PACKED LIVES

Mary Chalaye is a 'flying nanny' for British Airways, escorting children around the world

Looking after up to 90 children on a long-haul flight is many people's idea of hell, but I love it. I travel in school holiday time and Hong Kong is our busiest route - but I also go to Australia, the Far and Middle East, India, Africa, North and South America and the Caribbean.

I pack my needs in 20-30 minutes - light, non-crease, simple clothes based on experience. Even for the two or three day stop-overs, I take a case big enough for my in-flight uniform to lie flat and paperclip any pleats. I like long skirts and tops in co-ordinating neutral colours; black and white or navy. Two packed pairs of shoes are the maximum: strappy for evening and slip-ons for the pool, beach, and sightseeing. A sarong or shorts top my swimsuit. I take hair conditioner and plenty of moisturiser, which doubles as after-sun cream. African hotels no longer have their once-frequent power cuts when, before a flight, you had to "wash" in the dark with creams and lots of tissues.

My only travelling gadgets are heated rollers and a "dipstick", our name for a water immersion heater. The dipstick helps me beat jet-lag along with a survival pack of soup mixes, biscuits and cereal, plus a carton of milk. With these I can have a drink or a snack any time of night without waiting for room service. A brandy miniature goes along for stomach-settling and as a general pick-me-up.

For the flight, I sometimes take a carry-on bag with extra games for the children, who get airline packs of toys and goodies. I collect lots of tissues from the toilets early in the flight in case of nosebleeds and sickness when, of course, the toilets will be occupied. Special film and audio channels and comics help keep the children amused, but there is always the time, usually a couple of hours before landing, when they become restless. Word games work wonders and I always carry lots of pens and pencils. The rest I improvise with what's around. Sick-bags become notepads on which to list words made from "British Airways" - there are said to be a thousand possibilities. I get small prizes from the crew for the best lists. Noughts and crosses, games of snap, and building card houses also pass the time.

Sometimes all the children want is a chat, a cuddle, and someone to hear their jokes. Some are travelling between divorced parents, others going to a new school. For those, I take pictures of my own family to show them. Little girls love exploring the contents of my make-up bag and hair brushing helps to keep them amused.

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