My feet are killing me. I am sitting cross-legged on the floor of my apartment, iPad on my lap, mug of echinea tea on my side, and I stretch my hands in front of me. I can not stop smiling.
In the past two days I walked all over London, took pictures of familiar places in unfamiliar angles, spoke to strangers, got lost, found bits of the city I thought I knew, and bits of myself that I did not know.
I can not really say I lived the Olympics in its fullest. I did not have enough free time to volunteer, or enough money to get tickets. I worked in retail, which means that my mornings were spent in a crowded tube, face stuck in between the armpits of a City banker and a person with a purple and red uniform and a lanyard with their smiling picture. I was working close to the Olympic Park, and I passed the same giant foam fingers, amplifiers, and crammed bridge everyday.
So, now freshly in between positions, and feeling better from a cold, I was on the App store, when I saw the London Official App. Without thinking about it, I downloaded it, and within minutes I was absent-mindedly browsing it, when I stumbled on the Discovery part of the Trails section. I cocked my head to the left as I was scrolling down the six trails, feeling a strange kind of excitement. A frown and a deep breath later, I decided that I would complete them; all of them. I took my notebook out, made a plan, typed it on my iPhone, set the details, and then -and then, nothing.
You see, I always have an internal fear of giving up; of letting go. I am afraid that I will be tempted to not follow through, and even though experience has shown me that this is not true, that fear always kept creeping up. I remember two years ago, I was in Greenman festival, when my friends decided that it would be a great idea to climb the mountain that was facing the festival camp site. Now, we climbed it, got attacked from a herd of cows, landed in a pile of fresh shit, tore our clothes, and documented the whole process on film. Once we reached the top, we painted our faces, looked down at the crowds, and smiled to each other. Throughout the whole process though, there was this voice inside me saying this is too tiring, what if something happened, why not stop now, why continue, why are you doing this? I then thought that my perseverance to reach the top of the mountain came from the presence of others, from the reassurance that comes from a common goal, a common purpose.
Yesterday, I was having a bowl of corn flakes on the couch, watching reruns of Ugly Betty and trying to command my face to a state of awake, when my eyes caught of my bag on the floor. I could see the corner of my notebook, and without really thinking about it, I took it out, and flipped it open. I looked at the last page; at the plan. I stared at it for a while, aware of Betty Suarez talking in the background about making the best of life. I pursed my lips, got up, got in the shower, put my trainers on, my notebook back in my bag, and locked the door behind me. I knew I would complete the 6 trails, and take pictures of all 84 of the Olympic Mascot statues around London. Now, when I was outside, I heard a rather familiar voice; why are you doing this? this can be too tiring, -and for nothing! why not stop now, and just go to a coffee shop, have a latte and write? I have to admit, I found this really tempting. I was passing from my closest Costa, when I heard my body sigh, felt my legs slowing down, my gaze directed to the door; and then I continued. I moved forwards, passed it, and replied to that voice: I will complete it. I will find them. I will finish what I started.
I took the Red Trail map out, and made my way towards the first location. Now, it is crucial to remember that I have no real sense of direction. I usually rely on the ability of friends, the kindness of strangers, and the GPS on my iPhone to find my destination; but not this time. For some strange reason, I was determined to find them all with my printed maps, and my non-existent direction skills. I walked forwards and turned backwards, made circles, huffed and puffed, and not before long, I caught sight of a colourful blob in the middle of the sidewalk. I can not explain the feeling I had when I found the first one. It was a small, completely childish, absolutely pure form of delight. I took my iPhone out, and snapped a pic on Instagram. I walked from Westminster Bridge, passed from the crowds marvelling at the London Eye, and walked down Southbank with a daft smile on my face. What I initially found challenging was the focus that this exercise required. You see, I always think about other things when I walk down the street. I think of how my week went, how my week will go, I add things in my never-ending to do list, fret about the future, or in this case, worry about finding the next location. Well, try doing that and keeping an eye for something on the street. Let me tell you, it is not easy. After passing a few, and going in circles to find them, I realised early on that I would have to really clear my head, and focus on the task in had: finding life-sized Olympic Mascot statues in the streets of London. And sure enough, the process became easier. I passed Lambeth Bridge, and found myself in Victoria Tower Gardens. I was amazed at how relaxing this whole process was. Before I knew it, I snapped my last Wenlock.
My natural instinct was to rush to the next location. I mean, I had five more trails to do, so I. Better get moving; and yet, moments later, I was sitting on a bench, looking at Southbank from the other side. I took my notebook out and looked at the list. Half today, and half tomorrow.
For the Pink Trail I walked to Charing Cross, found the Novel Wenlock next to the Oscar Wilde statue, and made my way up to Leicester Square. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to the Spotlight Mandenville, but surprising myself with a steely unwillingness to give up. When I found it, I felt a strange sence of achievement. I did not give up. I did not convince myself that the statue was moved, stolen, abducted from aliens. I persevered. I made my way to Covent Garden with a smile, passed from some of my favourite shops, got two new notebooks from Magma, and then walked down towards Embankment. I had never been in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, so I was surprised by the amount of people that were lounging on the grass, soaking up the sun and giving me funny looks when I was circling the same spot numerous time, with a map on my hand looking lost. When I took a picture of the last Mandeville, I returned to the gardens, and sat down to regroup; 30 minutes later, I was still there.
I later started the Purple trail. I found the first one (Red Bus Wenlock) drowned in a crowd of passers by, tourists, and hurried Londoners. I followed the path up to Mayfair, passed the big Waterstones (and resisted the urge to get inside), and went all the way up to Bond Street, where I encountered my first real issue. After 15 minutes of trying to find the Tyger Tyger Wenlock, I was frowning at my app, not sure what on earth happened. Where was he? Should I give up? Well, if I can not find one, what is the point? I will not complete it. Let’s give up now, and save my feet a world of ache. And then I noticed my grip getting stronger, my jaw tightening, and my eyes spotting the next one. So what if one mysteriously disappeared? The rest are there. Something can be thought out perfectly, or it can be actually done. Time to crack on, I thought, and as I was about to move on, a voice woke me up from my own pep-talk: ‘Oh, if you are looking for the Tyger Tyger one, that is a mistake in the map. It is actually part of the Pink trail’. I turned, and this (very tall) man in a West End attire was smiling down at me. Needless to say that I had to restrain myself from hugging him, thanked him, and walked down St Molton Street. By the time I reached Regent Street, I was feeling hungry, thirsty, and elated. I looked at my Instagram, and my jaw dropped. The three trails got 8000 likes so far, and some very positive feedback; I was really surprised. The rest of the evening involved a hot shower, warm food and a really early night. After all, I still had three trails left for the next morning.
Today I woke up and felt every muscle in my legs complaining. One Tree Hill was on E4, and Payton had to make a decision; so did I. Should I start from the longest trail, or from the hardest? One might assume that it would be the same trail, but no. You see, the Green Trail is a bit more than half of the Blue trail, but is in was in Regents Park; an actual park. No streets, no maps, just directions. The horror.
An hour later, I was walking in Regents Park with a look of terror on my face. But then, something happened: I saw a family having the same look at their face; and then another. The Green trail was different, as it was almost a group thing. People would stop you to ask you where that Rose Garden Mandeville is, and would give you info on that ever-elusive location of the Rainbow Mandeville. By the end, people would show you their pictures, and you discussed where they came from, and how unusually hot London is at this time of the year. I jumped in the tube, and got out in London Bridge for the Blue Trail.
I walked down to the City Hall to find the Skyline Wenlock. I walked down towards Southwark Cathedral and the Golden Hinde, and reached the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern before passing the Millennium Bridge. I then spotted my favourite one, the St Paul’s Mandeville sitting beneath St Paul’s Cathedral. I passed from Cheapside, moved to Bank and reached Monument. Believe it or not, I have never been to the London Tower, and I was really surprised at how lovely it was. I made a mental note to come back, took a picture of the Ravens Wenlock, and walked up to Aldgate to start the Yellow trail.
I weaved my way through Bishopsgate to Liverpool Street, browsed at the Leadenhall and Spitafield Markets, and stopped at Brick Lane to add to my collection of graffiti pictures. In the end, I sat down at the Music Cafe nearby, and browsed through my Instagram account. All 82 Wenlocks and Mandevilles were there, looking back at me. I felt an overpowering sense of achievement. I did this. I went all over London and took pictures of this slice of time, of this moment in the London history, of a fleeting landscape (the statues will stay there until the 06/09/2012).
My feet are still hurting, and I need a refill of my tea. Now, let me see what is up in tomorrow’s schedule.
G ; ;