April 24th - Canary Wharf
One of the things we had wanted to do while over here was visit a Tesco. It was girl's favorite grocery store while she lived here, and I made every attempt to find one during my trip there in 2006, including taking our group on a wild run about Manchester. We had located the closest location to our flat to be a Tesco express in Canary Wharf, which was right in the middle of the banking district. Figuring this would be about an hour way each way, we figured it was a good use of our time and a great way to get exercise. We soon ventured out to Wapping to find the Thames going in the other direction, then cut over to Canary Wharf.
The clouds were present, but it was actually a nice day as we walked along the river, through some of the smaller neighborhoods east of our flat, and hitting the river trail when we could. The wind was blowing a bit at times, but overall, it was actually pleasant outside. We actually had made good time to get to Tesco, and we prepared for the trip with our backpacks in tow.
The name express probably should have clued us in, but essentially the market was about a third of the size of a regular Tesco, and it didn't have a lot of the stuff a bigger store would have. This provided some disappointment for girl, as she was looking for some specific vegetarian dishes and desserts. I was also a bit out of sorts, trying to avoid being run over by the business folks who came in, grabbed things, and scurried off. It was extremely busy, and people weren't exactly following etiquette or queues, either. But we managed to find enough things for purchase, and soon we were back on our way to our flat. The clouds were thickening up a bit, and the wind was starting to pick up a bit, indicating a thunder storm was coming in. Rather than find the Tube, we decided to rough it and walk back.
The rain wasn't too bad initially, but to avoid the wind, we tried to find side streets near the river that would keep us in the right direction. We were on task and moving forward until we got to a sign that pointed us more north to get to Wapping. Admittedly, we both followed the sign and didn't question it at all. But, after a few minutes and the rain suddenly coming down in buckets, it was apparent we were going a bit out of our way. All the while, girl was focusing on direction, and like my experience in Tesco, I tried to stay out of her way and be quiet.
After some crossbacks, a few viewings on the map, and getting ourselves oriented right, we were finally on the right path, but girl was very frustrated at me for not being more present. We talked about it at the flat, and I could sense that I'd done something very wrong. In my desire to not be a distraction, I walked near her or behind her, and generally let her take the lead. I wanted to show her my confidence in what she was doing, but in my actions, I made her feel like I didn't care and wasn't an active participant in trying to get us home. I had even daydreamed a bit about us living there while we were walking, and so I wasn't completely paying attention to the issue. Not the best thing to admit, but what I learned from this was that being more attentive and active is a better thing. I wasn't trying to cause an issue, just simply let her find the way because she has excellent direction skills. But in taking the hands off approach, she took it worse than I realized. However, we talked it through, and I felt better about things. I never intend on making her feel uncomfortable, but apparently I had done a good job here.
After the walking and being in the rain, we decided to stay put for the night, and eat some of the Tesco food. After our adventure, it took us about 4 to 5 hours to make the round trip, which should have taken 2 to 3 at most. Plus, we were both exhausted, and girl was dealing with the effects of more walking, her feet still healing a bit from Rome, and the issues caused from her pole accident in York. Physically, she was hurting a bit, and I felt bad for her. Here we were in London, too exhausted to do anything, but it was probably a good thing to rest up knowing what more we had in store. We found some TV to watch, including a show called Sexcetera, which had a feature about Portland and the Porcelin Twins. Ok, how weird is it to be in England and see our hometown on TV?
April 25th - Southend
We slept in a bit on Friday, mostly to get back on track after yesterday's debacle. Of the things we wanted to do on our remaining days, it was head to Chafford Hundred for some shopping, Greenwich to see the prime meridian, Virgin Megastore in Oxford Circus, and out to Basildon to see girl's old school and friends. We knew that Sunday was going to be the day we'd meet up with one of her old students, and so Friday was going to be either shopping or seeing sights. We ended up lying in to the afternoon, eating late, but in hindsight, it was nice because we wanted to get our spirits back in sorts.
We ended up leaving the flat and deciding to head to Southend, on the coast of England on the east. Girl had spent a lot of time there while living in Basildon, and I could see why. We caught the train eastbound, and 45 minutes later, we were near the beach. Or the English version anyway. The downtown portion was up on a hill, and you walked down a short road to reach the beach, I suppose you could say the downtown was cliffside. In any event, it reminded me a lot of Seaside or Cannon Beach, OR, as the boardwalk near the beach was full of arcades and snack shops.
We stopped in one to try and win a Homer Simpson plushie, but the claw machine was not being very nice. We also wandered over to the bowling alley to play more claw games, and use the loo. Then, we found another arcade that had the coin operated machines. You put a coin in a slot to drop it on a bigger pile of coins while the game has a metal plate moving back and forth. The object was to cause the pile of coins to drop in a slot, and maybe catch a prize in the process. Girl was a master of this machine, as she cleaned out the prized on one two-pence machine. I did a little bowling, and played more claw machines to try and get Simpsons stuff. But in the end, all we won were two Steven Gerrard phone clips, a bear figurine holding a whip, and a lot of candy from the candy crains.
What was amazing about this part of the trip was to see a place that girl held in a special place in her heart. She spent a lot of time here with her friends, and so it was special to now take me there to show me this great place. We also got to walk on the sand for a bit. Southend also has the world's longest pier, and one thing girl wanted to do while she lived here was to walk the pier. Unfortunately due to the events from the previous day, we didn't walk the pier either, but instead focused on games.
We had considered going shopping in Chafford Hundred that evening, but ended up staying in the arcades until past 9. We wandered back into town to catch our train, and about an hour later, we were back in London. Our train was full of young adults, drinking alcohol and having a small party on board. Yes, at the time we were there, liquor was allowed on the train. So many people traveling about would grab a six pack or 2 liter of cider and drink up on the journey home. Needless to say, it was a bit louder on the train that night, but still fun to watch. The people watching was great, as most of the lads were trying to hit on any fit bird they could.
We wanted to get home and eat something and rest up, knowing that tomorrow was our experience at Upton Park. We wanted to make sure that we were ready to enjoy the game plus the special present our friends back here had got for us. We were actually staying at Upton Park tomorrow night after the game, getting a stadium tour, dinner and then breakfast in the morning. And girl was going to get to watch her beloved Hammers, who I've adopted as well because they are a great team and they have great connections to our area.
We ended up eating a late meal, watching a little TV, and then going to sleep about midnight. I could still hear the arcade sounds in my ears, smelling the candy and snack food in the air. But what the past two days taught me was amazing. I learned to be a better husband, and got to share in some memories that were very important to girl. And I created memories of my own in my struggles to beat the claw machines. But just you wait, cause I'm coming back and next time, it's personal.
Next Time - Upton Park Experience, and Dinner in Basildon