Tim and I went to London one year, not far after the holiday season.
This is what happened.
I had one major objective while in London. I didn’t care if I saw Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Above all else I wanted to go “beach-combing” on the Thames. I read reviews and stories of all the crazy things you could find – like hundred-year-old clay pipes or Roman tiles or pieces of pottery. And as long as you pick up things on the surface and don’t dig, you’re fine.
And THAT is right up my alley.
On Friday, Tim and I set out to do just that. The Thames isn’t known for having the cleanest shoreline but we brought Purell and a plastic bag. We’d be fine. We scouted out a few places near Tower Bridge and Millennium Bridge the day before where we found steps that led down to the water and when the tide was low, led to the shore where, among bits and pieces of trash, one could find treasure.
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait. It was like my birthday AND Christmas. I love looking for hard-to-find items amongst the masses. I used to search for whole seashells and sharks teeth on the beaches of Jacksonville, Florida every summer as a child. If they were broken in any way, I threw them back. It was like my own personal quest. Tim thinks that’s where my infatuation with the impossible started. He’s probably right.
We decided to sleep in Friday morning because we discovered – of all things – a Twitter page that had updates on when the tide was high or low on the Thames and low tide wasn’t supposed to happen until around 10:00am. So at 11:00am when I stumbled to the window, threw back the curtains and squinted against the sunlight only to see lots of shoreline, I looked over to Tim and yelled, “The tide is LOW! We have to go, NOW!”
Tim shot up like a rocket, marching orders in hand. He knew I was serious and also knew that any hint of dawdling would send me on a fear-induced tirade of “WHAT IF WE MISS LOW TIDE BECAUSE IT TOOK YOU FIVE EXTRA SECONDS TO PEE?!?”
We threw on dirty clothes and set out with a determined attitude. Well, I had a determined attitude. Tim was playing it safe. He said to me in the elevator, “You are so certain you’re going to find something, aren’t you?” I just looked at him like he was crazy. If there is something to find, I’ll find it or I won’t stop looking until I do. That’s just how it works.
And sadly, he knows it’s true. I’ll look for hours and HOURS until I find something that will satisfy me. It’s like this with everything, not just clay pipes.
Tim and I speed-walked to Tower Bridge, make it halfway across, are forced to wait because the only time it is important for a boat to pass under the bridge is when we’re racing the tide. The bridge finally goes back down and we scurry across the remainder of the bridge and find the stairway to the shore.
The stairway was right next to Tower Bridge. There were no warnings or DO NOT ENTER signs or ropes or chains to bar us from walking to the shore. It was just an open stairwell leading right to the river. So we walked down.
I raced out onto the shore and was like a kid in a candy store, looking through the rocks and tires and trash. Tim got into the search as well and found a few stems from clay pipes.
And then, not five minutes after we’d reached the shore of the Thames and in the midst of comparing our finds, someone yells down from the wall on the river walk, “Are you MEANT to be down there?”
I look at Tim like, “What? Yes, of course we’re meant to be down here or we wouldn’t BE down here. Not exactly my idea of a romantic Sunday stroll.”
But we’re in London. And that’s not what he meant.
I put a hand to my ear, signaling I couldn’t hear him, so he yells, “Someone reported you. You aren’t allowed down there. You can get sucked in.”
Now I am thoroughly confused. Sucked in where? By what? And who has had the time to report us? We JUST got here.
Tim walked closer to the wall and spoke with the guy, who was a Tower Bridge security guard. The guy gave us the what-for and said in no uncertain terms to get off the shore or else someone would happily escort us.
Defeated, we made our way back to the stairwell. We were baffled because other people walked the shore…there are TOURS you pay for to do this…why couldn’t we? I stopped to pick up one last piece from the ground – it turned out to be some kind of pottery painted blue.
We made our way up the stairs, expecting to see the security guard, making sure we kept our word, but he was nowhere to be found. Tim wanted to ask him where we were allowed to walk on the shore, but by the time we found him, WAY down the river walk, he was busy doing important security work stuff and Tim had decided to let it go.
We did find one other place where I could get very close to the shore and pick things up without actually BEING on the shore. So I did that for a bit while Tim researched how to legally beach comb the Thames.
Two more police officers showed up and stood behind me while I was doing my mini-comb but they were more interested in two bloaks in suits that had come down and started walking on the shoreline.
When that happened, I looked at Tim like, “Is it just me…or did they just walk right onto the shore?”
I got up, unassuming, and made my way back to Tim in enough time to hear one of the retreating officers say to the other, “I don’t want to have to explain THIS to Sarge…”
I don’t know what kind of explaining he meant but as long as it didn’t wind up with Tim posting bail for me, I didn’t much care.
I had my treasures.