Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Key Learnings Gained from Flying Internationally With Two Preschoolers

This piece was initially written a few months back, but for one reason or another has never seen the light of day. But I feel it's my public duty to hold it no longer, and release a warning to parents on why flying from Palmerston North to the Gold Coast with two small children is one of the worst ways you could possibly spend a day.

These are not my kids. Not even my kids would be this annoying. I hope.

Thursday, 7.30pm
I'm leaving work for the last time in two weeks. Finally, it's time for our first big holiday as a family of four. We're flying to Australia! With two preschoolers! What could ever go wrong?

Friday, 9.30am
I'm trying to get the dog out of the door to the kennels. The three and a half year old is screaming bloody murder. He's not so worried that the dog's going away for two weeks, he's more distraught that the Paw Patrol DVD we've had out from United Video has to go back after three weeks of renewals. Finally get the dog to the kennels at ten to ten, only to remember drop offs actually close an hour earlier than I thought. Thank god the owner loves our Hank so much. He's the kennel's poster boy for their doggy bath service, bloody galling given the performance we have to go through to clean him at home

It's the night before we leave for the Gold Coast. I've been researching parenting sites and social media for ways to travel by plane with young ones, and I've found that it's best to pre-empt any disruption your kids may cause by preparing a little something for your fellow passengers.

This was a joke, people, I didn't actually do this! The angry Twitter people convinced me not to!

I reckon we're all set

Saturday 7.30am
We're trying to get out the door. I feel like I'm herding cats. In fact I wish I was herding cats, at least you can just chuck them in a little carry cage, then hand them over at the airport where they'll get stowed in the cargo hold whilst you hit the gin and tonics back in economy class. Then on arrival in Australia, they get quarantined away for a couple of weeks whilst you make the most of it, or if you do manage to sneak them in you get into a hilarious public feud with a red faced man called Barnaby.

Instead I have a 3 and a half year old and a nineteen month old. They've both lost that one essential toy they just have to take with them.

We arrive at Palmerston North International Airport, which is still clinging to the glory days of one Freedom Air flight to the GC a week.  Right now I would love for that flight to still exist. I take the bags and the kids whilst my wife disposes of the car for two weeks, and we head for a coffee, only to find out our flight's delayed. Half an hour in a tiny airport with kids is bad enough, let alone two hours.

We go to check in through to Gold Coast at the same moment the 19 month old fills her nappy. We meet an old friend, who helps my wife drop the bags whilst I go off on baby change duty. We return to find international boarding passes in hand, our friend having presumably been mistaken for my passport photo. He's Sri Lankan. Our friend's Jetstar flight leaves for Auckland an hour and a half before ours, and minutes ahead of schedule.

There's a cat in a carry cage at check in. I'm jealous AF of its owner.

We're on the plane at last. The three and a half year old has found the safety card and is anouncing to fellow passengers that there is a lifejacket under their seats. Much more of this, hopefully they'll offer him a job. He's the only passenger paying any attention to the safety demonstration.

This kid takes Fireman Sam's safety first mantra far too literally at times

We're in the air. I've just remembered that the three and a half year old has developed severe motion sickness since he last travelled by air.

All holding up well so far. The three and a half year old has just announced he needs to wee, so we trek back to the rear of the ATR-500, which, it turns out, has a much much smaller toilet than I was expecting. A little while back, I wrote a blog post about changing a nappy in a train bathroom. How I long for that sort of spaciousness now. I place my son on the seat, and try and jam myself in and close the door as best I can. There's no way it's locking, but there's also no way anyone can miss my arse sticking out of the half ajar door. It's all worth it though, as the toilet water is bright blue. This is a highlight of the day. As we return to our seats, I realise we're descending, and we've missed the lollies being handed out. The resulting reaction is a lowlight of the day.

Turns out the 19 month old's ear infection hasn't quite cleared.

The three and a half year old has dropped his Thunderbirds toy under the seat in front of him. The seatbelt sign is on, but he's winding up a bit. I glance briefly at the cabin crew, and break international aviation law by slipping my seatbelt off.

We're on the ground. The 19 month old cried herself to sleep in the descent. The three and a half year old wants to run around on the baggage carousel, so I tell him if he does that, he won't be allowed to row in the big rowing race. The no-longer-topical joke goes straight over his head.

We've got just under an hour and a half to get to the international terminal, so we walk. It's a nice day, and it's a bit like the Wizard of Oz, except with a green line instead of a yellow road, with other harassed looking families instead of magical scarecrows and woodmen, and with 3 1/2 hours in a metal tube to look forward to instead of a wizard. We get to immigration, and realize they've taken all the pens on chains off the tables, so we head back to the bookshop to buy one for five dollars. I want to put my occupation down as comedy writer, but my wife says one published column is well short of qualifying me for that.

We're at the gate. Thank god, there are loads of young kids on this flight... surely our two won't be the worst behaved ones? Because we're flying pleb class, I've  decided to buy a sandwich and a few drinks to have on board from the airport cafe. It's quite expensive, but surely it'll be cheaper than buying on the plane?

After boarding, I check the on board menu. The prices are in red on a green background, so my faulty colour vision makes them hard to read, but my wife confirms the sandwiches are about half the price of what I've just paid. The three and a half year old is very excited, as we're parked next to an Emirates A380 which has elephants painted on the side of it, or a Journey Express, as he calls it. Take off is more fun on a jet, as it goes a lot faster. Soon we are 'driving over the sea'.

The kids are getting hungry and grumpy. I got an egg sandwich on the ground. Turns out this isn't an ideal food for confined spaces, and the egg is going everywhere. I open my son's sipper bottle and water sprays everywhere. The 8 dollar beers are starting to look tempting. The three and a half year old looks out the window and notes that we are still driving over the sea. I tell him there is a lot of sea between New Zealand and Australia. He asks why. I briefly consider a lecture on continental drift, but decide it's easier to shrug in a non commital manner, which seems to work.

My amazing wife has packed a bag with new toys. Theres a magnetic jigsaw puzzle, which seems like a good idea, but it's are still going everywhere. The Planes magic coloring book is a hit. We're still driving over the sea. I found a couple of bibs in my bag which would've been helpful with the sandwich.

Toys for the flight, all ready for packing

Two hours in, and tolerance of wholesome activities is starting to wear thin. We admit defeat and put on an hour of Peppa Pig episodes. Why are all the houses in Peppa Pig  on top of hills? Are they living in some sort of post-apocalyptic water world where half the land area has been made uninhabitable by climate change or something? Still driving over the sea, but the three and a half year old is engrossed so he doesn't notice.

The 19 month old isn't too keen on Peppa Pig. She'd rather I lift her up repeatedly so she can turn the reading light on and off. We pass ten minutes this way. She wants a drink. I forget the lesson I should've learnt earlier, and water hits the ceiling as I open her bottle.

Ready for some LIGHT entertainment? Ahahaha shut up Dad

Quick toilet break for the three and a half year old, now Peppa Pig is finished. The toilets on the Virgin 737 are more spatious, but not as fun as they make a scary noise instead of flushing with blue water. Also, the (fully grown adult) guy who went before us didn't flush, something the three and a half year old is perfectly capable of EVERY SINGLE BLOODY TIME. Still driving over the sea. He wants to know if we're actually moving.

We're watching something called Sydney the Sailboat now. It seems to be about an anthromorphic sailboat called Sydney who lives in Australia and gets into hijinks. It's very similar to every other sentient vehicle cartoon I have ever seen, but on water. The three and a half year old is getting grumpy as the captain and the head steward keep on stopping the entertainment programme so they can make announcements.

2.30pm (again)
Landed. We disembark, and the three and a half year old declares himself dissapointed as there isn't a water park waiting on the Tarmac, or in the terminal. There is an ibis eating a discarded takeaway in the carpark, or a 'funny duck' as the 19 month old brands it. We pick up the rental car. The kids pick up multiple tourist maps in Cantonese. We wrestle two rental car seats into the back seat of the car. My wife does an awful lot better than I do.

At our accommodation at last. It's 7.00pm NZ time, by all rights the kids should be dead on their feet. In reality, the parents are, but the kids will be hyperactively overtired for another three hours. We go to Burgerfuel for tea across the road. Australian Burgerfuel is licensed, and I have a beer. In my sleep deprived state, it wrecks me. We pop in to a mini mart to get some milk and bread. The three and a half year old tries to go to sleep on the floor by the counter.

Finally in bed. hopefully the late bedtime will help them adjust to the three hour time difference.

Sunday, 3.00am
No, of course it hasn't.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Drink review: H2Go Chocolate Water

Gold. Brown liquid gold

Last week, Minister for the Environment Nick Smith announced plans to make 90% of New Zealand's streams and rivers more swimmable by 2040, primarily, it seemed, by redefining what is accepted by 'swimmable'. To celebrate this bold vision, Frucor Beverages and their H2Go brand released a drink based on the general appearance of the average kiwi body of water after it has passed through prime dairy country

Nick Smith after a swim near Frucor's bottling plant 

New Zealand's first chocolate water was here! Based on the run-away
hysterical popularity of the, let's face it, slightly better than average at best Whittaker's Chocolate Milk, how could this fail to be a hit?

Back in 2000, retrospectively cringe-inducing poor spellers and 'musicians' nu metallers Limp Bizkit released an album called Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog
Flavoured Water. Judging solely on my life philosophy that anything that reminds me of Fred Durst cannot possibly be good for me, this wasn't a good start for H2Go. Speaking of which, did you know that Durst's latest a of douchieness was acting as a Russian regime propagandist trying to spread acceptance of their claim to Crimea? That's true, though I reckon I could make up just about any story about him and you wouldn't look it up to confirm it for fear of being reminded further of his crimes against music.

I did it all for the Putin
For the Putin
So you can take Crimea and stick it up your YEAH!

Anyway, I put my misgivings about the Bizkit to one side, gritted my teeth, and bought a couple of bottles of the chocolate water, purely for research's sake of course. Limited Edition!! the bottle label screamed at me. Quite the euphemism for 'product which you'll buy once out of curiosity, then never again when you realise what it tastes like.' Though from the full shelves  my local New World drinks cabinet, not even curiosity was doing a good sales job.

I poured some water into a glass. A transparent dirty brown colour greeted me. Really Frucor? This doesn't look appetising. My dog swims in a stream out the back of our property that has cleaner looking water than this. The smell though.... Actually pretty good. Which is disappointing. It's rich and dark and promising, it lingers like the smell of that aforementioned Whittaker's milk. There is no way this is going to end in anything but disappointment when the taste turns out to be insipid and flavourless. It's going to be like if you sit down to a Garage Project Pale Ale, and it ends up tasting like Tui.

Brown, the tastiest of beverage colours

But I'm kind of wrong. It's palatable. I mean, on the fore tongue, it's just water, slightly sweet. But hold it at the back of the mouth, it actually does taste like chocolate. But it's thin and, well watery. It doesn't FEEL like a chocolate drink should. You want some body, and this has none. I'm not going to be dunking my gingernuts into some muddy looking water, and I think that is where the chocolate water falls down. When we taste a chocolatey drink, we expect to to be creamy and milky, and water is neither. So the limited edition label was perhaps right, I can see a lot of people maybe buying out of curiosity, but it's not going to build a loyal following.

There was one last thing I wanted to do with the chocolate water, and that was to make a cup of coffee with it.... Would the sweet cacao flavouring last the boiling process and give my brew a chocolatey mocha flavour? I boiled up, plunged the plunger, and poured. And it worked! The rich hint of dark chocolate actually lingers at the back of the cup! It's pleasant, it's not overpowering, and actually, it's probably got a helluva lot less sugar than you would get in your traditionally made mochaccino. So maybe this is the H2Go Chocolate Milk's future? Not as a refreshing cold alternative to Coke, but as a healthy-ish coffee alternative.