Magazine article The Spectator

Huh, I Thought. Double Income, No Kids. That's What We Have Here. Bastards

Magazine article The Spectator

Huh, I Thought. Double Income, No Kids. That's What We Have Here. Bastards

Article excerpt

The plane was full of middle-class Brits, tanned by the alpine sun, fit, in so far as the chalet diet allows it, and the charter company had made the usual balls-up. Every time you turn up with a load of children, they decide for some reason that you are to be dispersed as widely as possible throughout the flight.

So when my wife, baby and one child had installed themselves in row one, seats A and B, and I had installed myself and two other children in row 20, 1 turned to my neighbours. Usually one might ask a stewardess to help out, but I decided to trust my own powers of charm. The plane was still stationary. The flight was still at the gate and would be for about ten more minutes. 'I wonder,' I began in the most cordial and winning way to the husband-and-wife team seated on my right, 'I wonder whether I could persuade you. . . . 'What I was about to ask was whether they might be able to see their way round to swapping seats with my wife and her section of the children.

As far as I could see, this was a win-win situation for the lucky couple. They would extricate themselves from the company of myself and my two children and find themselves in the front row: the coveted position from which they would be the first out of the plane. As for us, the manoeuvre would enable us all to be together, and share the joys and sorrows that go with taking four children on an aeroplane. As I say, it is a piece of trivial diplomacy which I have comfortably pulled off several times.

So you can imagine that I was astonished when the man, sitting furthest from me, by the window, did not allow me to complete the sentence. 'No,' he snarled. 'For Christ's sake, the flight only lasts an hour and a quarter. What are you staring at?" I realised that I must have been gazing dumbly at him, and muttered something about not meaning to stare. 'What are you staring atT he repeated, more belligerently. 'You asked me a question and I've given you an answer; now what are you staring atT I must have appealed mutely to his wife (she had a wedding and engagement ring), but she rolled her eyes, looked away and said that 'it had been a bad day'.

Well, I dare say it had been a bad day. We had all been struggling back from the slushy passes, looking for gloves under beds, waiting in our coaches in interminable traffic-jams in Bourg St Maurice and all the rest of it. But nothing, or so it seemed to me, could conceivably justify this sheer downright nastiness. As my wife pointed out later, she would have given the couple what for. She would have said something snappy, like 'I'm staring because I've never come across anyone so rude and unpleasant in all my life.'

Alas, I didn't have the nerve. I quivered, like a puppy unexpectedly kicked. I had one brief, feeble moment of retaliation, when one child said he wanted very badly to be sick, so I said in a voice loud enough to be heard for several rows, 'Why don't you come and be sick on this chap here?' But mainly I sat there, seething and brooding. And my thoughts turned to a fragment of the newspaper that I had come across, soggy and sat-upon in the chalet, about some bishop who had been laying into those who elect, for one reason or another, not to have children.

Yeah, I sneered to myself, as I sneaked a good look at them both. They were in their early thirties, plainly married and pretty well-off. …

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