Well, not quite eternity, just as far as Australia but it certainly felt like an eternity with 4 small children, 6 backpacks, 5 suitcases, 4 car seats, a laptop and a handbag and no other grown up in my group. All I needed really was a partridge in a pear tree and I would have had my very own Christmas carol.
I booked Dave, our reliable taxi driver to pick us up at 7am and he said he might not be there until nearer half past as he would be coming back from another airport run. No problem, our flight wasn’t until noon so plenty of time. But we don’t call him “Reliable Dave” for no reason and he arrived promptly at 7am so we all had to scuttle into the taxi in a massive hurry spilling Cheerios and bits of toast all over his nice clean taxi. This left no time for a protracted goodbye with Rich’s mum and dad who have so kindly put us up/put up with us for the extra two weeks in the UK whilst we sorted out our Australian visas. Probably just as well or we would all have been a tearful, soggy mess on their doormat.
I had explained my single-mother-goes-to-Australia predicament to Dave and asked if he could help me into the terminal with all the luggage. “No problem” he said. But of course he is not my husband nor the children’s father so when he had escorted us as far as the check-in queue he announced that he would be getting on his way. “Have a good trip”, he chuckled as he walked off happily with the enormous tip I had just given him. I think it was only then that the reality of what the next 30 hours in front of me might be like, finally dawned!
It was definitely worth the 40 minute investment of time to check-in on line the day before as this meant we could proceed to the baggage drop queue – with only two people ahead of us. Learning from our last airport baggage check-in fiasco, we have invested in one of those nerdy baggage weighers so I was absolutely certain that no bags would be over weight limit. (The prospect of having to spill our undies and encylopedias all over the airport floor and re-distribute them once again was too hideous to contemplate!). With only a 20kg baggage allowance this time, it did mean that the kids’ backpacks were jammed with books once more and Zach and Katie literally couldn’t lift theirs so we proceeded on to security with me buckling under the weight of three backpacks, a laptop bag and a handbag, trying to stop Zach shooting off into the BA first class lounge.
I know that increased airport security is a necessary evil of modern travel but each time I fly I never cease to be amazed by the pointless stupidity of some of the things decent, law-abiding, high fair paying passengers are forced to do. In addition to removing shoes, jackets, belts etc. and packing toiletries in a clear plastic bag, this time we had to get the toiletries out of our bags and hold them at arm’s length in front of us for the security guards to inspect. I am unclear how all of us flashing our miniature tubes of toothpaste and nightcream in this way can be an effective measure against terrorists and can’t help but feel that the perpetrators of 9/11 must be highly satisfied that their actions are still disrupting air travel to such a degree, ten years on.
I was also singled out for an all over body search by the security staff which the children found highly amusing (I’m sure they only picked me because they could sense my fury at the whole displaying toiletries thing, I had no free hands with which to hold plastic bags out at arm’s length!).
Once I had re-dressed myself, put my mini toiletries back in one of my many back packs and herded the wildly scattered children for the umpteenth time we had two hours to kill in the airport before we could board out plane. Fortunately salvation came in the form of a newly opened FREE soft play at terminal four – what a great bonus – so I sat with a nice cup of tea and chatted with another super mum (taking two children alone to Atlanta), whilst our six children wreaked havoc in the ball pit and made the poor lone operator wonder why she had come to work that day!
11:30 our final call, we can delay it no longer. After 3 hours of cat-herding in the airport I was quite looking forward to them being hermetically sealed in the aeroplane for a few hours, at least they wouldn’t be able to run too far. Our plane was brand new, (having had its maiden flight only two weeks before) and was an A380 which for those of you not in the know (like me until yesterday) is a very very very big plane. It is a double decker, wide bodied, four engine aircraft which dwarfs a 747. It is the world’s largest passenger aircraft and due to its size, many airports have had to increase their capacity to accommodate it. “It’s a cruise ship with wings,” observed Matthew. It can carry up to 823 people and if you are in the market for a new plane yourself, you can snap one up for about $400,000,000!
When we were assigned our seats in row 68 I assumed we would be in some sort of trailer behind the plane but no, the rows go all the way back to 80-something on the ground floor. It is enormous. Immediately Ben honed in on the fact that the personal TV screens were much bigger than BA’s and not only did they have 500 channels of TV but 100 channels of video games and a pull out controller so at least he was in heaven for the next 12.5 hours. So once I had had a lesson from Eddie, our very patient and friendly cabin steward (Malaysian airlines, big thank you) on how the entertainment system worked and I had then shown each child how they could toggle freely between films, TV and video games, for the most part, I didn’t even know they were there! Ben and Matt played Pac-man and the like for twelve and half hours without blinking, barely stopping to eat or drink. By the time we arrived at the half way point in Kuala Lumpur they looked like Lord Voldemort with bright red, snake-like slits were their eyes used to be!
Katie eventually stopped asking if we were nearly in Australia (she first asked about 10 minutes after take-off and then every 5 minutes until she too discovered Pac Man). She then seemed to forget all about her excitement of seeing Daddy and was completely absorbed by navigating her gaping mouthed tennis ball to eat as many little yellow balls as possible whilst simultaneously avoiding the pink fluffy monsters.
The bit of the journey I was dreading the most was changing planes in Kuala Lumpur as we arrived at 1am and had to wait until 3am to get the next plane. But Katie and Zach had fallen asleep on me at about 6pm and slept for 6 hours so they surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Matthew and Ben were still coming down off their video game high and there was a TV at the gate showing English cartoons so once again they were all transfixed.
Matt and Ben were all eager to resume their video game challenge on the next flight but I told the stewards we didn’t want any consoles or headphones, only sleeping masks. So I blindfolded all the children and they happily slept most of the way, waking briefly to eat a proffered Cornetto at some unholy hour and then dropping off again.
So whilst my expectations for the trip were very low, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was just incredibly exhausting because whilst the children slept on me, one on each side, I was penned in and couldn’t move for fear that they might wake. On the next “blindfolded” flight each time I did manage to drop off, it seemed that someone was conspiring to wake me every 10 minutes; either one of the children needing to go to the toilet and either needing me to go with them or just standing on me so they could get passed, or the well-intentioned flight attendants poking me to ask if I wanted to wake the children up to give them “rice in coconut milk with happy prawns” (as long as the prawns are happy don’t worry about the sleeping passengers!) ”Nothing for any of us except sleep, thank you very much!”
Finally, exactly 33 hours after we left Rich’s parents, we cleared customs and immigration at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport and raced down the ramp in the arrivals hall pushing three trolleys full of luggage that was spilling all over the place as all four children abandoned their luggage duties and ran into Daddy’s waiting arms. So, a bit like childbirth, the painful previous hours were soon forgotten as our happy ending arrived – the Madventurers reunited once again.