Flight might be a fantasy, but to my three-year-old, a bus beats a plane any day | Parents and parenting

October 31, 2021
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‘Daddy…’ asks my son in that same voice I know from roughly 80% of our interactions. ‘Do you like going on big red buses?’ He asks me this a few times a day, even while we are literally on big red buses, deploying it as a sort of conversational chaff grenade entirely for subject-changing purposes, much the way you or I might say ‘Sooooooo… how are things?’ when faced with a person whose name you can’t remember at a party.

‘Oh yes,’ I reply, ‘very much.’ His fascination with London buses is quite charming, but it is odd that he is asking this on an aeroplane. It’s our first boys-only trip and I’m quite excited; more so than my son who doesn’t appear to have any fascination with planes compared to the flashier, but altogether more earthbound, vehicles of the London transport network.

My son is three and has now flown a dozen times, whereas I don’t think I got on a plane until I was at least 16, so the whole experience still thrills me a little. The fact it doesn’t thrill me more, or my son at all, is weird. Human flight, long imagined as a mythic fantasy from Daedalus to Da Vinci, now so commonplace that it is anticipated as a chore and largely undertaken drowsy, hungover or, in my son’s case, asking about municipal vehicles.

Back in his day, my dad says people used to wear their best clothes on flights, although whether this was due to a sense of occasion I’m not sure. It could just be that they wanted their corpses well-dressed in the event that they went down in flames, since I presume planes back then were all made of wood and filled with people chain-smoking for the entire 14 hours it took to cross the Irish sea.

A lot of my excitement for this trip is, of course, terror. My son can be a handful and travelling from London to Derry with him alone – by car, train, plane, bus and then car again – is not for the weak of heart. Perhaps if he was in a state of euphoria over the miracle of flight, things would be worse.

Luckily for me, men travelling on planes with very cute children get a lot of slack – certainly more than I remember my wife reporting when she made a similar trip earlier in the year. I’m not saying the bar for men is low, but at several points on our journey, I am given fawning looks by fellow passengers just for wiping his nose, handing him a snack or telling him that I reckon planes used to catch fire all the time.

This is presumably because they can’t believe I’m not spending the flight doing something more stereotypically male, like brewing my own beer or recording a podcast about the Second World War. But I am only too happy to receive their adulation, because I am tired and vain and will take any kindness on offer. On several occasions he is asked where his mummy is, enough times in fact that I can’t rule out the chance they fear he’s been kidnapped. He always replies the same way. ‘Er… yes,’ they answer, slightly confused, ‘I do like going on big red buses.’

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats






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