Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Wales, 1992

There was a fairly large group of military families that we knew (ourselves included) that did a lot of ping-ponging around Europe with their assignments rather than doing the same in the US. One such family one-upped the rest and got a rather unique assignment at an RAF base in Wales. We trekked out to visit them for Thanksgiving one year.

We drove our car over to Calais, France to catch the ferry across the Channel. It was a pretty drive, especially as we neared the coast. Lots of sunshine and rolling hills. The Channel ride itself was a strange one for me because I was experiencing my first real bout of motion sickness unless I was up on the top of the ferry, open to the elements. When I wasn't up top, I was trying to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for a test the day after we got back from our trip. So I have this strange mismatch of memories of beautiful stretches of water against a sometimes blue, sometimes gray sky with the wind flapping my jacket all around jutting up against images of Frankenstein's monster trolling Switzerland. Very strange ferry ride. I think I slept most of the drive from Dover to Wales.

The RAF base itself was an entirely different beast from what I was used to on the American military bases and posts. That could be because we didn't see much more than the pretty swank officer's housing area. RAF officers are spoiled. They have these large, sprawling houses complete with maid's quarters. On large lots, too. Well, compared to the sardine-like apartment blocks of the housing we had on Ramstein (even the colonels and generals didn't have standalone homes on the base), I guess anything that didn't involve a shared wall with another family would've impressed me.

Like most of my trips in the first half of my stay in Europe, I only recall snatches, odds and ends of what we actually did. I remember tooling around a Welsh town or two, amusing ourselves by trying to read the long, single vowel or no vowel town names. I think we went to a small art or history or nature museum. I know we went to a rocky Welsh beach at some point and had to drive by a pretty sweet hotel/clubhouse. And, in addition to the big traditional turkey spread on Thanksgiving Day itself, we went to a restaurant featuring authentic Indian cuisine one night. (I can't remember which region of India, unfortunately. The food was a lot spicier and odder than my more recent experiences of Indian food.) At one point, we took a cab from a driver that jokingly drove on the wrong side of the road--"Make you feel right at home"--while we were on some back roads through farming lands.

I wish I could remember more than a vague montage of images. I recall how distinct Wales felt from my other glimpses of England, and now I'd like to study those distinctions. Even as mature and aware as I was for that age, I still managed to miss a few big opportunities to really observe some cultural/societal niftiness. Yes, "niftiness" is a very scientific term.

Next week: Venice, 1993


Dad said...

It was an interesting trip with lots of highlights. They include the infamous photo of your dear brother "flapping in the breeze" from a pole on top of the ferry. The winds were on the ragged edge of extreme. What your dear brother and I cleverly hid when taking the photo was his feet resting on a rail hidden by a post. It really did look like he was hanging on for dear life in a raging gale. Of course it displeased your mother when developed. Then there was getting onto the working part of the RAF base. We enter a gate that is closed behind us and we stop in a gated holding area where one guard checks everyone's ID, another runs a mirror under the car and four others, one at each quarter of the car, armed with automatic weapons that are oh so cleverly not quite aimed directly at the occupants. When all is clear they lower their weapons, all smile and wave (truly sincere I might add since they avoided another IRA bombing). Wales is quite different from England in that they can cook. We ate at one Welsh pub where we all had to duck through an opening cut in a 2 foot thick stone wall to go from the bar into the dining room. Part of the problem with the ferry ride was a failed stability control system that made the roughness of the English channel very evident.

Kellie said...

Oh, yeah! I remember that picture! I don't remember the pub or the RAF guys with guns, though. Makes me wish I had a blog way back then to keep a better record of these things. :)