The soup bag May 24, 2007Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Darlings, mustn’t holidays sometimes be more fuss than they’re worth?
Dependent on a lot of factors, of course. On the make-up of the holiday-going party, for one. Whether they like each other, for another. Then means of conveyance. Expense. Destination. All sorts of variables.
I recently observed a nice-enough family setting out on a trip abroad (or perhaps domestically. You never can tell in this day and age. Maybe they were flying to Aberdeen from the south of England. But the oldest daughter was already sporting a wicker hat, so I think they had Spain in mind).
I noticed them on the platform on my train journey to the airport. A handsome mum and dad and their three good-looking children. With so much luggage it looked as if they’d been given just enough notice by some about-to-maraud army that they had to leave home with whatever they could take with them. I could hear the initial panic of them having made it onto the train and settling into that part of the journey happening behind me before they gradually, in drips and drabs, got round to taking up their seats for the final pre-flight section of the journey. Around me.
Oldest daughter was the first to appear. She sat opposite me. Was at a late-childhood/early-adulthood age. What is that? 14? 15? She was sporting early breasts and had very recently decided that she belonged to her parents’ generation and not that of her younger siblings. She looked at and engaged with them with dismissive benevolence. Rather like a particularly job-weary priest looks at the more adoring members of his flock. Oddly, for the train journey to the airport, the family needed to have sustenance. Russians bring meals onto trains, but this is normal seeing as the journey may last three days, but their journey from the station to the airport would last forty-five minutes. Within three seconds of sitting down, oldest daughter asked for something to drink.
Cue activity as complicated as organising a wedding. It involved bags being gone through, drink being sought, other children being berated, parents discussing which bag the drinks were in, wondering whether it has been left on the platform – I had visions of the south of England being closed down in a security alert – and the wife wondering whether this incident had the embryonic makings of divorce proceedings in it and the husband thinking he might have nicely just stayed at home.
The younger daughter, pretty, aged about four, called J_, then loomed into view. She sloppily provided oldest daughter with liquids, all the time hassling her for another drop for herself. Oldest daughter beed dismissively benevolent. “No, J_, you’ve had enough. Take your hair out of my cup. Sit down.” Four-year-old J_ sat down and stared at me in that disarming way that children do. I looked out the window so as not to be accused of paedophilia.
With more bustling and hassling and rustling of bags, the mother, C_, took up her place in the set of four seats across the aisle. She was nice, and smily, and pretty and had worked out how to be a nice mum with the minimum of effort. Quite a lot of switching her ears off as she looked at solar-powered things to buy in the Guardian which she would hold up to her husband, D_, who never appeared from the in-betweeny bit of the carriage, and only hearing her children’s requests for attention on the second or third attempt. She was late 30s/early 40s, spoke middle-class Estuary English, had a look of the first-generation-in-the-family-to-go-to-university about her, was still resisting the temptation to remove the piercing from her nose and was very much the fulcrum of the family around whom all transactions revolved.
“J_, take your feet of the seats,” she’d say, in a nice way, mid mobile-phone-call to someone who had been deputed to take care of their lives when they were away. “Yeah, so if you can be there at about nine, yeah, that would be great. Yeah, he usually comes at about nine…” “…C_, (the son’s initial too, excuse the inelegance of doubling up) leave J_ alone.” “But her feet are touching my trousers.” “Doesn’t matter… D_, we could really do with one of those, couldn’t we?” “…ooh, C_, you like Switzerland. Look at these pictures of Switzerland. Maybe we could go there next year.” (I had a moment of primly ascetic internal disapproval that they were already thinking of their next holiday before they’d reached the airport for this one.) [OD to (brother) C_] “Leave my hat alone.” “But I want to try it on. Mum, tell OD I want to try her hat on. And tell J_ to get her feet off my trousers.” “Hmm, quite a prissy little thing,” I thought to myself and wondered if I should advise his parents to strike while the iron was hot and get him signed up for ballet lessons as soon as possible.
“D_, can I have your mobile again?” Mum needed to phone another life-sitter. D_ sighed. “God, D_, why are you getting so stressed out about me using your mobile?” “Mum, I want soup.” Soup? On a forty-five-minute train journey? More furious wedding-arranging-level activity. “Where’s the soup bag? D_, have you seen the soup bag?” But D_ kept his distance, never came into view, sighed and proffered that that may have been left on the platform too. I had visions of most of the south of England being drenched in Heinz in controlled explosions.
“Oh my god, have we missed our stop?” mum cried, having located the soup-bag. “If we’d stayed at your brother’s, we could have got a lift to the airport,” D_ interjected, having decided he could speak not just when spoken to. “God, D_, why are you getting so stressed about the train? Why do you hate trains? I much prefer trains to cars. God, doesn’t dad get stressed about trains?” she said, in the first case of ganging-up-on-D_ of the holiday. The children concurred that trains were better than cars.
I saw my chance to get involved. “No, you haven’t missed your stop. We’re just approaching this stop, then there’s that stop, then the airport’s the one after that.” OD accepted my interjection with undisguised disgust. C_ and J_ looked at their mother to see if it counted as paedophilia. Mum smiled relievedly and explained, unnecessarily, that in all the fuss, she worried, you see, that they might have missed the stop. And then bollocked D_ for something else.
The check-in queues in the airport made me want to kill myself. Poor holidaymakers.