I don’t get out enough. I don’t mean out with friends or out to the cinema, cafes and bars; for a writer I am actually surprisingly au fait with the world at large. But like all writers I spend way too much time on my computer, reading novels or reading the writing of my students. And the walking I undertake, flâneur-style, never quite compensates for the hours tapping away. But there is a bigger issue that a life glued to a computer screen masks, it is all too easy to convince myself - now that everything is available at the click of a mouse - that I am fully participating in the cultural world; even when my inspiration tank is empty and my joie de vivre is best described as lacklustre. Recently I packed my bags and went to London, with the aim of stimulating my creativity.
I first arrived in London aged eighteen, naive and ludicrously trusting, I shipped up to Central/St Martins having completed a foundation course, in what was then the charming provincial town of Colchester - since murdered by planners. Arriving in London I found a bunch of students to share various slums in Hackney, finally leaving London when my daughter was eighteen months old. I am fortunate to have friends who did not mount an exodus to the leafy provinces or rural idylls and who are still prepared to give me a bed. Rather than arriving without any plan, on this occasion I formed an itinerary for five days of cultural emersion, and yes reader, shopping is cultural.
As the train drew nearer to the east of London I looked out on the new colourfully-clad apartments and watched the Gherkin hove into view ejaculating distance from the Shard. Should they ever procreate it could be named The Sherkin.
First, I check out the design and artisan shops in Upper Street, Islington, where I am staying. Day two is the V&A where I am on a particular mission to see a cape woven by Madagascan spiders; later viewing the Islamic collection and the colonial Indian collection. At lunch I pop out for a tagine of lamb, in what appears to be a French enclave over the road, with my friends Jill and Gill, later returning to the V&A to be joined by my cousin for tea and scones in the splendid café.
Day three and I am at Lords cricket ground helping my friend to set up an art exhibition and stall and surrounded by minor celebs who are hosting a charity auction. Then it’s off to Westbourne Grove to see if I dare enter shops that are so rarefied that labelling their products with a selling price is quite beneath them. From there I am whisked away to a roof terrace plied with pink champagne and canapés before being dropped at Latimer Road station where they are playing (and I still wonder if I dreamt this) classical music over the tannoy!
On arrival back in Islington I am swept off in a car, that later parks in the lee of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and we walk over the wobbly bridge and into the Damien Hurst retrospective at Tate Modern. Not wildly keen on his spot painting, putrefaction or giant ashtrays; I do see an interesting body of work, some of which is a fascinating commentary on our culture. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful placement of medicine tablets in mirrored cabinets, as if they were jewels, and the placement of jewels in a cabinet of ultra-bling. After drinks in the members bar, where the setting sun offered a fine backdrop to the illuminated Saint Paul’s, as we stroll back across the wobbly bridge that no longer wobbles, I find myself sighing at the sheer beauty of our fabulous capital city.
Day four and after a look in the artisan shops of Lambs Conduit Street, I stroll over to the Foundling Museum. There desperate mother’s gave up their babies and children, leaving tokens of remembrance - half a coin or scraps of fabric - in the hope that this token might, in better times, identify and reunite them with their child. Tragic and deeply affecting, I realise that it is the only museum display where I read every single word written by the curators.
After a night spent in an apartment just in the shadow of the aforementioned Gherkin, I make my way back to Liverpool Street and home. In five days I have followed my cultural itinerary and I am buzzing with ideas. I have taken in the sights and sounds of London, bought a very interesting book on birds’ nests from Anthropology, where most people buy clothes! And another on the golden threads spun by Madagascan spiders and I leave London brimming with the ideas.
I left London in full on patriotic mode. Wacky displays of Jubilee memorabilia are dotted over the capital, in true British style they are quirky, often funny; and I can’t help loving the place again. It is a vibrant cosmopolitan hub of eccentricity and international anticipation, the double-firsts of the Jubilee and the Olympics have truly brought out the best in our Capital. So should you find yourself short of ideas, lacklustre and low on inspiration why not plan your own cultural Olypiad?
For ideas on mounting your own cultural Olypiad, where-ever you live, please visit my short stories and images page.