We worry and worry, but it is always the problems we never foresee. Four and a half month old Mika, flying for the first time, was on her best behaviour. Instead, it was her father, four and a half months shy of fifty, who was cause of all the trouble.
A first trip to London was some kind of compensation for Avivit, Mika’s mum. Her utter selflessness since my fifteen seconds of glory towards the end of last March had rendered my very existence all but pointless.
Some half an hour into our Luton-Tel Aviv return flight, following a lovely week in the Smoke, and with the fasten-seat-belts signs extinguished, I unbuckled and stood up, eager to parade – under the thinly disguised pretense of attempting to quell some mild whimpering – our beautiful daughter up and down the easyJet (even generosity has its limits) aisle. But, after squeezing past Avivit and picking up Mika, I was at once confronted by the suddenly psychotic Anglo-Indian female who had hitherto been seated mouselike in the window seat to my left.
‘You cracked my iPad! [And more loudly] You cracked my iPad!’
I had no clue what she was on about, and was seriously nonplussed – the serious nature of the accusation on the one hand; my always being tickled by hysterical Indians (all that politeness, all that pent-up rage) on the other.
‘You threw your seat belt onto the screen!’
‘I didn’t throw anything,’ I responded in mock calm, keen not to allow the growing hubbub at the rear of the aircraft to escalate. I am no good at scenes – the usually unflappable Avivit had by now snatched Mika back from my clutches and was herself parading her up the aisle – and, in spite of some experience, even less good at furious women.
The to-ing and fro-ing of accusations and denials clearly not getting her anywhere, the thirty-something – well dressed, spoken and seemingly educated (though clearly not in dispute resolution) – chose to play her Joker: the male friend in the window seat opposite.
‘He smashed my iPad! [I had preferred “cracked”. And, again, more loudly] He smashed my iPad!’
Having removed his Sennheisers, friend stared back blankly, and as fortune would have it – he was a large friend – returned at once to his Coldplay (spinelessness my yardstick) without so much as a word. A joker, indeed.
What you always want and need, I find, in such situations is for a religious female American settler to be seated in the row behind. ‘I’ll tell you what you can do,’ the busybody, having sprung to her feet, very uninvited, proffered. ‘Give her 250 shekels and have done with.’ I thanked her, when what I really wanted was to tell her what she could do and then gag her with the tablecloth on her head.
Then the squeeze of shame back into my seat. The iPad was still functioning, though I could see The Hindu e-Paper having read better with the screen fully intact. I gave affability my best shot, enquiring of the woman – visiting Israel for a Jewish wedding (I spotted the invitation out of the corner of my eye later in the flight) – as to whether she had travel insurance (she did) and providing her with my contact details (12 Edgeworth Crescent, Hendon NW4). I also tried explaining to her – as if that was going to help – what I could only imagine must have happened (my standing up had flung the seat belt buckle, resting on my left leg, onto the iPad on her lap).
But my schmoozing was to no avail, failing to trigger any symptoms of humanity. Indeed, for the remainder of the flight, her expression remained one of a woman biting on a Naga chili that had mysteriously found its way into her Chicken Korma (though that may also have had something to do with the charedi kids climbing and swinging on the back of her seat).
Guilt feelings ever to the fore, I checked with Avivit as to whether I should just hand over some cash. ‘No,’ came the unhesitating reply: the woman had not been very nice or shown any understanding – shit does happen (Jonathan Sacks, I believe) – and was operating an Apple Store out of an easyJet seat (she was working with a MacBook Pro and two iPhones on her tray table, and an iPad on her lap). ‘What had she expected?!’ (I love Israeli simplicity when it suits me.)
I resisted the strong urge to hand over the offended iPad every time flight attendants walked past requesting ‘any rubbish,’ and the remaining four or so hours passed without further tumult. A few specks of Similac did end up on the MacBook keyboard as I was preparing Mika’s bottle. Some splashes of milk, too, as I was shaking it. Nothing too bad, though.
A new recruit for radical Islam, perhaps? One thing’s for sure . . . there’s no need to coop yourself up for months studying Koran in a dodgy Finsbury Park mosque, when you could just sit next to me – and in front of some charedi kids – on an easyJet flight to Tel Aviv!