hostesses presented my children with a hand-drawn declaration of their love and appreciation as we touched down at Abu Dhabi. I still don't understand the parrot reference.
The Phenergan worked, by the way, on two out of the three children anyway, who slept on my lap for six out of the 11 hours, pinning me to my seat and forcing me to cross my legs, refuse liquids and watch dry-sounding films such as Amy (4.5 stars, on account of the tragic ending) and Pitch Perfect (FIVE stars. It was all I could do not to stand up and APPLAUD as the credits rolled. What a rollercoaster of plot and emotion!).
The cracks started to show during the three-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi, as the kids wrestled on the less-than-clean floor of the transit lounge and my eyes started to burn. At one point Paul and I fell asleep on each other’s shoulder, until a piercing scream shattered the silence. I jolted awake to see Ben standing on a chair, shouting “ALLLLLICCCCCCCCCCEE RIPPED MY MAGAZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE” at the exact same point a fellow traveller saw fit to strike up a conversation with us. “Oooo, have you come far?” “Eleven hours, yes, Ben! Get down!” “Oh! We’ve travelled 14 hours!” “Alice tore my magazine! How would you feel if Alice tore your magazine?” “Oh! We’ve come from Sydney! We went on a ferry ride!” “I’D PROBABLY GET OVER IT. We’ve come from Perth.” “We went to Perth! We went to Monkey Mia! Have you been to Monkey Mia?” “When I was little. ALICE, STOP BITING YOUR BROTHER.” “We moved to Dubai, but it wasn’t for us, so we went to Thailand instead. We adore Thailand, have you been?” “No, but Paul has, I hear it’s lovely, FRANKIE FOR FUCK’S SAKE STOP JUMPING ON THE IPAD.” This went on indefinitely, until we were called to the gate, and Frankie decided that was a really, really good time to have a massive, screaming tantrum on the floor, and we were asked to step out of the queue until peace was restored.
On the next flight, from Abu Dhabi to Manchester (eight hours, a little longer than usual, on account of diversions around Syria – no complaints here), there was a bit of a drama with the seats; Ben had been seated at the opposite end of the plane from us (an honest mistake, any parent could’ve made it) so we had to stand around until it was resolved, and a kindly Asian gentleman gave up his emergency exit seat for ME, because you can’t sit there if you’re under 16 (RESULT).
By the 30-hours-without-sleep mark, Ben went a bit mental, stabbing at the video screen with tired, uncoordinated fingers, blinking to keep himself awake, and dribbling. Yes, dribbling. As I desperately tried to convince him to sleep – “BUT WHY, WHY DO I NEED TO SLEEEEEEEP” – the guy next to me decided to run me through the camera roll on his iPhone. “This is my long-legged Jack Russell! This is a blurry photo of my niece having dinner! This is my other long-legged Jack Russell! This is my granddaughter, no, not him, that’s someone else, she’s there, in the background, behind that other blurred head.”
And then, precisely 24 hours after we left Perth, we landed in Manchester. Because, yes, we’d made it. Some of us with colder knees and slightly less will to live than others, but we’d made it nonetheless. Now we’ve just got to find Ben some slacks, before the hypothermia kicks in.