I have a confession: yesterday, on the way to The Times Online's Live London Q&A, I got lost. The Man was kind enough to point out the irony of the London expert getting turned around on her way to answer questions about, er, London. Not that it needed any pointing out, really.
The journey didn't exactly get off to a great start. A few minutes before leaving the flat, I went to get my trusty A - Z. But do you think I could find one of our many copies? No. Several minutes and multiple dust bunnies later, I was still scouring under the bed in hopes of finding one buried amongst the rubble of paper. I tried to calm my rising nerves, telling myself that I'd be alright. After all, I did have step-by-step instructions from GoogleMaps. How complicated could it be?
Well. I should have known better. When you go to East London, nothing is easy. You might start out on the right street but somehow miss veering off to the left and end up far from where you're supposed to be. Why not just look at the signs? I hear people asking. If only, if only. Locating a sign anywhere can be a task; they're so rare you'd think they're made from gold. My GoogleMap was soon rendered useless as I'd strayed far from the square inch mini-map of where I was supposed to be.
Luckily I'd left plenty of time to make it for the 1 p.m. start. So I quelled my growing sense of panic and stopped to ask a builder for directions. As nice as he was, said builder also happened to be Australian and although he tried to help by looking up my destination on -- argh -- GoogleMaps, he had as much of a clue as me (none).
Scurrying down the frigid streets back towards my starting point to start all over, I decided to ask another dapperly dressed gentleman. No joy -- he was a recent transplant from India and was lost himself. He shrugged as he wished me luck and we plodded off in opposite directions.
It was now 12:30 p.m. Standing in the maze of streets, my hands were blue-white and numb from clutching my GoogleMap. My vision was blurred by the wind whipping my fringe into my face. How on earth was I ever going to make it when no-one had ever heard of The Times, let alone how to get there?
There was nothing more I could do. The time had come to abandon myself to the street god of East London.
A ray of light blinked out from behind a cloud, temporarily blinding me. And as my vision cleared, I saw it: Wilton's Music Hall. Wait, I thought. I know this place! I'd researched it for my book way back in the summer, when the whole area looked completely different than its current bleak wintry landscape. I grabbed my crumpled GoogleMap. There it was! A landmark I was standing right beside. Now I only needed to go down the street, turn left -- and lo and behold, I'd make it!
I broke into a run, my heels clomping in the empty street. Almost there, almost there, my heart pounded out. The Times' sign came into view and I slowed my pace, trying to breathe normally and pull myself together. I was here. I'd made it.
I am a 'London expert', after all.