It was a slightly later start to the day this morning. I was awake by around 9am. Joey was still slumbering, so I got ready and sneaked out. He wasn’t going to eat anything at the restaurant, so I figured he’d be happy with a bit more sleep. Once again, I swiped an apple and croissant for him.

The plan for today was to spend time with little Jacky, but that plan was laid to rest when I received a message from her this morning, telling me she had to cancel. She had been offered an extra day’s work which she couldn’t really turn down. A pity, but that’s life. It left us with an unexpected day to fill. At this point, I realised I had one remaining British £20 banknote left in my wallet, so I decided this would be a bonus for Joey.

Never one to let an opportunity to spend money in a toy shop go to waste, Joey decided that’s where we should go to burn through the remaining banknote. We did so, but via another visit to Dad’s for a quick cup of tea. The Smyths toy shop didn’t open until 11am today, it being a Sunday, so we had some time to kill anyway. We spent quite a bit of time in the toy shop. Joey was especially contemplative about what he should get: but we ended up leaving after forty-five minutes empty-handed because he wasn’t able to land on anything to spend the remaining money on. Joey’s behaviour this morning was somewhat sullen and subdued. There can be a range of possible explanations for this, as it’s something we’ve seen repeatedly. It’s sometimes a physical thing. He might be enduring a migraine, upset tummy, earache, or some other problem. It could also be hunger, tiredness, or some other physical ailment. It could be that it’s something that he wants but is out of his reach. I decided it would be prudent to get some food into his tummy, so, we collectively decided to drive the few minutes to the McDonald’s here in Lakeside. That usually peps him up. Sadly, it didn’t on this occasion, so I was left scratching my head about it this time (a familiar feeling).

My car was starting to run low on fuel, so I needed to do something about this. The lease car that’s part of my compensation package with my current employer comes with a fuel card. Ordinarily, it’s only valid back home but by special arrangement, I was able to secure a European-wide fuel card. This was arranged because I live close to the Belgium border, where fuel is typically a fair bit cheaper. Having an international fuel card allows me to take advantage of that cheaper fuel. This is why special permission was arranged. My fuel card has two magnetic stripes. One which can be used at any fuel station anywhere in my own country, and a second which can be used internationally but only with filling stations that have the DKV mark. Far from every petrol station in England has this mark, so I had to figure out which one(s) to visit. Fortunately, there’s a website which lists all the petrol stations that participate in the DKV network, several of which are within a short driving distance from here.

Using my trusty maps app on my iPhone, I plugged in the postcode for the nearest DKV-participating petrol station, which was a short ten-minute drive away. Prudence got the better of me and I went inside first to ensure my card would be accepted. I showed it to the staff member manning the till and he shook his head. Apparently. Not all DKV fuel cards are born equal. I was told that this petrol station only accepted DKV cards which begin with a certain number. Mine wasn’t one of them. After a few raised eyebrows and indignant looks, he even swiped it to check and, sure enough, the terminal indicated it wasn’t a valid card. This being the first ever attempt to use this, or indeed any other, lease car fuel card outside of my home country, I asked if this was a one-off with just this petrol station or whether I was likely to run into this elsewhere also. The staff member wasn’t sure – he was only sure that I couldn’t use the card here.

Not to worry, as there are plenty more DKV petrol stations within reach per the website, so I plugged in the postcode for the next one in the area and the car took me there. When we reached the destination, which was a residential street, no petrol station was to be found anywhere. From what I could tell, there never was a petrol station at this location either. So, that’s 2 down, and now only a handful of within-remaining-fuel-distance to go. I can always simply pay for the petrol and declare the costs back, but that sort of defeats the point of having a fuel card, right? Peace of mind and all that?

So, the third attempt was a petrol station one town over from where I grew up, some fifteen minutes from where we now were. Off we trundled in that direction. Again, I went into the building and asked whether my card would be accepted. To my delight, he said yes. Phew! However, when he scanned the card to be certain, he said it wasn’t being accepted for some reason. Was the card not initialised? Was it blocked for some reason? Did I need to first somehow activated it for European use? I asked him to check the reverse of the card. There are two magnetic strips. He looked and, sure enough, when he swiped it using the correct strip, the card was accepted. Finally! I filled the car up with fuel, which should see us safely all the way home again, or at the very least back to as far as my home country, where I know the other side of the card will most definitely work.

It was just a short drive from Avely, where the third DKV petrol station was located, to South Ockendon. We headed over there to pick up some more cans of drink for Joey. I took a moment to reflect on this place. To me, South Ockendon is home. These are my old stomping grounds, where I live, grew up, went to school, and wandered the streets and parks. I suspect the fond memories of my youth might have clouded my perception of this area. If I take an objective look, all around me I see a run-down – near derelict, even – town. Many of the shop fronts are boarded up. There’s litter everywhere. People swear or shout and argue at each other in the streets. There are shady characters wandering around the place. There’s very little sign of any affluence whatsoever. The whole place feels like a dive. To the uninitiated, it might even seem like a scary place to be. On the flip side, there’s also a genuine warmth to many of the people here. You can have friendly banter with people, which fosters a sense of community and belonging. The duality with which I experience South Ockendon is a curious thing that I genuinely struggle to put my finger on. I have a love-hate relationship with this town, and I find myself not landing squarely on the good or bad side of perception.

With a full tank of fuel, some cans of drink, and a few pensive memories of my old home dusted off, it was time to head back to the toy shop again. I decided I’d have a crack at getting to the bottom of what has been troubling Joey all day. This can so often be a frustrating process of trial and error with Joey. Is it this? No. Is it that? No. Is it [insert something – anything – here in the hopes of stumbling into the root cause]? It can sometimes take hours – days even – to get to the bottom of it. Sometimes, we simply never do find out. This time, however, I found it! Joey longed for a particular toy that was just beyond his financial reach. As the delta wasn’t huge and given he has been very well-behaved these past few days, I decided it was a small price to pay, so I told him I would make up the difference. Happy Joey was back again. We went into Smyths and he went directly to a particular Star Wars Lightsabre. It was one of those kits with parts that can be interchanged with other lightsabres from the same range.

Joey explained in the car that this Lightsabre was going to be much more expensive back home, and so this was likely to be the one and only opportunity to score it. It was that thought ‘I might not get a chance to get this ever again,’ which was what was causing his sullen and dejected behaviour. It’s oftentimes totally frustration – demoralising even – for Sandy and me when we run into this behaviour from Joey occasionally and we cannot identify the root cause. On the flip side, it’s equally uplifting when we do stumble into it. You might think it would be easy for Joey to understand that he can just tell us what’s bothering him, right? If only it were that simple. This is where the autism and its associating limitations kicks in. It’s just one of those facts of life we’ve had to learn to deal with.

Back at the hotel, I was pleased to see the room had been cleaned and tidied, but, to my exasperation, the beds had not been done. Sigh! I made a point to tell the reception desk staff this morning that our room had not yet been serviced. There’s a card you can hang on the outside door handle that indicates whether you want to not be disturbed or whether you want the room to be cleaned. What it actually states is, ‘I have let the front desk know that I wish for this room to be cleaned.’ When leaving the room this morning, I hung that card out and confirmed with reception, so what else could I have done to make it clear? Upon leaving the hotel this morning, the lovely woman did apologise profusely after I said the room had not yet been cleaned, and she immediately wrote it down on a list she had, so I knew the message got through. Why, then, were the beds still not made? It was as if they started the job but didn’t finish it. I got Joey settled and went to head downstairs to find out what the problem was. Surely it can’t be that hard for a hotel to tend to something so basic as making the beds or changing the linen, right? Before I reached the door to the elevator, I bumped into one of the cleaning staff. Before I had a chance to open my mouth, she asked if I was the guest in room 332, which is our room. She then explained that a request to clean the room doesn’t automatically imply a request for the beds to be made. Apparently, you must ask for that specifically. God give mee strength! She was kind enough to immediately go to task on doing the beds for us, which was nice, so Joey and I killed a little tie by hanging out in the empty restaurant on the ground floor while she was doing this. A half-hour later and the room looked spot on.

Having buckled via the use of my wallet to keep Joey on an even keel again, I decided it was again time to balance the equities again, so we headed back into the Lakeside shopping centre to see if I could find a little something for Jae. Since Jae is likely reading this (hi sweetheart), I won’t go into any further detail. Naturally, this little sojourn also cost me another couple of pretzels!

With my mission accomplished in the shopping centre, we made our way yet again back to the hotel. Shortly after arriving, I received a message from Paul that he was at Dad’s AND that Stacey and the kids finally showed up. It was at least a relief to find out there was nothing untoward going on yesterday. Evidently, Stacey’s mobile has a cracked screen and isn’t that reliable. I wanted to seize the opportunity to see Stacy and her kids while we are here. Much like us, Stacey also has kids with special needs, so we have a few things on common. Plus, despite them being around 10 and 13, I’ve never seen either of Stacey’s kids before.

Since we were a stone’s throw from a major Tesco superstore, we swung past on the way to check and see if there weren’t a few more British food. Wouldn’t you know it, I added some more chocolate to the existing haul.

At Dad’s, I really enjoyed meeting Stacey’s kids and exchanging notes with Stacey herself about the handling and management of special needs children. The kids are adorable. I certainly wish we had gotten to know them sooner. For obvious reasons, I won’t go into further detail about the discussions we had, but I think we certainly understood each other.

Stacey and the kids didn’t hang around for very long. Shortly after they left, Joey was also asking to go back to the hotel, so that’s what we did. I’ve been sitting here writing up this blog for the past hour or two. We travel back home tomorrow. Other than a vague sense of what time we need to leave the hotel, I haven’t really given this much more thought.

In a last-minute addendum to the day, Joey declared he was hungry, so I took him out to eat at his favourite place. Evidently, he has been feeling a little nauseous over the past couple of hours so I hoped putting some food into him might help. Since I hadn’t eaten much today either, we detoured back to South Ockendon for a late chip shop supper at Dad’s. Paul was there, so I brought something in for both him and Dad and we chilled for a bit over our support. As luck would have it, Rhianna, one of Paul’s daughters showed up this evening also, so we got to say goodbye to everyone. I’ll swing by Dad’s again in the morning for the last good-byes. It has been great being able to see Dad so many times during this trip. Normally, we’re lucky to be able to pop in once or maybe twice, but we’ve seen him multiple times every day since we arrived. Mission accomplished.