What is the worst possible announcement you can imagine hearing aboard a holiday plane? On a night flight from Lanzarote at the weekend, my friend and her family were settling into their seats when the pilot said: ‘‘Welcome to this flight to London Gatwick, ladies and gentlemen. On board we have in excess of 42 babies.’’
I don’t know about you, but I would put that right up there with, ‘‘Could the Cardiff jihadist seated in 8B please hand his shoe bomb to the cabin crew?’’
Look, I love babies. I’ve had two of them myself. Adorable, plumptious little creatures, especially when asleep. But 42 babies on one plane? I’d rather travel with 42 Glasgow Rangers supporters and their pet boa constrictors.
Sadly, my fears are well founded. Have you noticed this summer how many parents do absolutely nothing to soothe a screaming baby or otherwise control their kids’ behaviour? On our flight back from Turkey last week, a couple sat contentedly playing games on their tablets while their baby boy - I reckon he was about nine months - bawled almost continuously for four hours. Did the mum or dad get up and walk the baby up and down the aisle? Did they joogle him or try a dummy? Did the parents look apologetic or a teeny bit sheepish as their offspring turned the flight into an ordeal for other passengers?
Uh-uh. If looks could kill, the three of them would have been in a casket by the time we left Turkish airspace, but the parents were so selfish they simply didn’t notice.
Here’s the thing. If you decide to take a baby abroad, you have to accept that you are going to have at least eight hours of living hell. You will have to forgo the pleasures of cracking open a G&T and the Planters peanuts and, instead, take steps to make sure that baby is either distracted, feeding or asleep. Back in May, when I pointed out to a couple seated in front of me that they needed to give their screaming baby a bottle to equalise the pressure in her poor ears as the plane descended, the mum looked up from her iPad, shrugged and said, ‘‘We’ve already fed her.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we are seeing an epidemic of clueless or negligent parenting. Look at that dim couple who left their baby unattended in a buggy on a London Underground platform while they went to fetch another child in a second pushchair. A sudden gust from a passing train blew the first buggy on to the line. It was a miracle the baby wasn’t killed.
At least you could say that was a freak accident. Far more reckless was Rebecca Chambers, who went swimming last week with her sister around the harbour at Rozel Bay in Jersey. Mrs Chambers left four-year-old Jemima on the seashore with her cousins, Emily, 10, Jamie, six, and siblings Millie, eight, Caspar, six, and Bruno, two. When she got back from her swim, Mrs Chambers asked the other children where Jemima was and they pointed at a speck on the horizon. The little girl had drifted half a mile out on a boogie board. Fortunately, a man on a jet ski took Mrs Chambers to rescue her daughter.
It would be one thing if Mrs Chambers were a depressed single mum, but the woman is a paediatrician for crying out loud. In hindsight, she says she accepts that she ‘‘made a poor decision’’. Paging Mrs Chambers: leaving six children under the age of 10 to play alone in, or near, the sea while you go for a swim is not a poor decision; it’s insane.
Could it be that a generation that came to parenting much later in life than their own mothers and fathers is reluctant to put away childish things? Are they really so self-absorbed that their own pleasure is more important than the comfort of their children, let alone the feelings of other people?
Me, I can tolerate noisy, thoughtless or anti-social behaviour from those aged 14 and under because they’re children and don’t know better. From parents aged 30 and over, it’s unforgivable.
So next time you find yourself with a screaming baby on a plane, get off your backside, walk up and down the aisle and joogle as if your life depended on it. See all those people on the plane who look like they hate you and want to prise open the cabin door and hurl you 30,000 feet to your death? They really do.