Charles de Gaulle Airport is a pleasant place (insofar as the words “pleasant” and “airport” might be included in the same sentence). The wait for the Aer Lingus lunchtime flight to Dublin was relaxed and comfortable. When the flight was called, there was not the stampede for the gate that now seems customary with the airline used by most of us who have to travel cheaply. Instead, people joined the queue in clusters, meaning that at no point was the line very long.
Having seats near the front of the cabin we waited until near the end before going to the boarding card checkpoint. Just ahead were a family with two young children, a baby being carried and a little girl who was perhaps two to three years old. The girl seemed unimpressed at having to stand around and, laughing, pretended to make a break for the departure lounge. As if turning back cattle or sheep that threatened to go astray, I stretched out my arms and laughed. The child smiled and turned back to her parents, standing and staring at me. I screwed up my nose and she did the same, so I stuck out my tongue. Not to be outdone, she removed a soother from her mouth and stuck out her tongue. “Don’t be teaching that child bad habits,” said she who must be obeyed, “she might get on the plane and start sticking out her tongue to other passengers.”
Aboard the aircraft, I slid into a window seat and took out the autobiography of Ted Hughes that has been sporadic reading material for some months. A ferry boarding pass has served as a bookmark since I began the book in January, it was at page 367.
“As always, he was wonderful with the children. Jennifer especially remembered a stormy winter’s evening when they were all sitting around eating fish and chips out of newspaper. There was a lull in the conversation. Ted then turned to her daughter. “Jessica, you are 5?” “Yes.” “Tell me something,” continued Ted. “Can you remember when you were 3?” “Of course,” said Jessica, disdainfully. “Well!” said Ted, feverishly, almost on his hands and knees beside her. “Then tell me! What was it like?!”
A moment of serendipity, reading the description of Ted Hughes’ encounter with a child, and the questions he asked, immediately after the exchange with the child at the boarding gate. Perhaps the child was three years old, perhaps when the child reached the age of five, she might recall being three. But what did it feel like to be three?
It is said we learn more in the first five years of our life than in all the years that follow, but what does it feel like to be in the middle of those years? What did it feel like to be the child on the flight to Dublin?