One of the reasons I try to walk as much as possible, rather than catch the tube, is that it makes it easier to work on my mental map. As I explore this city, I’m constantly filling in more pieces of that map: this connects with that. I am here. When you travel by tube, or even by bus, you’re getting disconnected pieces of things– and I find it hard to pull those together.
On my second full day in London, six weeks ago today, I walked from Paddington to the British Museum. I was trying to do it without constantly looking at the map on my phone, and in the end, well, I got a little turned around and ended up having to stop and regroup. I did so over a (terrible) coffee and a pain au chocolate at a chain cafe that I found down some road; I wasn’t sure that the road was, but at least, in the safety of that cafe, I was able to figure out roughly which direction I was supposed to be travelling in.
Today, when I went out for lunch, I ended up deciding to stop and get a baguette at Paul, which is a ‘French’ bakery cafe chain – there’s one just a block up the road from work. It was only when I was inside the shop that I suddenly realised I’d been in here before: it was the same cafe I’d stopped in six weeks earlier, but this time I knew where I was. That piece of my mental map has now been filled in, and that foreign, unknown street now has a name – and more than that, it’s part of my life.
Of course, this doesn’t just happen with my own experiences. I’m reading a book at the moment about a young woman working for the BBC in the very early days of radio, back when the BBC was located at Savoy Hill. Curious about the location, naturally I looked it up: my bus goes right past there, every day. Two of the pubs mentioned in the book still exist. Marconi House, where the first BBC radio transmissions were managed from, is also on my route. Thus, now, as I read, I’m picturing places I know, and that’s another kind of map building.
Of course, I did that back in Sydney, too: there was a great thrill, always, in reading something and knowing where it was. “I’ve been there!” Ridiculous, really, because yes, I may have been there, but so have millions of others (including, presumably, the author), but there you go.
And since I’m talking maps, have a look at the new scarf I bought. New York subways! Maps! They had a London one, too, but it seemed a little too touristy to buy a scarf of the city one lives in… maybe eventually.