I really wish, considering how things turned out, that I had a great story as to how I found London Walks.
But the hard truth is, I was looking for a tax deduction. My husband’s company sent him to Europe for a series of meetings, and since it wasn’t going to cost them any extra to stash me in the hotel rooms, I bought an airline ticket and tagged along.
International airline tickets on my independent journalist income weren’t exactly compatible at that point. Not to mention two weeks without working would really decrease the checks coming in to cover that airline ticket. So my goal was to find stories to pitch and recoup part of the investment.
But wandering around London on your own isn’t terribly enlightening, unless you think someone wants to read about the ridiculous prices you found at Harrod’s in the appliance section. Or where to find the cheapest sandwich in Covent Garden. Somewhere in my wanderings, I came across a flyer for London Walks tours and figured for the 5 pounds it wouldn’t be a stellar tour — but if I picked up a few ideas it would be worth it.
Besides, you didn’t have to commit in advance — just show up at the meeting place and pay the guide. If it looked weird or off, I could pretend I was waiting on a friend. I love the chicken-out option. So I arrived at the Tube station meeting spot for the Mayfair walk with Graham (who is still doing this particular itinerary, hint, hint), determined he wasn’t a pervert, and dumped the change in his hand. We set off for two hours of the most lively tour of my life. Graham made the people behind those buildings come alive, he deftly wove in history in storybook form. He even sang for us, in a beautiful tenor.
I’m telling you, when this man pointed out the London Stone, I cared, which is more than Edward Rutherford managed to do in his 800-page novel about the city.
Next night, I was on the Pub Tour walk, learning the secrets behind the walls of what looked like ordinary bars along the Thames. That was all I could cram in on that trip, but when I returned with friends in 2004, I printed a list of tours from the Internet with a strong recommendation they join me on one.
They didn’t bite. Following a guide around and stopping every few feet to hear another obscure detail didn’t exactly move them. But the 16-year-old boy in their family did say he’d tag along when he caught the words “Jack the Ripper” between my husband and I. Apparently, anything would beat sitting around in a Chelsea hotel with his sister.
We had the good luck to arrive on a night when Donald Rumbelow himself was leading visitors through the dark streets, exploring the dastardly deeds of the Ripper, speculating his mindset, analyzing his motives. It was creepy. It was gory. It was fascinating. And one teen-age boy ate it up. To this day, he still recalls huge chunks of the drama and will debate who did it.
Which is an even better investment of two hours and a few pounds than a tax deduction.
Photography: cookipedichef (Flickr), London Walks