The Extreme Sport of Packing

So, the Boy Band is halfway through our world tour – leaping through the skies from Hong Kong, we hit Australia (hard!). But it’s a tough country and it barely yelped. Tonight, we jet off to South Africa.

Since the Malaysia Airlines aeroplane disappeared from the sky, my fear of flying has increased to an unhealthy level. And it’s not helped by tough questions from eight-year-old Lead Vocal: “Why did that plane crash? Will our plane crash? But hardly anyone dies, even if we crash, right? Do I have to wear that life vest if we crash in the sea? Really? Even though I can already swim 10 metres??? How do planes stay in the sky?”

I HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE HOW PLANES STAY IN THE SKY!!!

They really shouldn’t. It makes no sense. Not only is it a heavy, metal tube, but it’s full of heavy people. We are lucky. We live in Asia, so most of the people are really skinny. But I personally add a few extra unwanted kilos, plus we smuggle on litres and litres of apple juice and Ribena and lemon squash for the Boy Band, whose food fussiness extends to liquids. (See: Food, Glorious Food.)

And what about the luggage in the cargo hold? What the Hongkongers lack in girth and height, they make up for with ridiculously large suitcases, bursting with weather-inappropriate clothes. And two of the Boy Band insist on bringing Trunkis on board (if you haven’t had the pleasure, they are those ride-on, child-sized suitcases, guaranteed to take you out below the knees if you step backwards at the check-in desk. And the kids ride on them for about 50 metres before they either beg to be pulled along, or dump the Trunki on the already overladen luggage trolley.) And those darn things are like the Tardis. I’m sure if they ever got weighed, we’d end up paying for excess baggage. Toys and more toys and blankets and secret snacks burst out of a fire-engine design suitcase when Air Guitar opens it up, just as we hear the “Final Call” boarding announcement.

But back to Australia. We had a blast at the family wedding. The boys didn’t disgrace us. We had drugged them with excessive iPad usage, so they were zombie-like during the ceremony and meal.

We didn’t do too much sight-seeing. Darling Harbour, a wildlife park, the toilets of the wildlife park, the toilets of Darling Harbour, the toilets of MacDonalds… Drummer Boy was very keen to see inside Sydney Opera House, but we knew that precious landmarks and Drummer Boy just don’t mix. “I pwomise not to bweak it,” he said, batting his baby blues. We didn’t believe him.sydney opera house

By this point, he had already broken his Uncle’s swimming pool safety fence and a mannequin in Rebel sports shop. We knew our insurance would not cover the Sydney Opera House.

The other major break we’ve had is my toe. My left little toe, to be precise. It may now be the most expensive left little toe in the world. Thankfully, our medical insurance is picking up the humongous bill, only quibbling over the crutches and the fancy-dancy cast, which seems a little mean of them. It’s the most expensive left shoe my husband has ever treated me to.

We arrived back in Hong Kong from Sydney at 9pm on Saturday night. We were scheduled to fly to Johannesburg at midnight on Easter Sunday. It was going to be a crazy turnaround, but we were confident we could unpack and repack and get on our way.

Until I kicked the skirting board as I rushed towards the suitcase. More haste, less speed and all the jazz, my friends. Oh, if only I had a time machine. Or was less of a klutz. But no… a kick is a kick, and I heard the bone snap like a twig. I wailed like a baby.

broken toe

Fast forward eight hours (because they can’t give you anaesthetic until you have fully digested your children’s Easter eggs), and I ended up on the operating table at 6pm, and now have a bionic toe with a permanent pin in it, an ugly “Aircast” boot so I can channel my inner Stormtrooper, and a Tango tan from my toes to halfway up my left leg after an enthusiastic swabbing with Agent Orange, or whatever germicide they use in surgery.

But the tour must go on. We are now scheduled to fly to South Africa tonight. Thankfully, with wheelchair assistance at the airport. Little does the porter know, but by the time two members of the Boy Band, some Duty Free bags, plus a couple of Trunkis have been piled on top of me in the wheelchair, it will resemble a Bangkok Tuk Tuk.

On the plus side, the aeroplane will be lighter (and therefore more likely to stay in the sky), because now I only have to pack shoes for my right foot. Every cloud, dear readers… every cloud.

 

 

 

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Tour preparations – Part 1

The Boy Band is preparing to go on tour! We have been invited to Australia at the end of next week to fill in for the Rolling Stones. (Ok, we’ve actually been invited to a family wedding, but it still feels like we are preparing for a tour…)

Here is how the members of the Boy Band usually prepare: they jump about the furniture screaming hysterically about the idea of (a) staying up past bedtime to get to the airport, and (b) missing a few days of school. This giddiness will escalate, over the next 10 days, to an unacceptably high level of naughtiness. On the WHO scale of bad behaviour (I believe there is an app to measure this), it will reach Dangerously High, followed by Harmful To The Health Of The General Public. This craziness will result in me losing both my cool and my mind, and insanely screeching, “That’s it! You’ve lost all iPad time for a month!”

Big mistake. my friends. HUUUUGE mistake! Who am I punishing here? We’re about to go on a nine-hour flight and I’ve just banned iPads. Quick! Somebody invent a time machine so I can whoosh back and bite my out-of-control tongue! In fact, just pass me a rusty knife and I’ll saw that wagging flesh from my mouth rather than utter those words again.

I have seen the future, and the future is unpleasant. Therefore, I will not – NOT – be provoked into confiscating iPads or other handheld sedatives before a long-haul flight. So, while the hyper behaviour slowly creeps up the scale from “Boys Will Be Boys” to “Let’s See What The Police Have To Say About That”, I am going to practise deep breathing, find my inner zen and mentally prepare for being in a small metal tube for nine hours with my four ‘energetic’ (a euphemism for ‘out of control’) darlings.

To be honest, nine hours will seem like a walk in the park, given that our usual journey from Hong Kong to visit Grandma and Grandad in the north-east of England takes about 22 hours door-to-door. We’ve survived enough long-haul flights with the Boy Band over the years that One World have recently awarded us Medals of Valour (and requested that we switch to Star Alliance for all future flights.)

I am willing to share my top tips for air travel with infants and young children. These, my friends, are the essentials to be packed in your carry-on luggage.

luggage

  • Benadryl. This is not for the Boy Band. Goodness, if I drugged my children every time I felt they were annoying other people, they’d spend their childhood floating in a soporific haze. No, the Benadryl is for the adults in the rows behind and in front of me. They may be grateful for a swig of it by hour five.
  • One thousand small packets of sweeties/candies. Again, not for the Boy Band. Do I look like a rookie? Under cover of darkness, once the cabin lights have dimmed, I distribute these to children sitting in our section of the plane. With a bit of luck, their sugar high will detract from the antics of my own children.
  • Sticky tape. This has a two-fold purpose. When Drummer Boy refuses to stop rhythmically pounding his feet into the spine of the man seated in front of him, I use the tape to secure his errant legs in the brace position. Safety first, folks! And when The Cute One is being less than cute and wailing at a pitch that drowns out all four jet engines, I go all Eastern Bloc orphanage and tape his dummy firmly into his mouth. Sweet, sweet silence.
  • Small toys galore. As soon as the ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ sign has switched off, I fish handfuls of small toys from my bag (e.g., die cast cars, crayons, dice, plastic dinosaurs and the like) and strew them liberally on the floor, making sure to toss most of them far under the seats about 3 rows in front. Then, I stuff the few remaining pieces of Lego or toy soldiers down the sides of the seats, mashing them in with bits of month-old food and other people’s skin flakes. This skips the annoying step of playing with a toy for three minutes before losing it, and goes straight to the more challenging “find a small toy in the dark” game. It’s especially challenging for Drummer Boy when his legs are taped to his chair.
  • iPads. Forget all the above steps if you must – but pack those iPads before you even pack your passports or e-ticket printouts. We like to take an iPad 1 (it has a certain quaint antique value), an iPad 2, an iPad Air and an iPad Mini (did I mention we have four boys, and we are cooped up in a very tight space for a very long time?). All bets are off, all rules are in abeyance. If the one-year-old wants nine hours of Baby Einstein, I am not going to be Amish about it.

One final gem of advice: make sure your iPads are all different (whether it’s the type of iPad, the colour of the cover or the apps you have loaded on them). This invariably sparks a lively argument about who gets which iPad. I am always grateful for these little diversions. The fight over the distribution of iPads occupies at least 15 minutes of the flight, which accounts for a substantial amount* of the journey.

*It’s important to note, minutes in the air work like dog years:- 1 dog year = 7 human years; 1 minute in the air with the Boy Band = 7 minutes on solid ground with the same children. So, a minor tiff about the iPad actually lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. And the flight to Australia will, in real time, last 63 hours!!! Just make sure you save the last swig of Benadryl for yourself.