“Traffic’s diabolical,” says the taxi driver, by way of apology when he shows up ten minutes late to take Tadpole and me to the airport. “It’ll take us a good forty-five minutes to get to Orly…”
“No problem,” I reply, as though butter wouldn’t melt. “I’ve allowed plenty of time.” Forty-five minutes will give us an hour for check in, shopping for coffee and pain au chocolat, baggage scanning and temporary boot removal. I am a seasoned traveller. My feathers remain unruffled.
“Mummy, my tummy is hurting,” says Tadpole tugging at her strap.
“I’m sorry honey but you need to keep the strap fastened,” I say, convinced it is simply a thinly veiled escape attempt. Tummy ache is also her strategy of choice when faced with a plateful of broccoli. I know better than to take such complaints seriously.
* * * * * * * * * *
“My tummy is still hurting,” moans Tadpole.
“I’m sorry my sweet, but we’re nearly there. You’ll feel better soon. When we get out…”
The traffic on the motorway is fluid, and after crawling along the péripherique for the last fifty minutes we’re finally nearing the airport. Our driver is busy murmuring sweet nothings to his girlfriend. Or at least I assume that’s who he’s talking to. He’s wearing a headset. The car radio is tuned into Skyrock, a radio station which appears to consist of lots of shouting and very little music. A presenter with approximately two brain cells and a vocoder is calling random phone numbers and trying to frighten any small children who pick up the phone by pretending to be a monster. How irresponsible, I think to myself.
Tadpole coughs an ominous cough.
Some surprisingly efficient reflex kicks in and I grab the water bottle out of my open rucksack and remove the plastic bag I’d wrapped around it as a precaution, mindful of the fact that macbooks and moisture don’t mix, holding it just in front of Tadpole’s face.
Not a moment too soon.
The next ten minutes are spent trying to remove a foul-smelling paste consisting of bile, partially digested cornflakes and curdled milk from Tadpole’s jumper, dress and tights using one mini packet of Kleenex and a small amount of water. Miraculously the driver, deep in conversation, does not appear to have noticed our little mishap.
At Orly we pay, leap out of the cab and dash, heads down, through the driving rain into the terminal building, skidding to a halt in front of the bank of screens showing departure information.
Doncaster 10.15 desks 79-81. Embarquement!
Boarding? But it’s forty minutes until take off? Nonsense!
We dash to desks 79-81. That’s odd, there’s nobody there. Back to the monitors. Which definitely say desks 79-81. Huh? I flag down a nice uniformed lady who informs us that no, the information on the monitor is not incorrect. The reason there is no-one there is that check-in has CLOSED.
I hear a ringing in my ears and feel rather unsteady on my feet.
At the Thomsonfly desk a few moments later a nice uniformed man rings up to see if there is any way he can get the desperate lady with the dishevelled hair and wild eyes and her slightly puke-encrusted toddler onto the flight.
“MumOhMyGodWe’veMissedTheFlightTheyWon’tLetUsOn,” I howl into my telephone. “AndThere’sNoSpaceOnTheNextOneTomorrowWhatAreWeGoingToDo?”
If Tadpole were older she would know that when mummy is hysterical (and yes, I love the etymology of that word, which plants all blame squarely on my womb) she needs to be slapped smartly on the cheeks in order to be brought to her senses. In the meantime, I just have to Get A Grip. All On My Own. Deep breaths.
One change of clothes for Tadpole, one double espresso, several hundred euros and an airport transfer to Charles de Gaulle later and Tadpole and I board a flight to Leeds. I spend the entire journey fighting off the urge to order a stiff drink (lest my readers stage an intervention and commit me to the Priory) and trying not to be convinced that since bad things always occur in threes, my luggage is unlikely to be on board.
“Mummy, can you make me some couettes?” Tadpole pleads.
As I part her curls into two vaguely similar sized bunches, I notice a partially digested piece of cornflake I had missed earlier.
It is heart-shaped.