Friday, 30 September 2011

Striking out alone

I arrived in London, bright eyed and almost bushy tailed, just a little bit crumpled from my incredibly early start (5.30am anyone?) and 4.5 hour journey by bus and train down to London.

But I felt good. I had a plan. First stop? National Portrait Gallery.
Finally. Finally finally finally, an attraction in London that I love. Pictures! Photos! Paintings! Of actual people and not a blob on a canvas! I was really swept away.

I wandered amongst Kings and Queen, statesmen and scientists. I saw David Beckham sleeping and King Stephen looking a little bog-eyed. I saw the Olympic athletes of tomorrow and comedians from yesteryear.

Around every corner I spotted something that I have seen before on the tellybox or in a magazine. It’s easy to forget that those images that we see are real life portraits, living and breathing somewhere, begging to be looked at and admired. And so I did.

I saw pictures of a young Queen Victoria – I’m so used to seeing this jowelly old woman in black that I’d forgotten she was young once. I saw Marc Quinn’s self portrait, made out of his own blood. I saw paintings that I was convinced had to be photographs until I stood as close as possible and saw the individual brush strokes. And if I was ever going to feel homesick, this would have been quelled by the sight of a portrait of Amy Johnson.

I loved that place. Loved it so much that for the first time ever I actually willingly donated to a free attraction.

The great thing about being by myself was that I was free to wander as I pleased. If there were parts of the National Portrait Gallery I didn’t want to see I just breezed on through, and when I left and decided I was hungry I was free to go and get lunch wherever I pleased.

Normally I don’t go to chains when I go away because it’s a bit boring, you could go to them anywhere, but when you live in Hull, the prospect of eating at a chain is genuinely exciting because they are hardly ever in Hull. And so lunch came courtesy of Wagamamas –one of my very favourite places.

I quite happily sat and had lunch on my own – sending texts to people to let them know I was still alive, seeing what was next on my plans and generally noseying at the people sat around me.

Next was the Museum of Childhood, as recommended by The Curious Cat in Bethnal Green. Every toy you could ever imagine is enclosed in here, and I spent a happy hour or so wandering around looking at flicker books from the 1870s, playing with Zoetropes and Stereoscopes and generally pointing at the cases and saying in my head, “Oh my god I remember those!”

The gift shop in the Museum of Childhood is lovely, loads and loads and loads and loads of children’s books. Brilliant. I may, or may not, have bought one.

Around the corner from the Museum lies the Gallery Cafe, a vegan and vegetarian place that The Curious Cat had also told me about. It’s kind of a painfully cool place and I’m pretty sure that everyone in there knew I was a less cool northern imposter, even if I did try and look hip by sitting and scribbling in my notebook.

The menu looked delicious, but unfortunately I was so stuffed from Wagamamas that there was only room for a cup of tea and recharge – both of my batteries and my phone’s (seriously, Android phones? Batteries are rubbish, they need charging every night. Ridiculous.). The clientele was wide-ranging, from a Grandmother having a glass of wine and talking with her Grandchildren after they had finished school, to foreign students chatting, to people looking cool and hipstery on their Macs/netbooks taking advantage of the free wi-fi.

I was soon on my travels again and I made my merry way to Persephone Books which I had first heard about from Petit Filoux, many moons ago. I’ve been wanting to go ever since – I love the concept of a place that’s publishing women’s literature exclusively. And I had saved up enough pennies to splash out and buy three uber-stylishly bound books for £27.

When I was making my last minute plans for London, I’d looked up Persephone Books on Google Maps and, upon zooming in a bit further I discovered there was a cinema right round the corner. Perfectamundo or what? A quick look of the film showings and I had decided upon the 6pm showing of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and had even used Street View to work out how to walk from the shop to the cinema. I was very proud of myself.

It is beyond me why anyone in London goes to the cinema, given that it costs over £10 to do so. You peoples is crazy. But I was pleased with the cinema I picked. There are only 2 screens in this place and it is more of an arthouse kind of place. But the seats were gloriously comfortable and I settled myself down to watch what turned out to be an incredibly confusing film. I still don’t think I get what happened.

I think the whole reason that I had going to the cinema on my own down on my resolution list was to make myself be a little more independent. I am more than a little self sufficient but I sometimes really crave company and whilst some of that’s just my personality, I also think it can do you good sometimes to learn to be by yourself. To go places on your own and enjoy them on your own. To be in your own company.

Funnily enough I spent all this summer living alone so I was already pretty used to it and I think this trip as a whole served this purpose rather neatly – a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have come to London on my own at all. Silly as that might seem it would have been true. Not because I would have been scared of going to a big city, but I just wouldn’t have seen the point in not going and sharing it with someone.

Don’t get me wrong, it would have been nice to have had someone along with me at times – especially in the cinema – then I could have had someone to poke and go “What the hell is going on in this film?!” But overall, this was a good exercise for me in being a lonesome little bunny.
I ended up back at St Pancras, two hours before I was due to leave which was kind of a bum but my only other option would have been wandering the streets of London alone which I didn’t really fancy. But I sat in Costa and drank tea and had a nosey at people coming off the Eurostar.

The journey back was long. Very very very long. And although I’m good at falling asleep anywhere, any time there’s only so much sleeping on a coach you can do and by 2am, as we were leaving Scunthorpe I was begging and praying and itching for my very own bed.

But for £10.50 I’m not going to complain. I think I should make this a regular happening.

Hurray for me the brave little adventurer.


  1. Well there was me expecting a catalogue of disasters and it was a brilliant day where everything went completely according to plan. Well, you fooled me missy!

    I want to know what Persephone books you bought please. I am reading Miss Buncle's Book right now and I love it and A Fortnight in September and also Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. I hope you got one of them. Or ALL of them.

  2. Hurray for you indeed :)

    I used to love going to the cinema on my own, although I know what you mean about wanting someone around to be confused with!

    Sounds like you had a great time and I hope you do do it again sometime

  3. That sounds like an awesome day!!
    I love going to galleries on your own- such a good place to just wander without thinking about anyone else!!
    Glad you had such a great time!!

  4. That sounds like the perfect trip to me. I keep getting sidetracked out of going to the NPG (the perils of being a good friend and going to London with people who keep wanting to see exhibitions that are only at places for a limited time!).

    Oooh what did you buy at Persephone? I LOVE that place. Love it.

  5. Yeahy! Glad you braved it. London is hard to do all day on your own. I struggle to fill hours myself when I'm there - especially as I'm usually meeting someone centrally and I've explored most things in that area -I'd much rather head to the outskirts but that takes up money and time...

    I still need to go to Persephone Books for next time. xxx

  6. Well sounds like you had a great time! What did you think of the bookshop then? I remember going in wishing I had enough money to buy the whole collection - that grey and white colour scheme looks so neat on a bookshelf!!
    anyway, for a tenner, you should definitely come down again! such a bargain, makes trains look even more like a ripoff!

  7. Very productive! Great! I love the National portrait gallery for the paintings and I'm sure photos would be great also!


Go on. Say something. You know you want to...