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Showing posts with label Holiday Disasters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holiday Disasters. Show all posts

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why I Love the United States

I had an American boyfriend once. He was a Major in the U.S. army and had been sent to our garrison city for twelve months on a kind of swap deal with an Australian Major or something.

In truth, I think my main attraction to him was his American accent, which was mid-western so he told me. All I know is that he sounded like Weird Al Yankovic and that turned me on.

He was an engineer and extremely introverted as many engineers are…you know, looked at his feet a lot, but it was fun to quiz him about his life in the States.

But it’s not just the accent I love about Americans… there are other things.

I love the fact they have free speech over there.

I love the fact that even though they RUN the Oscars they still usually give many of the accolades to the Poms and Aussies.

I love their sense of humour; the smart talk, the Jewish humour, the unexpected.

I love the fact that their idea of a slice of pizza is the equivalent to half one of our large pizzas.

But more than anything I love the fact that they sometimes get Australia and Austria confused.

I travelled to the United States with my then-husband back in the late Eighties. We flew directly from our city in North Queensland to New York. It was a long, long flight... against the turn of the Earth and we arrived at 6:00 am.

I’d recently given up smoking and was in a foul, evil, pugnacious mood, whinging and complaining about anything and everything. 

Thinking we’d have a couple of hours sleep and hit the sidewalk for some tourist shenanigans at about midday was the unlikely plan.

At 11:00 am we woke up, showered and lugged ourselves downstairs. Within minutes the jetlag hit me like a Boeing 747. It felt as though I’d been poisoned and I immediately spun round on my heels angrily and staggered back up the elevator and into bed. When I awoke it was midnight. Our first day of a three day visit in the Big Apple we had spent sleeping in a musty hotel room.

We ventured out in the city they say 'never sleeps' and found a little Irish bar. We sat there for a few hours making friends with the barman, who bizarrely had an aunt who was a Catholic nun who lived on an island just north of our Queensland home town.

I remember walking around that night with the surreal feeling I was about to fall off the world. It was something about having arrived at pretty much the other side of the planet in such a short time.

At one stage in Time Square we became disoriented whilst looking for Little Italy. Naturally, in my nicotine withdrawal rage, I blamed my then husband. There was a police station set up in Time Square back in the Eighties.

“Go in and ask the cops where it is!” I ordered my then-husband, Ralphie.

“No, you go!” he cringed.

So up I marched to the (very good looking) NYPD cop behind the counter and using my most flirtatious toothy smiled enquired, “Excuse me but could you give us directions to Little Italy?”

I can’t remember what he said but I do recall he wasn’t very impressed with the Austrian tourist who dared to ask such a bloody stupid question when he was urgently dealing with murders and heinous crimes on Fifth Avenue or wherever they happen. We were smartly sent on our way.

Ralphie’s Australian accent was so strong no-one in the United States could understand him.

I’d listen to him on the phone ordering room service with a sense of growing irritation.

Me, getting irritated with him, that is.

“Ken oi ev a cup a tay en a hairm sairn-widge?”

“Oi sed, ken oi ev a cup a tay en a hairm sairn-widge?

This would go on for ten minutes until he’d finally give up and hand the phone to me.

“Can he have a cup of tea and a ham sandwich?” I’d snap, squinting my eyes threateningly at Ralphie. “Right! Room 504 then… thanks.”

I’d glare at him disparagingly… why couldn’t he speak properly?

We fought our way around the country, arguing publicly on the tourist bus in Washington DC… much to the amusement of the other passengers.

We had a fight in New Orleans when I realised I couldn’t buy Nicorettes in the United States without a doctor’s prescription .

We had a huge barney on a visit to the Smithsonian Museum and a massive, explosive hostile situation in San Francisco when he accidentally drove on the wrong side of the road.

Disneyland put me in a vicious mood when I realised I could not purchase a glass of wine on the premises for love nor money and then we had a few harsh words after I found a long black hair in my donut in Tijuana. It was clearly his fault the hair was manifestly entangled in the dough.

Don’t even get me started on what emerged when we went to see the Spruce Goose.

In retrospect I should have just bought a packet of cigarettes.

Even on the way back to Australia, when we were upgraded to a luxurious suite at one of the Hawaiian Sheratons, we had the biggest brawl of all and wound up sleeping in separate rooms for three nights.

But despite all that... I still love the U.S. I plan on going back there with Scotto one day.

But this time I’ll pack the Nicorettes.

Linking up with Grace at With Some Grace

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pinky and the Artful Dodger

         Pinky at Madame Tussaud's with Mel Gibson before he went all weird.

I just received the news that seventeen year old daughter Lulu has arrived safely in London. I feel relieved, grateful and a lovely shade of bottle green.

Last time I went on an overseas holiday was in 2000 with five kids under eleven years of age in tow. My then-husband, the progeny and I, stayed in an apartment in Earls Court in London which was conveniently located right next door to a chemist which I quickly raided soon after arrival and bought the pharmacy out of head lice treatment.

My kids had transported five heads worth of lice from the Antipodes to the Old Dart which really wasn’t cricket at all was it? I had no idea of the infestation when we left Australia and I can say with no uncertainty that head lice definitely thrive and multiply quite joyously in high altitudes such as a Jumbo Jet.

I did wonder if the Aussie head lice got along with their English counterparts or if they argued about the Rugby World Cup.

Traipsing around the rainy streets of London we managed to take in many of the landmarks such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Hamleys the biggest toyshop in London, Trafalgar Square and Portobello Road in Notting Hill (with Hugh Grant disappointingly nowhere in sight).

Our most dramatic excursion however, was the day we visited the Tower of London. Apart from seven year old Hagar attempting to scare the ravens away, bringing forth the downfall of Britain and pinching the statue-still Beef-Eaters to see if they were alive, it was fairly uneventful until we were on our journey home. 

My then-husband had arranged a business meeting and handed over the entire responsibility of herding five irritable children onto a bus and back to our nest at Earl’s Court to me.

When the Brits were rounding up the thieves and criminals, slapping on the manacles and sentencing them to transportation to Australia back in the 1700s they must have missed a few who then went on to propagate with abandon.

As soon as I had struggled onto the bus, counting small heads as I went, I noticed my black handbag gaping open, unzipped and inviting. My wallet had gone… was absent, departed, moved out, not there.

My wallet with EVERYTHING in it. All my money, credit cards, driver’s licence, kid’s photos… everything.

“Better ring the credit card companies and cancel all your cards, luv!” suggested the sympathetic bus driver. So I did (as well as inadvertently cancelling all of my then-husband’s credit cards which caused a sh#t load of problems later on).

As we drove past Harrod’s Department Store I watched it slowly disappear into the distance, just like my dreams of a little splurge inside its hallowed walls.

That night I sobbed like a baby. I don’t know if it was that it was my fortieth birthday and I grieved the loss of my more youthful years or because of the fact that I’d been wearing an almost empty money belt under my clothes the whole time and for some stupid, stupid reason had transferred most of my money and all of my cards into my wallet.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beware the Tyre-Biter!

Greggles told us funny stories in the staffroom this morning about his old family dog, Patches. Patches was a cattle dog that lived on the farm with Greggles and his three brothers, sister and Mum, and apparently he was an excellent snake/rabbit/vermin hunter.

“Did he chase cars and bite tyres?” I enquired, already knowing what his answer would be.

“Sh#t yeah!” laughed Greggles. “He chased any car that drove past until he grew too old and took up sentry on the front steps like a ferocious Direwolf.” (see Game of Thrones).

                                Scotto and I endured our own acrimonious altercation with a particularly robust and tenacious cattle dog about ten years ago which led us to label the entire breed as “Tyre-Biters”.

Scotto was moving up to Townsville to reunite with the love of his life, Pinky, and the vivacious Pinky had flown down to the Gold Coast to accompany him on the 1600 km drive up.

 He’d already sent most of his furniture up in a removal van but had packed his miniscule hatchback (Lenny) to the hilt with the remainder of his worldly possessions. Each item had been meticulously placed into the boot and back seats with military precision allowing for angles, corners, tiny niches and intensive layering. I honestly don’t think you would have been able to squeeze a cat’s fart into the car with the amount of stuff he’d squished in to it.
                                 Lenny the Lanos

Precision packing in the extreme.

Just before we set off Scotto decided to call in to say farewell to his mate, Adam (owner of the Lord of all Tyre-Biters) and as we left Adam’s house the malicious mutt chased us down the driveway. 

Unbeknownst to us it managed to sink its yellowed fangs into one of our tyres.

Literally five minutes later, excited about the long, long road trip ahead, as we were driving naively down the M1 at 100 km per hour, singing merrily along to the radio, Scotto was suddenly forced to pull over as we realised something was amiss.

“F#%king flat tyre!” Scotto railed. “I’m going to have to take everything out of the f#%king boot to get to the spare!”

“You’ve got to be freakin joking!” I nervously squealed, watching the huge trucks hurtling dangerously past about three centimetres to the side of us.

He wasn’t joking. It took us about half an hour to unpack everything on to the side of the road. I was wearing a short flared skirt which flapped up around my neck every five seconds when another vehicle swished past, providing every unfortunate motorist on the Gold Coast Highway with more of an eyeful than they probably desired at that time of the morning.

Finally Scotto had replaced the tyre and we’d completed the arduous half hour task of repacking the chock-a-block boot.

Sh#t Yeah!!!!

Three minutes down the highway: 

“Oh noooo….” groaned my devastated travelling companion, “I forgot to tighten the f#%kin wheel nuts.”
“That’s okay,” I said reassuringly, “Just pull over and quickly do it, not a problem!”

“Ummmm…. The spanner is in the boot where the spare tyre was.”

And... I went on and married this man.

In remembrance of our friend, Adam Pallister who was taken far too young.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pinky- The Idiotic Traveller


Here I am at Brisbane Airport and my week’s respite from the drudgery of everyday life is almost at an end. Nana and Grandad Poinker dropped me at the train station at 1.00pm ensuring that I would arrive at the airport at least two hours early. 

If Scotto had been with me we would have had to tear through the terminal at breakneck speed to make it in time before check-in closed, only just succeeding by the skin of our porcelain veneers. The boy likes to cut it fine. Pinky on the other hand likes to arrive hours before departure just to play it safe like an old Grandma.

I stood at the entrance of the train station uselessly waving my return ticket over the turnstile like a defective magic wand.

“Excuse me,” I asked a woman who walked with a sense of purpose and appeared to know what she was doing, “Can you tell me where I’m supposed to poke this ticket into?”

“They collect the tickets when you get there,” she explained benevolently, “why don’t you just walk through that gate?”

I inclined my head slightly and immediately noticed the three-metre-wide open gate three paces to the left of me.

Grinning foolishly I managed to wrangle my luggage through the gate and promptly accosted my next unsuspecting victim with another inane and daft enquiry.

“Excuse me sir, but do you know which platform I need to go to for the airport train?”

The elderly man squinted at me with interest.

“There’s only one platform love, you’d better go down that lift with your luggage though.”

As I stepped into the lift and the doors closed behind me I realised the elderly gentleman had lied to me... big time.

The lift had two doors on either side. One door opened on to Platform One and the other on to, you guessed it, Platform Two.

“Sh#t!!!!” I silently screamed. “Which frickin door do I get out of???”

Fortunately when both doors of the lift opened simultaneously I saw that there was actually only one platform with rail lines either side and by walking a mere ten feet you could go from platform to platform twenty times within a minute if the fancy took you.

I only had to wait about twenty minutes for the train to arrive and I was lucky to nab the perfect bench just inside the door, spreading myself out comfortably over two seats.

I pondered briefly why I seemed to be attracting apprehensive looks from some of the other passengers as they boarded the train during the journey, especially the really old ones; until after an hour and a bit into the ride I noticed a sign fifteen centimetres from my nose.


Please vacate these seats for people with Disabilities, Seniors, Pregnant Women and Adults carrying children.

Oh crap! I thought. Now I’m going to have to noticeably hobble off the train so everyone will think there’s something wrong with me.

Check-in went smoothly and I wasn’t even detained by those security guys who run that machine up and down your body searching for traces of explosives. 

I’ve learned from the previous thirty-seven times they’ve picked me from the crowd and taken me into custody that you should never make eye contact. If you look at them and smile innocently as you’re walking past you’ll unavoidably be asked,

“Excuse me Madam, this will just take a few minutes.”

One time when Scotto and I were returning home from holidays I was (naturally) stopped (even though he’s the one who looks like he could be an Iraqi extremist. (I’m looking over my shoulder at present because even typing the word terrorist at an airport makes me nervous).

“I always get stopped for these checks!” I cheerily joked to the humourless woman conducting the going-over.

“I must look like a terrorist or something!” jested an innocuous Pinky.

She paused for an extended moment and stared coldly at me.

“Haha,” I managed to blather on nervously, “Must be my moustache that makes me look like an Iraqi radical!”

She continued, at uncomfortable length, to peer into my eyes with suspicion.

Needless to say I shut up quick smart after a cautioning kick in the shin from Scotto and we were ultimately allowed on to the plane.

As I said; keep your eyes down and your mouth shut.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pinky and her Gullible Travels

                                Scary empty train... oooooh!

As I squeezed into my plane seat between a young boy and an angry-looking young man (who’d tersely requested I move my laptop along in the overhead compartment so that he could squeeze his more important swollen rucksack in), I noticed six children sitting in the row behind and opposite me. 

These were not your normal run-of-the-mill, back of seat kicking, overly vocal, weak-bladdered and annoying children… these were all children from the school I teach at. No… I didn’t do what you would expect and slap my sunglasses on affecting disguise whilst quickly looking away pretending not to see them. I didn’t have to. They pretended not to see me. How dare they? That’s a teacher’s prerogative!

To be honest, the kids were very well behaved during the entire flight. Perhaps this was because they too had noticed how crabby Mrs P has been lately, particularly on playground duty, and thought they’d err on the side of caution.

The next leg of the journey involved dragging my luggage across to the train station and travelling for another hour and a bit to get to the last station on the line, close to where my parents live on the Gold Coast.

Two stops before I reached my destination the final remaining passengers disembarked and the carriage was completely and worryingly empty. It was getting late and pitch black outside. I sat all alone, spooking myself by imagining scenes from the movie “Hostel” where the girl has her eye ball ripped out by a maniac in a train or visualising a distorted Edvard Munch face pressed up against the outside of one of the windows. I cringed behind my suitcase with one hand fiercely clenched around my laptop handles and the other buried in my pocket gripping my orange plastic ‘rape’ whistle. 

I hope to hell Dad is at the station waiting for me at this late and ungodly hour and I don’t step out into a dark, deserted platform where a Freddy Krueger aficionado is waiting for me with his sharp steely knife, I thought nervously.

As the train drew to a stop and the doors slid open I was startled by bright lights and about three hundred, colourful rugby fans who were on their way back to Brisbane after a footy match. I looked at my watch… apparently it was only eight o’clock.

Dear old Dad, of course, was waiting right where he was supposed to be and I was safely escorted back to the luxurious Gold Coast mansion which I have decided during my stay to think of as ‘Rehab’.

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, 'No, no, no.'
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go, go, go

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Grandparents Go AWOL.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly you will understand why the grandparents endeavoured to actively avoid us most of the time. 

My then husband’s parents had passed on many years before so the full load of ‘grandparenting’ responsibility fell on my oldies. 

When I was young, Dad had threatened me that when I grew up and had my own house he was going to come over and jump all over my couch, draw on my walls and leave plates of half- eaten food everywhere. While he never actually acted on those threats he has definitely had the last laugh after witnessing some of the atrocities wreaked on this household.

Mum was somewhat agreeable to short babysitting sessions when Thaddeus and Jonah were babies but that all changed when they grew into mobile, domestic demolition specialists . 
One Saturday, pregnant with Hagar and nauseous with morning sickness; I rang Mum to ask if I could pop over for a cup of tea while the real estate agent brought some people through our house.

“Ah… No, I’m sorry dear, we ummm… have to go out somewhere.” came the dodgy alibi akin to many other excuses I would hear over the next few years.

I later found out that she was expecting visitors for lunch and didn’t want my monsters debasing her impeccably clean white carpets and furniture. 

Looking back I can’t really blame her. 

Sometimes I was able to induce my obliging (but young, single, had much better chicken to fry) sister into sentry duty. She confessed to me years later that under her duty of care she had dropped a six week old Jonah on his head and was too scared to tell me.

It does explain quite a lot about Jonah.

After I gave birth to Hagar we optimistically bought a house opposite my parent’s house. 

I am being entirely truthful when I tell you that they packed up and sold less than one month later. 

During that month; feeling compelled by guilt, Mum and Dad offered to mind the two boys for us because my then- husband and I were bed-ridden with a virulent gastro bug. 

Thaddeus and Jonah were recuperating and over the worst of it. Not only did Mum and Dad catch the vomiting bug from us but their two dogs were also seen wandering around the backyard dry retching.

It wasn’t long before even the other side of town became too close for my parents and they moved down south, far away from their lunatic daughter with all the unruly brats.

When the five kids were between two and nine years old we invaded their idyllic sanctuary down on the Gold Coast. On one occasion we all caught the tilt train to Brisbane to go shopping and visit the museum. 

My mother spent a lot of time delivering cautionary tales to the boys in regards to safeguarding their precious wallets stuffed with Christmas money. Apparently there had been a lot of thefts and bag snatches reported in Brisbane Mall.

Hagar was sitting with Mum, waiting for me to emerge from Myers, when he turned to the affable chap sitting next to them.

Eyeing him warily seven year old Hagar said in a loud voice, 

“Excuse me but are you a pick-pocket?”
Mum said the bloke looked shocked and replied, 

“No! Do I look like one?”
“A bit.” replied Hagar clutching his wallet tightly.
On the way home on the train three year old Padraic needed to go to the toilet for the twentieth time that day. 

I sent Jonah to walk him about ten rows up to the end of the carriage and stand outside the door while he went. I had a direct view of the toilet door so I knew he’d be okay. 

About two minutes later the toilet door burst open enabling everyone in the carriage a clear view. 

Padraic, still sitting on the loo bellowed in his strident voice, 

“I did a big poo, Mum! I need my bum wiped!”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Desecration of British Landmarks

We were often stopped in the streets of Paris and London by unassuming tourists who mistook us for locals. I like to think it was because of the chic French manner in which I wore my shapeless tracksuit pants, but it was probably more to do with the fact that no one usually takes five young children abroad.

 One rainy day, a wealthy looking American couple who happened to be standing in the Eiffel Tower lift with us, kindly pulled out three bright green parkas and asked us if we wanted them. They had belonged to their sons who had since grown up and for some baffling reason they’d brought the jackets to France. My guess is that they were looking for French street urchins to donate them to and my kids were the closest thing they had seen. Their fluorescent colour came in handy for keeping sight of Hagar, who managed to nick off into the bowels of the Paris Metro and had me bawling and sobbing thinking he’d never be seen alive again.

Blarney Castle was a hoot. Taking the eldest two up the precariously treacherous stairwell to the top of the tower was terrifying. 
Image credit:
Allowing some old fart to hold their little bodies bent over backwards in order to kiss an ancient stone with God knows how much bacteria thriving on it was not one of my shrewdest decisions.  

I had visions of them hurtling over the parapet to a grisly death. Aside from irritating the other tourists with my fishwife-like hysterics, we made it down safely and have the certificates to prove it.

Leaving the historic site proved to be yet another complex procedure. 

On the way out of the estate there is an ancient iron turnstile contraption and by ingeniously stepping into the turnstile then slithering under and around the internal bars, Padraic managed to imprison himself. 

He was unable to get out and no one else could get in. 

Our predicament was that nobody had seen precisely how he had done it and after much coaxing to “push your arm through that bit” and “poke your bum through first and step over” we realized, as did the incredulous gatekeeper, that he was stuck. 

Even though it was getting late there were still tourists lining up outside the gate waiting to get in. I had visions of having to call an Irish welder to liberate my son, destroying a 600 year old gate in the process.

A large tourist coach pulled up outside and about thirty young American student types disembarked expressing loud dismay at the hold up. 

Padraic’s emancipator turned out to be a young man who had the nous to get Padraic to climb up the gate while he climbed up the other side lifting him above the pointy bits and down to the ground safely.

 Applause erupted from the crowd and Blarney Castle was back in business.

Whilst not an actual diagnosed ADHD sufferer, Hagar displayed many of the symptoms in his younger years. Being cooped up in a van driving all over Britain did not sit well with him and there were more than a few explosive tantrums. One time we became so fed up with him that we left him throwing a full blown rage attack in the car while we all went in to the Little Chef. 

He threw himself around the car in paroxysms of fury, screaming at the top of his lungs while we ate our burgers ignoring the judgemental stares from the other customers. 

He refused to get out of the car to go to the toilet and naturally, ten minutes after we had hit the road again he began whining about needing to wee. His father pulled over in defeat and the van door slid open. I heard a faint yelp, “Help Mum!” I looked out the side window and saw Hagar submerged up to his shoulders in mud. 
Ha, poetic justice.

After the near desecration of the 600 year old Blarney Castle I was a bit nervous when we arrived at the 5000 year old prehistoric monument, Stonehenge. Like most security guards, these guys did not appear to have a sense of humour. The security guards at Hong Kong airport hadn't thought it was amusing when the boys had fired imaginary machines guns at them accompanied with resonant sound effects either. 

Neither had the security guards joined in the merriment at the Dublin Art Gallery while the boys were pointing and chortling at all the majestic nudie portraits.

However, open spaces for them to run around on was much more sensible than the nerve –racking, haunting nightmare of the Waterford Crystal Museum outing.

 I could finally relax, listening to the informative commentary on the audio headpiece whilst strolling around the roped off perimeter. Hagar had already run about five laps of the circuit and was walking behind me when he suddenly spotted his Dad across the other side of the monuments. 

Impetuous to a fault, he vaulted over the inadequate rope barrier and like Jonathan Thurston, stormed down the length of the field, ducking and weaving between the megaliths, streaking over the grass towards his horrified father. 

The world stood still as I experienced flashbacks of the Simpsons episode where Bart knocks over Stonehenge like dominoes. 
Image credit:

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.