There are many conventional ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, but staring at a naked man with a group of strangers beside you probably isn’t one of them. Neither is it very conventional to then sit and discuss with said strangers the eight critical moments in your life when you really became aware of your body, but that happened too. Don’t worry, I haven’t joined a cult – I was one of the participants at Philip Cowell’s workshop on life writing (with the addition of a nude model), held as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love.
A London City Airport survey has found that the average Brit has only visited seven countries, and only 31% have made it to 10 or more of them, despite there being an incredible 193 countries in the entire world that could be explored. This data, which I was reading about in Wanderlust Magazine, really got me thinking about my own travelling past, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started accumulating a respectable country count.
Rather than tally up where I’ve been, I’m going to admit why I haven’t been to as many places as you. It’s time to come to terms with my travel inadequacy and look back on those few countries with fond memories.
There’s something about watching photogenic fashion tribes that conjures up a David Attenborough or Bruce Parry voice-over inside my head. Something that says I’m in the presence of a species fundamentally different to my own, no matter how much I might want to understand them or imitate them. Ultimately there’s a little bit of fear in not knowing what their next move might be, or whether they’re about to bare their claws. Welcome to London Fashion Week, where the beautiful and the strange gather.
There are some travel experiences just begging to be dropped into conversation, like the times when you bump into famous people staying on your remote island (oh wait, that’s never happened, except on an episode of Poirot). Or how about the times when you get into hilarious situations involving animals on safari? (That has yet to happen to Poirot, correct me if I’m wrong, and it hasn’t happened to me either). Ok, so my anecdote isn’t going to cover any of those topics, but it’s hopefully good enough for someone to buy me a drink down the pub.
Funnily enough, I arrived at the College of Psychic Studies, on the first day of the Open House London initiative (a.k.a. legitimate house and public building snooping), through a set of unforeseen circumstances. Well, unforeseen to the staff at Open House London, who failed to anticipate the crowds of 18,000 people wanting to roam the gutteral insides of Battersea Power Station before it’s refurbished. Not like that would be a big deal to the general public or require any kind of sensible ticketing system whatsoever… anyway, I digress in my bitterness.
For the morbidly curious (that’d be me), the words ‘death’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence are like music to the ears; throw in the word ‘debauchery’ and I’m easy like Sunday morning. So, when the kind people at Insider London offered me the chance to experience one of their quirky tours, this option immediately jumped out from the list.
As it happened, I couldn’t have made a better choice, because Death and Debauchery is the ultimate experience for anyone with an anatomical fixation, an interest in social history or a desire to know about the grimier side of life in one of the world’s most famous cities.
The other night I fulfilled one of my long-term travel goals: to take a Ripper tour around Whitechapel and see where the shocking murders of 1888 took place. I’m not a fan of horror in the entertaining sense (stick me in front of a slasher film and I will develop psychosomatic symptoms of distress within a few minutes), but the case of Jack the Ripper is terrifyingly real and gives an insight into the harshness of East End London life.
Maybe it’s because he was never caught, and because there are so many theories surrounding his true identity, I’m left with plenty to mull over, and a tour seemed like the ideal opportunity to match the history with the streets themselves.
I was introduced to this quirky cafe by my cousin, who lives in Dalston and has a sixth sense for undiscovered gems when it comes to culture and eating out (she also introduced me to an amazing Turkish food chain called Tas, with baklava to die for). We headed over to the brilliantly-named Tina, We Salute You, for a seriously good coffee and some breakfast, and weren’t disappointed.
Even if the menu wasn’t worth talking about, you can hardly miss the unusual decor – I’ve never seen so many noses in my life, let alone mounted on a wall – as the cafe hosts art exhibitions which change every eight weeks. This means you never know what you’re going to find on the walls, which makes a change from the enforced kookiness of the artwork in Starbucks or Costa.