It is a week in which I’ve already made two Paris-London-Paris trips on the Eurostar, complete with identical on-board meals of hachis parmentier and a very bland slice of bakewell tart on both Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and adjusted my watch five times (albeit a little slow on the uptake the day that daylight saving time was adopted, having completely forgotten).
On Thursday, Tadpole and I board a flight to Leeds. I pore over the in-flight magazine, wondering what my collection of loose change can buy us for lunch. I would appear to have exactly £7.70. Just enough to procure one “junior snack pack” and a still mineral water (for her) plus one packet of mini-cheddars and a coffee/kitkat combo (for me). Not the most nutritious meal, with not a hint of the requisite five servings of fruit or vegetables, but we’ve had worse. I wedge the magazine into the seat pocket in front of me and settle back in my seat, closing my eyes for a moment, waiting for the attendants to reach us.
Tadpole is studying the laminated safety card with fierce intent.
“Mhm?” I mumble, without opening my eyes.
“Why does a cross sometimes mean a kiss but sometimes it means ‘no, you CAN’T do THAT’? Those two things are not the same at ALL, are they?”
“I suppose you’re right,” I say, opening my eyes and leaning forwards to rummage in my handbag for moleskine and a pencil, nostils flaring. I smell a blog post in the making: Tadpole appears to be on fine form today. “So… what does it say that we’re not allowed to do, on the card?”
“It says no cigarette,” says Tadpole primly. “But that’s alright because me and you, we don’t fume any cigarette, do we?” I shake my head. “And it says no telephone…” she pauses and looks at me accusingly. “Why did you bring your telephone, mummy? It’s not allowed, it says it here!”
“Ah, I’m allowed to bring it, you see, but I am supposed to switch it off…” I fumble in my handbag once more and re-read my last message from the Boy, for the nth time, before complying.
“Why are those people going on a toboggan?” Tadpole wonders aloud, pointing at the picture of a landing at sea – I love the fact that there is a proper French word for this: “amerissage” which somehow makes it sound like something utterly banal and routine, and not at all like an exceptional emergency occurrence – in which several people are calmly gliding down an inflatable slide, minus their baggage and shoes. I decide not to evoke the possibility of planes falling unexpectedly out of the sky and mumble something implausible about people using slides when there aren’t any spare sets of stairs handy at the airport, instead. No sense in worrying her. Flying has hitherto been as natural to Tadpole as taking a taxi, and I wouldn’t want to change that. Pointing at the next picture, I lure her eyes away before she has time to register that the runway is blue and slightly squiggly.
“What do you think this one means?” I say, tapping my finger against a picture of an unfeasibly high stilletto shoe with a bold black cross through it.
“No princess shoes,” Tadpole replies with unshakable certainty.
Chortling, I reach for my pencil.