Don't Say England and Camp in the Same Sentence
Linda A. Dougherty
Copyright 2020 by Linda A. Dougherty
was perhaps our most memorable trip ever as a family, except maybe
when we went to South Dakota while it was on fire one summer.
was the best of vacations it was the worst of vacations- that summer
of 1992 when we sardine-packed up our five and seven year old with a
conglomerate of stuff into our tiny Renault-4. Optimistically, we
put our cock-eyed trust in nine year old tin can on wheels to convey
us safely almost two thousand miles up to England and then another
two thousand miles back to our home in Marrakech.
loved our little car. It faithfully trundled us back and forth for
the years we lived in a valley of the High Atlas mountains of Morocco
during my husband’s PhD research days to our apartment in
Marrakech for weekends of hot showers and electricity to resuscitate
Bill’s dying computer battery. It took us on trips to visit
friends several hours away in Casablanca. The only time we had any
issue was during one of Bill’s research visits to a valley in
the High Atlas. He arrived back to where he left the car parked only
to find one of its tires flat. Before he could pull out the jack, a
group of village guys, seeing the tire, waved him aside and four men
manning each end of the car, lifted it off the ground so Bill could
change the tire. THIS was the car to we entrusted
of our life and thousands of miles- something light weight enough for
four average village farmers to lift without straining. It was the
little engine that could and would we decided. And we put it to the
test that hot August.
GREAT PLAN, like all ideas of promise and hope, took a life of its
own, expanding in scope and detail as the months churned on. Before
the days of emails, infrequent expensive overseas calls and mostly
letters ironed out the details. Friends in the US suggested they
would fly in to or all of us to rendevouz in Osny, France, just 26
miles northwest of Paris. A family we all knew lived there and had
suggested a “ grande reunion “
when they heard we would be traveling through France.
friends we’d met in our early days in Morocco heard we would be
traveling through England. They invited us to stay with them in
Twickenham a short twelve miles southwest of London.
ultimate destination was a campground in Swanwick, in Southampton,
England, where we planned to meet up with a gaggle of other similarly
dispossessed-of-sanity young families who shared the common bond of
being ex-patriates living in Morocco. Summers were hot in Morocco
and August seemed to be a good time to be on the road without
AC…..right? We would all do our own thing and meet up in
southwest England in a week.
of course, we would camp. Our threadbare bank account demanded that
we skimp wherever we could. Camping in the English countryside in
August, what could be better?
our tiny car became my opus magnus cashing in on the benefit of
well-oiled experience at packing to the final ounce and inch of
allotted luggage for travel on planes. To keep peace between the kids
in the back seat, I erected a wall of towels and tarps between them.
The constricted trunk held pots, pans, a camp cook stove and other
kitchenware. Despite my packing genius, we had to pile the canvas
tent we borrowed from friends, sleeping bags and luggage atop the
roof, enveloping the mound in a bright blue tarp. Ropes cinched the
lumpy hunchback to the R-4.
we left, I shared a bit of news with Bill. “I think I’m
pregnant.” Not exactly the surprise you want to have handed to
you right before THE GREAT PLAN began. “No, you can’t
be....” “I am craving tuna.” That was my pregnant
body’s reaction every time. He rolled his eyes in denial.
the vacation adventure begin.
1- We leave Marrakech in the early morning and point our
north. Skimming the contours of the Atlantic coast, we pass
Casablanca, Rabat, Kenitra and a bevy of villages along the way to
Tangiers. Some eight or more hours later, we roll our car onto a
ferry to cross the Straits of Gibraltar between to Algeciras in
Spain. August is a good month to cross. The seas are calm and nobody
feels green with seasickness that is prevalent later in the fall with
the toss of rolling seas. The kids enjoy the sea breeze and sun out
on the deck. That night, we pitch camp near Malaga. All is going
well, so far except I’m increasingly tired, a bit nauseous and
more certain that number three is taking this trip with us.
2- Cranking along highways, we spy one large black bull
silhouette after another dominating the crests of rolling hills. We
travel up the east side of Spain, past Barcelona where Summer
Olympians are running, jumping, tossing, diving and swimming to the
thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. We camp tonight in a
campground somewhere north of Barcelona with colored twinkle lights
strung all around like fireflies circling the campgrounds.
3 & 4- Onward and upwards. Chugging up one steep mountain
pass, our car overheats so we pull off and look around at the
beautiful green Pyrenees enfolding us and we wait. By afternoon, we
cross into France, aiming for the medieval town of Carcassonne.
two thousand year old city spins many a version of history, part
fact, part question mark, but nonetheless, charming. The popular
story the guide tells us tourists is that Charlemagne laid siege to
this city that was a hold out of the Cathars. The lady who ruled the
city, a Lady Carcas, withstood month after month of a siege that
whittled down their food to one sack of grain and one pig. The wily
lady played a desperate ruse, ordering the pig to be stuffed with the
grain, then commanded her men to toss the hapless swine over the
ramparts to splatter grain-filled guts on the ground in front of
Charlemagne. Charlemagne concluded, “If they can throw a pig
with all this grain over the wall, then we may as well give up the
siege.” The guide concluded with dramatic flair, “but,
in all those months of watching Charlemagne over the walls, the lady
fell in love with him. So when she saw him leaving with his army, she
ordered her soldiers to ring the city bells and throw open the gates
to surrender.” “Thus the name of the city,
‘Carcassonne’- Carcas rang the bells.”
seven year old daughter eyes shine at the romantic fiction, whereas
our five year old son loves the men dressed as knights, mounted on
charging horses in a blaze of heraldry and color as they joust.
5- Packing up, we bid adieu to Carcassonne and head north
again, up through green country side dotted with small French
villages that slide past us as our R-4 doggedly clicks off the miles
between southern France and Paris.
afternoon, we inch through clotted Parisian traffic. TOOT TOOT (
small cars seem to toot and not honk) A car full of smiling and
waving young men pull up next to us, and greet us like we’re
family. “ Lebas!” They are Moroccans. We grin, then
they catch sight of our blond haired, blue-eyed, pink cheeked son in
the back, waving and grinning at them. The smiles fade from familiar
to polite, “Bonjour” and they speed off when the light
in all of Paris is driving an old Renault 4- especially not with a
bright blue tarp covered mound on top. It earmarks us as North
African undesirables which we find out when a French driver becomes
irritated and spits at our car. All we can do is chuckle.
the map with penned directions from our Osny friends, we make it to
their house by evening. Everyone arrived in from Philadelphia
earlier that day, and we all spit up, sharing their house and the
home of a vacationing neighbor who we later learned was nervous that
we were coming in from North Africa, despite the fact we are
eyes our R-4 with a mix of amusement, incredulity and disdain. We
feel protective of our trusty little car and joke. “ Yeah, we
look like gypsies from Morocco.” David shakes his head soberly
saying, “Gypsies wouldn’t drive that. Have you ever seen
what they drive?”
6- We all take the Metro into Paris 7 adults and 8 kids. A
lot cleaner train than Philadelphia’s SEPTA system all of us
know and hate. Paris is unlike any city I have ever seen. We take a
slow boat ride on the Seine. Nearby our point of disembarkment, Notre
Dame Cathedral rises up before us. It soars to the heavens,
magnificent against the cerulean August sky but it feels darkly
oppressive on the inside except for the jewel like colors of the rose
window. The five adult tourists in our group wait in a long line to
go up the Eiffel Tower while our hosts volunteer to watch eight
children aged four to twelve run over the grass nearby.
the men volunteer to watch the kids so the women can go to the
Louvre. Is this a good idea to let the dads watch the kids? Well,
they are their kids, so what can go wrong- three adult men can handle
it. I want to see the Mona Lisa. It is lit from within. Leonardo
did not disappoint. Her smile is even better in person but I can’t
escape the feeling of shock that it is a very small painting for such
a big presence in the annals of art history.
chat and speculate if all of our kids will make it back in one piece
with three dads. We see the motley crew grinning and waving at us as
we exit the Louvre and cross over to meet them. All seems well, one,
two, three, four….yup, eight kids. But, there is more to the
story than that. Our five year old son and our host’s six year
old son tell us a rousing tale of getting lost in the mall while the
three dads strolled on. Becky and I look knowingly at each other and
then at our husbands, thankful that the six year old was fluent in
French and managed to find the clueless dads before total panic set
7- Today we head off in cars to Versailles. The little kids
are a bit bored but our daughter loves the elegance. “Rococo a
go go” I think, with the glitter and sparkle of the ornate
walls, chandeliers, and furniture that somehow survived the gutting
of the French Revolution. The formal gardens are lovely and well
again try to bring up my increasing certainty that number three is on
his or her way. Bill pushes off the idea, as if declaring it could
not be would make it so.
8- After a flurry of hugs and goodbyes, and an energized
down of our borrowed lodgings, we leave a note of thanks with a hand
embroidered Moroccan pillow to the absent homeowners (who later
exclaim to Becky at how the house was cleaner than she left it with
an air of surprise) and then we are off again.
drives due north on the A-16 , hoping to catch the ferry in Calais by
midday and make it into Twickenham before night fall.
he wasn’t counting on cantankerous automated toll booths! We
approach the first one. The white ticket dangles in the slight
breeze, ready to be snatched up. As Bill eases up and reaches out his
hand, suddenly the machinery sucks the ticket inside its slotted
mouth. There is no button to push, no operator to ask. Behind us,
an impatient driver pounds his horn. What can we do?
decides to pull forward and manages to cross the flow of traffic to
pull to a stop off to the far right side. Then he threads his way
back to the booth, watching car after car pull up one after another
at a row of six toll booths, each without losing their white ticket
to the appetite of the toll booth genie. With break in the flow, he
dashes in to snag a ticket , runs back to the car, waving it
triumphantly. “I feel sorry for the next guy, but nobody was
there to help and we need a ticket.”
the next two miles, we discuss why our ticket disappeared when no
other car seemed to have that issue and figured out that the machine
read our top-loaded little R-4 as a truck and not a car and the
ticket moved to the truck slot on top which we couldn’t see
ferry crossing between Calais and Dover and we are in England.
keep left, keep left.” “Watch out, the roundabout!” “I can’t see the
cars coming, Linda, look out the window
and tell me when I can move right.” The R-4 doesn’t
translate so well into England with its left hand drive in a right
hand drive world. We get caught in a roundabout and go around and
around a couple of times before Bill manages to edge over with me
coaching him with my head hanging out to watch traffic.
afternoon, we pull up in Twickenham and tumble, stiff and a bit shell
shocked out of the car. Our friends pull us in and we unload into a
small spare room that is soon stuffed with camping gear, cookware,
sleeping bags and our luggage goes upstairs to their guest rooms. We
all sleep soundly in a real bed after a good meal and a hot bath.
9- The night before, I confided in Edith that I thought I
pregnant but Bill is in denial. The problem is, I need to take
progesterone to not miscarry and I am traveling. This morning, she
pulls me aside, hands me a clean glass jar and pushes me towards the
“loo”. With a wink, she tells me she will take it to the
chemist to have it tested while we take the train in for a day in
our secret for the day. Bill won’t find out unless my
suspicions are right.
take the train in. Richard already warned us that London Bridge was
not THE London Bridge which was auctioned off and bought by an
American tycoon in 1962, moved to Arizona and set up on Lake Havasu
City. We stand on the Tower Bridge and still think it’s pretty
special even if it isn’t the one that was “falling down”.
Trafalgar Square, our children double over in laughter as pigeons cover
me with droppings as I stand taking it all in. It’s cool
and we wear jackets. At Buckingham Palace, our five year old clown
makes outrageous faces and dances wildly and is disappointed at the
stony visages of the guards.
head to Westminster Abbey. I share a love of history with our
daughter. We ooh and ahh. “Look, this at this inscription. It’s
for David Livingstone, remember the story I read you about him?” The
bronze plate that marks his grave in the nave of the abbey
BROUGHT BY FAITHFUL HANDS OVER LAND AND
SEA HERE RESTS DAVID LIVINGSTONE, MISSIONARY, TRAVELLER,
PHILANTHROPIST, BORN MARCH 19. 1813 AT BLANTYRE, LANARKSHIRE, DIED
MAY 1, 1873 AT CHITAMBO'S VILLAGE, ULALA. FOR 30 YEARS HIS LIFE WAS
SPENT IN AN UNWEARIED EFFORT TO EVANGELIZE THE NATIVE RACES, TO
EXPLORE THE UNDISCOVERED SECRETS, TO ABOLISH THE DESOLATING SLAVE
TRADE, OF CENTRAL AFRICA, WHERE WITH HIS LAST WORDS HE WROTE, "ALL
I CAN ADD IN MY SOLITUDE, IS, MAY HEAVEN'S RICH BLESSING COME DOWN ON
EVERY ONE, AMERICAN, ENGLISH, OR TURK, WHO WILL HELP TO HEAL THIS
OPEN SORE OF THE WORLD"
of us are greedy for more history. Bill looks miserable. “I
have the worst headache. We need to go soon. I feel awful.”
know this is probably the only time I will ever stand in the presence
of so much history in Westminster Abbey in my life. I beg for more
time and he agrees to take a very bored five year old boy outside to
go lay down on a nearby green swathe.
take in a few more minutes then head outside and take a train back to
and Richard open the door, smiling broadly. With a twinkle in her
eyes she whispers, “there is a package upstairs for you on your
bed.” I know the test results. Bill flops on the bed groaning
slightly, scrunching his eyes shut tight against the light from
outside. I shut the curtains and open the package. Progesterone
pills spill out from the bag with a slip that reads “Positive”.
Bill. Edith offered to take a sample in to her chemist today and I’m
now I really
have a headache!” he replies with a loud groan.
10- It is
hard to say goodbye to
good friends, especially knowing we may never see them again. But, we
need to move on to meet the other three families at the campground in
Swanick as planned.
pack up the R-4 and trundle through the green English countryside,
through small villages and towns, heading south west for an hour and
a half. In one small town along the way, stopped at a light, a
smiling man comes up to ask us where we are from. “Morocco,
but we are American.” “I just love to ask people where
they come from” he explains as he waves goodbye.
campgrounds are beautiful with broad flat fields. We pitch our tent,
set everything up and this is home for the next four days.
11- It rains
each day a bit in
England, I am told. It rains steadily all day today. We drape an
extra tarp over our tent. Cooking under the open tailgate of the car
is an adventure. Our kids slosh through puddles and we go to a
conference during the day while our kids have fun with other kids at
the conference. All is well.
rain. Puddles turn into
small ponds hopscotching across the level ground. Our tent is
sagging a bit as the water logged tarp bows down onto the tent’s
roof. We slurry off the excess rain. Another breakfast and dinner
cooked under the R’4’s open trunk lid. Lunch at the
conference is pleasantly dry.
13- One of
our friends loses it
after a trip that saw one child knock out part of a tooth while in
Spain (which he desperately tried to superglue together), the door on
his old car fell off and had to be fixed and now….we are all
drowning in England. The locals wonderingly remark about how this is
“such unusually wet weather even for England.” That
morning we see a pot fly. We’ve all had it with the weather. The story
circulates with amusement and pity. Someone graciously
offers to pay for their family to stay for the remaining two nights
at the conference ground hotel.
rain…where is an
ark when you need one?
15- Last day.
We find the last of
dry clean clothes to put on after a half-hearted morning sponge bath
in the camp ground’s bathroom. Late that afternoon we find out
indeed a man’s (tent?) home is his castle. The tarp has lost
the battle. We poke our head inside the tent to find it is raining
inside the tent along the outer walls. We now have a moat ringing the
tent inside with a small island of one dry blanket clumped in the
center of the moat. Bill opts to sleep contorted around the R-4’s
unique stick shift that juts out from the dashboard right into his
back. The two, er three kids and I huddle on the island and toss the
blanket over us. We are so tired that we somehow sleep.
16- We pack
sodden and smelly of damp, and leave. I turn to Bill and say, “Never
say the word camp and England in the same sentence.”
push is on to get home. We are tired of travel. We are tired of
sleeping on the ground. We
are mostly tired of rain and long for the heat of Marrakech, the
bright blaze rather than the misty grays of the past four days. We
cross the Channel again and head straight south, heading down through
western France and down through central Spain. Bill drives and
drives until he can’t drive anymore. We are in a desolate area
along the highway, maybe about three hours north of Malaga.
I don’t want
to find a campground and set up a tent. How about we just pull off
to the side and sleep in the car?”
removes his sneakers, ready to settle for a second night of spooning
with the stick shift.
Those sneakers smell, put them outside tonight.”
opens the door and tosses them on the ground. In a few minutes a
steady buzz tells me he is already in the arms of exhaustion.
fall into a
restless sleep in the cramped back seat with one child’s head
tucked under each arm. (the wall of peace between the two kids is
stuffed in the trunk for the night)
next morning we all awake to the early sun and get out to stretch out
the night’s discomfort. The kids use the cover of the tree and
it doesn’t matter much because the road stretches out empty
behind and before us. We are alone on the road. There are no towns
nor even a lone house in sight.
is eager to go NOW! We rebuild the wall and strap everyone in. We
are off. In Malaga, he stops at a gas station to fill up before we
load onto the ferry.
are my shoes, Linda?” I look confused…..”Umm, you
took them off when we stopped last night and put them outside the car
because they smelled so bad.”
slaps his palm against his forehead. “I must have left them
there when we drove away!”
start to laugh as I dig around in the luggage for his flip flops.
“Imagine if someone driving along sees a pair of random
sneakers just sitting there in the middle of nowhere!”
retrace our path across the Straits of Gibraltar on the ferry then
shoot down the highway, determined to make it home in one day, even
though it means driving for many more hours.
PLACE LIKE HOME-
Our little R-4 pulls in front of our dark green metal driveway door.
Bill jumps out
to unlock and swings it open wide. The R-4 eases into its place of
well-earned rest- four thousand plus miles with all of us intact
though soggy. It was the little car that could and did. But, I
still do not want to hear about camping in England- ever!
END OF THE STORY-
daughter was born in Rabat, Morocco the following spring, thus far,
August 1992 is the only time she has been in Spain.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
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