After experiencing the tilt-a-whorl of emotions that was A Considerably More Pleasant Moment in Time, smelling the smells and feeling the feels, and then drinking one of the most necessary coffee’s of my life, I and my companion hopped on a train from Gatwick and headed straight for the heart of London. Being my first time, naturally I sucked up every little new feeling I could, including being wobbled around on a train and track that may or may not have been built before there were strict safety guidelines. It was overcast when we arrived, and as I stepped out of the train station onto the London streets I was engrossed with how different every little thing was, yet fundamentally the same.
The people all had the same basic destinations, the office, work, calling on family or friends, buying groceries and other necessities. It was just they all did it in a rather different way, in much smaller cars, on much bigger buses and on windy-er more complicated streets. The buildings were significantly shorter but were squished together and arranged with more talent, and everything seemed so much older. There were shiny buildings, but they were not the dominant feature of this iconic city. I was thankful for this. We walked along the South bank of the Thames, past London Bridge, the new one, and then on towards Tower Bridge, the massive and beautifully designed crossing that defines the beginning of east London. The first thing I thought as I looked at it, was ‘Who the hell decided to paint it that awful blue?’. Cool bridge, terrible colour, it’s a shame really. And just so you know, I totally felt like Bridget Jones as I crossed it.
About crossing it…I had been carrying my luggage along behind me thus far, heading toward Fenchurch Station to continue the rest of our journey to Southend on Sea, and it was at this point when I encountered the most terrifying set of stairs I had ever seen in my life, that led up towards the bridge. OK, maybe they’re not THAT bad, but let’s keep in mind I am thoroughly exhausted. After an 8 hour night flight without sleep, five hour time difference, customs, endless queues, a train ride and then walking across London lugging approximately 20 kilos plus a carry-on full of books, plus a purse, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. After slight motivation, I came around, and thought ‘I’m in London, dammit, I should be able to fly up these stairs!’. Well I didn’t quite fly, but after lots of very unfeminine grunts lots of laughter and a lot of “Sorry, pardon me”s I made it to the top, and crossed the Thames for the first time.
On the other side there was another terrifying set of stairs, very much exactly similar to the set I had just conquered. Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be. All of my pride and self praise for making it up the other stairs vanished instantly. I eventually conjured some extra gumption after huffing and puffing a bit, and made the decent, only slipping and nearly falling to my death once….maybe twice. I swore to myself to pack lighter next time, but we all know that was a big lie.
We stopped for a well deserved break in front of the Tower of London. We had a quick drink and cigarette and talked a bit more in depth about what the two of us had been up to over the past four years. It felt like we hadn’t been apart that long, but the amount of things we needed to tell each other was a good indication that there was a lot of time between us. It would take nearly the entire two weeks to relay all the necessary information. It would have taken less if several existential life altering crisis’ hadn’t occurred in the meantime. But more on those later.
The November air was crisp and cool, and we loaded up again and trudged along in front of the Tower, snapped a few photos and then wandered around to the train station. On the train, after very embarrassingly fumbling with my change for fare, because I had never seen any of it before, there were more “I can’t believe you’re really here”s and “I can’t believe I’m really here either”s. Even though I was completely exhausted I was perfectly happy, and knew I was going to really like it here.
As we arrived at Chalkwell station, the cabby was just about the most upfront and personal stranger I’d ever met in my life. I was a little nervous about how nice he was being, and when I say nice, I don’t mean polite and courteous like the average Canadian, I mean complimentary and in your face about it. The first thing he did was grab my bags and say “A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t have to carry your own bags” loaded them, and then when we got in (as I quickly got over the steering wheel being on the wrong side) he asked where we “lovely ladies” would like to go. When he found out I was visiting from Canada, he was full of praise for us Canadians, and continued being just as friendly all the way to the house. He unloaded my bags for me and walked them to the door. I could really get used to this! My friend told me that was perfectly normal behaviour and that I really should get used to it, and also learn to take a bloody compliment without turning beet red.
Once inside I explored the tiny kitchen, funny light switches (that to this day make me happy), the funny faced outlets and the strange toilets. Everything was completely recognizable, just a little different. It was like I was in some strange parallel Universe, but I liked it. I then half unpacked my suitcase and had the most fantastic shower pretty much ever. It was absolutely glorious to be able to wash the ‘airplane’ and ‘streets of London’ grime off of me, I swear that stuff is like a film on your skin. After I was done and had dressed in a clean set of clothes, we sat down and had a delicious cup of coffee, and for the first time in about 24 hours, I relaxed, and it felt like home.
-Miss Hailey Jane