That I shouldn’t be left to my own devises – in any circumstances – goes without saying; but it is particularly true when it comes to holiday footwear. On a recent trip to London I borrowed my Mother’s shoes – they didn’t fit and gave me blisters. On a trip to Krakow before that, the only shoes I’d taken with me got soaked in the torrential rain – they subsequently rotted and stank accordingly. So, with another trip to London on the horizon, I decided to treat myself to a new pair of shoes.
What did I buy? A pair of freaking clogs!!!
Why – when faced with the prospect of wandering around a big city and spending all day in a Museum – I thought clogs would be my best option, is anyone’s guess. You see, the tricky thing about clogs is, they are, by definition, wooden shoes; and, if you’ve ever strolled around with a piece of 2 by 4 strapped to your feet, you’ll understand the drawbacks.
Firstly, as I discovered, you don’t so much walk in clogs, as you manoeuvre them. Rather than the standard horizontal glide of your raised foot, you have to do a kind of vertical lift and tilt while scrunching your toes, so as to cling to your clog, lest you find, mid stride, you have left a clog on the pavement. Secondly, when you walk on hard surfaces you sound like a horse; so, with the volume being relative to one’s girth, I sounded more Clydesdale than pony. Thirdly, after a while – say 5 minutes – they hurt like hell. Indeed, they are, without doubt, the most uncomfortable, knee rattling shoes on the planet – except perhaps for this pair I spotted at the British Museum.
Added to my woes was the fact that the pair of clogs I bought were a size too big. My whole adult life I have been a UK size 5 – so, what did I do? I bought a size 6. You see, I had been led astray by a clown-footed Amazon reviewer who recommended buying a size bigger than normal; well I did and that’s what I got. They arrived the day before my trip, which meant I either had to make-do with my too-big clogs or go to London shoeless; I chose the former and, to remedy the too-big factor, decided to wear them with two pairs of socks.
On my last trip to London, I’d stayed in a Hotel that earned the Booking.com review: Worst Hotel Ever. Well, they were wrong; the worst Hotel ever is in fact 3 miles east – I should know, I just stayed there. Now, I’ve called some dubious dwellings Home before – including an old Ugg Boot factory, a van and a broom closet in a disused theatre – but the hotel in question put them all to shame.
When I arrived there was no one on the desk. 20 minutes later there was still no one. When a guy eventually arrived, I got the impression – by the way he was adjusting his trousers – he had been on the loo. He informed me that I couldn’t check in until 3pm, which was still 4 hours away; but added, that, as part of a Summer Special, I could leave my suitcase – at my own risk. All I’d brought with me was a tatty pair of PJ’s and loads of socks, so I decided to take that risk.
With 4 hours up my sleeve, I decided I would take a stroll past the British Museum – which happened to be just around the corner. I was due to spend the next day there and wanted to get my bearings. With I bearings got…I bought a Mr Whippy from the van outside the museum – which cost about the same as my weekly grocery shop.
Next I decided take a stroll to University College London, which is home to The Slade, my favourite UK art school. As luck would have it, the very day I visited, the Undergraduate end of year show was on. Holy Moly…it was amazing!!!
The stand out piece for me was a multi-media work by Sam Riley. It was edgy, poignant and thrilling. The kind of work that opens up the viewer’s mind to think new and delicious thoughts – which is what art should do. There’s no point in describing it, because the power of the work wasn’t in its visual appearance, but in being present before it, experiencing it. It was very, very cool. Indeed, it alone made the trip to London worthwhile.
I also came across another little gallery in the University, which had a charming video work by Ian Giles, called Leap of Faith. It was a story about a little bat who decided instead of flying horizontally, he’d fly vertically. It was “a meditation on existence, conviction and discovery.” I found the piece very moving, and was glad I had the chance to see it.
I was back at my Hotel for 3pm and decided I’d have a little nap before my next adventure. Only when I got to my room it was all dishevelled. The receptionist was very embarrassed – with good reason – and asked me to wait in reception while they got someone to clean it; there was free Wi-Fi there, so I didn’t mind too much. 20 minutes later my room was ready and, I have to say, the cleaner did an excellent job. Being knackered, I settled down for a nap and was surprised to discover the loveliest pillow I have ever had the pleasure to rest my head on.
Later, napped and dollied-up, I clomped off in my knee-rattlers to West London Synagogue, for the Shavuot Service and Dinner. The service was absolutely beautiful, especially the music. I loved the dinner too, both in terms of the food and people I was sat with. On my right was young man who was originally from Cameroon. He was beautiful inside and out, and a delight to speak to. To my left was young man who was originally from South Africa, who was studying to be a psychologist; he was interesting and funny and I enjoyed our conversation immensely. After our delicious 3 course dinner we were treated to a one woman show that was as reverting as it was entertaining. After the dinner, there were more Shavuot activities at a Synagogue up the road; but, I wimped out…worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to my hotel (which, given my deplorable sense of direction, was a real possibility) I decided not to go.
The next day, after a great night’s sleep – expect for all the shouting and door slamming in the wee hours – I wandered round to the British Museum. Thanks to my workmate Daisy, I was fully prepared (I had a list of the displays I wanted to see, which I then marked off on a little map so I’d know where to go) and boy was I glad; the museum is humongous…more a small town than a building. My favourite display was The Islamic World. I love Islamic Art and History and the British Museum has wonderful examples of both.
The best bit was a temporary exhibition dedicated Sufi Mysticism – which was the highlight of my visit, for 3 reasons:
Firstly, I love the mystical traditions of all religions and I particularly love Sufism. It is a wonderfully graceful way to approach the unseen and is steeped in beautiful rites and boundless love. Indeed, if I was allowed any life in space and time, it would be that of Sufi Mystic a few centuries back.
Secondly, the exhibition in question was primarily miniature paintings, which I love!
Thirdly, there is only one thing worse than walking in clogs, and that is standing still in them. My feet were killing me. But, thankfully, on the floor of the Sufi display was a beautiful rug; so, on the pretence that I was being respectful, I took my clogs off and wandered around in my two-socked feet, taking my sweet time to read everything, twice.
After the museum, I still had some time before heading to the Airport, so I did what any normal London visitor would do – I went the pub. Next I went to a book shop I had spied the day before. I have a thing for books shops and this one looked particularly nice. It turned out it was the best bookshop I’ve ever been in (except for my sister’s bookshop in Ely; she doesn’t actually own it, but it’s hers nonetheless). I bought Ma a book about being old and my sister one about cats and, for me, one about the history of British Anti-Semitism – true, not a cheery read, but interesting all the same.
Glowing rosy from my visit to the Public House and laden with books, I wandered back to my Hotel and collected my suitcase – which I’d left there…at my own risk. The lady on the reception desk was really nice and, although it was the worst hotel ever, I may just stay there again.
Thanks to my be-early-mentality, I arrived at the airport two hours early. Rather than wander aimlessly – which is what I usually do in airports – I decided to splash out on some hot chips and lemonade at a fancy restaurant. The chips were so delicious I ate them all too fast, felt bloated and had to change into my fat-pants for the journey home. Da was at the airport to meet me and was a welcome sight indeed.
All and all I had a brilliant trip. I saw and learnt so many wonderful things; things I don’t get to see and learn on this beautiful, sleepy Island. Still, it sure was nice to be back.