You would think being an LSE graduate student would mean you did fewer ridiculously stupid things (if only because the intelligence from your lecturers and classmates rubs off), but I have still managed to do an extraordinary number of silly things. One of them was getting lost in the park, during my first weeks here.
I live minutes away from the famous Hyde Park, so I can go for a run (jog… brisk walk…stroll) almost every day. At first, I took this up with enthusiasm. In Kenya, we don’t usually have parks or gardens – most people who jog outdoors just run on the quieter streets and lanes. So one evening, back from campus, I decided to go for a run.
I know I’m stating the obvious, but I must make this point: Hyde Park is HUGE! It is surprisingly easy to get lost in a park that can be accessed by seven different tube stations! So usually, I use the Lancaster London Hotel as a bearing to make sure I have not gone too far when I am running. This is a hotel that has a uniquely typical London architecture, what people here call a “cheese grater.” Cheese grater buildings are these huge block-like buildings where the windows resemble the holes in the graters (a cool metaphor, no?). Anyway, as long as I can see the cheese grater building, I know I’m not too far from home.
Normally, I run down past the Italian Marble Gardens and fountains. But that evening, I was feeling particularly adventurous and decided to run on the Kensington garden side of the Italian Gardens instead of the Hyde Park side. My logic was that if you run round two sides of the same landmark, you will meet at some kind of convergence point. So I ran round, and took a right, then a left, expecting to come out right at the same point where my normal route takes me. Needless to say, I did not. Unperturbed, I jogged across to the nearest map. The map showed that I was somewhere near Hyde Park Corner, the opposite side of the park! I shook my head dismissively; I could still see the distinctive cheese grater hotel that was my landmark. The map was obviously lying! I could not be wrong, could I? I continued jogging on, heading towards the giant cheese grater building. The plan was to go out of the park and just walk the “few metres” back home on the main road.
When I finally reached, I got out, fighting the sinking feeling in my heart, telling myself I had just run around somehow, and that this was the Lancaster hotel. So, I walk out of the park, only to see that it was not the hotel at all, it was some high-rise office building in Mayfair! Never have I felt more naïve. Of course! Who says there’s only one huge cheese grater building in a vicinity of four kilometres! This was obviously ANOTHER huge cheese grater shaped building! And somehow I had run from the Bayswater area and ended up in Mayfair, which was only as familiar to me as its location on the Monopoly Board!
Now, the panic started to creep in. It was going on six-thirty and the soft golden-pink sunset was a thing of the past. The sky was turning into a deep blue, which meant only one thing: it was getting dark. I channelled my inner Katniss Everdeen for the mission of finding my way home. I tried looking for other familiar signs, but there was only a Pret a Manger café, an unhelpfully ubiquitous landmark. So, I plunged back into the park and tried to go back the way I came. But it was hopeless; I could not remember. It was now properly dark, and I was in a real panic. All the stories of what happens to people staying out in parks at night came back to me, as unpleasant thoughts are wont to in such situations. I thought of Mufasa’s advice to Simba: when in doubt, look to the stars for guidance. I looked to the sky desperately. The sky was clear and not a star in sight! So much for that plan, of being miraculously guided home by stars from the Lion King!
Desperate, I bumped into two cyclists whom, on impulse, I decided to ask for directions. They turned out to be tourists. But … they had a map! The two kind tourists accompanied me till the main road, and gave me their map, which I this time followed. After half an hour of walking, I finally reached Bayswater Road, and was greeted by the familiar sight of my very own cheese grater; the Lancaster Hotel. I have never been happier to see it!
Wisened (and wizened) by this experience, I have, for my own future reference, and for anyone who has had a similar experience, jotted down some simple tips to avoid getting lost:
1) Do not assume that two routes will eventually connect (unless you studied maths or geography or some such subject…).
2) When in doubt, check the map.
3) When you and the map are at odds, the map is probably right.