Thursday, 3 May 2012

Get Real

Tonight, I am grateful.  I’m grateful it’s nearly the weekend.  I’m grateful that, for the first time in far too long, I feel like I’m getting on top of my workload again.  And I am grateful to have a night in, at home – and a bit of peace and quiet.
Despite my moaning and groaning about central London, on two occasions so far this week – as in 50% of my precious evenings – I have ended up in the West End.  Monday was a particularly horrific experience.  Having arrived back in London after a weekend ooop north I headed to Covent Garden for a spot of shopping before meeting my chums.  My shopping list was short but precise – two birthday cards, some face wash from Lush and a hip flask from the Monday market.  First I headed to M&S to pick up a bottle of cloudy lemonade and my greetings cards.  By the time I got to the self check-out I wished I had bought something stronger to quench my thirst.  The place was heaving with tourists and, like a swarm of midges, they were really starting to irritate me.  And I hadn’t even got to the Plaza.  This was not good.
With gritted teeth I fought my way through the throngs gathered around a variety of street theatre and found my stall – sans the perfect present I was looking for.  I asked the stall holder if he had any more and he promised to order some in.  As I thanked him, my heart sank with the realisation that this meant I would have to return soon.  With a sigh, I walked over to Lush – to find it closed for renovation.  Things were not going well.
I'd managed to claw my way through the crowds and was well on my way to my Holborn rendezvous when I realised I had forgotten my cashback.  Luckily when I got back to M&S they were able to sort it out for me, but by the time I got to Starbucks I was well and truly strung out, stressed - and sick of being back in London already.
The fact that my evening was in sharp contrast to my weekend probably didn’t help.  Friday afternoon had been spent with my folks at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire, walking in the countryside, mooching around a handful of craft shops and warming up with a cuppa and cake.  Saturday was spent wandering around York with my beau, window shopping, lunching at Betty’s and catching up over a pint.  And then Sunday?  A day at a spa, swimming, steaming, sauna-ing and indulging in a face and body "ritual" which left me in a blissful haze for about six hours.  Monday morning ended my weekend away perfectly, sitting in my parent’s sundrenched garden with my laptop as dad did his Sudoku.
On Wednesday I found myself mounting the escalator at Leicester Square and pushing through the crowds once more.  After a particularly arduous day at work, it wasn’t a great start to my evening.  However, after meeting my friends in the suitably civilised Foyles', we decided to head up to Goodge Street for burritos at Benitos Hat.  Once we had a passed the hordes at Tottenham Court Road, I started to feel calmer. Yes, it was still busy, but we had escaped that central hub of tourist activity – and found London again.  So Goodge Street isn’t the most exciting of locations – but it is London for Londoners.  People visiting the capital don’t tend to venture into the area nestled safely between Oxford Street and Camden, and for the locals it is a bit of a haven. 
Okay, I know, tourism brings a lot of money into the capital – and provides many of its inhabitants with jobs that are few and far between.  But I can’t help but wish that it was a little bit more true to itself.  Let me try to explain - in recent months I have visited two other European cities, Prague and Budapest.  Prague, I’m sorry to say, was a bit disappointment.  Yes, it is a beautiful place, but it felt like it had sold itself to the visitor and forgotten it’s true self.  Budapest, on the other hand, hit the spot.  The capital of Hungary is, to me, just as beautiful with its own intriguing history – but the emphasis on tourism seemed absent.  Whilst welcoming to the traveller, it was also there for its inhabitants, giving it a sense of authenticity that can so easily be lost.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend I am in danger of a similar crash.  On Saturday I am heading out to bonny Buckinghamshire – which will be followed by a May Day outing with another mate somewhere between my North London flat and her home in Dulwich.  And, although the mid-point seems like the obvious choice, I shall be suggesting somewhere a little more off the beaten track.  Somewhere a little bit more... real.

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