The average cost of a Hotel in Central London is £120 per night; so you can imagine my delight when I found one for £65. Even Booking.com flashed up a message saying: Congratulations Rebecca, you’ve found a bargain. Judging by the reviews, bargain is Hotel-speak for fleapit: Worst Hotel Ever…Stay Away…Mice and No Heating. Argh, they’re probably just whingers, I reasoned; besides, it was London and I was on a shoestring and, as the trip drew nearer, that shoestring kept getting shorter, so the Fleapit it would have to be!
I decided the best thing to do was prepay all my food and travel costs and then see what was left for entertainment, sightseeing and shopping; turns out there was £10. Never mind, I was only in London for one night and then I was heading to my sister’s in Cambridgeshire. I thought everything was in hand until I realised I hadn’t bought a train ticket to my sisters – a distance which, according to Google Maps, would take me 22hrs and 9mins to walk. Thankfully my funds increased at the 11th hour and I was spared a stroll up the M11.
Despite the extra funds, I decided to stick to the shoestring tour I’d originally planned; mostly because I had gone to some effort in figuring it out; plus, I tend to get muddle with last-minute changes. First on the agenda was walking from Victoria Station to my Hotel…which included a detour through Hyde Park. Turns out, distances in London are greater than they appeared in my iddy biddy map…it took me flippin ages. I had envisaged a pleasant jaunt in the park, along tree-lined avenues with horses trotting by. I did see trees and a whole lot of dung…but, to be honest, the park was looking rather tatty. None the less, I made it from one end to the other, stopping at Speakers Corner to listen to the nut-jobs and eat the Vegemite sandwich I’d brought with me.
Unfortunately, the nut-jobs were no where to be found; but that was OK, because I couldn’t dilly dally. I was on route to my selected sightseeing attraction – indeed I was so pushed for time, I had to take my suitcase with me. Where was I headed? The Anaesthetic Museum – which had the primary attraction of being free. Now, take a tip from me…if a museum is free…it’s because it wouldn’t be fair to charge. That being said, if learning about the history of knocking people out so you can rummage about in their bodies, is your idea of a good time…then the Anaesthetic Museum is the place for you. To be fair it was very interesting and the display was excellent. Though it does seem that the development of Anaesthetics – and probably Medicine in general – is based on the principle of having a go.
My epic walk and dubious choice of attraction wasn’t the worst of it; I was a shambles. Firstly, my hair, in desperate need of a cut, had me looking like Sideshow Bob; I was wearing Ma’s hand-me-down coat; my shoes – also Ma’s cast offs – gave me blisters; I had a huge pimple on my chin (I felt secure in the thought that people might not see it, until I Facetimed my brother and he said “Holy Sh*t, what’s that on your chin?”) which, when I tried fixing it, turned into a scab; and, if that wasn’t enough, I had a sore tongue – I can only assume I had eaten something in my sleep and bitten my tongue in the process – the upshot being it hurt when I talked and, being swollen, I had trouble saying my th’s. So there I was hobbling along, bushy haired, dressed like my mother, with a scabby face and a speech impediment…London Baby!!!
All set, I hobbled off to the purpose of my trip: A Shabbat Dinner at West London Synagogue – with guest speaker Eva Schloss MBE. First there was a Shabbat Service; I had watched services on-line before – but it is nothing compared to actually being there. Missing from the online format is the breath-taking splendour of the Synagogue and warmth of the people. The dinner afterwards was wonderful; I sat next to interesting people and the food and wine were delicious.
The highlight of the evening was listening to Eva Schloss speak. Eva is a Holocaust survivor and author of a number of books about her experience. She tirelessly visits schools to share her story and teach children the importance of tolerance. She is warm, pragmatic and has an indomitable spirit – qualities that come across both in person and in her writing. It was an absolute privilege to hear her speak. She was only 15 when she was interred in Auschwitz, where she witnessed and experienced unimaginable horrors and suffered the most appalling loses – yet she and her beautiful spirit survived; as did her Mother – who, after the war, married Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. I am currently reading her seminal work Eva’s Story – which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.
With a full stomach and sated spirit, I barely felt my blistered feet as I tottered back to my hotel; and, although the horsehair mattress felt like concrete, I was so exhausted I slept like a log. The next morning, donning yet more plasters and more socks, I headed back to the Synagogue for the morning Service…which was beautiful; then I made my way to Kings Cross Station – this time taking the tube. The trip to my sister’s, cut by 21 hours thanks to Great Anglia Trains, was very pleasant – it seems only fancy people live in Cambridgeshire.
It was a relief to be out of London and my shoes; and a joy to spend the afternoon with my sister, drinking scotch and putting the world to rights – though, her husband Neil appeared to find the Grand Prix more illuminating. Their house, called The Bell Tower, is part of an old converted school in a village called Haddenham – and, lucky for me, I have my own room (at least I call it mine)…it’s beautifully furnished with a gorgeous bed and Netflix on the telly; plus there’s wonderful food, great booze…and Kishu the talking cat. Indeed, life at The Bell Tower is so lush I might just look for a job.