There should be special planes for self-obsessed families like the one sat behind me the other day: a dirty, scruffy plane that hasn’t been checked in a while (in an ideal world).
I was on my way home from a short business trip to Nuremberg, and this final leg was Zurich – Heathrow. I was tired and all I wanted was some peace and quiet to read my book. Then on lurched this family of ignorant, curly-haired, corduroy-wearing Surbiton-dwellers. Dad — in a white T-shirt under a paisley tanktop and with green corduroy trousers and a mop like Harpo Marx — sits on the left-hand row with his two sons: roughly 8 and 12 and both equally springy-haired. The mother and two daughters sit opposite them, same row right, with the mother directly behind my aisle seat. The mother’s main problems were that her voice was very loud (and posh), and she seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that there were other passengers on the aircraft, because she proceeded to bellow across the aisle to the men in her life as if they were on their own private jet. The main problem with the rest of the family seemed to be that they had inherited their mother’s loud voice and lack of social grace.
As we taxied, it began:
Ma (to Pa): SHALL WE SWAP SEATS SO I CAN HELP THEM WITH THEIR POSTCARDS?
Pa: No it’s OK, I can help them.
Younger boy aka “Mo-Mo”: “Mummy, can I have my postcards?”
Ma: “HERE YOU ARE DARLING. WRITE THEM NICELY WON’T YOU?”
The plane took off, closely followed by my blood pressure.
Then the Dad, who had refused the offer of a seat swap so he could help the boys, promptly nodded off, leaving Mamaa to bellow spelling and grammar advice across the aisle to her two pretty-damn-thick sons:
Mo-Mo: “Mummy, how do you spell ‘Nanny’?”
Ma: “NUH, AA, NUH, NUH, YUH.”
Twenty seconds later:
Mo-Mo: “Mummy, how do you spell ‘enjoy’?”
Ma: “EH, NUH, JUH, OH, YUH.”
With each new outburst one of the passengers on my row turned to glare at the offender, but very slyly — not so much as to allow the offender to notice of course. Having made this token gesture we then cheered each other up by exchanging resigned shrugs and raising our eyebrows.
Then the older boy, whom I learned was officially called Sam but was known to his siblings as “Strimmer” joined in the whole thick-postcard-writing spectacle, and a further spelling lesson ensued, including:
Ma: “CUH, OH, NUH, TUH, RUH, OH, LUH. WRITE SOMETHING NICE TO NANNY WON’T YOU DARLING? SAY YOU’VE HAD A REALLY LOVELY TIME SKIING AND YOU CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THEM AGAIN. SAY THEY ARE FANTASTIC GRANDPARENTS. YES, PUT THAT IN.”
Mo-Mo: “Mummy, I’m just going to have a drink.”
Ma: “OK, THAT’S GREAT MO-MO.”
I found two things hard to believe: that their kids could be that thick, and that they could be so insensitive to the privacy and personal space of their fellow passengers. If I were an American I’d have said something by now, but being British I just sat and fumed to myself. The only way I could complete the flight with my sanity intact was to take out my notebook and write about the horrible event as it happened:
It went on like this throughout the flight. The daughters got in on the act: “Mummy, how do you spell Switzerland?”, the Dad woke up and was about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and as we came in to land the boys decided it would be a good idea to start punching each other and shouting “OW!” very loudly. The parents, of course, just let this go on unchecked.
Towards the end of the flight I found myself casting hopefully around for a glance of a dark-skinned, bearded man with a turban and a lumpy jacket. I wish now that I had said something. It would doubtless have caused a scene, but it might have made me feel better and I’m sure all the other passengers in my row would have applauded.
Note to self: never travel without noise-cancelling headphones. Or an automatic weapon.