Before I begin pissing off parents, I want to point out that I like kids. I used to be one myself. I’m a proud aunt and maybe one day I might even be a mum. But I have to admit, there’s one place where the sight of a child fills me with outright fear – on a plane.
Now before the angry, crayon-smudged letters start to flood in, I’m not saying people should have to make a choice – breed or travel – but I think it’s a proposal worthy of consideration.
I don’t blame parents, I just don’t think kids and confined spaces are a good mix. So when I very recently found myself looking after an ‘unaccompanied minor’ (a six year old boy) on a flight to London, my heart sank.
(Look, I’m not saying six-year-old boys don’t have their place but, to me, that place is entertaining me as part of the cast of Billy Elliot, or working in a sweatshop using their nimble fingers.)
Oh well, I thought, I’ll just keep on the move and he won’t bother me. However, just as I was trying to pretend I was sleeping, he stuck out his tiny hand and said "Hi, my name is Josh. What’s yours?"
I looked around quickly.
Just as well I’m not a male because sadly, in our society, if you’re a 30 something man engaged in conversation with a six year old boy, you start to panic someone is going to report you to the authorities (or, at the very least, Jimmy Saville would have asked you to join his Facebook page).
But I’m a female and I mumbled my name and hoped that would put an end to it. But Josh wasn’t easily dissuaded.
"Don’t you hate travelling economy?" he asked. "I like business class – you get extra leg room."
I feel the need to reiterate that Josh was six. Not six-feet-tall. Six years old. His feet barely reached the floor in economy; they wouldn’t have reached the end of the seat in business-class. Here was a kid who could have laid down comfortably in the overhead compartment for a snooze, and he was bitching about the leg room in economy. I liked his style.
"Hey, Kate, do you want to know a fact?" he asked. And to my surprise, I did. I sat up.
Josh looked at me seriously and began. "Fact: Smoking can kill you, but so can rugby."
I thought about this for a while and then nodded. You couldn’t argue with that.
I was hooked. "Do you know any other facts?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Fact:" (He actually said "fact" at the start of each sentence.) "It’d be really cool if you had a tunnel in your house that could take you anywhere you wanted to go in the entire world."
I pondered this for a moment and realized I couldn’t fault his logic. (Although, I did think there’d still be a way for you to lose your luggage.) But I didn’t have much time to formulate any other thoughts before Josh hit me with another one.
"Fact: You can get cancer from smoking, even if you eat vegetables."
I nodded and replied, "And even if you eat your veggies, you can still get hurt playing rugby." He didn’t get it, so I quickly moved on.
"Do you have any more facts you can tell me?" I asked.
"Do I?" he exclaimed, clearly warming to the subject. "Heaps. Fact: A kid in my class once filled his mouth with water and then spat it on his pants and told everyone he had done wee. It was so funny."
I laughed. And Josh laughed, too, until he made a little snort with his nose.
"Fact:" Josh continued, still giggling, "Bats weigh a kilo – except for Batman, who weighs more than that."
Yes, I mused, but you’d hardly know it, that black outfit is very slimming.
"Fact:" said my new friend, "Sprite and Lemonade are the same thing, they just have different names."
By now, the plane that seemed to have taken off only a couple of minutes ago had begun its descent, but I was caught up in the momentum, so I turned to the six-year-old beside me and asked if he knew any more facts.
He said, "Nah, that’s it."
It didn’t matter, because I had learnt that, sometimes, being with a kid on a plane can be pretty bloody cool, if you just give them a chance.
And that’s a fact.