Sunday 2 February 2014

Become a Tourist of Your Everyday

Tuesday. 8:56am.

After rolling out of bed at 7am, lumbering to the train station and getting increasingly annoyed at my delayed train, I was now stuck standing in a tiny space between a seat and a wall in the first class cabin as the tinny voice over the tannoy announced that we were stuck behind a slow-moving train, and we weren't going to be moving faster than 4mph for the foreseeable future. The train crawled through the gloomy dawn mist and several smug and disapproving legitimate first-classers frowned at me for invading their superior territory.

Safe to say, I was miserable.

With a deep sigh I realised there was no way in hell I was going to make it to London Kings Cross in time to catch my 9:05am connecting train to Hatfield, which would leave me just enough time to get to class. With a further sigh I realised that even when I tried to be proactive about school, I still seemed to fail to make progress. And with a final sigh, I realised just how much longer I could've stayed in bed without consequence, if I'd just decided to sack off Uni today. 

At 9:26am the train shuddered to a halt at St. Pancras International, I gathered my bags and joined the miserable throbbing mass that edged toward the door and onto the platform. 

Brilliant. I guess I would just have to wait half an hour for the next train, collapse into bed once I finally got home, then spend the day catching up on the lecture notes I missed in between episodes of American Dad and stuffing my face with sadness food.

I didn't even look up from the grainy, speckled marble floor until I reached the ticket hall of St. Pancras. When I did finally look up, I found myself gazing at the international departures board.

Before I could even realise what I was thinking, for one brief moment, my heart stopped still.

I could just... do it.

Right now I could just buy a ticket, jump on a train and be eating croissants under the Eiffel Tower by lunchtime. 

My hand darted to my debit card in my pocket. I knew I'd just been paid. I could actually do it. I grabbed my card, my mind already working out how to pull off this scandalous idea, but when I looked down and saw that I'd pulled out my train ticket too. 

I realised two things then. 

The first being that my passport was sitting nicely on my desk at home in my flat in Hertfordshire, very far from where I needed it to be, so I couldn't leave the country no matter how much I wanted to. And the second was that I was holding an all-day travelcard for London in my hand. 

I held a ticket almost identical to this in my hand almost every other day of the week as I crossed in and out of the capital city day after day. But there was something about this moment now that caused me to see that little orange piece of card in a new light. 

Why did I have to go to another country to feel the excitement? Why did I have to fulfil my touristy needs in Paris, when I was currently stood in one of the greatest cities in the world? I imagined another girl in Paris, looking up at the departures board and seeing 'London' and dreaming of the day she'd be there, and all the things she'd do here if she was just given the chance. 

I was in London and I had nothing to do for the rest of the day, so I decided in that moment that I was going to seize the day, and I was going to tourist the shit out of it.

First things first, I needed a notebook. 

I was highly unprepared for class, let alone adventure, and had nothing on me except my camera, makeup, phone and money. I get awfully uncomfortable if I don't have a notebook on me. 

So I dashed across the road to London Kings Cross (St. Panc and King's C are next door to each other) and rushed into Paperchase to buy a little notebook and pen. I knew I was meeting Oliver at six, and my mission was to try and cram as much into this little grey day as possible, so there was no time to spare. It was now 10am, when my class was meant to start. Notebook purchased, I made some quick plans of places to go and I was off. 

I knew exactly where my first destination would be - the first thing that comes to mind whenever you think 'London.'

As I descended underground, everything seemed to have a little gleam to it, and I found myself amused at the simplest of things such as my ticket popping up through the barrier and a man letting me get onto the escalator before him.

I felt good as I stepped out of the Underground station at Westminster.

I mingled among tourists and locals alike, but it was so easy to tell the difference.

The tourists were bounding along and laughing, gathering breathlessly in groups to pose against the backdrop of this great city, and the locals tutted and huffed around them, pushing past and sprint-walking with their heads down.

I found myself more in tune with the tourists as I gazed up at the great clock tower in wonder. I took some photos and walked slowly along the bridge, letting the breeze from the river whip up the hair around my face. It was then that Big Ben chimed eleven, and I watched with a deep-seated glee as the tourists frantically grabbed their phones to film it.

It was then that I realised just how easy it is to overlook the beauty of something when you see it everyday.


I stayed for a little while before I set off to conquer my next feat.

Now I don't know what was more shocking to me, finding out there is a giant castle in the center of London, or the fact that I didn't know there was a giant castle in the center London. Regardless of which, that was where I next found myself - The Tower of London.

It was really quite amazing to see the so anciently old, with the so strikingly new thrust together in such close proximity, as The Tower of London and The Shard are.

For a while I dilly-dallied around the gardens of the great castle, before I decided to take a jolly stroll across Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic bridges in the world. In a spur of the moment decision I decided I wanted to go up the towers, so in a crowded lift packed with camera-clad tourists, primary schoolchildren on a field trip, and, well, me, we climbed to the top of Tower Bridge for a rather splendid view of the city.

After an hour or so of admiring the view and sitting through little mini-movies about the history of London and the construction of the great bridge, I gleefully clambered down the hundreds of steps to ground level, and slunk into the nearest Starbucks to coordinate my next plan of action.

I got myself a Peppermint Green Tea and watched the world go by in one of the most charming little coffeehouses I'd ever been in, and I never would have ever known of, if I hadn't taken this adventure.

As I walked, I looked at the faces of the people who passed me, and tried to figure out who they were and how they'd come to be right here right now at this exact moment in time to cross my path. The only person who really stuck in my head was a boy with a seriously impressive beard wearing a red baseball cap. I wondered why he was on Tower Bridge right now.

As I crossed the subway towards the tube station, I passed a busker without sparing a thought. When I heard what he was singing, I stopped dead in my tracks. It was a song I'd heard a million times before, yet now, it seemed so perfectly apt, as if I was meant to walk past at that point.

'You only you've been high when you're getting low, you only miss the sun when it starts to snow...'

I took a few steps backward, smiled at the man, and dropped a few coins in his guitar case.

How right he was.

I've written this a million times before, but I truly believe fortune favours the brave. And when I do something a little out of my ordinary, when I take a random chance or  be spontaneous, I feel like the universe sends me signs to show that it is the right thing to do.

But perhaps even more remarkably, these signs are around us every single day, and the only case is if we elect to acknowledge them or not.

The near-empty tube train rattled through the darkness to my next destination.

I walked slowly across the Millennium footbridge with St Paul's Cathedral in my shadow and Shakespeare's Globe ahead of me to the left. The theatrical Southbank bustled around me, a carnival of scents and sounds, and I remembered how much I had always loved Southbank, and reminded myself to visit more often.

Upon reaching the Tate I dined at the restaurant, and, in attempt at sophistication, ordered the Fennel, Chicory and Goats Cheese salad with an Orange and Linseed dressing. This turned out to be utterly REPULSIVE and I swiftly ordered a mammoth bucket of chips. Oh well, I tried, right?

After lunch I began to peruse the galleries.

Some of the art was mildly interesting, but all in all, I pretty much just found it all to be a load of old horseshit. I don't really think Modern Art is for me really.

Even so, I persevered and ventured though all of the galleries, mostly feigning interest and suppressing irritation at some pieces, whilst being somewhat intrigued and a little amused by others.

As I came out of the final gallery, I almost walked straight into someone else, and I looked up to find myself staring into the face of a boy with a seriously impressive beard wearing a red baseball cap.

It was the same guy from Tower Bridge!

Well, I'll be.

But that was not the most remarkable thing I saw at the Tate, not by a long stretch.

I was on the very top floor when I looked down and I saw it.

I froze, and placed my hand against the glass window, craning to get a better view.

Hoping that it would still be there by the time I got to it, I jumped onto the escalator, hopping from foot to foot in impatience at the slow people in front of me, and rushed into the cavernous main hall.

And it was still there.

Or more accurately, he, was still there.

Sitting on the floor of the great empty exhibition space was a solitary boy in a yellow raincoat, sketching.

The moments ticked past as I watched him, completely transfixed. He had earphones in his ears, his head was down and he was lost in his own little dialogue between him, the charcoal and his paper, only occasionally looking up to gaze up at the great glass windows that he was apparently sketching.

And it was one of the most beautiful and poignant things I'd ever seen.

Because in that moment, this boy symbolised something a lot greater than a kid sat on the floor of an art gallery doing a sketch. He was one person in a vast open space, one tiny bright yellow speck right in the middle of a vast emptiness of grey, completely exposed and alone, yet... simultaneously he could not have been in a smaller space, his own little universe within his mind, blocked out from the sound sight and feel of the vast empty world around him.

And this was not like the art in the galleries and up on the walls, this was so accidental, so unintentional and that was part of the beauty of it all. It was such a small and unnoticeable thing, yet it said so much.

And it stirred something deep within my soul and my heart, and I felt kinda moved.

He was, as we all are in the end. Just one person, taking on the universe, alone.

Feeling a little dazed from that almost divine moment, I headed toward what I knew would be my final destination of the day - the light had begun to fade.

And I don't think I could've made a better choice to end with.

The moment I saw it, I was instantly filled with childish wonder.

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

It was breathtakingly beautiful.

I plunged straight into the dinosaur exhibit and skipped around like a little excitable child, marvelling at the wonders of our universe.

Like in a movie montage I rushed from room to room, twirling around in amazement as I entered each new space.

After a couple of hours that had flown by, I realised my day had come to an end - I was due to be meeting Oliver in half an hour.

I dawdled back out into the grand main hall, and relished in its beauty one last time.

At the top of the highest staircase, I sat down and took this photo.

I closed my eyes for a moment and pressed my hand against the stone of the step beneath me. There's something about great old buildings, with such age and grandeur, with a massive rich tapestry of history, that makes them truly magical. It was almost as if by placing my hand against the stone I could almost feel the stories and life of the place gently trembling beneath my palm.

Reluctantly, I realised that my time was up, and I left the great museum and descended underground for the last time that day.

My legs were aching and my eyes were drooping but a peaceful grin spread across my face as I sped back toward King's Cross. It was crazy to think that almost 10 hours ago I'd been drearily manhandled into a tiny standing space in first class, emailing my professor explaining I was going to be late.

At Kings Cross I climbed the stairs back into the ticket hall with a knowing grin as I passed Paperchase, my little notebook now filled to the brim with notes and adventure plans from just that one day.

I met Oliver, and the last little surprise of the day was discovering the most gorgeous hidden pub at the top of Kings Cross.

I was so content.

At 8:00pm, with Oliver in tow, I finally boarded that train to Hertfordshire that I was meant to get at 9:05am, and I couldn't rid the smile from my face. My mind began to wonder, and I found myself recalling a film I'd seen a few days before.

Recently, I'd watched 'About Time', about a man who discovers he is a Time Traveller after his father reveals to him on his 21st birthday that all the men in his family are.

It's a pretty good film all round, but there was one part of the movie that really stuck with me in particular.

The character's Father later shows him what he thinks the formula for perfect happiness is. To live each day as any normal person ever would, with all the tensions, stresses and worries that you'd encounter in daily life. Then, at the end of each and every day, go back and live the same exact day again, for a second time. But this time, letting go of the small unnecessary stresses, finding the best in every situation and enjoying the little things that you overlooked the first time.

That morning, I could have frantically bustled onto the next train and made the insufferable journey to Hertfordshire and perhaps caught the second half of my class, but I knew that I'd only end up wishing I'd done what I was actually about to do.

Because at the end of it all, really, life is too short not to make time for adventure.

And I am very, very glad that I did.