Even though it was [cough] inadvertently free [cough] again this morning, the same hotel breakfast each morning is starting to get a little boring now. Still, it makes for a good start to the day

My main mission for this morning was to address the problem of my little brother not having a functional microwave. I figured I would pick up a small and inexpensive one from somewhere around here. We’re a stone’s throw from one of the country’s biggest retail parks, so if there’s going to be a solution to this problem, it would surely be somewhere here.

My first idea was the Tesco superstore just around the corner, so I made that my first port of call. There was no need for Jae to join me for this, and she was glued to her pillow and mobile phone anyway, so I let them be and made my way over to the retail superstore. The mega store did have a kitchen/electrical/cooking section, but sadly they only had but a single microwave model on the shelf. For us non-mortals who don’t have a Tesco rewards card, the asking price was £65 (it would have been £15 cheaper if I were a rewards card member). Although this was reasonably priced for what it was, there was no harm in exploring a little further to see if I could improve on that.

Just a couple of hundred meters from Tescos was a cluster of large retail shops all dedicated to living. These included things like furniture stores, appliance stores, toy stores, a garden centre, and so on. There is a Currys home appliance store here, so I parked outside and went up to the sliding glass doors. They didn’t open. Looking at the time, it was a few minutes before 10am, so I figured I was just a few minutes too early. 10am seemed a reasonable opening time. I could clearly see staff milling around inside, so I was sure the doors would open shortly. I hovered in and out of the range of the door sensor, just in case they were on a timer, but after 10 minutes of doing this, the doors still wouldn’t open. Eventually, someone emerged, and I asked why the doors weren’t opening. Evidently, this particular shop doesn’t open on Sunday’s until 10:30am. Doh! I could have saved myself some time and embarrassment if I had looked at the opening times posted clearly on the doors.

There was a Lidl just a little farther away, so I moved the car over there (just in case I came out with a microwave in hand – my back isn’t that tolerant to heavy boxes nowadays). They also had a single microwave in stock, but it was a similarly featured one to what Tescos had but was £20 more expensive. I had expected better from Lidl, but alas.

By now, Currys had opened, so I again re-parked the car and went in. Currys had a reasonably extensive range of microwave ovens on display – probably around 30 in all. I find it hard to simply pick something out at random in situations like this. I want to first explore what all the options are and make sure I’m making an informed purchasing decision. There are few things I hate more than to buy something only to then quickly realise I could have done better elsewhere.

I spent quite a bit of time diligently inspecting the various microwave models, figuring out which were in my price range, which had the best features for the price, etc. Eventually, I found the one I wanted. Below the shelf on which the microwaves were all paraded are the new ones in their original boxes, but I couldn’t find a box with my microwave of choice, so I summonsed assistance. A young man came and noted the product details and went to type something into his computer terminal. Alas, this microwave was not in stock and so not available to purchase. Not available to purchase? Now I’m irritated. I just spent the better part of twenty minutes nosing through the details of dozens of ovens and now that time was wasted because it wasn’t clear that the oven in question was out of stock. I asked the young man to please identify all the ovens that are available for sale, so I’d know which ones to avoid. He wasn’t inclined to do so, insisting instead that I look for another device and then ask him if that one is in stock. Nope! Now I’m more than irritated.

I asked to see the store manager but the only people on hand were two regular store assistants, although presumably a little more senior than the young man, who seemed rather unequipped to deal with [an annoying customer like] me. Two ladies evidently had enough courage to take me on, but I left them whimpering after a few minutes of irate complaining. I let them have both barrels, ranting on about the negative shopping experience, waste of time, and how I’d never come back to this shop again, etc. In my mind, I could feel Sandy’s embarrassment as she looked over my shoulder, desperately hoping nobody would realise we were together. Well, if nobody tells them about these problems, how else are they ever going to learn and improve their service?

From many options, I was now down to just one – head back to Tescos and pick up the one they had on the shelf. Fortunately, although they only had the single model, there were a couple of them on the shelf, so I depleted my [already severely depleted by this trip] funds by a further £65 and made off with a new microwave oven for my little brother. Since he mumbled something about not being able to warm up some baked beans, I swung past the beans aisle and chucked four 6-packs into the trolley with the oven.

With the car laden with a new microwave and enough beans to keep Richard farting for at least the next few weeks, I went back to the hotel to collect Jae. True to my word from yesterday, we then drove into Grays, which is where the nearest KFC was to be found and picked up a mega bucket of chicken with all the trimmings. Richard is a very down to earth practical person. He’s a tradesman who lives hand to mouth for most of the time. We’re not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re probably a lot better off than he is as far as income is concerned. Picking up a microwave, a few tins of food and a bucket of chicken would be a welcome gesture from us. For us this isn’t a huge gesture, but Richard would benefit from it in very real-world practical ways.

Being the somewhat reclusive character that he is, Richard has previously persisted in declining to let anyone know where he lives. In truth, having been there and seen it for the first time today, I can see no real reason for this to be necessary. Still, it’s his decision and I’m happy to respect it. He messaged me last night his postcode, which identifies the street on which he lives. I scoped it out on Google maps, so I was prepared for where to drive to. Without wanting to give too much away, since I have no control of who does and does not read these blogs, I can say that Richard lives in a static caravan that’s sort of ‘off grid’. It’s not in the average housing estate, for example. Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this whatsoever, I did tell Jae to be prepared and described a little of what to expect.

When we finally got the car to where it needed to be, it was warm hugs and kisses all around. Richard can sometimes be a feisty character, with very little by way of filter between thought and mouth. He swears a lot, generally says what’s on his mind and has very set ways of thinking. There’s nothing wrong with any of these traits, but it can sometimes come across as a little arresting.

I think Richard was more apprehensive about how to behave in front of Jae than we were about how to behave in front of him. He asked me, stealthily as we were unloading his new microwave from the back of my car, how he should address Jae? Is it she/her, they/them, he/him, or something else? I reminded him it was they/them but to just be himself. If there were any apprehension barriers initially, these were soon torn down. We quickly felt at home in his environment and spent a wonderful afternoon catching up with each other.

At one point, Richard had the bright idea of a quick game of monopoly. If someone’s true colours are ever going to shine though, a quick game of monopoly will do it. We all learnt that both Richard AND Jae were not above cheating – or at least attempting to cheat. I was fully prepared for this, having known my brother for 56 years now, and was on him like a hawk throughout. Notwithstanding numerous thwarted attempts at cheating, Richard did tend to accumulate quite a bit of money during the course of the game – despite the fact he was the first to go bankrupt. It wasn’t until after we had left that I realised the extent to which Jae had also been cheating. Jae assumed the role of banker (I was never going to entrust that to Richard). It transpired that the two of them were collaborating with their cheating against me all along. Jae had been slipping more and more money into her own and Richard’s pile throughout the course of the game. Despite their best efforts at colluding against me, I still won the game in the end. So there!

Like me, Richard tends to hoard old photos. He produced a couple I had seen many years ago but had long since forgotten about. Both were from weddings (those from some of my cousins – Uncle Dave & Aunty Lilly’s children’s marriages). One has the entire family (prior to my adopted little sister Jacky coming onto the scene) and another has the same group of people but since it was some years later, my two biological sisters were also joined by their spouses.

At one point, Richard produced a gift-wrapped present, which appeared to have been gift-wrapped quite some time ago. It was apparently a birthday present to me from long ago but for which the opportunity to present it never came at the time. I was touched – even a little emotional.

I loved seeing Richard again. More than that, I loved the fact he was willing to open the door to let us into his world. That really felt like a privilege, and one I’m super thrilled about. I hope we will see him again the next time we are passing through.

After bidding farewell to Richard, I dropped Jae back off at Dad’s again while I went back to the hotel to catch up on some backlogged writing. I spent an hour or so at the writing desk before spending some more time at Dad’s during the course of the evening. Tomorrow is the last time we’ll have to see anyone here, so I wanted to get a bit more time in.

Tomorrow is the final day, and we’ll need to be packed and on the road by late morning if we’re to catch our return ferry on time. I’ll probably have one last summary and reflection of the rip in a final blog entry, which I will likely write on the ferry tomorrow afternoon. For now, it’s the last bedtime for this hotel room.