Saturday, November 01, 2008

Because I'm worth it

Last Friday I had a meeting with my mentor. He is someone I see every couple of months -- I explain what I'm trying to do at work and he picks gentle holes in it. I close the hole, and another one appears. After a couple of hours he says 'yes, that just about makes sense' and I leave feeling a bit tender but much happier. It's very therapeutic. And the idea is that I do a better job as a result, which is why NGO X is prepared to spring for an off peak train ticket to London and a sandwich afterwards.

Normally I try and combine this with another meeting in London, as by the time I've got myself back to the office it's hardly worth it, but last Friday I decided instead to take the afternoon off. I was on the South Bank, so I thought of the Hayward or Tate Modern, but those are default choices. I wanted to be intrepid.

Intrepidness also involves avoiding the Tube, so I decided to go somewhere I could walk to. I settled on the Imperial War Museum, which I don't think I've been to before (or if I have it was a long, long time ago). I got most of the way there by walking along the river, past the London Aquarium, which awoke my Blackpool nerve endings... water noises, chill wind, the smell of cheap food, hordes of disoriented people having organised fun a long way from home.

In the IWM cafe, I read my book about growing vegetables over a homity pie and a glass of red, which led to a conversation about the trials of clay soil and the joys of sweetcorn with an elderly couple with cut-glass accents. Turned out he owns a farm just outside Oxford. She lives in Chiswick. I suspect they were having an assignation.

I stumbled into a First World War trench on the way to the loo, which was interesting, but I still had Blackpool on my mind and it was a bit too reminiscent of the Gold Mine ride on the Pleasure Beach. Anyway, what I'd really come to see was the Holocaust Exhibition.

I've been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, and seen various films and read various books - most recently The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn (a hefty tome that I read in Finland and which M dubbed 'Jo's Bumper Book of Jews'). I've learned something from all of them. But the exhibition at the IWM is easily, far and away, the best thing I've ever seen, read, watched or listened to on the subject. It manages to combine the sort of historical analysis that can only happen from a reasonable distance with survivors' testimony that can only be gathered from living memories. I was in there for hours, and then, by the exit, I sat down and wept.

I started to wander through the In Memoriam exhibition about WW1 afterwards, which is also excellent, but I couldn't really take it in. So instead I wandered around the park outside for a while, then headed back over the river to meet my friend R after work. I did this by getting on a bus, and I was incredibly pleased with myself for managing to avoid rush hour Tube hell *and* get a great top-deck view all the way over Westminster Bridge and into Soho.

I was hoping I could persuade R into the Intrepid Fox, which I used to love. I wanted a shot of the legendary, terrifying toilets for my collection. But sadly, it is boarded up. We went instead to the gorgeous Busaba, and then to a strange little wine cafe on Lexington Street where we squeezed into the tiniest space imaginable and drank something exorbitantly priced but delicious while trying (and failing) not to bang our heads on the legs of ham swinging from hooks around the place. Not that it was a problem, we were too busy talking talking talking.

I couldn't avoid the Tube forever, and I used it to get myself to Paddington in time for the last sensible train back to Oxford. En route I checked my phone to find a text message confirming a rumour that I hadn't dared really believe might be true. I was hoping M would be up to help me celebrate, but figured I would probably, in my half cut state, be rather annoying company. But then halfway home I looked up at a familiar window, to see someone leaning out of it, surveying the street scene. It wasn't C, as I had expected, but his 17 year old daughter G, who invited me up. There was a little session going on, of the sort I almost never get to take part in these days. I wondered at the appropriateness of this, and then thought 'fuck it'.

So I got home smelling of smoke and pork, giggling a little and giddy with happiness. I"m guessing most people's Me Time won't look anything like mine, and I wouldn't try and persuade you that it should. But I would try and persuade you that it's worth taking some. The glow still hasn't quite worn off.

joella

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