This time, security was not a problem. But our flight, which was due to leave Hamburg at 11 am, was delayed in Copenhagen. Knowing nothing, we found the airport nursery and whiled away an hour or so. Then we had some lunch. Meanwhile I was nursing Baby and trying to keep his spotty little face away from public scrutiny.
The reason given for the delay was the oil crisis. Whether our plane was unable to refuel, or had simply been ordered to combine two scheduled flights – and two lots of passengers – was not explained. Anyway, three hours after the original time, and in advance of the other passengers, Louise, teddy, Baby and I were finally ushered aboard.
The stewardess’s kind attention to mother, child and baby racked up my anxiety. I was terrified she’d see the spots and we’d be ordered off the plane. I held him against my shoulder, pretending to pat up some wind, but the ‘fasten seat-belts’ order meant I had to place him across my lap until after take-off. Fortunately, the stewardess was too busy to notice my fussing with Baby’s shawl.
As the engines growled into life I breathed a sigh of relief. We’d not be thrown off now. The plane began to move out, Louise chattering away about what she and Fred Bear could see from the window: other aeroplanes, and lots of pretty lights with snow all around. Normally I’d have been tense, waiting for the take-off, but after hours of anxiety I was just beginning to think we’d got away with it. Soon we’d be in London, and then aboard the next flight home…
But after a momentary pause at the foot of the main runway the big Lufthansa jet gave a great roar. The engines surged to full power: G-force pinned us to our seats, and my baby son gave his own great roar of protest. His cries of alarm as we hurtled down the runway drowned out the roar of the engines. We were barely off the ground when the stewardess shot towards us, anxious to discover the cause.
He wasn’t hurt, he was shocked. This baby who rarely cried, was scarlet with fury and distress. His spots stood out like beacons. The stewardess looked horrified. I found myself babbling incoherently, something about him being fine, honestly, and not really infectious… Yes, it had been windpocken, but he was over it now…
The passenger in the other seat drew away.
Arriving at London’s Heathrow, we had of course missed our connection to West Yorkshire. We waited again for another couple of hours, worrying about Cousin Brian meeting the flight, and finding no Ann, no Louise, and no Baby Roberts aboard. I hoped he’d been able to discover our new flight details.
Well, he did try, bless him. In the course of which he managed to fling the whole of Leeds-Bradford Airport – and no doubt half of Yorkshire – into panic.
‘But you must have their names somewhere,’ he’d insisted at the enquiry desk. ‘They left a ship in Germany this morning, and were booked on a flight from Hamburg to London. The surname’s Roberts – and they’ve got smallpox…’
Smallpox? The Roberts family were infamous by the time our flight left Heathrow – fortunately I remained in ignorance. On what we thought was the last leg of our journey, Louise and I were stoically enduring a very bouncy flight. Having left Rendsburg some 12 hours before, we were almost home – we could see the lights of Leeds and Bradford below us – when the pilot announced that he’d been refused permission to land…
Full medical alert? No, just the geographical position of Yorkshire’s largest airport…
‘Leeds-Bradford!’ I muttered furiously, ‘stuck on a plateau on the far edge of the Pennines. Oh yes, it’s open when no other airport is – and closed by weather on just about every other occasion!’
Diverted to East Midlands, herded onto a coach, it was almost midnight by the time we saw Leeds again, eight hours after our original ETA. Cooped up on a coach for the last three hours, Louise and I were so desperate for the loo, we shot off the coach like a pair of whippets. Brian was waiting in the doorway of ‘Arrivals’ – poor lad he was only 22 and he looked so worried.
With no time for explanations, as he opened his arms to greet us, I almost flung Baby at him. ‘Be right back!’ I cried as we sped off.
Thankfully, babies and children are hardier than we often give them credit for. We were exhausted, cold and hungry, but home was only three miles from the airport, and we were soon restored. And Cousin Brian, having been entrusted with our care, was able to say that he’d discharged his responsibility admirably. (Well, apart from the little matter of the ‘smallpox’ scare…)
Just as well, really, because he was a junior officer serving in the same company as his cousin, Captain Peter…