We have just arrived in Brighton, UK where we will spend Christmas, NYE and a couple of weeks in January. It is so nice to be back home: smell the familiar smell of my house (damp to be more precise – after all this is England) and sleep in my own bed. I can get freezing water straight from the tap (something we can’t seem to do in Japan). I can leave my laptop on our little breakfast table in our kitchen without having to worry that an earthquake will throw it on to our stone floor and break it. I can go to the shop and I will actually know what I am buying. The same goes for restaurants – for the next three weeks I will know what I am eating, unless we visit my mother-in-law. Not that she would serve us cow’s pancreas or chicken’s throat, which we have involuntarily ordered in Osaka, but she is one experimental cook, I can tell you that for free.
We are back home, but the journey from Osaka to Brighton was roughly as much fun as me dressing up as Santa and volunteering to work in Santa’s grotto for 24 hours solid in one of England’s fake Laplands. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are relatively well behaved, as kids go, but kids just aren’t the most chilled travel companions overall – and neither are they the most chilled when they visit Santa’s grottos.
In case you missed my previous blog post, we travelled via three busy airports a couple of days before Christmas (when it seems that half the globe is on the move) and attempt (a) not to catch anything like the flu or a tummy bug for the holidays (we want to be able to see our friends and have a good time while we are here in the UK) and (b) not contract Ebola from the health workers, missionaries or anybody else returning home from West Africa for Christmas. I had a plan: We took some preventative measures to avoid catching anything (see photo below), and I had timed meal times and sleeping for the journey so that the journey would go as smoothly as possible. But as any parents out there reading this might have already guessed – my plan was as successful as Finnish European Song Contest entries generally are (although there was that one occasion when to everyone’s surprise Finland sailed to victory – on every other occasion it’s been complete carnage).
On a positive note it all went fine to start with. The first leg of our journey – a 10h flight (Osaka-Helsinki) was something I could call a success. We all had our face masks on (this is very Japanese – their function was to restrict the amount of times the kids put dirty hands in their mouths or noses), the kids were watching films and my daughter even played with some stickers for a moment – luckily only for a moment as I dread to think what the interior of the plane would have looked like after an extensive sticker session (see photo below). All in all, they were behaving relatively well. The best thing was to sit there and communicate effectively with people around you. Communication with other people is something I still find extremely difficult in Japan. There are not that many foreigners in Osaka, so the majority of people one meets are Japanese. The Japanese are a bit like the Brits – both nationalities seem to have about as much desire to learn foreign languages as a Christmas bauble. Although I am interested in learning foreign languages, my current level of Japanese is about as good as my 3 year old daughter’s ability to play chess. Consequently, communicating in restaurants, bars, shops and public transport in Osaka is pretty laborious.
On a slightly disappointing note, the biggest man on the plane happened to sit behind me and even though I had not reclined my seat the airhostess came and asked if I could put it in the upright position. Her being Japanese and hence extremely polite and helpful to the man’s request for more room in the minimal space he was squeezed in, she was doing what she could to help. But of course no extra space could be provided (unless they had detached my chair from the floor and moved me with the chair elsewhere – luckily they didn’t go that far). Although, I know how that guy felt. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went for a Korean-type BBQ in Osaka (see photo below). The menus were placed underneath the counter where we were sitting. As my husband was pulling our menu out there was an awkward 3 seconds in which the menu was wedged between my belly and the counter. So I did feel for the poor guy, I had to pull my stomach in for a couple of seconds in that restaurant, he had to do it for about 10 hours on the plane. In any case, this guy sitting behind me meant I could not consider reclining my chair for the duration of the flight – the poor man wouldn’t have been able to breath had I done that. So, me sleeping on that flight was pretty impossible. Actually, it would have been impossible also because the kids didn’t sleep during that flight either. They were too excited about the journey and about seeing their dad. Actually that’s not true – they were watching so many films that that they were too wound up to settle down and sleep. I know, many parents don’t like the idea of their children spending an entire intercontinental flight watching films (as this is not exactly great parenting) but I hope that most of you parents agree on this statement with me: It is acceptable to let your child watch 10 hours of films if you are on a plane, unacceptable in the comforts of your own home. A 24 h hour journey is not the place to try to enforce all the principles that you have outside that aeroplane – flying with kids is about surviving the journey without any major meltdowns. If films do it for your kids, I say: let them watch.
The larger than average guy behind me wasn’t ideal but our real problems started at Helsinki airport. We had 4 hours to kill before our flight to London. The kids (and I) were getting tired because at this point it was about 10pm in Japan and none of us had had any sleep since 7am that morning. The kids were ratty; even though there is an ok play area for kids at the airport, they were too tired to fully enjoy it; our 3 year old was also no longer all that keen on wearing her facemask – the straps hurt her ears. When we finally walked on to the plane to go from Helsinki to London (at 2am Japanese time) our daughter was crying because she was so tired. The good thing was that I knew she would sleep for the 3 hours of that flight. In fact, we all went to sleep as soon as we had buckled up (see photo at top of this page). However, half an hour later, I woke up because my daughter was crying again. There was a great big wet patch underneath her. I sheepishly disclosed to an airhostess the fact that my daughter had peed herself. The airhostess kindly brought us a plastic cover and assured me that the person sitting on that seat on the next flight would not have to sit on a wet seat. I then changed our daughter’s clothes and we all dozed off again – until 20 minutes later the same airhostess wakes me up to say that my daughter had a nosebleed. Disorientated, I try to make sense of it all and finally compute that yes – there is blood everywhere. I apologize to the airhostess again, wake my daughter up to stop the nosebleed and change her clothes again. I doze off again but in my sleep I can hear a young Finnish woman talking shit to her English boyfriend across the aisle for the duration of the entire flight. She thinks her English is so good that she could pass as an English person and even talks to the airhostesses in English. She wants to show off. I can see myself in her 10 years ago. I used to be exactly like her. When my younger self was sitting in the departure lounge in London waiting for my flight to Helsinki I would boldly take my phone out and call an English friend and have a little chat with them, just so that the Finns sitting around me would hear my pretty good English. I don’t want to come across as an arse, but my English is fairly good – it’s not perfect but I think it would be fair to say that it is pretty good. I think the fact that I am a linguist helps – and the fact that I really love the English language. So when the girl across the aisle was so eagerly using the 3 hour flight to show off her English skills, I wasn’t cross but in fact was a little smug because I thought to myself that my English was better than hers. Even though her English was good, and she used many colloquial phrases and slangy words that many Finns would not know, her pronunciation of certain consonants and several vowels gave her away. By the way – nowadays I am too busy worrying about nosebleeds and wet patches on aeroplane seats to care about whether or not other passengers think my English is any good or not.
We eventually got to Heathrow, ended up jumping the queue at passport control thanks to a kind member of the airport staff spotting that my daughter was crying her eyes out having woken up after a mere 3 hours of sleep. There haven’t been that many occasions when I have been more happy to see my husband. When I handed the kids over to him at that Heathrow arrival hall I really felt I like I had endured the equivalent of running a marathon in a Father Christmas outfit.
So, the journey wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable 24 hours of my year, but seeing many of my friends after nine months will be! I hope you, like us, will be surrounded by wonderful friends and/or family this Christmas!