Friday, April 14, 2017

London with Someone Who Has Absolutely No Idea Where She's Going

Every day begins with Journey Planner, the London Transport online feature where you enter your “from,” your “to,” and whether you want to do it by bus or Tube or whatever. It even tells you which stop to stand at. Handy dandy, right?

The Journey Planner and I are having relationship difficulties. Journey Planner is fallible. Nevertheless, before I walk out the door each morning, I clutch a little piece of paper with my Journey Planner instructions. Here’s what a sample day’s might look like.
This is not even the most stressful thing about walking out the door. The MOST stressful thing is establishing – and reestablishing – that I have the key to the apartment. I think I’m developing a nervous tic of pocket checking. Here on my own, there are a few “no Plan B” potential predicaments, and getting locked out is one of them.

Now I’m out the door, but not to my usual #9-line bus, stop M. Today I’m taking the Tube from Notting Hill Gate. I reach the street and can’t remember whether it was left or right. I guess wrong. You can never get lost on the Tube. Never. It’s impossible. But you can get lost getting to the Tube.

I am waiting for the Circle line to Monument. The station always announces, “It might be faster to change at Earl’s Court for the District line.” So I courageously opt to change, this time to take the District line to Upminster (the last stop so it shows you’re headed in the right direction). But when the train shows up, it says it’s only going as far as Barking. Where is Barking?!? Is it before or after the stop I need?

This is like my third challenge of the day, and it’s still morning.

On the day I decide to visit the Columbia Road Flower Market, I have written out all my instructions … which correspond to nothing on the ground. Fortunately, there are wonderful “you are here” maps all over London.

I aim myself. I smell the flowers blocks away. The flower market is interesting and pretty and PACKED with humans on a 77-degree day. Too packed! All of London is on this street. I decide to take a different route back to the Tube station, seeing more of the Bethnal Green area.

Except I’m not. I’ve ended up somewhere else.

Soon I am on a street with graffiti and no handy “you are here” maps. The good thing about being in a neighborhood like this is that when I find a mom & pop store, I might be able to find cheaper grapes. Grape prices are my bellwether for judging cost. So far, grocery stores are running £4 a kilo, so I have to mentally convert both kilos and pounds. It comes to $4.98 for 2.2 pounds or $2.49 a pound. So that’s my benchmark. (Harrod’s grapes are £30 a kilo!) This mom & pop has 500 grams for £1, or half-price! I buy grapes. But I still don’t know where I am.
Finally, I see a nice, cool area to sit in. It turns out to be the front of the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood where I’d wanted to see the Board Game exhibit! This is the story of getting lost and getting found, and I go through it many times a day. Mild panic, great elation!

The exhibit is terrific. Not only do I learn that board game design followed the prevailing theories of childhood (play is good vs teaching is better); but I am lost in a nostalgia trip of games my siblings and I played. Mousetrap! Risk!

But now I have to figure out where I am again. The “here you are” map outside shows Brick Lane. I’ve already been to Brick Lane; I know Brick Lane! Brick Lane has the bagel (“beigel”) store! I’m found!

I arrive at a seemingly different Brick Lane: it’s market day and there are stalls in the middle of the street. Not packed, just fun and interesting. So as I’m pleasantly meandering down Brick Lane, I notice people walking into a doorway. I follow. Wow! It’s a take-away food extravaganza! There are stalls of people with electric woks from every country in the world: Singaporean food, Greek food, Burmese cuisine, Moroccan, Venezuelan! And on the outside of the building, a man is on a ladder painting a mural.

After walking down Brick Lane, I know where my trusty #15 bus stops, which will take me to my trusty #9. I spy a Tesco store, and now that I’m on my way home, I can get milk and won’t have to carry it too far. I go to the self-service cash register (“till”), and scan my milk.

“Place item in the bag loading area.” The voice booms out. I move the milk to the shelf.

“Place item in the bag loading area.” I move it to a different shelf.

 “PLACE ITEM IN THE BAG LOADING AREA!” I look around for a helpful attendant.

PLACE ITEM IN THE BAG LOADING AREA! I move the milk every which way. People stare. Finally, an attendant comes over and places my milk in the least obvious shelf of all.

I get so rattled by all this, I begin to leave … and spot my credit card still sitting in the machine. Yikes!!!! I could have walked out without it. Another “no Plan B” catastrophe averted.

My trusty #15 bus reliably moves along, with the reliably helpful voice announcing each stop and reliably showing it on the screen … until she announces we’re “on diversion” and we turn onto unfamiliar streets. Uh, oh! Uh, oh! Fortunately, I am going to the end of the line at Trafalgar Square so I don’t mind how divertingly I get there. And there’s bus stop S, right where it always is, right in front of the oh-so-familiar Canadian consulate on Cockspur Street!

I am happily practically home again, with my keys in my pocket. (I checked.) Another glorious, adventurous day. I’ll recover by morning.


  1. Hooray for you! You are doing so well in London, having adventures, and getting to see so much.

  2. I love this post! You are a brave woman! Everyday a success story! Pat yourself on the back.
    We all miss you!

  3. I went to work at the A&M Records London HQ in '76, sent there to look for punk rock groups that might be right for our label (and I was SO not into the punk rock scene - I was a Cali gal, all about Calif country rock sounds and jazz, along with global music back then). I was so out of my element hanging around London's then, huge punk scene! On top of that, every place I went for the first 2 months, I was lost unless it was a place I had been to before and successfully found my way back home to a lovely fat the co. had rented for me in an area between Kensington and Regent's Park, not far away from Abbey Rd Studio, in an area of London called Lisson Grove. But I ended up having some of the highest times of my life those 5 years I spent working there based out of London. Enjoy your trip! I haven't been back to London for more than 25 years now.

    1. Thank you for this! It made me laugh and feel like I wasn't the only one!


Sharing Button