The red-haired four-year-old behind me was showing everyone in the queue just how good her lungs were. Her screams could probably be heard back in Shanghai where I’d just flown in from. There was something about the note she was hitting that seemed to penetrate my very soul. Her slightly older brother was also upset but he was whimpering and whining for England; if his sister was all treble, he was all about the bass. The parents were ignoring their noisy children, the mother tending to the baby twins while the father stood a pace away pretending the whole scene had nothing to do with him. I looked at the kids and then at the parents and then back at the kids. I wanted to say something. I wanted to ask them to consider the other people in the queue. Whatever the parenting guru from the TV said about ignoring your crying brat didn’t count in Heathrow Terminal Three when everyone was wired after long international flights. But I decided to bite my tongue, the parents didn’t look like they’d take parenting advice from a unfecund fellow traveller very constructively no matter how well meaning it was.
But it was too late, the father had seen my eyes rolling like a fruit machine and had decided to challenge me.
“Got a problem mate?” He took a step towards me. “Never seen a crying child before.”
I had a choice to make; tell him to do some parenting or try to calm things down. I decided on the latter.
“No problem mate,” I said. “Was just looking around.”
“Well keep your eyes to yourself,” he said.
“Had a long flight, have you?” I said. It was meant to try to placate the man, get him talking, but it came out wrong.
“None of your business,” he said, he was stepping past his wife now getting closer to me.
“And if you’ve got a problem, why don’t you be a man and admit it.”
“Okay,” I said. “Your brats are doing my fucking head in. And you, well look at you. Hardly a fucking role model are you. Prefer to pick a fight with a stranger than care for your…”
It felt like my face had exploded. My knees buckled from under me, I went down in slow motion, my head pounding, blood pouring from my nose. I wasn’t out cold, but I was dazed and confused. As I lay on the tiled airport floor, watching the lights blur above me. I realised that I’d got what I wanted. The two whinging children had finally fallen silent.