Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flt 11, Guillotine Road, Trough Farm, Observations

So much to say about our trip to England….where to start….how about Day One

Some basic background information for reference
• Elmo is Lucy’s best friend, he goes everywhere with her, has all meals with her, sleeps with her and can comfort her when no one else can… it stands to reason, Elmo went to England with us
• Sue and Colin are Sean’s parents, Nanny and Grandpa to Lucy
• Jennifer is Sean’s sister, John is her husband (Auntie Jenny and Uncle John or Uncle JB)
• Lauren (5 almost 6) and Hannah (2 almost 3) are their two girls, Lucy’s cousins and we were meeting Hannah for the first time
• Halifax is in Northen England and where Sean’s parents live
• Jennifer and John live in Southern England and came up for the weekend
• We were staying in farmhouse we rented about 3 miles away from sue and Colin in Luddenden…no I don’t know how to pronounce it
• Jennifer and John also rented a place about 3 miles away from us
• Yes, we were there for Thanksgiving and no, they do not celebrate Thanksgiving in England….(you would not belive how many people actually asked me this and were totally serious… for the record, they do not celevrate the 4th of July either….those are totoally our holidays America!)
• We don’t have a coffee table at home – I know, sounds like a random observation but I promise, it will soon make sense
• Sue has no siblings but has many cousins she is close with and they are like Aunts and Uncles to Sean and Jennifer and therefore Lucy and I as well
• Colin has one brother (Uncle Brian married to Auntie Sheila) but no, we did not get to see them as they live on Jersey…no, not the Shore, the Island of Jersey which is the most southerly British Isle and is a mere 14 miles from France (don’t be impressed, I pulled it off a web site)

Virgin Atlantic Airways, Flight 11
We flew out without much fanfare…well, except Lucy somehow developed a diaper rash from the time we left the house for the airport at 4:30 and me changing her after she ate dinner at 5:45pm. I did not have any diaper cream in her bag (just a small thing of Vaseline which was not going to do anything to help her rash) So Sean found a tube in the terminal newsstand, paid $7.00 for it and I lost it before we even got on the plane!

I was in the bathroom changing Lucy before the flight when I heard them calling us to board…I panicked (because I had just heard the story about the woman in FL who was changing her baby, her husband boarded and then she was not allowed to board as and they would not let him off so he flew off without her and she was stuck with her baby, no husband, no luggage, no purse, just a diaper bag……) So I rushed the diaper changing job and subsequently left the $7 tube of Destin in the bathroom…..

Lucy loved the take off….she kept screaming for us to look at the lights….and she’d point and say Mama! Ohhh!!!! Mama!! Ahhh!!! Ooohh Mama! Then we hit an air pocket…hard….her little hands gripped the sides of her seat and she gasped Mama?!? She looked at me all wide eyed and her mouth in the shape of an O. She asked for Elmo, clutched him to her chest and just kept looking at me….Mama? Yes Lucy? Oh-no. It’s OK Lucy…No Mama! Oh-no! Oh-no! And then as we hit another pocket, we all bounced a bit, and Lucy let out a quick wail….until I produced a book from her bag and then she was fine.

Flight was non eventful….though Lucy and I did not sleep well, it was actually easier than I thought it would be…though Sean was disappointed he was not served ice cream on the flight as he had been on the past (we flew Virgin….a bit overrated if you ask me….)

Heathrow and Immigration
We land at Heathrow and proceed down a long hallway…turn and go down another hallway….then another…..I’m not sure but at some point we may or may not have walked across the Channel and back…..finally, we turn one more corner and there is Immigration…..

Just a side note here: I am not a seasoned international traveler. I used to travel a lot domestically for business when I lived in Illinois….between St Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and even Boston on occasion. But to be fair, I made those trips during my drinking and smoking days so I was never that edgy….then I quit drinking and smoking and became a nervous traveler…..So I started this trip spooked about the plane crashing/being hijacked/blowing up/luggage being tossed for contraband (not that I had an but someone could have planted it, used me as a mule…) and, afraid we would not for some reason make it through Immigration….I didn’t even totally understand what going through Immigration and Customs meant….Sean tried to explain it to me but I just did not get it…..I know, I know, not a lot to get…I know, I know, ego centric American thinking I can just go wherever I want when I want with no explanation or justification…actually, it’s just my ignorance of traveling…like I said, I don’t travel as much in post 9/11 days as I did before so I never know what to expect….

In my head, I thought Immigration would be bustling with all kinds of travelers from around the World, immigration Officers directing us where to go and keeping a look out for bad guys (I’m totally for profiling so I think I was hoping to see some going on) I thought maybe I’d see an automatic weapon and a dog or two being escorted by military men dressed to protect and kill…..instead, we turn the corner and there’s a whole lot of plastic sheeting hanging up flapping in the wind (apparently, Immigration is getting a face lift) and it was cold, like meat locker cold. There were a few employees milling about gossiping about someone they work with looking quite bored with the whole thing and no travelers….except for this large family (and by large I don’t mean a brood of kids I mean the Mum and Dad were large people and there was a baby I’m guessing a few months younger than Lucy but twice her size) we saw on the plane….and they were the pain in the ass passengers that were constantly getting up and down from their seats, walked the aisle at least 18 times and used the bathroom twice an hour. And every time they went up and down the aisle, they would bump you and then look at you like it was your fault you touched them…..she was British, he was American…and she was way louder and demanding than he was…he was actually quite whipped and clearly knew where/what his place was. She was at a counter squawking at the Agent behind it because he was taking too long to process their entry into the country. The Agent was trying to explain to her that if she had completed the landing cards on the plane, the process would have moved a bit quicker…she did not care; she was a “Subject for Christ’s sake!!!” I’ve never heard anyone refer to themselves as a Subject…I mean I’ve heard Sean say he is a British Subject or Subject of the Queen….but to call one’s self a subject, well doesn’t that make you a noun?

So I was a bit disappointed with Immigration…..I expected it to be more official, efficient, with a bit of wry British humor thrown in welcoming us to the United Kingdom…instead, I got a middle aged Agent who mumbled when he spoke, looked thoroughly bored with the transaction and could have cared less where we came from, why we were there and how long we were staying……I’m pretty sure he was American….and just waiting for his shift to end….

So we get out of Immigration and I’m all excited about entering Heathrow Airport….I kept waiting to feel glamorous because I was in Heathrow Airport in London………yeah, the word is actually way prettier and more romantic than the Airport itself….felt like I was in Detroit to be honest…….

At this point, we’re way ahead of schedule. The flight landed a bit early, Immigration took less than 5 minutes and we waited no time at all for our bags. We thought we’d be at least an hour to an hour and a half trying to get ourselves out of the airport….instead it took us less than 40 minutes.

So we head over to Enterprise to see if we can pick our car up a couple hours early.

Jackpot! We can! We hop on the shuttle bus and jet up to Enterprise with the assurance that the car and car seat are all ready and waiting for us. We start to get all excited as we’ll arrive two, almost three hours earlier than we told Sue and Colin to expect us…….Jet Lagged be damned! We’re almost at our final destination! I mean at this point, I’m just happy to be on the ground… we zip into the car rental place, Lucy is sound asleep and we figure within 15 minutes, we’ll be on the road! It’s about a 3.5-4 hour drive Sean figures from Heathrow to Halifax…...and we figure Lucy will sleep for at least another hour if not longer….things are shaping up! I’m actually getting over my disappointment of Immigration and Heathrow looking like Detroit…..1.5 hours later, we’re still sitting in the effing Enterprise Terminal……waiting not for the car (which we loaded within 10 minutes of getting there) no, we’re waiting for the car seat! The car seat that we emailed 3 TIMES to confirm plus I called once and was assured all 4 times that the Toddler Car Seat would be in the car and ready to go for us. Not only was the Toddler Car Seat not in the car, they did not even have one available to give to us (they had the infant bucket seat and the Booster for a kid but no Toddler Seat)

So we had to wait for the woman “who is the car seat expert” to bring us one…she FINALLY shows up with…….an infant seat! I thought Sean was going to lose his shit (I had already talked him off the ledge three times and was started to get really tired so I was not 100% sure I could do it again….) so she goes to this little shed like structure that is just outside the office and pulls out the Toddler Seat…at that point I almost lost my shit because they made it sound like they had none on sire and she was bringing it from another Enterprise location….not cool. So she gets the seat installed and tries to explain to us how to use it but neither of us can understand what she is saying (English was not her first language) and by now, Lucy is awake and screaming blue bloody murder!!! Not even Elmo is bringing her comfort. There is not a lot we can do except shove her in the car and get out of there and find someplace to change and feed her……Poor Lucy…..merely a precursor of things to come….

We finally get in the car and Sean takes a minutes to acclimate himself to the new car…...where are the wipers, adjusting the seat and the mirrors…and acclimating himself to be sitting in the right side of the car and driving on the other side of the road. We pull tentatively out of the car rental lot and attempt to make our way to the M something or other….Lucy is screaming, I’m confused by the arrows on the road and why cars are coming at us from every direction and Sean is busy going around the roundabout now only the wrong way (direction) but also on the wrong side of the road!!! I’m not sure how we made it out of there but we finally did…………………….

I had a little temper tanturm
About an hour later, we finally come across a rest stop and pull off to get something to eat and a clean diaper for Lucy.

Now I’m grumpy – I’m actually sitting at the table falling asleep and am being impatient with Sean and Lucy…I’m just tired…and that was so selfish given that Sean is the one who has to drive us from here to there…..but when you’re cranky, tired and need to brush your teeth, you forget about that….so I was an utter bitch for about 20 minutes and then snapped out of it….just needed a temper tantrum to get it out of my system!

So we get back on the road (only driving on the wrong side once as we exit the rest stop), I apologioze, all is forgiven and with great gusto, we head north

Gibbet Street
As we got closer to Halifax, Sean got more and more excited, Lucy was just ready to get out of the car and I was still trying to adjust to seeing cars pass me on the right instead of the left.

We arrive at 521 Gibbet Street (side note: Do you know what a Gibbet is? It’s a guillotine…used to decapitate people….my in-laws live on a street named after a piece of equipment used to chop heads off……not that I knew that before I got there but know that I know, it freaks me out a little…..oh and at the end of the street, there is a replica, monument if you will, of a guillotine used to cut people’s heads off….Colin even taught me the phrase “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord Deliver us!”)

So we arrive, Sean pulls up all haphazardly because he can’t wait to see his folks…..he jumps out of the car….NO ONE IS HOME!!!!! Which made me laugh really hard….and I mean no disrespect at all to Sue and Colin…just goes to show you that our timing is horrible! Colin had just dashed off to pick Sue up from work and we arrived in that 20 minute window he was gone. We hung around for a few minutes trying to decide what to do…..and had just decided to head to the rental place when lo and behold, up pulls Colin and Sue!

Sue cried, Colin bellowed his greetings (Colin is like a cross between a fishing boat captain, a genius albeit mad scientist and a philosopher…..his personality can be larger than life and his animation is really quite charming and endearing so when I say bellowed, imagine a sea captain yelling Land Ho! With gusto, excitement and relief....that is what Colin’s greetings and laugh sounds like) Lucy just looked bewildered trying to figure out what all the whooping and yelling was about.

We visited for a bit, had a cup of tea, and then headed down to the rental place…….

Trough Farm
I loved the place where we stayed. It was an old farmhouse and barn converted and remodeled into two homes (the owners lived in the barn which was connected to the old farmhouse in which we were staying) It was gorgeous! And the view was incredible…when we looked out the window, all we could see were green pastures lined with stone walls and sheep lazing and grazing about….it was just amazing….

It was called Trough Farm and, well, you know what? I can’t do it justice, here’s the link if you have a chance, check it out.

Colin and Sean dragged in the luggage, Sue and I explored the house and Lucy and Elmo just sort of wandered around trying to get their bearings…….our first day ended after we unpacked and put everything away, had a quick dinner with Sue and Colin and then sat about realizing that we had finally made it! After four years of talking about getting to England, we finally made it.

Immediate Observations from my first few hours in England
Out of all the people we have come in contact with, only two were actually British and spoke English as a first language. The others were all Asian (dot Indians to Americans), Polish, and either Hungarian or Russian….

The grass is so green! Even in November, I can’t believe how green it is – and not the same green as here…this like Crayola Crayon Green….like an emerald green that mesmerized you because it is so bright without being neon….

There are sheep everywhere…just standing alongside the road…imagine sheep just standing on the sides of 93 or 95 munching grass and lolly gagging around because that’s what I saw! Cows too and every now and then a horse….…..

And the stone walls are just amazing (I later learned that there are actually people whose sole purpose in life is to preserve the integrity of the stone walls that line the country side….)

The coffee here is not very good, stick to the tea

They eat beans for breakfast and the bacon is totally different and apparently, no one puts ketchup on their eggs because I could not find any when we stopped for breakfast.

People here drive fast! Though I did snooze a bit on the drive north, when my eyes were open, I could not believe how fast people were passing us…..and it’s not like Sean was Nana Driving, he was keeping a pretty good pace….people here just drive fast!

The roads here are the narrowest roads I have ever seen in my life! And talk about tight corners, close bends and blind hills! I have no idea how Sean even maneuvered his way around certain turns and streets…I have a whole new respect for his driving even though I can make it back from Maine in 3 hours compared to his best time of 3 hours and 42 minutes (ironic given my statement above eh?)

Tea really does make everything better…gives you a new perspective, offers you a few moments of solitude, gives you the energy to regroup and go on and is just another excuse to eat cookies and cake

And so, Day One comes to a close (but it might be Day Two as we started our trip on Wednesday and now its Thursday……no matter, we’ll call it Day One)

Day Two, tomorrow, brings John, Jennifer, Lauren and Hannah up from Alton and for the first time in 3.5 years, the entire Sykes-Bennett Family will be together with two new additions (Hannah and Lucy)…..that’s when the fun and games really started…oh the hilarity, mishaps and laughs that ensued……..

Maria, the Mum

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