When towards the end of July, my nine-year-old daughter breaks her arm, my plans for her school holidays flash before my eyes like the life events of a drowning man.
No more scooting on her brand-new scooter, a start-of-holidays treat; no more swimming in the village school’s pool nor making waves in the high-tech leisure pools that we love to visit in Scotland; no flute duets with her best friend; and a no-show at the four art classes that I’ve booked her into for the following week. (She is right-handed and it is, of course, the right arm that she has broken.)
Laura is more optimistic than I am.
“Is it ok to do handstands?” she asks the kindly young doctor at the emergency fracture clinic.
Suppressing a smile, he shakes his head solemnly.
We’re lucky in that at least her arm doesn’t require a plaster cast.
“If you were a boy, I’d give you a cast, because a boy would just lark about and make it worse,” says the nurse. “But because I can see you’re a sensible girl, and the fracture is stable and self-supporting, we’ll make do with a sling.”
Laura is disappointed. She rather fancies a cast as a vehicle for autographs and a means of generating sympathy. We compromise by allowing her friends to write on the foam-padded sling.
I query whether the planned art classes count as larking about.
“No, you’ll be fine. Just rest the arm if it’s sore.”
Numerous charcoal and pastel drawings later, and with a clay sculpture of a beaming head to her credit, it’s time for us to fly north to join her father, already in Scotland with our camper van. With a heavy heart, I don’t bother packing her swimsuit or enquiring about the extra fee to take the scooter on the plane.
But on day one of our tour of the Highlands, it becomes clear that not only will the broken arm not put Laura at a disadvantage; it will bring her positive rewards.
We’ve stayed the night in our camper van outside a small parade of shops near Fort William, so in the morning I pop into a few of the shops to bolster the local economy. Laura comes with me to the charity shop. Choosing two small toy dogs at 50p each, she fishes a pound coin out of her purse. The lady at the till asks what she’s done to her arm.
“I fell off the monkey bars,” Laura tells her. “I’ve broken my arm.”
“Och, what a shame, dearie!” the lady says kindly. “Just put that pound coin away and we’ll call it 50p for the two.”
A little later, we enjoy revisiting one of our favourite local tourist attractions, the Treasures of the Earth mineral and gemstone museum. Laura’s already spotted that if you spend £20, you get a free gift from a lucky dip, and bemoaned the fact that her holiday money (and her mother’s indulgence) will not stretch to such extravagance. In the gift shop, she asks the lady on the till to help her find a souvenir that features the gemstone designated by the museum as her birthstone: an aventurine. The lady helpfully finds a small pendant priced £3.99. While Laura struggles, one-handed, with her purse, the lady enquires in a kindly voice what she’s done to her arm.
“I fell off the monkey bars,” Laura replies. “I’ve broken my arm.”
“Oh dear, you poor thing!” says the lady, scrabbling about behind the counter in what I suspect may be the lucky dip. “Never mind, because you’ve bought something, you’re entitled to a free gift.”
Opening the bag on leaving the shop, Laura finds, to her delight, a pair of rose-pink heart-shaped abalone shell earrings.
“Although I haven’t got pierced ears, they’ll look lovely on my toys,” she decides, satisfied.
We press on, heading for Skye. We spend a pleasant hour en route at Eilean Donan Castle, billed as the most romantic castle in Scotland. It is also in demand as a film set, featuring in many films from James Bonds to Highlander. In the banqueting room, an enthusiastic guide in full highland dress, a two-foot-long feather in his tartan bonnet, tells us all about the castle’s latest role. It is in the new Disney Pixar film, Brave. We’re hoping to see the film while we’re in Scotland. Our resolve is bolstered by the guide’s praise for the crack team of artists that Disney sent in to sketch the castle. Pausing for breath, he notices Laura’s sling.
“So what did you do there?” he enquires.
“I fell off the monkey bars and broke my arm.”
“Och, no! Well, here’s a wee present for you,” he says, extracting with a flourish the feather from his hat.
Laura is delighted with this unexpected gift. I’m not so sure. At this rate, instead of removing her sling at the end of next week, in line with doctor’s orders, she’ll be wanting to wear it ad infinitum. I’m starting to see a whole new meaning in the phrase “a lucky break”.