Friday, September 17, 2010

The Big Tower

For weeks now, Caleb's been saying this exact line, or some version of it: "Guess what, Mommy? I'm going to go to the big tower."

I kept thinking it was something they were doing at school. Maybe a book they were reading? A song they were singing? I couldn't figure out what tower Caleb was talking about. I meant to ask his teacher, but never remembered when I was at his day care.

A few friends have suggesting that maybe he's talking about the air traffic control tower on base. But to be honest, Caleb is almost never on that side of base, so I didn't think that was it.

(P.S. This is totally not my picture. I nicked it from the Mildenhall website, which by the way, was the best in the Air Force last year! Way to go 100 ARW Public Affairs, and let me give credit to Sgt Tracy DeMarco, whose photography skills clearly exceed my own.)

Tonight on the drive home, we passed the Elveden War Memorial on the A11. We pass have passed this giant statue almost every day, often twice a day, for nearly four years now. I always wanted to stop and grab a picture, but for many reasons have never gotten around to it.

However, with a potty training two-year-old, I've found many occasions to stop on the side of the road recently. Not long ago, his need for a roadside restroom found us stopped in the layby next to the memorial, so I took the chance to snap a few pics. Yay! Mission accomplished. :)
Tonight during the usual Friday night stop-and-go on the A11, Caleb pulled out his standard line, "Guess what, mommy? I want to go to the big tower." And I gave my half-listening, "Yeah, baby. That sounds good," response.
He must have picked up my on less-than-enthusiastic response though, because he started freaking out. "I want to go to the big tower! I want to go to the big tower! I want to go to THAT BIG TOWER!" His little finger was clearly pointed at the memorial.
And suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. So that's what he's been talking about all along! Even before we actually stopped there recently, he's been begging to go to the big tower he's passed nearly every darn day of his little life.
I can't even imagine how huge that monument must seem to him.
I remember as a kid going to New Orleans to visit my grandparents on my dad's side. Outside of the house he grew up in, there was a baseball park with a small stadium. My dad would always say how small it seemed to him in comparison to his memories of the place. It seemed strange to me, because it was huge!
Then a few years went by before we could get back to New Orleans to visit. I came back as a teenager and was shocked to discover it wasn't the huge, Major League Baseball stadium I remembered. It was just a medium-sized neighborhood baseball park. Sure enough, it was nowhere near as big as I remembered.
The Elveden war memorial, on the other hand, is proper huge! And I'm saying this as a girl whose been living in England for a few years and has seen her share of war memorials. It ain't no tiny tater.
But if it's this big to me, how mammoth must it be to my two-year-old? How much of his life is defined by our thirty minute drive into base, and weather or not we've passed the memorial yet? What does that giant "tower" mean to him? What does he think it is?
More importantly, will he have any memory of it in two or three years? Chances are, probably not. Sadly, this marker of his daily life will probably be nothing more than a picture on my computer that he'll see on a screen saver slide show one day and ask, "What is that?"
Ah, just another reminder of things I'll both miss and not miss about England. Passing the war memorial every day? Yeah, I'll kinda miss that. Stand still traffic on the A11 on a Friday night? Well, not so much that.
But at least I know what the big tower is now! As Winnie the Pooh would say, "This mystery is history!"

Monday, September 06, 2010

Brighton, Day 2

On our second day in Brighton, we woke up to rain and clouds. Very disappointing after the fantastic weather we had the first day. However, if there's one thing you learn quickly while living in England, it's that you can't let a little rain stop you. For one thing, if you did, you'd never get out. For another thing, chances are the rain will let up soon anyway!

Fortunately, by the time I had finished my full English breakfast (fried egg, sausage, non-streaky bacon, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms and a tomato), the rain itself had stopped, even though the clouds were still hanging around. So with full bellies, we ventured out to see some more of Brighton.

I was super excited to be checking out the Royal Pavilion. It's unlike any other palace I've visited in England, with its very Indian design. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the house, but it was as beautiful inside as it was out. We had to take a few detours for Caleb for potty breaks, but the staff was very accommodating.

After the Pavilion, we went in search of a Boots (pharmacy) as we had just run out of the potty bag liners for Caleb's Potette. We found a massive, two-story Boots that had the liners we needed (yay!) plus a sale on No. 7 cosmetics! (No worries, Tommy. I only bought one thing!)
On our search for Boots, we began to get a little more familiar with the town, circling around its shopping areas and peering in windows. We also encountered this statue of Queen Victoria. I'm actually reading a biography of Queen Victoria right now, so I was happy to see her. I'm a nerd like that.

I had decided early that morning that I needed to keep with my English food trend for the day and find a Sunday roast carvery for lunch. It took a bit of walking, but I finally found a family-friendly pub that had a roast on. And let me say, it was worth the walk! Roast beef, fried stuffing balls (what?! yeah!), fried potatoes, yorkshire pudding and veggies. So good! Caleb had a child-sized chicken roast dinner and ate all his veggies! Atta boy!
After lunch the sun had come back out, so we headed back to the pier. Turns out all the big rides are at the very end. Caleb was just on the borderline for some of the height restrictions (for smaller rides). Some guys let him on, and other guys turned him down. He was heartbroken not to go back on the bouncy castle he had been on the day before. But we made up for it with some trampoline time and a driving ride!

We also hit one of the two arcades on the pier and spent some change "playing games." This was actually the first game we played, I put in 30 pence and was trying to show Caleb how to play. I wasn't even paying attention to what I was doing and got the jackpot! Out spit 101 tickets, which we combined with more tickets later to get a Lightning McQueen mug.
We hit the beach after the pier, but the sun was hiding again. It was definitely cooler and windier than the day before. Caleb spent some more time relocating rocks while I read.
We finished up our day of traditional English food with some fish and chips from a restaurant across the street from the pier. We sat in the window watching the pier light up as the sun went down, ending our last day in Brighton.

Our trip back was uneventful. I have to say, I was super impressed and humbled by the kindness of strangers while venturing out on this journey sans-husband. Particularly in the tube stations!

If you've never been to London, the tubes are attrociously poor at accessibility, and lugging a stroller, a suitcase and a backpack up and down stairs while trying to keep track of a two year old is a headache, at least. But every single time I encountered stairs and escalators, some stranger would help me with the stroller or suitcase while I tended to Caleb. I never expected the help, but every singe time, it was offer. Thanks, London tubers!

So that's pretty much it! We're both pretty knackered from the weekend and glad to be home. But I'm very happy to have made it to Brighton finally and would definately recommend a weekend trip to anyone around here!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Brighton, Day 1

Happy Labor Day weekend! In the days leading up to our three day weekend, I began to think about getting out of town. I knew it would be tricky with Tommy unable to go with us. But with summer quickly fading and our time in England slipping through my fingers, I decided it was time to check something off of my list of things I still need to see.

The coastal city of Brighton has been on my list for ages. It's often mentioned in Jane Austen pieces, and the train line to Brighton was the scene of a lost baby in one of my all time favorite works, The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde. Additionally, I had a pal on Flickr (back when I was active there) from Brighton whose beautiful pictures sealed my desire to come check out the city.

Saturday morning, I juggled the stroller with Caleb in, a small suitcase that turned out to be missing hair gel and a hair brush, a small lunch tote, and a book bag full of the ever important Potette Plus and plenty of changes of clothes for my quasi-potty trained punk.

The trek to Brighton wasn't bad. It took four trains (include a tube train) to get down. We pre-booked online, so we knew where to get off. While navigating the tube, several people were very helpful and offered to help with the stroller or my carry on suitcase on stairs and escalators. Caleb enjoyed the train ride, and the packed lunch came in handy, since we didn't have much time between trains.

It took about 3 1/2 hours to get down to Brighton. We checked into the B&B I found online. They had upgraded us to a nicer room, which was great! The downside is, it was closer to street level. I didn't realize how close we'd be to a few clubs, and it was loud for a while.

Actually, it wasn't even so much the clubs. You kind of get used to the constant hum of MMch! MMch! MMch! But the morons in the streets meeting up with their friends were so loud! I actually got out of bed to check to make sure the windows were closed. I did manage to get some sleep, though.

Anyway, after we checked in, we headed down to the beach. Brighton is a pebble beach, which seems to be the most common beach in England. Don't quote me on that or anything. I'm just going from my own experiences here. Caleb didn't mind, though, as his favorite beach activity is relocating all of the rocks back into the ocean.

Although the temperatures were mild and beautiful, the water was still pretty cold, so neither of us put more than our feet in it. Again, Caleb didn't seem to mind. He was just happy to be there!

After the beach, we went to Brighton's Sea Life Center. We spent way more time there than I had anticipated (about two and a half hours), but that was partially due to a fire alarm that went off in the middle of our tour. I took our forced evacuation as a cue to go eat malt vinegar-soaked french fries from a beach joint. Caleb took it as a cue to have a public accident in an eatery. Most embarrassing accident to date! Oh, well. What can you do?

Back in the aquarium, Caleb really enjoyed the sharks and the giant sea turtle. There was a an underwater tunnel he couldn't get enough of. (Seriously, we had to go through twice.) He loved looking at the sea turtle's belly. There was also a glass bottom boat tour we took, which he thought was super cool.

When we were finally done with the Sea Life Center, we hit the pier for the first time. Having seen pictures and even done a little research before we visited, I was still amazed at how huge the pier is! It's lined with vendors, restaurants, arcades, bars, and rides for 1,722 feet. We didn't even make it down to the end of the pier the first day. (This was primarily due to the fact that Caleb hadn't gotten a nap and was getting a big punchy.)

After some time on the pier, it was evident that we both needed to eat. We walked through town looking for something that wasn't fast and greasy but also wasn't too posh. (Two year olds and posh just don't jive well together!) We found an Italian joint called Pinocchio's, where Caleb got a pizza and I had a delicious plate of gnocchi Gorgonzola.

After dinner, we went back to the B&B where Caleb pretty much immediately crash. I stayed up reading for a bit and listening to the clubs getting warmed up. Eventually, though, I had to just try and sleep in spite of Brighton's nightlife. I had another full day in town, and I needed to rest up!