London Grilling with Ben Wallace
Some of you folk may be familiar with Ben Wallace - he’s that Londoner who’s gone where no Londoner has gone before.
Think it sounds easy? Well think again; Ben’s here to take you through his experiences!
You and your girlfriend, Fliss, decided to try and complete the Time Out 101 things to do in London before the Olympic Games, in a little over 1 year. Where did this fabulous but slightly barmy idea spring from?
You know how people have fads? A diet fad, a fitness fad… Well, last June I sort of had a London fad! Having lived in this great city for two and a half years I hadn’t visited any of its major attractions. I hadn’t been to the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, I hadn’t circled the London Eye, and I hadn’t even taken a boat on the Thames.
Having decided I should see more of the city, I needed a place to start. Enter the Time Out list of top 101 London attractions, a compilation of museums, galleries, bars and restaurants that people travel from all over the world to see – and which I had never visited, despite them being just a short trip from my front door.
It wasn’t hard to persuade Fliss that visiting all 101 attractions on the list was a good idea, and we set about hatching a plan that would keep us going. How many times have you promised yourself you would visit a museum, and then forgotten or found an excuse not to go? For this to work we needed a deadline, a goal. So we decided there and then that we would get through the whole list in the year before the Olympic Games opening ceremony on 27th July 2012. We no longer had a list: we had the 101 challenge! In the year following that decision we documented our progress on our blog.
It must have been quite a feat of organisation with so much ground to cover – what was your strategy?
When we started the 101 Challenge I don’t think either of us knew quite what we were taking on. 101 of anything is a lot. People often think that we had to visit roughly one activity every three days (365 ÷ 101). But what we realised very quickly was that once you took into account our jobs, holidays, Christmas and social occasions the reality was that we had to fit and book them in whenever we could find the time.
With a full-time job the first thing to do was work out which sites could be visited after work, which made a pretty nice excuse to visit the bars and restaurants on the list! But with limited time off and many 101s open only at weekends, lie-ins became a distant memory as Saturdays and Sundays were spent running between London’s best attractions.
A major issue was that not all of the 101s are open all of the time. For example, Lea Valley White Water Rafting shut in October 2011 to ready itself for the Olympics, and is only due to open again about now. Likewise, Buckingham Palace shuts to tourists over the winter. If we hadn’t managed to get to those places with limited opening in time, we would have failed the challenge almost before it had begun. I’d like to say there was military precision in the planning, but the reality was more along the lines of a colour-coded calendar and a willingness to give up all our free time!
Out of the tasks, what was:
The most fun?
This is the question we are asked the most often, and a question which we can’t yet answer. How can you compare the British Museum with white water rafting, or compare eating Turkish food in Dalston with using a pottery wheel or visiting Kew Gardens? The variety of things to do in London means there is something fun to suit any mood and any type of person.
Some of our favourites included visiting the Monument, having a party on the London Eye and frequenting Gordon’s, London’s oldest wine bar. But it is all personal opinion, so I’d say it might be best to ask people to take a look at the list on our blog and decide for themselves!
It was meant to be the ultimate London list, but the top 101 wasn’t all fun. Number 50 was to visit London’s oldest telephone box. Now don’t get me wrong, I get that the red phone box is an icon of Britain and a symbol of London. I understand that tourists love them, as in fairness do I, but a top 101 attraction? If you do feel the need to visit Britain’s First Telephone Box it is located inside the gates of The Royal Academy on Piccadilly. There is nothing specifically more or less exciting about the phone box and in fact it is dirty, litter-strewn and doesn’t work like most of London’s phone boxes!!
It is amazing just how many of the places on the list incorporate – either in part or in some cases as the main attraction – dead things in jars. At least four have some preserved remains of animals, humans or both. If this intrigues you then the Horniman, Natural History Museum and Grant Museum of Zoology all have plenty of dead things in jars. But perhaps the strangest is the Hunterian Museum, which houses an enormous collection of human anatomy in jars, including a perfectly preserved quarter of a six- year-old boy’s face!
You’ve just finished your 101st task, right on time, we might add! Has the last year exhausted you or stoked the fire in your quest to continue doing more awesome things in London?
If there are just two things we have learnt this past year they are that it is fine – and in fact a good thing – to be a tourist in your own town, and that London has far more than 101 things to do. The list of museums we have yet to visit and restaurants yet to eat in grows by the day, and there are countless other galleries, shops, gardens, festivals and markets still unknown to us. That won’t stop up trying, mind you, and we are planning on keeping the blog running for as long as we have the enthusiasm to keep exploring our home.
If you could tell our readers just one thing they absolutely must rush out and do this weekend in London, what would it be?
I am going to go all political and not give a straight answer. London has so much to offer to so many tastes. I could reel off a whole list of favourites but they couldn’t possibly appeal to everyone. Check out the blog and look at the list and see what takes your fancy. The best thing I think I can say is to try something you wouldn’t normally choose, or at very least try somewhere new. Familiarity can breed contempt; get out and sample the different, the novel and the infinite variety that you can find so close to home.