Book Review: ‘In Praise of Difficult Women’, ‘A to Z of Amazing South African Women’, ‘Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different’
9 September 2018
There is a tremendous wealth of reading material on the topics of feminism and gender equality – books, news stories, opinionated blog posts (scroll back a bit to see evidence of that…), etc. You can’t open a newspaper, or indeed any form of social media, without having to engage with the topic, and this is entirely to the good. However, an important part of moving forward with the conversation is to also see reflections of the positive reality we should all be striving for. This requires highlighting certain previously-ignored (deliberately or otherwise) people and experiences, and reframing others through a new lens, one free from the grubby fingerprints of patriarchy and discrimination.
I’ve been lucky enough to read three fantastic books over the last few months that do exactly this, without trying to score worthiness points or make the reader feel like a complete arse for not previously having heard of many of the people featured. The first of these was, full disclosure, written by my former university digsmate, Ambre Nicholson (with gorgeously vivid artwork by her husband, Jaxon Hsu), but we haven’t seen each other since we graduated 15 years’ ago, so she certainly had no expectation of me buying her book.
A to Z of Amazing South African Women is a celebration of 26 genuinely extraordinary South African women (as Nicholson points out in her foreword, choosing just 26 was a near-impossible task). From the famous fossil, Mrs Ples (surely the world’s only 2 million-year-old celebrity?) to 28-year-old gender norm-subverting musician, Dope Saint Jude, this book looks at the dazzling achievements of activists, athletes, artists, actors, authors, and many other occupations that don’t actually begin with ‘a’ (sorry, slight alliteration safari there). The things that these incredibly diverse women have in common are immense courage, conviction, and a lasting impact on South Africa. While the page dedicated to each is brief (by necessity, as each one would otherwise warrant a very large book of their own), every single description leaves you wanting to explore more. This is a book to read with Google close to hand, as I guarantee you will immediately want to read up on each of these heroines.
Rather than feeling ashamed of not having heard of so many of these women (many of them do not slot conveniently into a racist, patriarchal interpretation of South African history), I felt inspired by their stories, and delighted that this well-researched and beautifully-written book exists to highlight their contributions, and to show a new generation of South African women just how much there is to aspire to. Even if you’re not from that part of the world, it’s a glorious and important snapshot of female tenacity and brilliance within a society that didn’t allow women to even have their own bank accounts until a few decades ago, not to mention one within which an entire ethnic majority were denied the vote until 1994.
In looking for ‘new’ heroines, Karen Karbo’s In Praise of Difficult Women is another fabulous book, with beautiful yet fierce portraits of each woman by Kimberly Glyder. Highlighting 29 women who have unapologetically taken their place in history, Karbo neatly turns the patriarchal putdown of being described as a ‘difficult’ woman on its head. Yes, the women in this book are and were all difficult, in all the diverse ways that their 29 different personalities made them. With Karbo as our hilarious guide, being difficult is reframed as a refusal to conform, to stay silent, or to live in a way prescribed by either gender norms or society at the time. These women – among them Josephine Baker, Amelia Earhart, Nora Ephron, Shonda Rhimes, Margaret Cho, and Ruth (Badass) Bader Ginsberg – are ultimately all defined only by their own measures of success, whether professionally or personally. They’re also all fallible, not interested in hopping up on a pedestal and maintaining some arbitrary standard of feminine perfection. Karbo is honest about the fact that almost all of them did hurtful things along the way (you know, like a normal person), but how many male achievements does history caveat with the fact that ‘he was also sometimes a bit of a meanie’?
It is a joy to watch Karbo so deftly play with the very definition of ‘difficult’. In Jane Goodall’s case, she writes, ‘She always seemed to trust herself, which made her a difficult woman.’ When describing the unstoppable force that was Martha Gellhorn, she makes the important point that ‘The most difficult women are the angry ones.’ As we know, anger is rarely seen as a positive feminine trait (unless it results in a tabloid-worthy cat fight between two pop stars…or Kardashians) – how refreshing to have it cast in a new light as a great motivator to do great things. For those of us here in Brexitland, her description of the formidable Angela Merkel emphasises just how unassuming she is, and how this is in fact one of her greatest strategic advantages – ‘Difficult women need not be tap-dancing, opinion-slinging extroverts.’ She so successfully dismantles the traditional notion of being ‘difficult’ that, by the end of the book, I found myself listing all the ways I could try to be just a little more difficult in my own life.
A particular highlight of the book for me was the inclusion of Laverne Cox. While so many people are getting their knickers in a twist about which public bathrooms transgender people should be allowed to use, she just cracks on with her unique combination of activism and megawatt glamour. Feminism is for all of us, and Karbo, with her mix of deliciously dry humour and low tolerance for bullshit, isn’t going to let us forget it. You will finish this book determined to read every word, listen to every note, and watch every screen time minute by the women featured, and her amazing asterixed (it’s a word if I say it’s a word) footnotes of humour will make you wish you could go for a drink with the author herself.
Finally, a book that doesn’t feature a single woman (although transgender men who were raised as girls are on the list), but entirely reinforces the idea that feminism is good for everyone, especially as it breaks down the stereotypes of being a boy or man. Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks describes itself as ‘true tales of amazing boys who changed the world without killing dragons’. As damaging as we believe the Disneyfied tropes of pretty, predominantly-white princesses in need of rescue are for young girls, the idea of chisel-jawed, muscular heroes as the masculine ideal surely don’t do anything good for boys? The boys in Brooks’ book are all heroic in different meaningful ways: Barack Obama, Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, David Attenborough, and Ai Weiwei are just a small sample of the 100 inspiring stories of boys from all walks of life, of various nationalities and ethnicities, and from near and far points in history. Quinton Winter provides lush and entirely frameable illustrations for each one.
With two boys of my own, this book (a gift from one of their wonderful godmothers) is a total game-changer in our discussions around traditional expectations of their gender. As well as highlighting extraordinary accomplishments, and often huge triumph over various odds, this book introduces concepts such as being gay or transgender in a very simple and unforced way. My husband read it for our eldest, and when the word ‘gay’ first appeared, my eight-year-old asked what it meant. While he knows several of our friends are either in relationships with, or married to, people of the same gender, we’d never actually discussed the language around it. He completely understood the idea that you simply love who you love, and wasn’t at all fazed by the idea of gender not being a binary state. While we’re not on a mission to produce the world’s most ‘right-on’ eight-year-old, being able to introduce examples of people who live lives different from his own limited experience is invaluable in opening up ongoing conversations.
The book similarly provides role models who have called upon their intellect, ingenuity and courage to do great things. With the amount of toxic masculinity floating around so many traditional ‘heroic’ endeavours (the world of team sports in particular seems to present us with an inordinate number of grim examples of ‘macho man’ culture gone horribly awry), I want my boys to know that they needn’t be defined by their ability to kick a ball, or whether they can act tough. The things that would make them great in my eyes would be to live a life truest to who they are, with an openness to all the complexities of the world around them.
We live in strange days, where a rabid tangerine somehow dominates every headline, and entire sections of humanity still find themselves under constant threat. However, these three excellent books remind us that heroines and heroes still exist, and have always existed, even if the context they’ve lived in prevented them from being acknowledged. I would highly recommend you read at least one, or ideally all three, and find yourself inspired, uplifted, and even, perhaps, a little more difficult.
14 January 2018
In the same October weekend last year that women across social media gave voice to the hashtag of #metoo, throwing some revoltingly shady behavior under the harsh spotlight it deserves, Conservative MP (and apparent sufferer of a severe allergy to liberal causes), Jacob Rees-Mogg announced that calling himself a feminist would be ‘ridiculous’. While the reasons he gave were based on the idea that it would somehow be impertinent for a man to claim the title of feminist, it showed a profound ability for missing the point by a country mile.
As a mother of two small boys, I temper the stereotypical relief at not having to navigate the teenage years of girls with the understanding that I have a significant responsibility to raise two men who do everything in their power to make the world equal for everyone on the gender spectrum at every age. I know that some people roll their eyes at the idea that there are more than two genders, but if we all just take the view that the science of gender is still an area where even scientists and doctors are still fumbling somewhat in the dark, then we can just crack on with the business of empowering every human being regardless of what’s in their pants.
And this, I would suggest (and it’s not an original suggestion by any means) is the very heart of real feminism, as opposed to the outdated and cynical view of feminism having something to do with hairy armpits and the goal of enslaving all men. Real feminism is about equality, where boys and girls (and everyone in between) are treated as valued individuals, with the same potential, opportunities and respect throughout their lives. It’s about acknowledging that all human beings are different and will face different challenges in their lives, but that discriminating in any way against them because of their reproductive organs is an utter waste of everyone’s time and resources.
As much as feminism is about uplifting women – in terms of education, addressing the gender pay gap, and finding solutions for the fact that women are so often disadvantaged by the exercising of their wombs (the fantastic Pregnant Then Screwed website highlights the ridiculous statistic that 54,000 women a year in the UK alone are pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave), it has the enormously valuable side effect of creating a more equal society for men too. If my boys become fathers, I want them to have as much right to be at home with their children as their partners. If they ever find themselves suffering from emotional distress or mental health issues, I want them to know that they can talk about it without fearing any repercussions because of outdated expectations of their gender to be stoic and macho. Suicide is the leading killer of men under 45 (see CALM), and the pressures placed on men by a gender-imbalanced society that pounces on any sign of weakness in men as not being ‘manly’ are literally life-threatening.
The continuing reports of harassment and assault from the entertainment industry and political circles are shocking only in that they provide a clear picture of just how prevalent this behavior is. Many columnists and pundits have commented that it’s hard to work out exactly what is inappropriate (a squeeze of the upper arm? a hand on the knee? a pat on the bum?) Honestly, it’s not that bloody complicated. If you start from a position that everybody is entitled to their own bodily integrity, then there’s no need to feel anxious and hamstrung. If we’re all treating each other with mutual, equal respect, then it won’t be difficult to judge ‘the line’ between predatory behaviour and genuine compliments. If this honestly still doesn’t clarify things, then just always consider whether you’d behave the same way towards someone of your own gender (or indeed, someone not the gender/physical type of your personal sexual preference – harassment and assault are not purely an issue of man on woman, even if that is the huge majority of cases).
Feminism is all about this form of equality, and it’s literally easy enough for children to understand - when my three-year-old says goodbye to his friends after a playdate, I suggest that he asks if they’d like a hug. The same goes for when my sons’ grandparents visit – I ask the boys if they would like to have a hug. It’s a lot less awkward in practice than it sounds, and hopefully teaches them to respect their own bodies just as they respect others. For all the reasons that I’ve mentioned before, men often feel unable to report when they have been harassed or assaulted, and learning that all bodies are worthy of respect is a surely a good step in combatting this taboo.
Part of growing up is realizing that many people you encounter will behave like fuckwits, but feminism makes it a level playing field on which to be a fuckwit. It also means any form of sexual harassment or assault would become so clearly unacceptable, that silence, or the fear that you won’t be believed, would ideally become unthinkable.
Feminism is for everyone. It means little girls need not grow up believing that their faces and bodies are the only things of value, and that my sons can choose the ‘pink’ magazine at the newsagents without the man behind the counter having an opinion (obviously kids’ magazines are an entire blog post of seething parental rage on their own…) It means that my amazing guy friends, who have always been feminists, can actually call themselves that, only increasing the volume of our call for equality, and an end to the insidious and downright dangerous prevalence of casual, ingrained misogyny. They in turn can continue to provide the positive male role models for my sons, who will hopefully reach adulthood in a world where feminism is no longer a hot topic of conversation, because its central aims will be just part of the status quo. And, if this isn’t the case, they will be able to actively participate in achieving this goal.
P.S. My amazing pussyhat pin is by the wonderful Sophia 203, @p_ssyhatpin_bysophia203 on Instagram.
24 September 2017
While my grooming regime would certainly fall into the ‘consistent but low maintenance’ category, my one great hair cost-saving has been the entirely unintentional genetic lottery win of blonde hair with natural balayage (obviously I had to Google that term after a new hairdresser got all excited about it, which goes to show just how wildly up-to-date I am with beauty trends). However, it is prone to falling into a mop that is both limp and kinky - not a good combination in any context…wink wink nudge nudge, know what I mean?
Sorry, had to be done. Won’t happen again. Probably.
My three hero products are the ones that take me from post-shower frizz to a whole lot sleeker, with varying degrees of ‘done’, depending on whether I’m doing the school run or going ‘out out’. My lack of expertise when it comes to hair styling is part of the reason these three are heroes – they make good hair days achievable even for a dunce like me!
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Nourishing Hair Oil
I am definitely a Liz Earle devotee, and have been using her Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser for many years. While the shampoos and conditioners are lovely, my favourite Liz Earle hair product is the hair oil. I apply it to the length/ends of towel-dried hair and comb it through, and it leaves my hair glossy and about 100% more manageable. As I have quite greasy roots, I try to avoid too-rich conditioners, but this oil adds the perfect amount of finishing condition without weighing it down at all.
At £18.50 for 50ml, it lasts for ages, as you only need one or two pumps at a time, and it smells delicious. If you’re planning to use any heat on your hair, it both protects it and reduces the drying time (this is one of its advertised properties, but it’s part of my experience of using it too). As I have fine hair that grows like a weed, but am so lazy about getting it cut, this helps keep even bra strap-length hair nourished and split-end free.
It’s also nice to know that Liz Earle products are responsibly-sourced and cruelty-free. While a lot of cosmetics companies are only slowly getting the message when it comes to animal testing and environmentally-friendly practises, this company has made that part of their entire philosophy from the very start.
Babyliss Big Hair
Anyone who’s ever watched me play tennis will know that hand-eye coordination ain’t my strong point. Which is why, even after a masterclass in blow-drying from one of the Richard Ward salon’s* creative directors (who himself has the sexiest, bouncy head of hair I’ve ever seen), I still managed to give myself a black eye from trying to wield a brush and hairdryer at the same time.
So, I resigned myself to a lifetime of just flicking my hair upside down and blow-drying it as best I could. Not exactly optimal, but definitely with less risk of concussion.
Enter, the Babyliss Big Hair, a Christmas present from the other half two years’ ago (he’s good at taking a hint). This little beauty is a game-changer for cack-handed types everywhere, as it integrates brush and blow-drying heat into one, with added rotation – ooh. While I’ve never managed to quite replicate the catwalk-ready style as shown on the website, it allows me to create a sleek and volumised ‘do with minimal investment of time or effort. Lazy groomers of the world, rejoice!
If you’ve towel-dried your hair, applied some of the hair oil above, and then given your hair a quick blitz with your normal hairdryer until it’s just slightly damp, this gizmo will do the rest. It takes a few attempts to work out your perfect technique, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s a doddle.
This newer model is £45, and there’s also the original version with a slightly smaller 42mm barrel (as opposed to 50mm), which is useful if you have slightly shorter hair or a fringe, available for £40. It’s a good-quality bit of kit for a great price, with the ability to transform even the clumsiest of us into supermodels (well, sort of).
Mason Pearson Hairbrushes
Although this is the hair grooming item I use the most, I have saved it for last mainly because, once you hear the price, you may well stop reading, assuming that I have well and truly taken leave of my senses. However, stick with me here, as I bought my Mason Pearson ‘Popular’ hairbrush 15 years’ ago, and only the slight fading of the gold writing on the handle shows any evidence of its age. A large nylon and bristle brush, it gets through my fine (and sometimes slightly knotty) hair with ease, leaving it silky smooth. Even though I rinse it every two days to remove any dry shampoo residue, the rubber cushion hasn’t perished or cracked at all, and the bristles are still pristine. Most Mason Pearson brushes come with a special cleaning brush, which you use with a bit of mild shampoo every few weeks to leave them good as new.
Now for the price. Deep breath, my particular model now costs a rather breathtaking £90 (it was quite a lot less when I bought it, but that was almost a decade and a half ago), which seems pretty outrageous for something that doesn’t do anything except brush your hair – for that price, you’d at least expect it to also make you a flat white or take the bins out. However, the best recommendation I can give is to say that if, beauty gods forbid, mine was lost, I would not hesitate to replace it. It is the most beautiful quality imaginable, with a luxurious weight and feel when you use it. Also, based on its current state, it’s going to be at least another 15 years before I need to replace it – as cost-per-wear and sustainability goes, that’s bloody good going.
I have linked the Mason Pearson website below, which includes a list of stockists, but they range from £26 for a really small nylon brush to around £140 for the largest pure bristle options. Do visit the website first to work out which option is best for your hair – they have a great search tool. It’s definitely a beauty investment, but a worthwhile one in my view (and I’m the queen of budgets and eBay, so I don’t say that lightly!)
* Yes, that is the salon that did the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding hair. Yes, I did book an appointment with her hairdresser the Monday after the wedding. Yes, some of us aren’t content with a commemorative tea towel. Yes, it was one of the best haircuts of my life. Yes, I did carry on going there for two years afterwards. Yes, I did eventually come to my senses and realise that £135 for a haircut was an unjustifiable expense (well, at least until I win the EuroMillions).
21 May 2017
Essential travel kit for babies and toddlers:
As with the main luggage, don’t give yourself a literal hernia trying to lug the equivalent of a large branch of Mothercare through the airport. It’s time to ditch the gorgeous nappy bag, and consolidate everything into a good-sized rucksack. Maybe not the sexiest option (although my blue Herschel Little America was one of my better investments), but so much easier to either sling on the handles of the stroller or leave you hands-free when on your back. Then all you need is a chic little cross-body for your passports/tickets/lipstick.
Very importantly, bear in mind that a lighter stroller will be more prone to tipping backwards than your usual pram, so invest in a pair of these My Buggy Buddy Pushchair Weights to ensure your duty-free shopping doesn’t topple it. These little stroller organisers are also great for making sure you have water/coffee/emergency snacks to hand while you’re in the airport, and they fold up easily with the stroller.
Airlines and airports vary in their policies, but the general rule is that you can take your pram through security and up to the plane door (if you’re travelling alone, sometimes you’re allowed to leave your baby in the pram and then they’re searched to one side, instead of having to take them out and wrestle the folded pram onto the x-ray conveyer belt). You then hand over your pram at the plane door, which is the last time you see it until the baggage carousel on the other side (some airlines will arrange for it to be at the door when you disembark, but it’s not guaranteed).
You need a good, easy-to-use sling, preferably one that can be used up to age three or four – even if you have a little walker on your hands, it’s usually a bloody long way from the arrivals gate through security to the baggage carousel. I always travel with my Ergobaby carrier (I have the original as the outwards-facing position of the jazzier version is not great for little hips). You can get a newborn insert for it, but I didn’t find it that useful in the very early days. Stretchy wraps are great with really small babies (I’d say up to about four or five months), and as long as you practise putting them on once or twice beforehand, they’re much easier to use than they look!
Hand luggage essentials for babies and toddlers:
- Nappies, wipes (a new pack), bags and change mat (at least one nappy for every two hours of travel – including the time from home to the airport, and then from the airport to your final destination). My PacaPod Mirano change bag has separate pods for changing and feeding, and they’re great for organising things in my rucksack. Large cosmetics bag or plastic freezer bags also work!
- Two spare dummies, as well as teething gel. Dummies are great for sore ears (as are boobs).
- Speaking of boobs (I mean, when are we ever not speaking of boobs?), if you’re at all anxious about breastfeeding in very close proximity to other passengers on the plane, these Bebe au Lait nursing covers fold up to almost nothing and provide all the privacy you need without covering your baby’s face.
- Bottles and formula (if applicable). These Nuk Stackable formula dispensers are very handy. Bear in mind that the rules for liquids are constantly changing, so do check before you travel. Baby foods and liquids are usually okay as they are inspected separately, but if you are organised, you can order ready-made formula and pouches/jars from the Boots at whichever UK airport you’re departing from. Just order a few days in advance and collect them once you’re through security!
- Snacks. A Tupperware of baby rice cakes, biscuits, etc. will help in those moments when little ones are getting hungry and grumpy. Make sure you pre-cut any fresh fruit. Bananas are always useful. Most airlines don’t supply a meal for under-twos (as they don’t have their own seat), so make sure you’ve got food for the flight – even if it’s a case of buying a sandwich in Departures. Remember to stock up on bottles of water, especially if you’re breastfeeding – flying is very dehydrating, and those tiny plastic cups don’t come close to hitting the spot.
- Changes of clothes. Two sets of separates for each small child when you fly long-haul (one is fine for short haul), and spare t-shirts for each grown-up! It is an unwritten law of parenting that if your tiny human is going to puke, they will always puke on you.
- Good-sized pashmina or a light, warm blanket. The temperature is always either too warm or too cold on flights, so having layers available for a sleeping baby is a good idea. If you want a very compact and warm layer for yourself to stick in your hand luggage, do have a look at these amazing Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Compact jackets – they are perfect for travelling, with or without kids!
- Muslin cloths x 2 (preferably including one of these giant ones). Essential for mopping up spills, and blocking out light for babies in a bassinet (don’t cover the cot, just the top bit).
- A small bottle of Calpol (under 100ml). Our eldest spiked a fever and was utterly miserable on a flight to New York once. Just having the bottle will probably guarantee you won’t need it!
- Skybaby Travel Mattress. This is actually a very useful bit of kit, and fits into a small bag that you can clip onto the outside of your hand luggage. It acts as a super-comfortable and supportive mattress for when your baby is lying in your arms, and can be securely clipped in with the seat belt. If they do end up on your lap for a long time, it can be tricky to support them without getting cramped and sweaty, so I found this really handy.
- A few small (not too noisy) toys, and Peppa Pig pre-loaded on your phone or iPad (plus chargers and adaptor plugs!)
- Anti-bacterial hand gel and wipes (for surfaces). Air travel is gross.
Hand luggage essentials for bigger kids:
- Their own backpack (not too large) with a small selection of their toys and books. Alternatively, a Trunki for smaller kids. We never had one because the long Bar legs made them impractical, but some parents swear by them.
- A few small toys (colouring-in books, stickers, little cars) and sweets in your own hand luggage to whip out whenever you sense whining on the horizon. Aim to have at least one item for every hour of the flight.
- A change of clothes, and warm, light layers.
- A packet of tissues and some lip balm.
- A big bag of home-made popcorn and Cheerios/Bear cereal. This, along with an iPad full of TV shows, can guarantee hours of peace and quiet, without too massive a sugar crash.
- Kids headphones for devices. As children have more sensitive ears, and it can sometimes be hard to monitor the volume of their headphones, do opt for ones like these JVC headphones, which have a limit on how high the volume can go.
Surviving the airport:
As you will have prepped your kids so brilliantly for what to expect (see Part 1…), arriving at the airport is about taking a deep breath and engaging your best ‘the holiday starts now’ attitude. Although arriving three hours in advance of a long-haul flight (two hours for short-haul) when you’ve already checked-in online the day before may feel like insanity in terms of keeping the kids entertained, bear in mind that if you get stuck in traffic and suddenly everything becomes a mad dash, you’re guaranteed at least one meltdown of the ‘I’m lying on the floor now and nothing you can do will make me move’ variety.
Outline a bit of a schedule for what happens after you’ve got through baggage drop and security. While meal times do make a good way for older kids to pass the time in the air, it may be very late by the time dinner is served on a night flight, and trying to eat anything yourself with a small person on your lap is seriously challenging. Consider starting off the holiday feeling with a nice meal at the airport that everyone can look forward to – it really doesn’t have to be expensive either. Although, I have seen one couple dump their children and nanny at Pret while they headed for Caviar House & Prunier. I won’t lie, my inner reaction to that was somewhere between judgement, admiration, and seething jealousy…
Then, set a little budget for each child to buy their choice of plastic tat-filled magazine, or even a little toy. We all know that the magazine browse in Departures is one of the best parts of flying anywhere, and it’s no different for little ones!
Now that you’re all fed and shopped, it’s time to while away the rest of your wait at either a play area (many airports have them now, so do check their website before you leave) or somewhere with a decent view of the planes taking off and landing, as close to your gate as possible. Keep a beady eye on gate announcements as you want to leave plenty of time for last pee breaks/nappy changes.
Up, up and away:
There are different views on whether it’s worth boarding early with children (every airline we’ve ever flown on has called passengers with children first for boarding), and I would say it’s definitely a good idea. You’ll need time to fold the pram and get your baby into a sling, plus you’ll want to ensure your hand luggage is right above you. If you’re in the bulkhead with a bassinet, all your hand luggage will need to be stowed above you for take-off and landing.
Now is the time for a massive charm offensive on both the cabin crew and your fellow passengers. Greet the crew warmly, and if appropriate, disarm your nearby passengers with a joke about how you bet their hearts sunk a little when they clocked you boarding with tiny potential noisemakers. When Skellies was still small enough to kick the seat, I would speak to the person seated in front of him and ask them to please tell me immediately if he did it (I wouldn’t always be able to see if he had a blanket on his lap). People always appreciate if you are upfront about trying to ensure everyone has a pleasant flight, and it means they’ll be far more understanding and helpful if things do kick off at all. I’ve even had people offer to hold my babies when I’ve been flying alone and have needed to nip to the loo. The only time people really get the hell in is if parents don’t seem to give a crap whether their children scream, kick and run in the aisles.
One final thing. Sore ears. I have mentioned these before, and it’s because I had them every time I flew as a child (and still do now). These are probably one of the biggest causes of in-flight misery, but apart from the usual sucking (dummy/boob/straw) or chewing (sweets/gum) tricks, there’s one more you can try. Ask a member of the cabin crew to bring you two plastic cups with paper towels at the bottom soaked in hot water. Place these over the ears and wait for them to create a vacuum and equalise the pressure. It works a treat.