Monday, 4 January 2010

I'm a moonwalker, not a terrorist

This isn't an excerpt from the book. I'm not really allowed to give any of that away (main reason: there is no book). But this is a story from my bluemoonwalk last Thursday. There's a lesson here: it's how not to ask a policewoman for directions.

I stood below Big Ben, chatting to Dr Darren Baskill: a man I’d never met before, but a man who insisted I call him Das. We talked about how his emails had helped me through my year and how his photos from the evening were so much better than mine. He’d photographed a clear, crisp partial lunar eclipse above the clock tower ("Big Bill" as he decided to name it); I’d been stopped by police on the Embankment so got a slightly blurry, slightly hurried eclipse above the Thames. It looked more like a dodgy lightbulb photographed by a drunk horse.

As Das disappeared into the crowds (over 200,000 revellers, I heard the next day on the news), I headed the other direction, towards Birdcage Walk. It seemed westerly and the right direction for Hyde Park, home to my next lunar investigation of the night. The moon hung behind me, to the east. And everybody else in London was walking past me, to the river, to the east.
Must be this way, I thought. But then I’m hopeless with directions. So a few feet from Big Bill I whipped out my A-to-Z. I’m even worse with maps.

A policewoman sidled over and stood beside me.

Now, I knew I hadn’t killed anyone tonight. I was confident of that. But I did have a rather large bag over my shoulder. And I’d been walking around London for the last five hours taking photos of the city’s most famous landmarks, while checking my watch and looking skywards every few minutes. And I’d just stopped talking to a man with a super-duper camera, who, for hours, had been taking close-up shots of Big Ben. But did that really make me look suspicious?

Now I was consulting a map, and on that map I’d highlighted lots more terrorist sites. I’d highlighted each with a big circle, and arrows, and the occasional skull-and-crossbones (you mean you’ve never done that?).

OK, yes, I looked very suspicious.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the policewoman apologised for standing so close.

“Sorry, have I-”

“No, no,” she said. “Sorry. It must look- I just- Are you OK? You look lost.”

Ha! Me? Lost? Me, a man who’s just spent a year walking around Britain. At night! Me? The moonwalker? Moonman?

“Yes, I am actually. Is that west?” I replied.

“Where are you trying to get to?”

So I explained that I’d spent the evening walking between 13 lunar sites in the capital and now I needed to find Hyde Park, because it’s where 15,000 women walk half-naked once a year.

Now I looked
and sounded suspicious. A perverted astronomer.

But she continued without a blink, as though that was one of the more sane stories she’d heard tonight. And instead of arresting me there and then, which – I admit – may have been wise, and would’ve become my best New Year story ever, she took a map from her pocket. “New Year Celebrations Map.”

A drunk man dressed as a horse cantered by and wished us Happy New Year. I expect he was off to photograph the eclipse.

“There’s Canary Wharf,” she said, pointing to the Isle of Dogs. “And there’s London Bridge. Oh, and there’s the London Eye.”

“Ah yes. I’ve been taking photos of those all day. London has so many great targets. Not ‘targets’, sites of national interest. Not like that. You know, nice places to visit. If you have no interest in terrorism or…”

She just stared at me. And smiled. “Go down Victoria Street.” She followed the route with her finger. “Through Westminster. Turn right there.”

“But that’s completely the wrong way. Sorry. I mean, you’re right because you’re the police, but I think you’re completely wrong. You trying to give me a bum steer? Sorry,
bottom steer.”

Not once during the whole evening did I witness an angry member of the police force. Full moon. New Year. Testosterone bashing into alcohol. And not a belligerent copper in sight. Just very pleasant ones who were as bad at reading maps as I am, and who shook the hooves of passing pantomime horses.

“How about Birdcage Walk?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.” The young lady’s eyes lit up. “That’s a much better idea. I only said Victoria Street because I walked up it earlier.” She paused. “Though I’m sure there was something else about that Bird walk you mentioned…”

With reasoning like that, I decided it was time to stop asking her advice and head on to the Winter Wonderland of Hyde Park, where I wanted to meet a singing moose from Germany. So I thanked my police friend (deciding against asking if I could take her photo), passed two men dressed as cows, and departed.

As I reached Birdcage Walk, I discovered the “something else”. The thing that would stop me from taking the nice, quick, direct walk to my moose, and instead push me into another mile-long detour on dodgy knees, through sub-zero temperatures...


Anonymous said...

I loved this last entry Rob. Thankyou for a most entertaining year
Maia x

Rob Self-Pierson said...

Thank you, Maia.

Just one post remaining. To be written and published today. Eek.

Thank you for being so kind and helpful throughout my adventure. Hope to see you again soon.