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November 26, 2013

Disaster Series: Our Trip to England

We were already quite sure that travelling to England with two children was going to come with its challenges, and when Harriet threw up the night before we left, it was almost funny. Almost. Like how bad can things really get? It was sort of an amusing way to top off the whole experience, but then vomit turned out not to be the top, no, but instead just the beginning of the experience. She woke up in the morning even sicker, her eyes rolling back into her head. A couple more hours of sleep transformed her back into someone human-seeming, but we knew that we still had trouble on our hands.

IMG_20131119_020217The flight itself turned out not to be so bad, and Harriet threw up again just once. Iris was fine, and doesn’t sleep for long periods anyway, so her short naps in the carrier were to be expected. Neither Stuart nor I slept at all that night, but we arrived in Amsterdam pretty proud of ourselves for having survived the longest part of our haul. We had breakfast in the airport, bought Holland souvenirs, and arrived to board our connecting flight in plenty of time… when we realized that we were missing our passports.

It was all very curious. I’d kept all our travel documents together, and we still had the children’s passports. We couldn’t understand where ours had gone. Operating on sheer panic (and completely no sleep, remember?) I raced through the airport to see if we’d left our passports in one of the shops we’d visited. At the gate, Stuart and the very kind airline staff unpacked our carry-on baggage three times. They were as desperate as we were that we get on the flight, but when the passports failed to turn up anywhere–no dice.

We missed the flight and were sent to file police reports for our missing passports. With the police reports, we’d be able to leave the airport in order to go to our respective consulates and obtain emergency passports. To make things even more complicated, our respective consulates are in different cities. This was the point at which we thought perhaps we’d have to live in the airport forever, which seemed so much easier than running after consular officials. We were totally exhausted, and then had to call our family in England to let them know we wouldn’t be arriving that afternoon.

We had to wait for the real police to arrive after the immigration police called them about our predicament. They were kind but a bit incredulous, which we understood because the story of our missing passports made absolutely no sense. “I”m going to have to ask you to unpack your things one more time,” the officer told me, which I thought was completely ridiculous. There is only one place where our passports could have been due to my impeccable organizations skills, plus we’d unpacked our stuff three times already.

Or rather, the airline staff and Stuart had unpacked our stuff three times already. I hadn’t unpacked them once, and when I did, the first place I looked was inside the pocket of my new computer bag, and there are passports were. “Thank fucking God!” exclaimed my husband. “I knew they were there,” said Harriet the Horrible. “Every time,” the police officer said to me, “they’re somewhere in the luggage.” Me, I was relieved, but now a bit disappointed that the ending to this story had been so incredibly stupid, that I’d never be able to write an essay about the time I wandered around Amsterdam without a passport like Theo Decker in The Goldfinch, that our passports hadn’t been pick pocketed by a Russian thief called Boris, but instead, I’d just packed them somewhere dumb.

With the problem solved and no one having thrown up in ages, we raced to the flight counter to get on the next flight to Manchester. On the basis of our looking exhausted, and schlepping two small children, airline staff took pity on us and booked the next flight, charging us for administrative costs only. We had breakfast again, and within a few hours, we were in the air again, flying to where we were supposed be. And we even got there!

IMG_20131119_100308Only problem was that our luggage didn’t, which would have fine, except that our luggage included the carseats without which we couldn’t leave the airport. And so we had no choice but to wait for our stuff to arrive on the 5pm flight from Amsterdam, sitting in the Arrivals area at Manchester Airport, whose sliding doors open and open and it’s so cold in there. And because this is the north of England in November, it wasn’t long before the sun went down. We hadn’t slept in oh so very long, and when the luggage arrived, we still had an hour’s journey by car ahead of us. I drove while the children cried, and my eyes ached.

IMG_20131124_063603We arrived though, and fortunately we were in a land where I wouldn’t have to cook or do laundry for the duration of our stay. The next morning I even got to sleep all morning without a single child in my bed while wee Iris was held by her grandmother. I ate Dairy Milks for breakfast, drank strong strong proper Northern tea, had a full English breakfast and afternoon tea in a single day, bought too many books, was terrified while driving down oh-so-narrow windy roads at 50 miles per hour but never once crashed into anything, breathed in the sea air, walked on cobblestones, had fun with family, celebrated Stuart’s birthday, read lots of books, and decided that chocolate-covered digestives are the food I love most in the world.

1385327191562It was exhausting though. Harriet continued to be ill, and then passed her cold onto Iris who is far too little for such a plague and now she’s still sick with the most agonizing cough. Iris also refused to sleep in her own bed at all, and so she was basically on me for most of the week, and one gets tired of such things quickly. Halfway through our stay (and mostly because of jet-lag, I think) Harriet started coming into our room in the middle of the night and crying that nobody loved her, which had the effect of making nobody love her. I was crabby, and nobody loved me either.

IMG_20131124_065849It was a very good week though, and so wonderful for our English family to meet wee Iris for the very first time, and for Harriet to have her first English visit that she will remember. Fun to be by the seaside and exciting to imagine our next trip back when Iris is a bit bigger, and how much further we’ll all be along by then. (Gulp. This is wonderful and terrible. Six months ago today, we were celebrating Harriet’s fourth birthday and Iris was just over a week away from being born. How very far we’ve come since then. How much road ahead there is to travel, but how quickly it all speeds by…)

IMG_20131122_121404I do love England. Land of green, rolling hills, unceasing cups of tea and tiny cars. And of bookshops, oh yes. I’d purchased Love Nina by Nina Stibbe, and it delighted me during my first few days of vacation. (I’d been hooked by a description of the book as “Mary Poppins meets Adrian Mole…”). After hitting the bookshop in Waterstones, I’d bought Mutton by India Knight, whose novels are always such a pleasure. I read that book for the rest of the trip, and will get through the rest of my English stack in the next few weeks. I did make the mistake of reading the Guardian’s Books of the Year piece after visiting the bookshop, and now I mustn’t rest until I have a copy of Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald biography for myself.

IMG_20131125_034659We were owed something for our flight home, I think, and fate delivered. Harriet watched movies and Iris went in and out of sleep, enough in for me to read an entire novel. A short novel, Alice Thomas Ellis’s The Other Side of the Fire, but a whole novel still. Amazing! And they gave us ice cream en-route. It was great. Our luggage arrived back in Toronto with us, and we took at a cab home and nobody had a meltdown. It was a miracle, probably because our journey the week before had been such a disaster. It all comes out even in the end, I guess. And all and all, it was a very good time away.

8 thoughts on “Disaster Series: Our Trip to England”

  1. sue says:

    Miss you and your laundry already, and can now read the letter without tears.( almost)

  2. Tanya says:

    The passport thing makes me panic!! My daughter always wants to play with them and I’m always sure they will be left somewhere. Overall, it sounds like you had a good trip though.

  3. Hahahahahaha! Be assured I’m laughing WITH you and not AT you.

    Such a gap between our fantasies of travelling with children and the reality. It’s like regular life – but on the road. Awesome you went and even more awesome that you are not deterred from going again.

    The story value and the building of your family’s unique culture are priceless. That’s the goodie. Oh, and the English biscuits.

  4. Sara says:

    Oh the joys of travelling with children. I just did a retrospective scroll through my memories to see if they are funny and the answer came back: not yet, maybe someday.
    Have you read the Penelope Fitzgerald letters? I’m assured by an oh-so-reliable source that they are just the thing and I have put them on the top of my Christmas list for me.

  5. You are generous to give us the gift of this funny post when you are probably still a bit exhausted from experiencing it. This was a delightful inspiration on perseverance, and a comfort that I’m not insane for constantly needing to *feel* my passport while travelling.

  6. Thank you for your post.
    And chocolate digestives are The BEST!
    I’m homesick now.

  7. melanie says:

    While reading I tried not to laugh too loud to alert my children that I was doing something for me (reading on the computer) and not something that was for them (which they think is my sole purpose in life – mainly to be in the kitchen preparing an endless array of snack food). Your trip both makes me laugh and terrifies me. I’m tempted to drag us all to Ireland one of these days -sooner rather than later – but travelling with children isn’t ever a vacation and we have no family to visit. But think of the stories afterward! That alone is worth it right?

  8. Erin says:

    On our first childfree weekend away (a wedding in Florida) we got to the airport and tried to self check in. We were getting mad because the machine wasn’t working. Well the reason it wasn’t working was because our passports had expired. Yup, I finally figured out that it happened because I put it in my outlook calendar 6 months before they expire. Well 6 months before I expired, I was in labour with my second child. I feel that my family is going to ask each time we travel now if all of our passports are up to date – lots of fun.

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