Not the North or South Poles – these have been done too may times before and I feel any sense of achievement remaining must be very modest. Plus, I’m not very keen on wearing a jumper – though I am having a modest rapprochement with that particular garment could this be the bony fingers of old age?) – which I believe is considered important if one is to avoid a chill.
No, I chose to visit one of the several Poles of Inaccessibility. Again, in my desire to the tourist hordes I avoided those listed on Wikipedia in their North, South, Oceanic or various continental flavours. I tackled a far more challenging Pole. A place so difficult to reach that an attempt to visit it made up a substantial chunk of a recent More-or-Less episode on the subject of labyrinths and mazes.
My Pole of choice lies in the city of London which I visited yesterday (and, indeed, on Saturday) to defy those whose stock in trade is terror or those who thought I should have been #reeling. OK, I was going anyway and was not going to allow a small bunch of coins to interfere with my plans. I lived in London and regularly used London Bridge when folk hoping to kill me where willing to go to the effort of learning a little basic chemistry and constructing explosives. I will admit I did catch a slightly earlier train to be “on the safe side”, though that decision was probably more strongly influenced by my train into London on the previous which had lost the ability to recognise signals before it reached Micheldever and then limped into Basingstoke before retiring hurt.
Going in early worked like a charm and my train made it all the way to Waterloo without coming down with anything and was even slightly early. This gave me the chance to have a quite splendid – if artery-challenging (but they do love a challenge!) – brunch (though as I had it at lunch-time, would that make it supper?) at Spuntino. This was my second time at Spuntino – the best tentacle of the Polpo empire (which I like to imagine has 8 branches) – and it is now very much a favourite. I love its distressed decor with the ghost of its previous life still visible, the friendly staff and most of all its delicious if often hard to fathom food. I think it is supposed to exude a Brooklyn vibe – which it does for me, but then I’ve never been to Brooklyn. Both my courses yesterday were loosely based on the idea of toast, but far tastier and worse for you than any toast I’ve previously consumed. They also offered the option of having a Dutch Baby for dessert: but I drew the line at this: Brexit may mean Brexit, but I feel one can go too far. (I believe that no youthful Netherlanders were harmed in the making of brunch, though a pancake or two may have lost their lives.)
After this filling lunch, I strolled in a rather leisurely fashion towards my goal. I find it’s best not to approach it too directly or to let it see you coming. In my perambulations (no, I was not wheeling a Dutch baby around London), I found myself in the delightful and almost empty (which it might not been on a weekday lunchtime) Postman’s Park which contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This does not limit itself to those members of the Royal Mail who have valiantly lost their lives trying to ensure that the post gets through – not a single mention of a vicious dog – but instead mostly relates to fire or drowning. Slightly frustratingly, the memorial does not reveal if the sacrifice was in vain or not – part of me likes to imagine that it was (but, as previously discussed, I am a Terrible Human Being).
With this inspiration, I continued on my heroic quest hoping that it would not end in my own self-sacrifice. Tracing part of the much depleted London Wall (sadly not a patch on its Southampton counterpart – our city fathers might not have retained much of the historic centre, but our wall is surprisingly complete), it was not too long before I reached my goal: St Giles-without-Cripplegate.
You may find this an unimpressive feat, but let me tell you that while it can be glimpsed from many a vantage point within the Barbican complex few indeed are the travellers who are able to reach its once hallowed environs. Once I had arrived, I could look across the water to the crowds in front of the Barbican centre reclining from a choice of a myriad of benches within the empty churchyard empty: well, but for one other hardy explorer. However, as he had used dogs and oxygen, I feel the laurels were very much mine to claim having travelled unsupported and with minimal equipment (a good book and a pair of glasses).
To briefly leave today’s conceit behind, I was actually travelling to the Barbican centre itself – but it is always good to invoke the spirit of Scott or Livingstone on any trip to the theatre. In keeping with their spirit, I have decided to claim the area around the church and name it the Ffoulkes isthmus. I know the locals probably already had a name for it, but I’m British and that sort of nonsense has never stopped us in the past!
I went to see a truly amazing theatrical “event” called 887 by Ex Machina (which I think is basically Robert Lepage and friends). Last year, I saw their (his?) Needles and Opium which was incredible with its use of a rotating cube and projections: if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I think 887 made N&O look like a walk in the park. 887 was incredibly technically complex and involved a huge range of styles of theatrical story-telling. During the two hours you only see Robert Lepage on stage, but during the applause it did become clear that it used at least seven stage-hands (ASMs?) to make it work and there were three people sitting near me that also seemed to be controlling aspects of the show. It is not just very clever, it was also a great afternoon of theatre and entertainment. I even joined in the standing ovation – and not just to give my knees and buttocks a slightly earlier stretch. If you ever have a chance to go to one of his shows, I’d strongly recommend you don’t let it pass you by.
I would not, however, advise the inexperienced to attempt to reach St Giles-without-Cripplegate. I have been training for this sort of expedition for years and I would not want to have any reader’s blood on my hands following a failed attempt to emulate your hero.