A London Diary: Day 2

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We chased the sun around the earth for about 10 hours, never losing sight of it, until we arrived in Gatwick at about 11:20 am, Sunday morning. Time is a funny thing. There wasn’t much sleep to be had as the cabin of the plane started out with the air conditioning pouring out cool air so that when someone complained, the system was turned so far down that by the time we landed, everyone was greatful to touch ground and get some fresh air.

After queuing up in the line for the Rest of the World (those without British passports), and being given the stamp of approval that sent me past the security gates, it’s at that moment that I realized I had no idea what my wife’s half-brother looked like. I had never met him before, but had only conversed briefly on Facebook. But he, being a very hospitable Welshman living just an hour south of central London, had offered a place to stay while I was in London. Luckily, he had seen my face on my Facebook profile, among other photos, and on seeing me, lit up with a smile as I walked along, wondering how I was going to recognize him.

Jumping into a campervan, we followed the motorways south toward Kent, to a small town called Gravesend. No one seems to know exactly how it got its name, but there were some vague ideas about the area being the final resting place of Pocahontas or perhaps the burial site for mass graves in the aftermath of the Black Plague.

My plan was to see whether I could adjust as quickly as possible to the local time by staying awake until bed time. After getting acquainted with my half-brother-in-law and his wife, daughter and pet dog, we enjoyed a Sunday dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, with roasted vegetables and gravy — good British fare. The gifts we found during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics that I brought for their daughter were a big hit, especially the coveted red mittens, her favourite colour.

I thought it might be a good idea to walk around a little to get to know my way around the immediate vicinity and get a taste for the local houses, which mostly consisted of what appeared to be small duplexes that butted up against each other in rows. I discovered later just what a good idea my walkabout had been. This was my first introduction to the experience of being a pedestrian on British roads. My host had said that there wasn’t much to see, but if I took the second left on the roundabouts that I would find the main road to the train station. I instead mistakenly took the third exit that led toward the entrance to a graveyard and mason’s shop just opposite featuring samples of carved headstones.

Fearing I would get completely lost, I made sure I could make my way back before it got dark. Most disconcerting for me was the lack of signs in a standard form to mark the roads. But I was able to make use of little landmarks to find my way back without getting lost. The next day would be the real trial.