Monday, January 28, 2013

MRI musings

It's a funny feeling, having your head shoved into a waste paper basket with a miniature rear vision mirror and long sponges wedged up against the sides to ensure a complete lack of motion.

A decade ago, I was allowed to bring in a CD that was magically piped into the tube, but today I'm grateful that the radiographer speaks English and has offered me some ancient cheeseburger-shaped headphones to muffle the noise. "Cuckoo!" he says cheerfully, more than once, tapping my arm. "You can keep your eyes open but will see only a white wall.  Better to keep them closed and think of nicer things," he trills, eyes glinting merrily. "Cuckoo!"

My response was the usual 'thumbs up' and a wink before the bed glided slowly into the MRI cavity.  "Keep your arms still now," he called as he walked towards the office. "Cuckoo!"

The knocking, buzzing, whirring and pulsing sounds seemed a lot louder than ten years ago. Perhaps having Tom Petty singing of how he learned to fly without any wings made it less noticeable back then.  Whilst loud, being a recent survivor of a migraine on a long haul flight meant that today's closed-in cacophony didn't seem any worse than the endless gullet humming of aeroplane engines.  This was a mere forty five minutes with a pause at some indeterminate time for Mr Cuckoo to inject my arm with some contrast solution and return to making more percussive x-ray racket.

Despite having my eyes squeezed shut, an enclosed cranium and rapidly-numbing hands that I'd foolishly interlaced together, my mind did start wandering.

Reminders to not forget to make a dental appointment for Sapphire; buy some minced garlic and ginger from the Asian Spices shop in Servette; borrow a Frank Zappa DVD for research purposes; ask ex-travel agent friend G for her Spanish recommendations, finish up two overdue articles; and check with Vic Roads: did they ever send me my drivers' licence after my wallet was stolen a year ago? 

The recent, lingering bout of flu meant that my nose started to twitch. Normally a loud and proud honker, I realised that the second option - sniffing it juicily back from whence it came - was not available as it would cause some head movement.  The third option was not so much chosen as inevitable: lie there uselessly as snot dribbled ever-so-slowly out of my right nostril and down towards my ear.....

My thoughts turned from minor errands to bigger issues. Recent disappointments.  Lies told by someone willing to let an innocent person take the blame, and my lack of influence to make the situation a fair one.  Decisions to carry on regardless, consciences utterly clear.  How, at forty four, people's behaviour still managed to shock and confuse me.

Then, of course, the here and now butted in as a cough started to tickle my chest.  Instead of actively ignoring the wet creeping sensation of phlegm edging towards my ear hole, I actively meditated on it. Could this snail trail be a metaphor representing the build up of migraines over the past year or so?  A sluggish sojourn back to boringly detailed food diaries, lost days and blurred vision? A glacial yet inevitable journey towards this day, an MRI scan, to see if the tumour had returned?

Sapphire's face immediately popped into view, as did Love Chunks' and Milly's. Three warm beings equalling my home.  A wheeze emanating from my throat was discernible between magneto-zappings. The cough was impatient: it wanted air time and to get out of my prone body NOW.  I swallowed a few times, taking care not to wiggle anything above my lower lip. Somehow this caused the moving mucus to pause at my temple.

Excellent timing, as the piercing clamour orchestrated by Mr Cuckoo had also ended. 

"You are very good at keeping still, very good. Cuckoo!" he laughed, removing the pillow from under my knees, as I stretched and surreptitiously wiped the snot away with my arm. 

"Did you see anything on the scans," I asked, sitting up and shaking some feeling back into my fingers.

"Oh no no, don't go there," he said, waggling his finger at me in mock dismay. "I am only the technician today.  You will find out in two days."

A few minutes later with my scarf, boot, coats, watch, rings and bangles back on, I strolled towards the Number 14 tram in the fog. What did I want the result to be? A returned tumour to blame the recent symptoms on, or the relief of no tumour but also no reason?

A car horn beeped at me, disturbing my reverie.  I had every right to cross here on the yellow lines..... oh, it was my favourite Parc de Trembley gardener, lover of tennis and all things Federer. "Federer lost but the Australian open was good as ever," he called out to me.

"Oui!" I yelled in return.  "Federer est nombre un pour moi!"  Morning shift long over, he roared off into the mist. It felt good that he recognised me in a different suburb wearing my 'nice' clothes as opposed to my XXXL Man-sized coat and without Milly by my side. 

An hour later, I walked into the apartment with two bags of fragrant spices, some interesting chocolate biscuits to share with friends and a dog eager to go to the park and sniff for squirrels.  The result didn't matter.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flu face

Mr Migraine had decided to pay me an extra long visit.  This was an idea that had clearly occurred him during our 38 hour, door-to-door return journey from Australia to Switzerland.  Why not pop in to Kath's cranium when she's wedged into an economy seat and unable to breathe in the smell of aeroplane catering without an involuntary heave?  A quick vomit seconds before we landed was official confirmation of his calling.  

In fact, he then decided to stay with me another four days, twitching the 'Vomit NOW' nerve endings, punching the 'Diarrhoea A-Go-Go' dials and stamping on the 'Crushing Pain Behind Left Eye Ball' buttons like a river-dancing epileptic on espresso.

Love Chunks was supposed to leave for his much-anticipated skiing trip the day after we landed, but the dear bloke stayed with me for those four dreadful days until he was sure that I could keep food down and have the energy to take Milly downstairs for a whizzer before he drove off towards the alps.

A week later, he walked through the door, red-faced and sweaty but with chattering teeth. "I think I've caught the flu," he said, dropping his bags and falling into my hug.  "I caught it from Robyn who said she'd got it from Dave who blamed Kirsty, the new girl at work, who said that a fat guy had coughed all over her on the tram...."

Never mind, it was MY time to shine; to fufill the long-held potential of being a work-from-home Trailing Spouse who would not only expertly tend to the sick but also keep the home fires burning, nourishing hot soup on simmer, the infirm entertained, bills paid online and .... the dog from eating the used tissues.  

As Sapphire succumbed, my mothering skills intensified.  Vitamin C, sugar-free Strepsils and a blankie on the couch with her favourite movie on standby.  A hand wiping her sweaty brow and a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Let me slice some apple for you."

Flu, for me? Nah, mine was merely a scratchy throat and a few sniffles. I was made of stronger stuff.  My role was to soldier on, be vigilant and protect my dear, sweet family.  

In fact, it was time to test out the 'ol Achilles; see if my careful ministrations and months of rest had paid off.

It had. Six kilometres with no twinge at all!  I was so proud, my phone took a photo to commemorate the achievement.  LC and Sapphire weakly congratulated me as I skipped back into the living room, droplets of sweat pooling on the floor whilst blocking their view of the telly.  "I feel GREAT," I said, somewhat insensitively as my favourite boy and favourite girl trumpeted into their tissues and curled up into even tighter balls of misery.  "I'm so lucky that all I've got is a COLD!"

Until last Friday.  "Who allowed an elephant to sit on me in the middle of last night and why does it feel like a camel has taken up residence inside my chest?"

Since then, it's been a full-on flu infestation.  Unpredictable sneezes, phlegm-laden coughing, aching joints, toilet sweats, the occasional chuck up and a listlessness so pervading I need a lie down after getting dressed.  

There was a bonus, however.  My voice keeps disappearing, so LC and Sapphire enjoy a relatively peaceful home life, albeit with increasingly dusty floors and a Trailing Spouse likely to erupt with a moan that is impossible to stop if accidentally disturbed.

Milly was puzzled. Sure, it was nice to have everyone home, but instead of activity, socialising and walks it was a closed house, stillness and silence. Boooorrrrring!  Now with just the two of us, having a low-based IKEA bed means that she can leap up next to me and place herself just so along my side so that if my hand flops, it will kinda sorta be in the right position to give her a tummy rub.

After Sapphire returned to school and LC to work, I made sure that Milly's long morning walk still occurred. Even if it killed me.  My voice always escapes in the -6C temperatures, so furry face makes a split second decision. With those triangle ears, it's obvious that she can hear my attempts to call her, but she's decided to pretend that it's not the right voice I'm using and she can therefore enjoy some extra time making yellow snow and sniffing for squirrels. It is only when the frozen ground starts to hurt her feet that she decides that yes, she can hear me calling.  It's impossible not to smile at her reasoning.

Just as the indefatigable Flu kept on keeping on, Mr Migraine looked away from his other clients and back towards me with interest.  Why the hell not, he giggled.  When she coughs up snot, why not make sure that Gina Rinehardt's drilling inside her head for minerals?  Have a chuckle by flinging in a sly chunder and blurred vision just when she has a writing assignment due and solder the muscles at the base of her skull so that they fuse every time she stands?  Stomach pains and teeth that feel as though they're being boiled in water?  Matching the pain in her bones with ones in her jaw and forehead!  Yeah, go for it! 

And thus, I find myself still feebly fighting the two foes of flu and migraine, unable to give my attention to the TV, computer or book for longer than fifteen minutes at a time but thoroughly sick of lying in bed and feeling just how badly my toenails need cutting.  In my mostly-horizontal state I've mentally finished the novel; planned a second, placed unbeatable bids for three separate editing jobs, figured out how to make lamingtons for Saturday and researched three separate trips to Spain, Ireland and New York.  It's amazing what you can do with your nostrils plugged.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Third impressions count

It's a funny thing, to return back to your home country after a long-ish period away.

This is the third time I've done so.

The first, after twelve months in Scotland, saw us turn up to our house and see a neighbour's kid, Amanda, riding past on her bike. Her, "Hello there! So you're finally baaack!" took us all by surprise at how broad and exaggerated her Strine accent seemed. This was even more baffling when we then realised that she came from a wealthy, private-schooled family who all spoke in far posher and plummier tones than we did.

At thirteen, the first impressions when driving from Adelaide airport to Murray Bridge was not only that the sky resembled the faded blue of the ancient 1950s coloured films we sometimes had to watch in the Activity Room at primary school, but that it was was enormous.  Same too for the width of the roads - plenty of space for trucks, cars, buses, pedestrians, tractors dragging harvesters to the next paddock and footpaths. The endless yellowy-brown of the landscape with the rising dust seemingly making a big contribution to the dimming down of the blue sky. Kids who hadn't become Punks, Mods, Poseurs, Rockers or Skinheads.

In my early twenties, I returned home a second time after two years (and two stone fatter) away. Working, travelling and socialising: the ultimate goals of the two year UK Working Visa-holder.  At the airport, my family and friends were there to greet me, all politely ignoring the inescapable sight of my bulk that I'd tragically tried to disguise in a black leather bikie jacket, long permed hair and (I blush to recall this), smeared in fake tan.  It is with no small amount of relief that I neglected not to scan the photos of that unfortunate era to show you.

At twenty four, the impressions that hit me were that people celebrated and socialised in their homes and not at the closest pub. Houses were large and clean enough to have other human beings over to share in food, conversation and wine.  No longer seeing black slime in my tissue after a day spent travelling on the tube. Wine, not a pint (or four) of cider; washed down with groovy salads, affordable meats and funky bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil.

I have Love Chunks to thank for luring me out of the fish-n-chips-straight-after-the-pub lifestyle and back onto the tennis court and reaching for a bottle instead of the marked down cask of Fruity Lexia.  I have my parents to thank for helping me settle back into life as a student and for providing a home base when the city got too much and a Murray Bridge moment was required; and I have friends to thank for still wanting to see me after boring them with my stories on how London was (and is) the most exciting place in the world.

Thirdly, today. Or last month to be precise.  Eighteen months since leaving Australia for Switzerland, forty four years old with the three visible age spots on my face to prove it.  Endured a hellish journey home but the following morning woke up to a lovely sunny Melbourne day and found that the smells were the first things to notice.

Shops, for instance.  The empty coke-can coolness of air conditioning as opposed to ancient fans and sweaty, non-deodorised armpits ala Genevoise.  Aromas of meat pies wafting from doorways instead of slightly burned croissants.  Blokes sitting at park benches drinking iced coffees when they downed tools instead of a cigarette and espresso on tiny chairs at cafes.  Gum trees and warm bitumen. Spicy stir fries, fresh strawberries and cake!

Being able to converse with everyone and be instantly understood without the requirement of bad charades or the 'thumbs up' sign. Seeing my daughter occasionally mistaken for someone English and my husband confirm that Australia does indeed have the best coffee in the world. Said whilst eating his fourth pasty of the trip.

Hearing the screeching cacophony of the rainbow lorikeets, galahs and cockatoos as they made their way back to the reserve next to my parents' place, all eager to share their news of the day.  The proud 'bardle oodle argle' of the magpies who decided which of the New Holland Honey Eaters could share their bird bath and when. The childlike screech of the neighbour's cat when defending their self-appointed boundary.  The 'thonk' of cricket ball against bat during the many games played over picnic lunches in the park.  Fireworks overtaking even the hoons on New Years' Eve.

Seeing dogs run past with their owners whilst aching to see and pat my own.  Playing endless games of Rummy-O with Mum and Dad, and being thrashed every single time.  Watching Sapphire laugh unselfconsciously as she spent an entire afternoon in our friends' pool filling up water balloons.

Posing for underwater photographs with my very best friend, still in awe of her resilience, intelligence and humour.  Catching up with friends I'd gladly offer a spare room to any and every time they needed one.  Hearing Dad say that Mum's garden was by far the most beautiful in the street.  Feeling a pang of sadness when Milly's doghouse, made by Dad, was no longer in their back yard.

Dad's raspy whiskers, enjoyed during a hug. The milky sweet smell of Nivea on my Mum's soft face.  Seeing my nephew throw back his head and laugh like an unoiled door; the other grinning wider than the Joker.  My brother, still refusing to accept that yes, he too was as unstoppable and noisy as his sons; and his wife for her calm kindness amongst the chaotic creations of home made gingerbread houses.

Sapphire cried when she farewelled her grandparents, friends and cousins as we hugged on my parents' front lawn.  Surprisingly, my eyes remained dry, caught in a bind of confusion: sentimentality and hope, recharged and ready to go back. Connections renewed and deeply appreciated.  A wish to thank my family for an upbringing that was safe and encouraging and magical for being so and to thank them again for their continued interest and support and love.

When we finally walked through the door to our un-renovated 1970 apartment after collecting Milly, tears started to form. "It feels like home because you're back with us," I whispered into her neck, "But there'll be many more opportunities to return to our other home too."

Not so for her, which is why I cried.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Accidentalis Pulchritudo

Brilliant writer Elisabeth from Sixth in line has been discussing a professional family portrait that she's been given as part of a recent birthday present.

Despite being apprehensive about it, she explains the concepts of 'punctum' as it relates to photography. I won't pretend to be familiar with Roland Barthe or his 1980 work 'Camera Lucida' but, as my grey matter understands it, 'punctum' describes the unplanned associations one makes with a photograph.

Usually, in my own experience, 'punctum' pops up in photographs that aren't formally posed. Either the subjects depicted are unaware of being snapped or there's been timing flukey or lucky enough to catch a unique situation.

Seeing as it's still Sunday, I'm going to give a nod to River's Sunday Selections tradition and plunk down some photos whose 'punctum' productions particularly grab me.

Firstly, our ex-rabbit, Skipper.  We caught up with him during our recent visit home to Oz and found that he's just gained a new friend, Gus the kitten. Gus likes to regularly leap on top of Skipper's back. Bunny boy is rather tolerant, but, after the sixth ambush, he kicked out his back leg and Gus found himself off the couch and sprawled on the floor.

Eventually, even 13 week-olds get tired, and this is what Sapphire found when she lifted up the blanket.

In Adelaide, a 43C day was made a lot more fun by using Kent's underwater camera.  Regular readers will know that my husband, Love Chunks, is a softly-spoken, quiet achiever kind of bloke, but during the photo session in the pool he did all manner of duck dives, bombs, swim pasts and chop sueys for attention. I'm thinking of having this one enlarged and framed.

Could this be any more Australian? Our mate Kent, mid-jump, on a plastic thong coloured in the national flag directly into the pool.

Earlier times, circa 2007.  Our underwater rain water tanks had been buried, the under-grass drip watering system was about to be laid and then some turf finally rolled over the top.  The chickens - Hermoine, Luna and Ginny - were happily settling in and Sapphire was busy bustin' her moves on the trampoline, unaware that I was nearby.

Even earlier, around 2003.  Our intense young artist was busily painting in her pen drawing of Ursula from 'The Little Mermaid', wearing one of LC's old shirts.  She spent many many hours at the bright yellow table that my father had made for her; specifically on projects involving empty boxes, sticky tape, play dough, paints, chalk and pipe cleaners.

Artists do get tired though. This one had recently been diagnosed with Asthma, and was told that Elmo was too furry to sleep with. To deal with this upsetting news, she was allowed to pick something/someone less hirsute.  Jesse the Cowgirl was a regular night time companion for several years.

A portrait of my god son (Will, in yellow on matching space-hopper), his two older siblings and my child.  Sapphire clearly had a few unrealised romantic feelings for young Mr P and took the opportunity to steal a quick embrace before the word 'cheese' had ended.

Despite being on the far end of Daggy slash Tomboy slash Unkempt, for a couple of years I made a lot of jewellery to help the school fundraising efforts. Sapphire was very keen to show off the bracelet she'd made (which was subsequently sold, a few weeks later, to a rather sophisticated older adult). What turned out was a slightly out of focus piece of jewellery but a lovely portrait of her happy little face.

Not so happy here at the start of 2009 though, despite my urgings to smile.  Leaving the only home she'd ever remembered to go and move to Melbourne was a time of uncertainty for Sapphire. Seeing some of those friends a month ago put a huge smile back on her face.

My mother has a beautiful singing voice, and I've reminisced in the past about her sterling efforts in many a musical production. Why not duet with your granddaughter to ABBA?

Holding a book in a damp bathroom whilst cleaning your teeth might not be the best idea, but who was I to tell her off for reading?  Multi-tasking at its finest.

Tasmania, January 2010. The first stirrings of tweenage angst from Sapphire.  And yet, then as now, my heart surges when I see her and LC together. They're more alike than they realise.

Geneva, 2012. An impromptu greeting from Milly that is received with thanks.

Martigny, Switzerland, is home to the St Bernard Museum.  Worth a visit because the town also contains some impressive Roman ruins and a museum that regularly snaffles art masterpieces such as Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso to have a look at.  

Back to the dogs. This fella was in the very first steps of slurping me entirely across the face, leaving me covered in a clear-but-thick saliva jelly substance that smelled of St Bernard's bum hole. Still worth it.

When my parents arrived, I insisted that they pose in front of the UN, which has become a tradition for all of our house guests. We discovered that none of the flags were up - something I'd never seen before. Just after taking this photo, a gaggle of kids walked by.

Is your dog friendly? Can we pat him?

"Of course, but 'he' is a 'she.'" Milly was surrounded by admirers....

......who insisted that I take their photo, too.

Eventually, their mother and Auntie persuaded them to keep on walking and I decided to take another photo of my parents, Sapphire and Milly, "just in case the first one doesn't work out."

Before we knew it ....

.....this cheeky little guy dashed in, posed as the extra family member, and dashed out again!

This is the photograph I was referring to when commenting on Elisabeth's blog post: 'When LC and I married a millennia ago, we did the usual thing and hired a professional photographer. I hated the awkward poses, wearing too much make up and having all eyes on me (plus a brain tumour that, undiagnosed at the time, made me feel rather ill) and the photos all reflected that. A wedding guest friend, however, gave me some snaps he took on his old kodak and one immediately grabbed me. We're slightly out of focus, but LC and I are both not looking at the camera, but at something else that has made us laugh. It's the only one I had framed and is still on our bookshelf.' 

And, finally this one.  This is the one that I will get enlarged:

I love you, darling Sapphire.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Beholder. Beauty. Eye of.

When everyone had gone to bed except for my mother and myself, I collapsed into her arms; dribbling a gloopy mixture of tears and mucus over her shoulder.

“Mum, I’m trying my best, I really am. And I’ll continue to do so for as long as I live. It's what she deserves: our love, support and guidance; however tricky it gets.”

“I know, love,” she said quietly, rubbing my back.

We stood like that together for a few moments in silence until I realised that age had shrunk her enough that my breasts now slotted on top of hers like two stacked loaves of bread.  The imp inside of me hadn’t yet disappeared, so I shared the observation.  Mum chuckled.  

“You always had a good rack,” I snuffled, half laughing and half sobbing.  Sobbing won the brief battle between shaking off the Sads or falling deeper into them.

“Whenever I tell her that she’s beautiful, she doesn’t believe me. She thinks that it’s just my job to say that.” An elephant-like bellow into a damp tissue added extra punctuation to my statement.

“She is beautiful. If she’d only smile more...”

Stepping back, I decided to say it. To reveal the tiny sadness that had shadowed me, ever-so-faint but still present, for so many years. “But Mum, you never said it to me.”

It was her turn to step back, eyes widened in surprise. “Of course I did love. You were beautiful as a child, beautiful at your formal, beautiful on your wedding day, beautiful when the baby was born -----"

“But you never told me,” I whispered. “Not once.”

“But you must have known?”

Sinking down into the lounge, I looked up at her, still standing there uncertainly. “No, Mum, I didn’t. I would have killed for a ‘you look nice today’ from you. Even once.”

She sat down beside me.  Several seconds passed.  Would she say, 'Oh but you should have been aware of it anyway’ or become defensive, saying that she’d been busy and tired; or reiterate that she never wanted to produce children too full of their own importance, or ....

“You are beautiful. You have always been beautiful.”

She placed her hands on both sides of my cheeks. “I love your beautiful face.”

I cried again, but it was good this time.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Long haul limbo

Thirty six hours of travel from door to door is a shocker of an experience in anyone's book, so I should not have been surprised when, after our first eight hour flight and three hour transit wait, Sapphire looked at fellow airport passengers standing like pallid zombies gripping their wheelie cases on the flat escalator belts and asked, "Mum, what does purgatory mean?"

That's when I realised that the biblical references we take for granted are not fully understood by kids who have never been to Sunday school or church. Running my hand through my oily hair and blinking out the dried eye boogers whilst trying to keep my morning-breath mouth away from Sapphire's face in order not to make her heave, I tried to give a reasoned reply.

"Well, it's sort of like a half-way holding pen that God supposedly puts you in after you die when he's not sure whether you should be flung down into Satan's evil hands for all eternity or sent upwards to the angels. While he figures it out, you stay in purgatory feeling bored, powerless and in limbo."

"Like airports."


There comes a time when all the movies, soundtracks, thin blankets and bad selfies can no longer overcome the numbness of confined spaces, stale air and overheated oompa loompa-sized trays of in-flight catering.

A time when the urge to reach out and slap a person who is already comfortably reclining in their Business Class seat as you pass them by, cruelly out of reach financially and on proud display as a representative What You Can Not Afford as you trudge through to Cramped Class at the arse-end of the plane.

Mr Migraine had also decided to pay me a visit - just to make sure that the trip back to Australia had an extra element of discomfort to it.  He knew that swallowing tablets on a queasy, travel sickness-prone stomach wasn't an option, nor were ear plugs as they always tend to expand and shoot out of the sides of my head like startled wine corks.

And thus, the plane version of Purgatory began.

Firstly, the dreaded family with a screaming toddler who sat in the row directly in front of us.  Yes, there was genuine pity to be had for the two exhausted parents trying their damnedest to calm down an eighteen month old who was not given their own seat and did not have the capacity to understand why their ears hurt.  Well, for the first two hours at least.

Then, when the parents used up all of the nappies they had, the sympathy vanished quicker than a stewardess when the lighting's turned down and immediately flicked over to the baleful burning hot heat of hatred.  And that was before the kid shat himself so badly that it spurted up and over the top of his nappy, surging towards his shoulders and onto his mother's lap. The stench of warm diarrhoea filled the cabin as his parents struggled to fashion the excrement-encrusted enfant terrible a new outfit from a plastic duty free bag and a handful of serviettes.

Love Chunks nudged me. "The old guy's BO is maturing faster than stilton on a windowsill."

He was right. Ponky Old Geezer had also got on board in Switzerland, already ripe with the aroma of his fortnightly bath day nearly due and wearing what appeared to be his entire wardrobe of winter coat, cardigan, flanelette shirt, wool scarf and flat cap.  He immediately fell asleep when he buckled his broiling bulk into his seat across the aisle from LC, leaving all of his thick, sweat-creating attire on.  Somehow, the baby shit and the fogey funk molecules joined, creating a suffocating arch of repulsive reeks that caused the passenger behind us to start vomiting.

Oh and did you know that 'cabin crew' no longer accept used sick bags from passengers?  Something to do with health and safety or rules or disposal requirements or other. Therefore, the poor vomiting sod had to either a) hang on to the bag that eventually started dripping through the ill-made seal at the bottom; or b) find the strength to be well enough to stagger over to the toilet, wait their turn and cram it into the pencil sharpener-sized disposal chute; leaving a fetching fountain of chunder for other toilet users to happen upon.   We could now add vomit to the circling stench of faeces and elderly essence....

But wait, we too had something to contribute, apart from Love Chunks' rather whipper snipper-like snore.

Sapphire tapped me on the shoulder. "Mum," she whispered. "My head feels really itchy."

I pushed her face gently back into her chair. "Yeah, we've all had dry skin. You know, with the cold air in Switzerland and the hot water..."

Travellers' breath near my face meant that she had more to say. "NO, Mum. I mean my hair is really REALLY itchy."

We shared a sideways look of surprise and recognition.  It had been years. Years!  "OK then, put your head in my lap."

Her noggin looked like a blonde ant farm cleaning up after a cake crumb fight: it was crawling with lice and eggs. There was nothing for it: they had to be individually picked out with my fingers; squashed into a now-dry refresher towelette and destroyed before the little buggers decided to branch out and colonise the rest of Cramped Class.

Three hours it took me, leaving my eyes and finger tips burning. Lice eggs are miniscule and stick to individual hair shafts. Try doing that kind of monkey grooming when the cabin lights have been switched off for nigh-nighs and all you've got is a poxy overhead reading light to go by.  Eventually, all visible signs of infestation had been removed, shoved into a Unicef donation envelope and disposed of (thoughtfully, of course) in the toilet hatch, smearing the spilled chunder remains over the sink.

Ahhhh.  If the toddler would stop screaming or if I could miraculously ignore the noise, things from now on would surely be OK.

Oh, of bloody course. "Love Chunks?"  He stirred awake.


"Um, can you please check my head....?"

And so, for an hour it appeared to anyone still awake that I was publicly pleasuring my husband in Row 43 as he found eleven bugs and several dozen eggs.  The itching stopped, and he tiredly leaned back with his thin blankie to go to sleep, waving away my whispered dog breath-scented sweet nothings of gratitude.

I sat there in moral turmoil.  LC had finally entered the hallowed Land of Nod, his profile at peace, hands twitching occasionally in somnambulant memory of his recent nit picking. The last thing I wanted to do was disturb him, but Mother Nature was calling and I didn't fancy doing an adult recreation of the toddler's overflowing nappy.

"Love Chunks?"


"Um, can I get out to go to the loo....?"

My husband is a generous and kind man to me, and, rightly or wrongly assumes that I'm slimmer than I am.  For that reason, he decided to scrunch up his legs and just lean them towards the right, hoping that I could sort of slide past him without him being required to stand up in the aisle.

It was a noble thought, and no doubt a practical one.

And, for that, I'm still so very sorry that I involuntarily farted at the very moment my tracksuit-covered arse brushed against his cheek.