Sunday, 31 May 2009

Musings on a Sunny Weekend

Well, while it seemed that the rest of the world was enjoying our first real taste of summer, I’ve been working all weekend. Such, though, is the tourist guide’s lot. And with a couple of cancellations in the next few days, I have to make hay while the sun shines as it were.

On Saturday I did a London walking tour for a private group following the course of the hidden River Fleet, one of London’s many “hidden” rivers. It passes through some slightly grotty places but has some great things to tell people about: prisons, an unusual miniature underground railway, gangs, wells and even a piece of Cambridgeshire!

This is the sort of work I revel in: unusual and offbeat and – even on a sunny day in one of the world’s most visited cities – largely tourist free. Not that I hate tourists (despite my jokes asserting otherwise). It’s just that when too many people wanting to see or do the same thing are in the same place at the same time, it causes us problems and gives them an inferior product. No one’s fault but there it is.

This is why groups sometimes feel that they’re treated as inferior citizens in – say – hotels or restaurants. Although sometimes the case, it’s more a case of being difficult to give lots of people the same thing at the same time.

Anyway, to return to the subject, following an invisible river is an interesting exercise. People sometimes ask me how I put the more unusual walks together and it’s a question I find hard to answer. They just sort of “happen”. Equipped with maps, I walk routes looking around and finding (I hope) interesting or entertaining “things” along the way. Then I have to string them together into some sort of coherent story. This is easier in some towns than others but perhaps surprisingly it’s usually the more unpromising destinations that yield the best tales. Perhaps it’s because people’s expectations are lower, I don’t know. But nothing, nothing at all, gives me more satisfaction than when I drop a piece of a story into place, explain a word, legend or tradition or point out an otherwise unnoticed feature and smiles appear on people’s face. That’s happened a few times this weekend and it’s just great.

To anyone reading this who’s ever looked as though they’ve enjoyed something on a tour: thank you!

Today was Oxford. Far more mainstream of course and slightly dented by a rude passer-by and a smart-arse unlicensed tourist guide who decided to try to upstage me. This is a pointless exercise, though; rather like trying to stop Susan Boyle from doing that rather odd wiggle.

Now I’m in shorts and without a shirt. Not a pleasant sight but after spending most of this weekend in a blazer and tie, I think I’ve earned it.

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