When I was a kid, I remember my parents talking about how fast time went when you got older. As an adult, I have to say that’s pretty much true, except when my wife and I are on the turnpike to drive to Ohio. After the 4 tunnels on the Pennsylvania turnpike, there’s really nothing to see except a few bridges and a whole lot of billboards that support the coal industry. It’s not even like South Dakota, where they count down how long it is until Wall Drug Store.
On the note of time, a child born on this date in 1996 would be old enough to drink legally in America. Putting that date into perspective, 21 years ago today I was flying back from England to return to America. After I boarded the plane, I don’t remember much about that flight. I know that I took a cab to the bus station and then took a bus to Cambridge, where I took the train to the airport, and then I went back to America.
Such was the end of my adventure in England, which began on December 27, 1990, when I arrived at Bentwaters Air Force Base. I spent 2 years there, and then I chose to stay at Lakenheath Air Force Base, which was over an hour’s drive from there. I only went back to Bentwaters one time after that, which was to pick up some stuff that I had in a storage cage while going to see a woman that I had met right before PCSing (changing bases permanently, if you’re not versed in military-ese).
If I had Bentwaters to do over again, I would have gone to the UFO stuff at Rendlesham Forest, which was between that base and Woodbridge. I would have liked to have experienced that more than just one night’s walk trying to find out where it happened. Everything else there pretty much made me who I am.
Sure, it would have been nice to see Europe, but I think I’ll be happy I saved Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam for later since my wife’s appreciation of them will mean more to me than just having hopped on some ferry to spend a couple days on the cobblestone streets of Bruges.
In my time abroad, about 5.5+ years, which continued after I got out of the Air Force on November 17, 1995, at approximately 10AM, when I did sign the papers to make myself a free man, I saw a lot of England. It was a great place to be for an under 25 year old. I experienced the grunge explosion from 1991-1992 with many shows in London and other little British towns like Cambridge, Norfolk, Ipswich, and Colchester, and I also spent many nights in the pubs of Bury St. Edmunds when I moved onto my second base. It was a good time to be young and caught up in a cultural explosion with a lot of great people who I enjoyed my time with.
I did some travels in the early days, but I did most of my travels during the early part of the relationship days (until I was poor from not having a solid Air Force paycheck). However, before I left, I finally made it to Scotland and Ireland. Those were some neat places. Then again, so were places like Cambridge, Avebury (a stone formation in the tradition, though not pattern of Stonehenge, and Ely (a huge cathedral). A part of me will always consider England “home,” though there’s no way I would ever enjoy it the way I did then if I were to go over there now. I’m way too American for that (not a bad thing – just an ingrained cultural thing). It’s not that I wouldn’t like those things, it’s just that I have no reason to stay as I did then (both for the relationship and my attachment to my youthful understanding of that country). Nevertheless, even if I were to want to stay, I think the country would have something to say about it.
I remember British security being pretty tight when they took me to the room where the visitors who don’t speak English and didn’t have proper passports were grilled about their intentions (in my case, to work on an Air Force Base and to eventually get married – kind of tough to do since I wasn’t allowed to get a job until after I got out of the military, and I had to out-process in New Jersey). The security rooted through my bag (remember, this was pre 9/11 on December 18, 1995), and other than some obnoxious punk CDs that my cousin bought for me because he thought I would “appreciate” them (and other than wondering if they would keep me from coming into the country, I did find them amusing), there was nothing much to keep me from coming in to see if marriage and life in England was in the cards (which it obviously wasn’t, though we still stay in touch – she’s happily married for almost 20 years with 2 kids, one of which is a legal adult, so yeah, time flies and I’m glad she’s happy – all of the good people truly deserve that).
Unfortunately, my memory of specifics has vanished in the haze of time, but there are some clear things about my time over in England that I do remember. Pictures are good for that and so are old accounts of my time. I’m glad I took the time to jot a lot of things down since I don’t remember much about the minute by minute accounts anymore. Instead, I remember the good moments and the things people taught me.
At one point, I was given a scarf that was Bury St. Edmunds College’s colors. I hadn’t been to college yet, but it was to commemorate how I learned and changed so much while I was there. I think about that now, and I remember how when I signed up for the Air Force, I had chosen bases close to Pennsylvania. My furthest bases were Ohio and Virginia. I was originally supposed to go to Dover in Delaware, but a woman asked me if I would trade because her husband was going there. I told her to let me think about it. In one hour, I told her I would. In 1990, before the Internet, I never looked up where the base was. I just went. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. For better or worse and all that I learned in my time in England to include staying those extra 6-7 months, I consider that one of the best decisions of my life, too. It helped me become who I was in those times after it, and it created a part of my personality. It also helped me to meet and enjoy a lot of great people, some of whom I still stay in touch with in person and online.
spot the face in the picture above... a statue not decapitated!
And so on this day, I think about that and include some songs that made that time for me. I hope they make you feel a little bit British, too.