Our trip from Los Angeles to my sister, Felicity's, house in Birmingham was generally uneventful, just the way I like it.
All the traveling we do has turned our girls into mini Rick Steves. They have their moments, of course, but I'd argue they travel better than most adults.
There is one thing that happened on our flight worth mentioning. It is an example of self-centered rudeness in its purest form. What is it about air travel that brings out the worst in people? Or the best, depending on how you look at it. During that dark, quiet time when people are supposed to be sleeping, a man next to me refused to let the man in front of him put his seat back. He claimed that if the seat was back, he wouldn't have enough room.
This very same man had his own seat back. Of course.
The poor man in front sounded truly puzzled. "I don't understand how the rest of the plane has their seats back but you don't have enough room. You're smaller than me."
This guy in the front seat maintained his dignity throughout the encounter, which got a little tense. Other passengers started chiming in, standing up for the guy in front. "Who asked you?" growled Rude Guy, who was cementing his assholeness with each passing second. Then Rude Guy's wife, snarkily suggested the guy in front switch seats with his own kids. Surprisingly (to me, anyway, because Rude Guy was being so rude), the guy in front thanked the woman for her suggestion and proceeded to rearrange the seating with his sleepy looking children. I guess Rude Guy is "special." (But not special enough for First Class.)
After landing, Vanessa complained her ear hurt. Uh oh. I hoped she just needed to adjust to the pressure change but worried that it was an ear infection. She hasn't had ear problems from flying in the past.
Driving to Birmingham, I had to fight to keep my eyes open. So. Hard. Concentrate on the funny little lorries, the tail-gating speeders in their Opels, look at those fluffy sheep…mmm, sheep, sheep makes me sleepy. Who could possibly be in a hurry in quaint little England? Is it tea time? If I was that tired, Tim must be, too. Since he was driving, I had to stay awake in solidarity. He was driving on the wrong side of the road like a champ but still. It wouldn't help to have me sawing logs next to him. The girls have no such hesitations, they slept the whole way.
My sister Becky answered the door once we got to Birmingham. She's staying with Felicity and James for the summer. We played on the lawn until Felicity and James got home from work (playing was our rested kids' idea, if it were up to me, I'd have taken a nap). And then we played some more.
This was our third visit to Birmingham and probably our last. Felicity and James are moving for work at the end of the summer and Becky will be in Cambridge at her new nursing job.
Vanessa's ear was still hurting. She was crying from the pain and her whole body felt feverish. That darn thermometer I packed was nowhere to be found.
The next day Felicity helped us figure out where to take Vanessa to a doctor. She made a call and was advised to take us to a walk-in clinic. This was my first experience with the NHS. The building was government style, bare bones posters on the wall, plastic chairs. No carpets, potted plants, or magazines. Only a few other people seemed to be waiting. This was certainly no crowded US emergency room.
I filled out a brief form and we sat down. In less than a half hour, Vanessa was seen. A well-groomed young doctor called her name, brought us to a large exam room, and did a quick but thorough assessment, including taking vital signs. No medical assistants or nurses in sight. "Oh," he said as he looked in her ear, "that looks awfully red." He diagnosed Vanessa with an ear infection and printed out a prescription for an antibiotic, suggesting we wait a few days to see if it goes away on its own. Then we left, not having to give them our insurance information or a single cent in payment. Walking in to the walk-in center.
She really wasn't feeling good.
After giving Vanessa more pain reliever, she perked up and we spent the rest of the afternoon at a geology museum. Which was also free.
Vanessa continued to have ear pain and fever, really the worst ear infection she's had. So when Saturday morning rolled around and she was still waking up in terrible pain and high fever, we decided to pick up the antibiotic. At the Boots pharmacy, the pharmacist handed me the medicine, gave quick instructions and said goodbye. "Don't I have to pay something?" I asked her. "No, it's on a green sheet, so there's no charge," she smiled at me. Wow, thanks England.
Another thing we did was visit the park across the street from Felicity and James's. There was a mini amusement park set up and we all had fun in our own ways.
We went to an exhibit called Dinosaurs In The Wild, ate at a cereal bar, went to a pub with good Indian food, walked in the rain, took a bus and a train.
The whole visit included being spoiled by our hosts. Hot coffees placed in front of us at breakfast, meals labored over, kids carried, kids bathed, late night game sessions, drinks poured, even shoulders massaged. It's definitely a vacation!