We got off the plane at Stansted in a bit of a daze. I was going to write but fell asleep instead. The seats were crappy to say the least their angle and size too small for any kind of comfort. I woke up with a sore neck and looked outside and then at the time. There was still about an hour and change to go. Damn it. Although it doesn’t seem that long when it’s not comfortable it’s not that much fun. I tried to get as much sleep in as I could.
Once we landed and made our way through the labyrinth of corridors we had to split into as I came in on my EU passport and Chrl on her Canadian. I breezed through the large one up as there were significantly more ways to pass through the gates using the biometric gates with the passport. A quick scan of it and me opened the doors automatically without the need for human interaction. It’s much quicker this way. Then I found the carousel where our luggage came out on. It was a pretty quick turn around to get them. My thoughts turned to Chrl and her progress through the gates. Is she alright? What’s taking so long? Has she made it through and left? Where would she come out? I had to rely on logic and observation to surmount these thoughts. It’s so early and my brain is tired due to the early wake up this morning. She has to come out somewhere over here… I stood in place for what seemed like an eternity and eventually there she was!
We had a lot of time to play with and I suggested that we have a proper coffee and get our bearings before heading off. We were going to go to Joe’s place to pick up our things before heading off to Gatwick and our airport. In my mind for some reason I thought I would be flying to Gatwick. It was only in the final check leading up to our departure from Poland that I realized that we would be going to go to Stansted. This forces us to travel into London and then to Joe’s. It saves us the nightmare journey from Gatwick and back. I hadn’t booked a hotel room for our last night either. I’m contributing to that famous starlets’ family business it’s both of our first time in such opulence from a recognized brand.
We sat outside so I could get some fresh air and we could both kind of wake up with our coffees. This isn’t a very big airport and this being Sunday morning it seemed like there were a lot of people going every which way. We had a chance to be alone together amongst all these people. We figured out where to go and made our way down to the train. It’s a forty-five minute ride to Liverpool Street Station. I grabbed a TimeOut paper that was sitting there. The free weekly periodical was full of images from the past fifty years of Notting Hill Carnival that was happening this weekend. There was just no way to cram it into our trip unfortunately. I’ve attended it a few times and it was a lot of fun. With the change in the demographics of the area change with the festival itself is happening. It is the largest such festival in Europe and because of some history a large police presence is always there. This leads to the inevitable arrests that come from a clash in cultures. As the article pointed out this festival is a symbol of integration and not allowing it to grow organically and adapt it risks losing it entirely. We mostly just stared out the window as the train approached London. Chrl curled up against me. I was conscious of her presence and proximity. Being close up against each other allowed my hyperactive senses to feel this sensation and savor it for the upcoming months. Thoughts of our impending separation were dawning on me. There are less than twenty-four hours left until we part.
Liverpool Station in at the edge of the square mile. All those iconic skyscrapers juxtaposed beside each other fighting for prominence. Those funny names stuck more than the actual ones so I am unable to name them properly. They all relate to food or kitchen appliances. We sat outside the station as I had another coffee. It was still kinda early and we didn’t want to get to Joe’s too early as he had things to do in the morning. This is a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK. I can’t tell you off hand why but Monday is a day off for banks and therefore everyone else. A sudden rain shower graced us as Chrl went to use the toilet leaving me with everything outside. I had to scramble to find shelter with two suitcases and a coffee. Those ten yards were difficult under these present conditions. No coffee was spilled in the process of seeking shelter. This street is undergoing heavy renovations as the Crossrail project nears completion. This station will connect with that line deep underground. It will be nice to come back here and take it. This being the largest such project in Europe now.
While Chrl was in the water closet I confirmed our imminent arrival with Joe as well as figuring our best route to his place. The most logical and easiest one involved only one transfer at Balham. We had to walk to Moorgate first in order to catch the Northern line down there. THis gives us a chance to walk through London, the actual London that gives this part of the world it’s name. The majority of “London” are the boroughs that surround this city. Here the same rules don’t necessarily apply. Here some of those strings that tug on the puppet are pulled. Somehow we are all connected to this dance as it’s effects ripple through the crowd like ripples in a calm body of water whose surface is disturbed. I forgot how many stairs we would have to take in order to make it all the way down to the bottom. There is some sort of elevator here somewhere but we never looked for it. Good thing we are still travelling light. Have to remember this for the time when we have all of our stuff together. We need easy links and walkable passages between transfers. I will need them for when I will be travelling to North.
Balham had some poster displaying historical information about the time when a Nazi bomb fell on this station. The large explosive made a huge crater that bust some water and sewage pipe. People from the area were sheltering underground inside the station. The resulting rush of water killed sixty people and could have killed many more if their grip and the heroics of some folks didn’t prevent that from happening. THe station has history etched into it’s core. It’s style reflects the modernist movements that swept Europe and the world before the outbreak of the Second World War. I’m glad that this station has been retrofitted with escalators though. The train stop only had an elevator that we didn’t use.
Last time I passed through this station there was graffiti all along the other side of the platform. Sadly all of that has been covered over. Although some have started to work on the fresh canvas that has been provided by the fresh coat of brown. Does anyone ever get caught I wonder? By the time I pass through here next I am sure more will be added to this wall. Have to make sure we get on the right train. There are many that pass through this station before they begin to branch out and cover the expanding wedge of territory south of us. Soon enough we were on the train to Joe’s and I coordinated our arrival with his so that he could pick us up from his stop. It saves us having to drag our luggage up his slow hill.
We got in and after the initial greetings relayed some of our adventures. Many of the occurrences are described in the previous posts. Each telling of a story exposes more or less of the story in order to suit the needs of the conversation. We had a lot of fun on our little sojourn through Europe. We had some relaxing times we had some exciting times too. I enjoyed the boat cruise as strange as it was. Every place along the journey had something unique to offer. We most importantly learned a lot about each other and how we adapted to each other’s needs. We grew closer together.
Joe, Gulnara and their little one were invited to go to a baby birthday party. They made friends with people in their baby preparation group. All of them had kids within a month or so of each other. Today it was time for the twins to have their party. It is essentially a big group of babies and their parents getting together for a bit of fun in the afternoon. Clouds were variable but it didn’t feel like it was going to rain. What it means is that Chrl and I will have their house all to ourselves for a few hours. We will be able to have a shower and I can repack my stuff. Chrl is taking a bunch of my stuff back with her to Canada. It will lighten my load for the next three months.
The hardest part of this repacking is remembering what I put into all these packages that I made before we left. I know that certain things are slated to go but what else can I send back with her? I decided on some of my clothes as well as most of the things that we bought for ourselves on this journey. These are just little souvenirs that will remind us of the time we had. I had space left over and told Chrl to give me stuff to lighten her load. She will have to carry on her little suitcase and put it in the overhead compartment. We may not have to pay anything extra for her luggage. It didn’t take as long as I thought to pack. We were both showered and we relaxed on the couch watching some television. Chrl took a nap while I packed. I almost fell asleep as we relaxed here on the couch. By this point Joe and Gulnara returned and it was time to start with the barbie.
The steaks and the sausages that we thawed out from the freezer were ready to go. We used to have this BBQ in our garden when Bernie, Rita and I lived together. I remember cooking a whole load of fish on it for some Portuguese festival that is traditionally celebrated in the summer. The smell took some time to burn off afterwards but the fish were very tasty. Today the BBQ needed just a bit of a warm up and a bit of a wipe before cooking commenced. Joe let me do the cooking. I enjoy doing this, flipping and rotating the meat as it cooks slowly and evenly. I used some sauce that Gulnara had in the kitchen in order to enhance the flavor of the meat we were cooking. Daniel took to eating the sausage like a champ. Chrl kept giving him more pieces and he took a liking to her. It was nice to see his response to her although he is a friendly kid. He knew me from the camera I kept pointing at him. His behavior was natural in front of the camera. Although kids need many takes in order to get the right shot.
Joe and Gulnara invited me over to their place in a couple of weeks time when both of their parents will be meeting each other for the first time. They asked me to be a photographer for this occasion. I will be happy to oblige. We kind of had an impromptu photoshoot after dinner. I then set up the camera to take a bunch of photos a few seconds apart. I wanted us to have a group shot together. It’s nice to have one of those as it brings everyone together in front of the lens. If only we had more time… It was time for us to go. We still had to get to the airport and check into the hotel.
We called for a car to take us to East Croydon Station from there we could take a train down to Gatwick. There was a heavy police presence there at the station. They just looked at us as we rolled by with all of our stuff. I wondered how I was going to make it on my own with everything. I’ll just have to get on with it somehow. I have everything fairly well contained. The light bulky stuff is all in one bag. All the other stuff is in my giant suitcase. Chrl has all of her stuff on wheels as well. We are quite mobile although slow as we traverse toward the platform. People tend to move out of the way as we roll by. The wheels make it sound as if a lot of weight is moving along. Once the train comes a bit of a pull is needed to get the suitcase into the carriage. There aren’t too many people onboard and we are able to occupy a space to the next stop Gatwick. It dawned on me that Chrl didn’t have the right ticket. I just bought a one day pass for her. I should have bought her a different ticket specifically for Gatwick. As we got through those gates I used my contactless while she was stopped briefly by a guard but she let Chrl through.
The hotel was that way, no wait, it’s that way. Damn signs. I didnt want to roll aimlessly with all of this stuff so I asked someone with some sort of badge that looked like they belonged there and asked for directions. It wasn’t the nicest tone but it was an informative response. We had to go through the parking lot and turn left and then right after taking the elevator. The room was waiting for us and once we got in we felt relief. Chrl started to feel a bit under the weather. She picked something up somewhere. I gave her some of my medicine from my bag and we had a chat with Bernie. He is the only person that we haven’t visited yet. It would have been hard to go and visit him as his area is inundated with caravans and visitors during the Bank Holiday. He has been cooped up in his house as the holiday makers make it difficult for him to go anywhere too. He was showing off the stray cat that took a liking to them. It is a beautiful giant cat. Very friendly and very pettable. There are members of his family that are allergic to cats and he has some already anyways. There is no room for it despite his desire to keep it. There wasn’t long to talk… Chrl and I only have a few precious hours together left and we would like to spend it looking longingly at each other so that all the little details about each other’s appearance become ingrained in each other’s memory. We both have a long day ahead tomorrow travelling to our respective destinations. We made the best of sleeping on our most uncomfortable bed this journey. It felt like we were in a cheap roadside motel rather than the luxury that the name implies.
The next morning I helped Chrl get checked in and we had some breakfast before it was time to say our goodbyes in front of the security gates. There was a sadness inside. The last month was filled with so much laughter and joy. We made the best of our situations and we spent as much time together as we could have. We were essentially inseparable. Now as we stood here holding each other gazing into each others eyes without the intermediary of a computer screen that sense of longing for each other has begun. After Chrl went to be screened my eyes began to have that funny sensation that doesn’t often happen. I felt it in my heart but stoicism prevailed despite the emotion inside. There will be plenty of time to reflect on the train on my way to Hull.
Back in the room I grabbed all my bags and had a flash of brilliance. I could use my backpack to hold my shoulder bag and then both my hands would be free. This helps as I found that I needed to switch arms while pulling luggage. With the ticket for my journey collected I set off on my journey to Hull. I got down to the right platform and took a slower train up to St Pancras in order to get to King’s Cross. The train that will take me to Hull leaves every two hours. I wanted to get to Hull by two so that I could unpack a bit and get some provisions. It would be nice to get some sleep at night too. We have been going pretty hard over the last few days. Early wake ups and late nights. It’s no wonder Chrl caught something. We haven’t gotten enough rest lately. I hoped that the medicines we picked up before she left would do the trick.
The train ride to St Pancras was long. I tried to focus on some writing but my eyes just stared out the window thinking about the past few days and the past month. There have been a lot of memories formed. Memories of the places we have been to and memories of each other. Little mannerisms that only we are privy to their meaning. Little jokes that we shared and conversations where we opened up doors to some of our innermost thoughts and experiences. We are after all adults now. Both of us have been around more than one block and we have learned and matured through our individual experiences. The sun shone brightly on the city and the countryside as the train followed its route. It had been delayed by some fault earlier but I jumped on it as it saved me the wait for the one that would have been on time later, maybe.
As the train finally pulled into the station I got ready to alight. This station has elevators that will take me up to the top. Well the elevator from this side of the platform only goes up one floor. I had to change for another one. I squeezed onto the elevator with a family that all had identical suitcases. Identical shape but various colors and sizes. Each member had two suitcases and there were eight or so of them travelling. All three generations of them. I made sure to be in the elevator even if all of them wouldn’t fit. Once I was outside I paused and thought of what to do. Normally I would kill some time by walking around but I have too many things. I should use the loo and probably get something to eat as well as a coffee. King’s Cross is pretty good although this is the first time that I travelled out of this station. I’ve been through here on the tube and I have waited for people here before but never left from here. This will be the station that I travel to now once I get settled in Hull. I managed to complete the tasks that I set out for myself. Coffee in hand and the sandwich box in my teeth I walked outside to a set of seats I spied on my way in. These were immediate things to keep me occupied. The train will set off in fifty minutes from yet an unknown platform. That gives me thirty minutes to relax.
Outside I watched as people were enjoying the city. There were some strange characters in amongst them but for the most part it was tourists with their maps and seasoned Londoners out and about on their business. I was hungrier than I thought but there isn’t enough time or a right place from which to purchase a decent meal. I will survive until Hull it’s only a couple of hours away. The time came for me to proceed to the station and get on the train. It was good timing on my part as they just announced the platform from which the train will leave. It was all the way on the other side of the station from me. I had to hurry so that I could get a good seat and have the space to deposit all of my stuff. On the platform I asked the attendants for the best place to go on the train and they pointed me to the last carriage or the front of the train. I let a few people get on in front of me and then I asserted my place and got on. There didn’t seem to be any wheelchair passengers so I put my stuff up against the wall and sat down opposite. As the train filled up more and more people put their bags up against mine. Soon the space was filled with luggage. I had the song “Bag Lady” running through my mind. Just before the train was about to depart a blind man was lead to the seats and they asked if he could sit down. I was sitting in the disabled section and regardless of that of course he could.
He was going to Doncaster which is about two thirds of the way along the line to Hull. As the train pulled away instead of writing we slowly began to have a conversation. He asked me about what I did and where I was from. He had relations in Canada and visited there once over a decade ago. I told him about what I did and where I was going. I told him that it was nice outside but then I asked him if it was ok that I was describing the scenery. He smiled and said it was ok. We had to change the subject and I asked him about his phone. He had the same kind of phone that I have and he showed me how he uses it. The phone reads what his finger is over and that allows him to interact with it. He was quite nimble with it. We swapped stories of how much phones have developed in our lifetime. I used to have a pager!
I continued to stare out the window studying a new geography unseen by my eyes before. On my phone I was tracking Chrl’s progress as she flew across the globe back to Vancouver. My train would arrive before she landed. I was going to be somewhat unpacked and almost ready for bed at that point. I like this plane tracking app. I also transferred pictures from the camera onto my phone. It took quite a while to do all of that. There were a lot of pictures taken over the past few days. Only a fraction of them make it to the site. When the train got to Doncaster I helped the guy get his bag and helped him get around the luggage that blocked his exit. The guys from the train company should have been there to help him. Maybe they were a bit behind I dunno. I continued to look outside and to write down some thoughts. I downloaded photos while I spoke with the man beside me. It takes about forty-five minutes for about four hundred and fifty photos. There were lots to download. There hasn’t been time to review them however. All those moments.
Soon enough the train pulled into Hull. It was a sunny day mostly. The clouds sporadically blocking the warm sunshine. I was the first to stir from my seat and get all the luggage prepared for disembarking. I just wanted to get off the train as nice a ride as it was. My phone had the directions of where I needed to go. I wasn’t going to bother with a bus it’s going to be a cab that takes me the final part of this journey. I stood outside at a bench getting a sense of how the city feels outside the station. A lot can be sensed about a city when stepping out the main station in the heart of the city. After all these stations have usually been built a long time ago especially the ones in Europe. Europe after all has a really high proportion of people who travel by train all over the place. I really enjoy that aspect of living in Europe. There are trains in North America but flying is much more efficient as the distances are so vast.
It was quiet outside the station. Cars were driving past the station and there were some people walking around. There was a mall nearby but the station itself is certainly not nearly as busy as some others I’ve been to. It is quite large however. Hull is a terminal city for rail lines. It is in kind of a corner on the northern side of the Humber Estuary along the river Hull. The full name of the city is Kingston upon Hull and it dates from the twelfth century after being founded by monks of Meaux Abbey. It has undergone many fluctuations in its fortune since then. Most recently the post war industrial decline in Britain has been especially difficult on these parts. I’ve been warned about life here. I can sense the toughness that is necessary to live here. The need to be centered within oneself so as to withstand the relative isolation. Stafford didn’t have that feel Neither did Stoke. There was a sense that culture was only a short ride away. There certainly seemed to be more people out and about even if the town was smaller. I got a cab.
“It’s heavy, I’ll do it.” I told the cabbie. I looked at him and he would have hurt himself.
The ride was interesting. It was a completely new environment. Chrl was somewhere over Greenland. It was a quiet ride for the first little while as I examined the shops along the road. There were a few polish shops here and there. Pretty big ones it too. There are probably a few Poles here. My driver it turns out is from Pakistan. He is here studying at the university. He is studying law from my understanding. He used to live in London as many people do when they first arrive in the UK but then moved here following a family friend. He got a job and goes to school. He is going to return to Pakistan when he finishes. I shared with him my coles notes story too. He asked if Canada is cold and told me that he has some family member living there somewhere. I told him where I needed to go to from my email that I got. He wanted to drive further. I got out and entered the building looking for the security guard office.
An old man in a crisp white shirt spoke to me. He asked me my name and looked at some notes.
“Do you have any identification?”
I pulled out my British Columbia driver’s licence and he looked at it puzzled and said.
“Never seen one of these before…” He didn’t bother writing anything down and fished the keys out from some drawer behind him. “come on in here and sign.”
I left my things in place and went inside his little office. There were things all over the place. It was a well used office. Many different people must share it. I signed beside my name and he offered to help me find my way to the accommodation building. He said that I might get lost. Sure enough I would have if he didn’t lead me through the back route.
“The elevator only goes up to the first floor. You are on the second.” I was glad he came along as he carried one of my bags up for me and walked me all the way to my door. Here you go as the key opened the door revealing quite a sizeable room.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “This is pretty big.”
“They put you in the long term accommodation room. You are going to be staying here for a while yeah?”
“Well ’till December anyways. Thanks for your help.”
The sun beamed in through the big window facing south. I looked through each window at my surroundings. The building itself is old having been constructed in 1929. It used to be the nursing residence according to the guard. The kitchen is across the hallway from me and right at the end of the hallway is a stairwell that leads outside. The doors downstairs aren’t locked. It serves as an entrance and exit for the people that live in the other rooms. The guard warned me against losing the key as it is a “pain in the ass” to get it changed. I have had way too many experiences with that so I will be careful. I kind of looked around the floor exploring what’s around. I looked in the laundry room and found that it was free to use with newish looking machines. The toilet is kind of far and the showers are further still. This is kind of a trippy place to be. The lights are motion sensored and they light up in turn as you walk down the hallway. There are two separate kitchens. The one further from me has two ranges and two fridges. I don’t really want to go that far to cook stuff. I don’t have anything to cook anyways. Which brings me to a growing hunger that has been growing within me.
My geographical oracle inside the phone gave me two choices after consulting the options. On my ride here I scoped out what looked like a town centre. Information gleaned from the oracle showed that there were a few places where I could purchase some provisions for the next few days. My work is visible from my window.
“It’s where that plant is hanging from the wall” according to the guard. I grabbed some things and walked out the door. I walked a long route to the village centre. It allowed me to get a sense of where I was. The houses have a distinct style here. Small and compact with little overhang from the roof. It’s as if they have a buzz cut. Lawns and yards are neatly manicured and many still have flowering plants that give these yards some color. The walk is about the same distance that I had to the train station in Stafford. I think that it is a bit longer though. There is less variety in the terrain however. It is basically a straight road along rows of houses. What’s new here are fields that have been harvested and have their hay drying in the sun before being bundled up.
The local mini market had a decent selection of stuff. I picked out the essentials like milk, coffee, bread, something for dinner, lunch and breakfast tomorrow and most importantly something for right now. I sat outside the store eating and was interrupted by a pesky wasp that I managed to shoo away and eventually swat putting an end to it’s terror. Walking back to the room, my home for the next three months I reflected again on how my life has changed. How a few weeks ago we were in Rome and now I am here and Chrl is somewhere over Canada. It’s when that sense that this is what has to be done dawned on me. I have to make the best of this situation and I don’t think it’s going to be that bad. I put my things in the fridge asserting some space for myself. I also found some space in the cupboard and put some things there. The kitchen is much more spacious than the last one. The hob is newer and cleaner. A good sign as well.
I went into the room to begin to unpack. I signed into the wifi that I will have to pay for. It was a frustrating time. The service is pitifully slow. Maybe it has something to do with where the laptop sits? I didn’t like how the room is set up. The bed juts out in the center of the room negating the space. I want floor space in order to do some exercises. I packed a lot of things into my luggage. I had to separate out the laundry. Remove all the packaging and remove all the things from the packages. The next time I pack it will be to leave. I won’t be taking everything with me at that time. I took periodic breaks and had to go out for fresh air to the edge of the property. The grounds are free of fresh air.
I monitored Chrl’s plane and watched the graphics as it landed successfully. It’s funny to see all the little aircraft flying around the air around British Columbia. I tried to time my message to when I thought that Chrl would be turning on her phone. We exchanged tired messages. She was tired too. The medications we bought at the airport helped her make it through the flight. I needed rest as well. I had a shower in one of the stalls. The water pressure is low and it will take some getting used to it. I was a tired man and after a long day I went to sleep alone for the first time in a month. That thought passed through my mind but I was so tired to contemplate it further. A tinge of sadness returned to my mind but I start a new job tomorrow and need the rest.