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Happiness in Great Britain, Despite One's Limps

VACATION MEMORIES: This is one of a continuing series on Vacation Memories that appears from time to time in the Travel Section.

April 26, 1987|WILLIAM BRISICK | Brisick is a Westlake Village free-lance writer.

In the summer of '72, my wife and I took our three boys, ages 6, 7 and 8, on a memorable journey through the British Isles--surviving a bomb scare at takeoff, three lingering cases of chicken pox, a badly gashed chin, a severely cut finger, several stifling bouts of hay fever and a series of long, numbing searches for B&Bs.

We drove 2,500 miles through Britain and another 700 in Ireland, spending the first two days in London and the next 31 on the road . . . and we never slept in the same place twice.

Finally we limped home, but it was the happiest vacation of my life.

Although we had made all the right preparations for our departure from LAX, once aboard and safely seat-belted we heard the less than dulcet tones of the captain inform us that there'd been reports of a bomb on the aircraft. We had to evacuate. Exciting perhaps for the boys, not for us. Three hours later we struggled back on board.

The captain said it had been a crank call. "Because you've been so patient, the drinks are on me," he added. There was applause. After bourbons, wines and brandies, we arrived at Heathrow Airport hours later.

We intended this as the grand trip of our marriage. The boys were young, manageable enough, or so we thought, and most important, open to all that the British and Irish culture could offer. Friends wondered at our audacity.

"It'll be an adventure," we assured them.

It was.

The bomb scare had come as an anticlimax. Three days before departure, Jamie, our youngest, displayed ominous red spots on his face and body.

"Chicken pox," the pediatrician said.

"We've planned the trip," we said. "What would you do?"

"I'd go," he said.

Jamie caught curious looks from London commuters on the Underground; Kamille and I took turns sponging his scabrous back in the hot bath of our Kensington Gate hotel, and then, perhaps in search of solace and freedom, we hit the road.

Canterbury: "How do you like your eggs, Ducky?" asked the very prim hostess of our B&B, perhaps unobservant, perhaps too polite to notice Jamie's spots. Her line has remained in the family ever since.

Dover in the rain: I locked the keys in our rental car.

Climbing Ruins

Dorchester: Walking along mist-shrouded Thorncombe Trail on a carpet of leaves beneath mossy trees, searching for Thomas Hardy's cottage.

Tintagel: Climbing atop the ruins of King Arthur's reputed birthplace, and stopping for the first of three doctors' visits to treat Kevin's hay fever.

Clovelly: Carrying Jamie up the steep cobblestone street--he was tired, and acutely unhappy about not getting to buy an inflatable toy sea gull that he'd seen and wanted.

On the M-6 north: The second case of chicken pox (Steven) breaking out, and then to Edinburgh . . . the castle.

"Get on the cannon for a picture, Steve," I said, not knowing how slippery it was. He slid off immediately, hitting his chin on the pavement. Blood flowed and Kamille and I dashed frantically for firstaid.

"Am I going to die?" Steve cried.

By then he'd been full up with tales of castle murders and Henry VIII's dispatching of wives.

The castle military assuaged him with a Band-Aid, and on we went.

Farther north at Tomintoul we made another hay fever stop, the doctor giving us the benefit of Britain's socialized medicine. He didn't comment on Kevin's chicken pox, our third, and mercifully, last case.

Outside in the sunshine, a Scots lady commented to me: " 'Tis a bonnie day."

It was something I needed to hear.

Still deeper into the Highlands, at the Falls of Measach near Loch Broom, we found high adventure. The boys had scurried off out of sight down a narrow path.

I followed quickly, catching up with them after they'd stepped out onto a flimsy footbridge. Fearless Jamie had dared to climb its rope slats and was peering down into the gorge hundreds of feet below. The danger never fazed him, nor did the view.

"Is this all there is?" he shouted.

In the Outer Hebrides we had something of a break--the rare luxury of being shown around by a driver. We'd left our car on Skye and crossed to the village of Tarbet on the Isle of Harris, where Mrs. Morrison put us up in her spacious bedrooms.

And then there was Ireland.

"Jamie cut his finger," Steven said, running up to us as we were finishing dinner in the golf course restaurant alongside the Lower Lake of Killarney.

Off to the hospital in Kenmare, where a young and lovely Irish nurse bandaged him and then wouldn't accept any payment.

A few days later we put our tired bodies aboard a plane at Shannon. No bomb threats this time.

En route home we had time to think about all that had happened. If we'd put the boys through too much, they, in the amazing way of children, demonstrated their resilience. Their patience in the back seat during the long drives and the frustrating searches for B&Bs (always on gnawingly empty stomachs) was something of a marvel.

Added Stimulation

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