Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Tourist

Sitting in the Detroit airport, thinking about our eventual destination…

Maybe I’m not, as friends and family seem to think, Jethro. But I am an … idiosyncratic sort of tourist.

Sure, I want to see the usual things in and around London – the Tower, the Bridge, maybe Stonehenge when we get out of town. My granddaughter wants to see Mme. Tussaud’s. I will also reluctantly accompany her onto The Eye, even though the smallest carnival Ferris Wheels give me the fantods.

But I hope she and my wife will indulge me on a few somewhat more oblique digressions.

My notion of what to see Over There is heavily influenced by fiction. This means that I want to see places where people who never actually existed didn’t actually do the things that I read about. That means some of these sights aren’t much to look at, while some are entirely imaginary. But I want to see where they would be if they did exist. Hard to explain.

I’m not entirely alone in this. Some of the more esoteric (I thought) sights have been sought out by other fiction geeks ahead of me – which will save me time in “finding” them. Others are a bit more problematic.

Some examples:

  • The one that causes the most eyebrow-raising when I mention it (so I’ve stopped mentioning it) is Championship Vinyl. You know, the record shop in High Fidelity. Yes, I know it’s not real. But I want to find where it would be if it did exist. Fortunately, Nick Hornby supplies some good clues (“We’re in a quiet street in Holloway, carefully placed to attract the b are minimum of window-shoppers…” near Seven Sisters Road…). When I find the perfect location, I suspect it will be a vacant storefront or some such. Nevertheless, I’ll take a picture to prove I “found” it. And if I don’t find a likely location, I’ll console myself by heading over a few blocks to Arsenal Stadium (Fever Pitch).
  • I had thought no one else would ever think of this one, but I was wrong (link): I want to see the path in Hampstead Heath (just a few blocks from our hotel) where Gen. Vladimir was assassinated by Karla’s people at the start of Smiley’s People. Maybe I could even find the fork in the tree where George found the tattered packet of Gauloises with the crucial negative in it. If so, I’ll get a picture of that, too.
  • Of course, there’s always Smiley’s flat, and I know the actual address.
  • I’ll go see the new MI6 HQ, which le Carre called “the River House” in The Night Manager. But what I really want to see is The Circus. Fortunately, others have identified it as being this building. And it’s near some great book shops, so my wife might not mind this detour too much.
  • The Islington highway exit where Arthur Dent was dropped off when he returned to Earth at the start of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.
  • Tea at Fortnum’s. OK so this is a typical tourist thing. But here’s my reason for wanting to do it: When Percy Alleline confronts Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, accusing him of consorting with “defector” Rikki Tarr, a long stream of things run through Guillam’s head in an instant (one of the best passages of that sort I’ve read outside Dostoevsky). But what he says is, “Sure, Chief. Rikki and I have tea at Fortnum’s every afternoon.” Like a couple of scalphunter tough guys would do that. His facetiousness saves him. Anyway, that’s what got me interested in having tea at Fortnum’s: I want to do something that two people who never existed didn’t even do in fiction. Also, I think my wife will enjoy it.
  • Finally, I’d really love to find some landmarks for the Aubrey/Maturin novels, but I know that after all this time it will be hard to find places that look just as they did in the early 19th century. For instance, can I find anything that looks like the Grapes, in the liberties of the Savoy? Or, is the old Admiralty building still in use, where Jack and other officers paced the First Lord’s waiting room, hoping for a ship? We’ll see…

So you see, I’ll be busy.

But you know what I want to do the most? Find and experience things I never even thought of, things I didn’t plan. The places and things I’ll just run across and be delighted by – those are the greatest rewards of travel, I find.

Don’t you?

10 thoughts on “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Tourist

  1. Burl Burlingame

    Slight warning: London is BIG. An inch on a map could be ten miles away. Also, never trust street addresses. Also, when a Londoner says something is X minutes away on foot, it’s really 2X. Maybe 3X.

  2. bud

    But you know what I want to do the most? Find and experience things I never even thought of, things I didn’t plan. The places and things I’ll just run across and be delighted by – those are the greatest rewards of travel, I find.

    Don’t you?

    Absolutely agree 100%.

    But there are some odd little things I always have wanted to see. For some reason I had this urge to see Forest Gump’s bench in Savannah. My wife and I made a special trip down their just to see it. The actual bench was just a Hollywood prop but the location was in one of those beautiful little mini-parks they have all over downtown Savannah. It was defintely worth the trip.

  3. SusanG

    If you want eclectic and very English, try the John Soane museum (http://www.soane.org/). It’s near the British museum, and it’s his house, packed with stuff he accumulated in his travels all over the world. It’s just an amazing place — very 19th century.

  4. Steve Gordy

    Brad, since you have an interest in British nautical novels, I suggest a visit to Portsmouth; tours of H.M.S. Victory and the Tudor wreck Mary Rose are available. The train from Waterloo Station stops within easy walking distance of the Royal Navy Museum.

  5. Brad

    Now that I’ve left London, I can report that I more or less did the first four (I found the old Circus, but didn’t bother going to the new MI6; I might have been seen there and then what good would I be to the Service?), and I rode past Hampstead Heath in a double-decker, but didn’t actually trace the path…

    Also sort of did number six — we went to Fortnum’s and spent quite a bit of time there, but did not actually sit and have tea.

    And the Aubrey-Maturin stuff was pretty hopeless, but we DID go to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which was great. Saw Nelson’s uniform coat from the Nile, and a statue of Sidney Smith. Don’t think I saw Cochrane, though, which would be the next best thing to Jack Aubrey himself…

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