So, after the trip detailed in the last post, fast-forward to Saturday. Oh, splendid, glorious Saturday! My time to sleep in, alas! Except… not this week. We have to get up at 6:30 AM to make the train for a required class trip to Brighton. Granted, it is a required class trip to the beach, but still.... And, it also happened to be my 21st birthday. So, I may or may not have told the universe to go do some unkind things that I regret....
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, the train. Better known as the bane of our transportation existence. We made it with literally minutes to spare, as usual, because of construction traffic on buses. Somehow I remember talking to John about gentrification of smaller towns and people of different ethnicities on the way there, and somehow everyone magically knew it was my birthday, even though I had only mentioned it once in passing. I guess I have a little birdie to thank for that :-)
Let's back up a little bit, to the 1st day of Mike's class. He mentions a tradition that all summer classes must go on a traditional seaside holiday to the beach, and at least put their feet in the water. Of course, I was all over it, because everybody knows I love swimming! But of course swimming and gimpiness does come with its complications. I really wanted to figure out a way to get down this beach and into the water. Anything for a dip in the pool.
Come to find out that my friend I'm traveling with is not particularly fond of water. So this basically means I have to beg a group of strangers to help with this project. Okay, cool. So I go up to Mike after class on the class before this trip and I ask him about the layout of the beach. He says “Of all the places on this trip, I think this is where you will find it the least accessible and have the most difficulty. He admitted that he might be staying closer to land as well. I asked him if he had seen any type of wheelchair or device that would allow me to cross the beach, and he said that he hadn't seen one in over 20 years of doing this. But, I knew he had faith in me. He said “If anyone can find a way to do this, you can."
After getting to Brighton as a group, the first thing we did was head directly for the seaside boardwalk, or promenade, as the British call it. We were free to break for lunch, during which I informed several of the guys of my evil plan. And it was just evil enough, it worked. because I actually got two of them to agree. They helped carry me down the pebbly beach that my chair would never have made it across, and then stood me on a rock where I could put my feet in the water. I watched the tide coming in and out, and after several minutes realized my feet were too cold, so I decided not to go swimming after all. I settled instead for a beach chair where I could still let my feet touch if the tide came in far enough. All I really needed then was a margarita! I didn't get one, but you know, I'm okay with that, because some magical things happened next. Mike, who had been previously sitting carefully on the top edge of the beach, decided to come down once he saw that I was down there. But my favorite moment of all was when John, one of the other professors had come down to join the rest of the group. He did not notice for several minutes that I was there with the rest of them. Upon seeing me there, he stood for a moment, looked at me, looked at my wheelchair, perched a couple hundred feet away, looked at me again, and his jaw dropped open for what I swear was a solid 5 minutes.
“YOU'RE HERE?" he exclaimed, “I just can't believe it!”
“I'm here,” I said.
And just like that, all the hell I had gone through to go on that trip was worth it for that one single moment of victory and disbelief. This was my moment, on my day, and nobody was going to take it away from me.
The group gathered around for a group picture that I still display and will remember that moment. One small victory was encapsulated in that moment, forever.
The next thing we did was tour the Royal Pavilion. You can't take pictures inside, but basically it looks like Orientalism meets the Victorian era on steroids. Heavily influenced by East Asian cultures, King George decided that he was going to decorate everything in the most gold plated, ornate, dome inspired designs you could possibly imagine. Of all the places we went, this place, which was a kind of vacation home for Queen Victoria as I understand it, and was eventually left to the people of Brighton to maintain, had some of the most detailed and amazing artifacts that I have ever seen.
After this, we were then free to roam about as we pleased. After exploring several neat little shops, we then headed to explore a garden trail, I heard music coming from somewhere nearby and wanted to go investigate. It turns out they were celebrating some sort of armed forces appreciation day (it wasn't Veterans Day) and this old-school a cappella group was singing songs from the World War II era, so we decided to hang out and listen. Then, suddenly, they started singing Amy Winehouse, a song I actually knew, and my friend serenaded me so badly you couldn't help but love it. To this day, every time "Valerie", is on the radio, I can't help but smile!
We forced ourselves to break away, and we went to the pub where we heard some people *might* be meeting at 4 o'clock. Lo and behold, there was Mike and most of the group. I settled in for about 20 min. of conversation, when, all of a sudden, one of the waiters comes over with an extremely confused look on his face.
“Did someone order cake and ice cream?” he said, entirely too conspicuously.
I tried to hide behind the menu, but the whole entire pub started applauding and burst into song, some even accompanied by the lyrics in ASL. Yes, it was entirely that corny, and yes, I loved every minute of it. I ate the entire molten chocolate fudge cake and ice cream and didn't share! Then, one of the other members of the group presented me with a card signed by everyone. She said they were going to buy me a round, but they found out that I didn't like to drink that much. So I said I would try one thing. Somebody went and got me a glass of Pimm's, which kind of tastes like fruity ice tea mixed with wine, I'm not sure exactly what's in it, but I could never find it when I came home. knowing me, the horrible college student, I only sipped on it. So thank you to the many of you who probably finished that glass!
At this point, everybody was hungry (except for me!) so we broke for dinner. I was exhausted and feeling homesick so I opted to get paninis that we ate on the train on the ride back with some people who wanted to leave early. Apparently I missed the real party! But I was so exhausted and ready to prepare for the week ahead. And even though I didn't appreciate it at the time, because I was missing family and friends back home, I realize now, as I sit here and look at the card on my wall signed by all of you, that that was and will continue to be one of the best birthdays I could ever ask for. So thank you, each and every one of you! Cheers!
(Image: our group after swimming at Brighton Beach. Most of us are in some kind of swimwear. We are all smiling and people are huddled around me, who is sitting in a striped beach chair in a purple one-piece. The pebbles on the beach and various buildings on the beachfront are visible in the back of the photo.)
(Image: Me, a white woman with shoulder length brown and purple hair, smiling. I am sitting in my wheelchair under a white umbrella holding a red fruity drink with a straw. The beachfront is visible in the background.)
(Image: Two men, one in a blue shirt and khaki shorts, and the other in a white shirt and black shorts are carrying me, in my purple swimsuit, and are about to put my feet in the water. One guy was also a member of our group is standing off to our right, looking like he is freezing as he has just come out of the water. Several other members of our group are sitting along the beach. The beach and the ocean are visible in most of the photo.)