April 11th - Durham, Reception in Seaham
We woke up to the sun spilling into our room, and viewed the North Sea in all its splendor. And I got excited at my first chance at getting a full English. Ok, I'll admit the full English breakfast isn't for everyone and the first few times of having it tested my stomach a lot. The concept of beans for breakfast stumped me, but was told that putting it on toast was a good idea. Girl is full of amazing ideas. We got up early enough to eat, knowing that Gary and Oddie would be coming to the hotel around 10 AM to take us to Durham for the day.
Durham is the county seat there, and is about 10 to 15 thousand folks if I recall. It is about 15 miles from Seaham, and has a rather famous castle and cathedral there. We decided to head there for the day to see the sights, and then be back in time for the secret party that night. Plus, Oddie had interest in seeing the castle, so we thought it would be a good day trip. We walked over to Gary's house and got to see changes within Seaham since I'd been there last. The old Scout Club had been torn down and moved across the street as a new bus station was built there. A new mall and ASDA was built just south of the Scout Club, so there's plenty of shopping about, but the main downtown high street was still there and full of shops.
As we were driving to Durham, Gary told us numerous times to catch the 4 PM bus to Seaham so we'd be back in time for the night's festivities. He told us of the tours and where the castle generally was, but again, be on that 4 PM bus. He dropped us off near the town center, and soon we were on our way wandering about town. Our first stop was a large open market, much like Portland's Saturday market, full of various small shops. It was amazing to see meat shops next to jewelry tents, and a hat shop was next to that, as it was a large collection of random stuff under one room. We finally ran into a games and toy store, and that's where I found Plopper. Well, actually girl said, "Hey look, Simpsons Toys!!" and I looked over to see Plopper and do a happy dance.
Ok, I love the Simpsons and the movie was one of my many highlights from last year. And one of the characters was a pig that Homer named Plopper (after being called Spiderpig). I had purchased all of the Simpsons movie characters here in the States, but the Plopper and Homer was either too expensive here or they kept running out. And suddenly in Durham, it's staring me in the face for 12 pounds. It took less than 10 seconds for me to grab it and run to pay for it, and even the cashier found it ironic that she gets her toys from the States, and now one of them was going back there in my luggage.
We wandered off to the cathedral, and it was one of the most amazing churches I'd ever seen. Built in Norman times, it stood over 300 feet tall at some points, and had some of the most incredible detail on various columns and arches. It was built on the highest hill in town, next to the castle where the former governor of Durham lived. You could have sat about 10,000 people in here and still had plenty of room for service, but it was amazing how quiet it was. I lit a prayer candle for my mom, and we saw various alters and smaller gathering rooms. We missed the last morning tour for the castle, so we wandered into town for lunch to then come back for the castle tour in the afternoon before we needed to be back in Seaham.
And what a tour it was. The castle is now part of the University of Durham, and so students actually live in the castle while studying there. One of their students gave us the tour, as we wandered to meeting rooms, small art galleries, a small church in the castle, and our final stop of a chapel underground with only natural lighting from above. It was amazing to see pieces of history that were older than I could imagine, and it was worth the trip and then some. As we wandered back to town, we made a few stops and then headed to the bus terminal to head back to Seaham.
I don't recall buses coming into Seaham when I last visited, but I was amazed that this area had such a detailed bus system. I gathered a few snacks, and we watched with amusement people interact with the pay toilet. You pay 20 pence to use a full sized toilet, but apparently some people didn't get the concept. One gal held the door open for over 10 minutes for some reason, I think she wasn't sure it was clean, but after each use, you could hear water spraying about. Another man wanted to use the toilet but was shocked it cost money. "Why pay 20 pence, I could just piss on the wall over here for free?" Yup, everyone waiting for the bus heard that over and over again.
Our bus finally arrived a few moments late, and we were off as Seaham was the last stop on the trip. It was interesting to see sights of the country side, going past a few small towns (Houghton Le Spring and Murton) and seeing the neighborhoods. Everything in the country side looks the same, as all houses are the same color and near the same design. We were casually driving along for about a half an hour but then suddenly the bus moved a bit faster. Unknown to us, the driver was scheduled to switch at Seaham with his relief driver, and he was a bit late. So it became hanging on to your seat and whipping around corners. I'm not entirely sure why we didn't hit anything cause it seemed like something out of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for a bit. As we finally pulled into the station, the driver apologized for the rough ride, and we were just happy to be on firm ground.
Because of the issues with the power shower, they had to replace our shower in our room so we were told before we left to check in and see where we could shower. The shower in our room was completely new, but it was still drying, so we were told to go to room 3 to get ready for the night. And as we walked it, we found our surprise. Lying on the bed was a white wedding dress for girl and a suit for me. We were asked to dress in these and be downstairs at 7:45 for our chariot to pick us up. Gary had asked for measurements before we left, and needless to say we hoped that the stuff could fit knowing our diets and lack of exercise lately, but everything did. But now the question was are we getting married again or is this a party or something? My suit was in Sunderland colors, with various SAFC crests on the cuffs and vest, and it was very nice with an English tie. And girl's dress was very nice and flowy as well.
We ate downstairs after showering, and then got ready in our wedding attire and made it downstairs right about on time. The Harbour View bar actually had a band playing, and one of the guys asked what we were doing. Our answer, "Not sure, just dressing up for a party here in town that is being thrown for us." At just before 8, a gentleman arrived and said I'm to take you to the party. And we walk out to the street with a nice Bentley sedan waiting for us. Ok, the driver was actually the mayor's driver and we are in his car being driven around Seaham to our party. We saw the outlet mall again, and an area that one of the major movie studios is building a large set at for filming, and then soon enough, we parked in front of the new Scout Club. A couple of guys were waiting with umbrellas, and soon we were whisked to a door and then entered to...
Cheers, popping fireworks, and thunderous applause. About 80 folks were there, as I saw various Timbers shirts, scarves, and Gary dresses like Timber Jim. At the head table, it was Oddie, Jackie (Gary's wife), the mayor, the town council, Maureen (a friend of SAFC that the TA had collected funds to help due to her cancer) and her daughter, Elaine from Shaw Trust, Iain and Maureen from the Harbour View, with two seats for us. Gary then explained the theme for the night to have a reception for girl and I, and to raise funds for charity. Maureen then spoke and thanked the TA for our generous donation taken in 2007 as she struggled with expenses while battling cancer, but she not only was feeling better but asked for our donation to go to other causes. So the Shaw Trust, a developmental school in the area to help mentally challenged folks, received our donation, and Elaine thanked us and the entire TA for our help. We also got some gifts from the town, and various cards and a notebook from the townsfolk with kind wishes. We were also made full members of the Scout Club, so we can visit there anytime and drink. I was overwhelmed at this outpouring of love and support for us, and girl finally got to see what it was like for us during our last trip to Seaham: good times, great friends, helping charity, and showing the love for each other bonded by football. And hey, meeting girl at a football match, it all made sense. Yes, I was smiling and near crying most of the night, but with tears of joy.
There were a couple of raffles, the first was delayed as I messed up the number machine. Apparently, I like to break stuff, but I felt better as the number machine was being temper mental most of the night. The beer relay was next, and even with me being penalized for spilling beer, my team won. I was given Paul on my team, and I let him pick the rest of the team versus Big Eddie, a guy we faced the last time in beer relay and we lost back in 2006, although our friend Nerd gained some respect in beating Eddie later in the night.
There was a second raffle for prizes, and so I bought 5 pounds worth of tickets, not sure what might happen. Most of the prizes were alcohol related, including some wine and other fine spirits. Well, when the first number popped up and it was ours, so a bottle of Grand Mariner was coming home with us. But then as if we were channeling Timber Howie, our numbers kept coming up. One of my favorite moments was after winning for the fourth or fifth time, I was pondering our next prize when Maureen chimed up, "You can pick the planter and give it to me." I looked and girl, and we both nodded in agreement. She was shocked when when we gave her this nice planter, but we also knew that she would take great care of it and we couldn't get in it our luggage. We also traded some bottles of booze for other stuff as we tried to keep our prizes minimal knowing how little space we had in our bags for Rome.
The baby beer bottle contest was next, as I sat out the fun there, and then it was time to dance to Aqualung, our first song from our wedding. We danced the night away to various tunes, drank a lot, and I gave Oddie a TA scarf for being such a friend of us and football. There are pictures of the fun at our website plus I had added some pics in my Seaham slide show. At about midnight, we decided to head back to our hotel, which meant another pint before bed as Iain had been waiting up for us.
It's still overwhelming to think about how a simple tour can lead to meeting folks that become part of your life in a significant way. The folks in Seaham are some of the best people I've ever met, and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone there for all of your love and support of me and my wife and the TA as a whole. I had a feeling Gary would top the 2006 tour, and boy was I right. Oh, and tomorrow is match day and another gathering with a special guest. I think my liver is now ready to boycott the trip, too bad it doesn't have a say in the matter.
Next Time - Match Day, Interview, Party with Robbie, and Destruction By Fire.