Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Time Traveller

I was travelling last week. To most people it might appear that I have just been on a short business trip to Vancouver. But to the more vigilant observer among you it is obvious that I did in fact travel back in time...back to those heady hedonistic far away days of going on a trip without children.

You cannot truly appreciate the bliss of pure adult travel until you have spent several years having to supervise the relocation of little humans, and all their accompanying paraphernalia, every time you step outside the front door.

There's the simple matter of packing, for starters. And believe me, it couldn't have been less complicated. I started to think about what I was going to pack about an hour before I needed to leave for the airport. Instead of my usual copious list of 'essentials' that takes longer than the trip to assemble, I knew as long as I had fresh contact lenses and remembered the computer and projector, I would get by. Everything else that made it into the holdall was a bonus. Before I had kids I would pack clothes for every eventuality and enough toiletries and makeup to re-stock Boots. With the kids I tend to pack every single item in their wardrobe. Far be it from me to arrive at my destination and for the weather to throw me a curve ball - I have been prepared for snow in Mexico and blistering heat waves in the UK winter. I haven't been a Girl Guide for more years than I care to calculate but never let it be said that I am not prepared. Then there's the armfuls of their 'favourite' toys, which tend to take up a whole suitcase in themselves, followed by every known children's medicine to counter ailments ranging from a sniffly nose to an amputated limb.

At least the main luggage is straightforward with kids - anything and everything. It's the hand luggage that always gets me. Games, books, snuggly animals in case they want a nap, snacks upon snacks, drinks, fresh change of clothes because you know at some point there is going to either be a spillage of drink/snack combo or, worse, vomit and/or poo - making the outfit they arrive at your destination in a stinky sodden mess. Both boys have their own rolling backpacks, because it stands to reason that now they can successfully coordinate all their limbs in a fairly adult fashion they can now wheel their own hand luggage through a building and onto a plane. Well, that's the theory. Of course, the backpacks get gleefully wheeled approximately 100 paces before being abandoned directly in the path of someone who doesn't have kids and mummy is then expected to morph into a Sherpa for the rest of the journey, with bags hanging off shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands. It's usually at this point, before we have even reached the check-in, that I am woefully regretting ever leaving the house.

So it is somewhat delightful to discover that now, left to my own natural tendencies and with only myself to think of, I am in fact a bare minimal packer. It feels liberating to waltz into the terminal with the smallest of holdalls and a handbag. I feel chic and unflustered and a completely different version of the usual me. Nothing can phase me and I glide effortlessly to the check-in.

The first hurdle of the journey is presented with the automated check-in. It is here that time travel advances and I suddenly age 30 years and become as in-ept as my mother in operating anything more complicated than a kitchen appliance. I read the instructions as though trying to decipher hieroglyphic code. I then have to rustle through handfuls of paperwork in an attempt to distinguish a confirmation code from a booking code, a registration code from a never-going-to-find-it-completely-irrelevant-just-there-to-mess-with-you code. I stab at the screen, which is as responsive as a house brick and refuses to acknowledge the validity of any of the information I am attempting to enter. I resort to a combination of profanity and extra force with the finger punching and after much consideration the machine consents to spit out a boarding pass. I breath a sigh of relief and count my lucky stars that I only have to endure this torture once and don't have to repeat it a 2nd and 3rd time, whilst simultaneously doing the 100m sprint from one end of the terminal to the other to rescue two midget run-aways.

In a flash I am back in glamorous, poised, no kids mode and saunter to security.

Oh the unadulterated JOY of going through security without having one hand trying to retain a semblance of grip on 3 boarding passes, whilst simultaneously disrobing practically down to my underwear and loading trays with bags, backpacks, coats, belts, shoes, toys, food...whilst the other hand is desperately trying to prevent two boys from scrambling like commandos into the machine alongside their belongings.

Whilst others struggled and tutted and huffed, I was an oasis of calm. This procedure was effortless - having a pair of hands almost seemed overkill. I resisted the temptation to perform the security ritual with one hand behind my back, hopping on one leg because I didn't want to appear too cocky. Everything was moving at a snail's pace. Oh. No wonder. The detector has identified an unknown and potentially life threatening item. The sealed bottle of water that I had quickly purchased without thinking in the shop adjacent to security was being thoroughly scrutinised. Red Alert everyone - the offending item is carefully removed with latex gloves under the supervision of at least four armed personnel and ceremoniously emptied into a huge bin.

Phew. That was a close call. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief as another major terrorist threat is successfully averted by these highly trained and auspicious individuals. And I leave security to go and spend another $4 on non-terrorist liquid refreshment. Oh what to do next? Should I mooch about in the bookshop for an hour, reading the covers of books that catch my eye and the contents of all the celebrity gossip magazines? Or just sit and sip an extra hot caffeinated beverage while eating chocolate and cake? All these options are suddenly available to me and it is intoxicating. Because I have no one else to please and cater for apart from myself I do them all and in no time at all it is time to board the plane. Of course there is a delay - but tish-pish, am I bovvered? I sit back in my chair and just revel in the knowledge that I now have more time to read my book, eat my treats, listen to my iPod and, most importantly, doze. Oh the luxury of the in-flight doze! When you haven't had the opportunity to sink into that lulled, open-mouthed, drooling slumber for several years, the opportunity to loll unattractively against the window and close your eyes whenever you choose is akin to nirvana for me. We reach cruising altitude and I glance down at the picturesque white fluffy clouds below - it is official. I am in heaven.

By the time the plane lands in Vancouver it is late and I am a little groggy. I have to get a hire car and drive to the hotel - it is pitch black and chucking it down with rain. I have to wait in a queue, which is a little tedious, but I am just so thankful that I am not having to chaperon two over-tired and therefore completely hyperactive children. I haven't spoken to anyone in 5 hours and it seems a little strange not to have heard the sound of my own voice issuing instructions or barking like a Sergeant major every few seconds.

Now I am at the front of the queue the guy confirms all of the cars with GPS have been hired. I am aghast. I stare at the guy with horror and disbelief in my eyes. He doesn't seem duly concerned and hands me a map. I don't even bother to reach out a hand to take it - unless this map is going to magically animate once in the car and stand on the dashboard singing directions at me, a la Dora the Explorer, I am screwed. I have no sense of natural direction to speak of and probably the only guaranteed talent I have which everyone will agree on is my inability to map read. For heaven's sake, I am the idiot that still gets lost, confuses her left from her right and takes wrong turns even with the simplest of instructions provided from a GPS.

Luckily at this moment in time I am not distracted by children hanging themselves from the rope line stands or causing a disturbance by jumping onto the mat which activates the automatic door every 2 seconds, so I am able to coherently and flirtatiously explain my predicament without appearing like too much of a div. And lo and behold a car with GPS is laboriously found, cleaned and presented (it turns out the GPS is only equipped with maps from 1985, which causes a whole new predicament the following morning when it is unable to locate the training studio...but that is a whole different story and not one worth bothering you with).

Once behind the wheel I instantly morph into my mother yet again and tentatively plug the hotel destination into the GPS, leaving the airport at a snail's pace. If truth be told, I could have walked quicker to the hotel given the speed at which I drove there. I sat hunched over the wheel, both hands clenching it so tightly my knuckles were white, my nose just an inch from the windscreen. I would like to pretend at this point that it was because it was dark - very, very dark - and raining which caused my driving to regress steadily from mother to grandmother mode. But even in broad daylight I probably would have been inching along the strange roads, in this strange unchartered territory. At least under the cover of darkness I could remain anonymous to the other cars whizzing past my 20 mile an hour amble. I was going so slowly that even the GPS got frustrated. It kept repeating directions in an even shriller tone - 'turn right in 1Km...........turn right in .9Kms.......approaching right turn in .85kms'. In other words - hurry up you numbskull, you should have made that turn by now! If you go any slower you will be in reverse. Step on it.

Finally - FINALLY! - made it to my hotel.

Went to luxuriate in my hotel room and set my alarm. No 5am alarm calls for me for the next 2 days - no sirreeee. I set the alarm for 6.45am and within 10 minutes of entering the room, was unpacked, ready for bed and already fantasising about my morning lie in. I dreamt of a life very rarely experienced by me these days - where most of the time I can give 100% attention to whatever it is that I am doing, without interruption. I can eat and drink what I want, when I want, without having to surruptitiously hide forbidden food or beverages behind computer screens, fridge and cupboard doors. I can read books, watch anything on tv that I fancy, listen to my choice of music. It was a very peaceful dream. But I have to admit...it's only a life I can truly appreciate and enjoy for short periods of time because mine is typically the polar opposite.

5 comments:

  1. Absolutely fantastic post.
    Worth waiting for.
    And I am so with you on the 'bliss' of traveling alone, sans enfant.
    Remember when I went to the Canaries for 5 days/4 nights?
    Heaven all the way.
    xx

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  2. Adult carefree travel without the anxiety of occupying a child - happy, distant memories now. It would be lovely to have some of that again but I'm certain I'd be looking round half the time wondering where she is and why someone is saying constantly in my ear "I'm bored! Are we nearly there yet?" And that's only 5 minutes into the journey!

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  3. Mums the word - thanks love, and yes I do remember your trip being blissful

    Rosie - It is a bit odd, like that feeling that you have forgotten something essential or maybe left the oven on. The oddest thing was having so much silence...not hearing them and not hearing my own voice in response. And it was kinda nice to get back 'normal life'. It all felt like a bit of a game. Once it would have been natural - but on the trip I felt a little like a fish out of water.

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  4. I was with you every step of the way! Isnt it just blissful to not have those dear hot hands in yours and to be able to do something WITHOUT LOOKING FOR THE CHILDREN. Heaven. But agree too... its only good because you can go back to the other life.

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  5. I used to have business trips every month and they were hideous at first, what with one thing and another - always a drama at home due to being in different time zones, and the terrorist alerts around the 7/7 bombings in London, or plane delays, working with people who had no kids etc, but I got used to it and the day trips to Europe were exhausting; 5am flights, home at 8 to a chorus of 'Where's dinner' 'Where's my present' - but I came to love them as I used to travel with a colleague who was also a Mum and we used to have a great time away and share our stories. I went to California on a work trip last Summer which was a four day spin around but worth the effort, and yesterday I found in my daughter's room the spread sheets we prepared before I went; on it was the hourly schedule for her week so she knew exactly what was going on, where she would be, who would be there and email addresses and numbers for and all the people and things she would do, I even left her my mobile phone so she could call and text me (aged 8) - I am amazed we did it to be honest but it was an extraordinary for both of us and for the better. I always get to a point when I just want to be home though and the trips have to really interest me to be worthwhile.

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