Pinky's Book Link

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pinky Goes Abroad

Family holidays were usually fraught with complications. The logistics of organizing the packing and preparation for even a week- long vacation were daunting. It was a complex operation involving a lot of screaming, bickering, trauma and hissy fits. 

As I stated previously, I've always had an emotional temperament. 

On a plane trip to Sydney one year I had finally managed to line all of the kids up fully dressed, with suitcases by the door and backpacks on their shoulders to await the taxi taking us to the airport. The animals were in the kennels, the washing up done, the toilets flushed and we were good to go.

 I looked over at my then husband, fiddling with his mobile phone, and envied the fact that the only person he had to organize was himself. 

The taxi arrived a little bit late but, with good humour and high hopes we all bundled in. The only discouraging factor was that it was pouring with rain, but nobody appeared to have become waterlogged getting into the taxi so at this point everything was fine and dandy. We lived on a hill and just as we got to the bottom, out of habit, I flippantly asked my then husband,
“Got the tickets?”
He didn’t have the tickets.

The taxi driver was asked to turn around so that the guilty party could shamefacedly go back into the locked and alarmed house to retrieve the tickets. 

At this stage I had only just begun to nervously scrutinize my watch every two minutes. I had never missed a plane and certainly didn’t intend to miss this one after the maniacal effort I’d gone to. Halfway back up the hill the taxi began to shudder and finally stalled. Several unsuccessful attempts to restart it ensued.

“I’ll have to call another taxi to come and get you.” remarked the chilled-out driver.

A frenzied plan was made for my then husband to run back up the hill and around the corner to our house to fetch the tickets while I waited in the taxi with the five kids for the rescue vehicle. It was still pouring with rain. 

Patience and tolerance was never my strongest virtue and my temper was near boiling point. Finally the other taxi arrived at around the same time as the very saturated, father of my children. We were on our way once again with no time to spare.

“Maybe the plane is going to crash and we aren’t meant to be on this flight.” I thought out loud.

Later at the check-in counter Thaddeus and Jonah alarmed the surrounding passengers with a loud conversation about whether the flight was doomed or not.

In 2000 my then husband was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to attend a conference and study tour of Amsterdam, France, Ireland, Scotland and England. 

He was allowed to bring his wife along as well, however; as we had no-one to leave Thaddeus (11years), Jonah (10 years), Hagar (8 years), Padraic (6 years) and Lulu (5 years old) with, in addition to the fact that I would miss them too much, I refused to go without them. 
So, much to the horror, disbelief and amusement of friends and family, the plane tickets were purchased and accommodation was booked.
I actually blame Newman the neighbour for much of the misfortune that struck us down on that ill-fated pilgrimage. 

Two nights before the long anticipated odyssey, Newman had been struck down with a particularly nasty virus. Jonah and Newman had been living in each other’s pockets as usual and lo and behold, on the morning of departure, Jonah woke up with a burning fever and a hacking cough. 

I dosed him up with paracetemol, and we set off on our travels. The first leg of the international flight was from Cairns to Hong Kong. From memory, Jonah slept most of the way but when we arrived in Hong Kong he was too ill to walk so we wheeled him around the airport in a luggage trolley. 

We had an overnight stay there and he was just well enough to do a little bit of sightseeing the next day. That night we departed for Amsterdam and the late time of night or too much activity during the day seemed to have freshened up his influenza. 

I sat with him apart from the others as I didn’t want him disturbed. He coughed for the entire flight often to the point of vomiting. I kept giving him regular doses of Ventolin from a puffer as he had experienced asthma in association with the flu previously and I was sure that was what was making him cough now. 

An Indian man across the aisle kept turning around and staring at us anxiously. When you’re midflight and you look overhead at the little plane on the screen showing you which part of the world you are flying over, and you’re crossing the Siberian desert at 60,000 feet with a sick child… well you tend to feel a bit panicky. 

Jonah slept fitfully and I didn't get a wink. It was a horrible trip.

As soon as we landed and found our accommodation we quickly discovered it was around the corner from the red light district, next door to a nightclub and across the road from a very seedy looking café called the “Fluffy Duck”. 

What was my travel agent (brother-in-law) thinking? I quickly began asking about medical attention and its availability. I finally fronted up with Jonah to a hospital in Amsterdam which agreed to see him as an outpatient. 
The doctor was a young woman who spoke fluent English and after checking him thoroughly, ordered me to stop giving him Ventolin as he didn’t have asthma, he had the flu. There was nothing I could do but give him Paracetemol for his fever. It was a big load off my mind that he wasn't going to die. 

That night Padraic vomited and went to bed with a fever. Ten minutes later Thaddeus vomited and went to bed with a fever. Later on that night Lulu woke up screaming. She was burning up and pointing at the air in front of her, deliriously crying out about a red bug that was coming to get her. I panicked. 

Why was she hallucinating? Was her food spiked with some type of drug at the restaurant we’d been to for dinner? After all we were in Amsterdam, where smoking hash is an everyday, acceptable thing to do. Then she vomited and went back to sleep. No, it was just the flu.

September 2000, if you cast your mind back, was the year of the Sydney Olympics. My then husband had to attend his conference the next day and left bright and early. With Thaddeus, Jonah, Padraic and Lulu as sick as dogs there was no alternative but to stay at home snuggled on the couch watching television. So there we were, ensconced on the other side of the world from our home, watching the only English speaking channel, the BBC, which happened to be broadcasting the Sydney Olympics. Do you see the irony?

The next afternoon when their father came home from the second day of his conference, I gathered the bags of dirty clothing and set off to find a laundry. I must have wandered the canals of Amsterdam for about one and a half hours before I finally found what I was looking for. My arms were aching when I got home, presumably from carrying those heavy bags for so long. Incorrect. About half an hour after getting home my fever set in. 

By this stage Hagar had already vomited and displayed signs of having the flu as well. All six of us were coughing, spewing, aching, feverish and wishing things would improve, which they did on our final day in Amsterdam. We were all well enough to make our way to the train station, destination Paris.

One aggravating thing about travelling with a number of young children is the amount of washing they tend to generate. I frequented the laundries of several European cities during our holiday and in some sense it was a culturally enlightening experience. 

I would escape the kids and leave them with their father while I traipsed around with my hefty loads in search of the nearest laundromat. The receptionists at our hotel in Paris were almost hostile and completely unhelpful when I asked if they could give me directions.

 I found a patisserie where a quintessential French Casanova was clearly chatting up the girl behind the counter. Neither spoke much English but Casanova seemed to understand what I needed and beckoned me to follow. He led me down into a back alley and I began to wonder if I was about to be assaulted when a Laundromat magically appeared in front of me. He grinned, waved and went back to his amorous pursuits. 

I stuffed the washing into one of the washing machines, added the detergent, popped in the coins, closed the machine and waited for the appliance to begin its cycle. Nothing happened. 

There were no instructions, at least no English instructions, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong. There were two older Parisian women chatting in the corner. “Excuse moi,” I said in my best, Grade Ten French. “I don’t speak French.” They looked at me inquisitively.  Mumbling in English I showed them the washing in the machine and shrugged stupidly as if to say, “It’s not working.”
One of the women (neither of whom gave the impression spoke a word of English), gestured towards the coin slot, then turned away, her transaction with the idiot non-French person complete.
“Excuse moi!” I persisted. They both looked up with a faintly irritated air. I was desperately trawling my brain for any remnants of school girl French I might still have rattling around.

 I wanted to tell them I’d already put the coins in but I didn’t know how to say it. A brainwave hit me. Holding up the coins towards the coin slot I mimed putting them in and said sheepishly, “Déjà vu.”
They looked confused for about five disquieting seconds, then, insight flashed across their faces. 

“Ahhh!” one of them exclaimed and thumped the machine with her fist setting it instantly in motion.

“Merci beaucoup!” I said in a terrible French accent. 

They turned back to their conversation ignoring the American tourist that couldn’t operate a washing machine.