Confessions of a Trainee Tour Guide: Part Three
The third and final installment of chronicling my adventure in training to be a Westminster tour guide!
I must apologise as various commitments have, as ever, obstructed me from updating you all on my progress as a trainee tour guide for the City of Westminster. For the uninitiated, you can read more about why I chose to go on the course run by the University of Westminster here and here – the second one you can actually see me delivering a stop via the medium of Youtube.
So, after traipsing around Belgravia, Whitehall and St James, we were tasked with our first piece of assessment. It contributed 25% of the overall mark which was a daunting prospect to confront and it was no easy task either: to design a walking tour that was Westminster themed.
I spent weeks consternating what my walk should be about. At the very early stages, I planned on doing a ‘Death In Westminster’ tour that would have gone around various Churches, former undertakers and hospitals. Another contender was a Church walk, which would have included Westminster Abbey and St John’s Smith Square. But I know about Churches anyway, from Wren’s rebuilding programme to the Victorian gothic monsters that are mostly still with us today, and wanted to ‘push the envelope’ when it came to delivering something that would interest and challenge myself.
I then had the brainwave of writing the walk that would utilise a part of my life that I hadn’t really explored before. My career is in retail, and with the popularity of TV programmes such as Mr Selfridge, Are You Being Served? and the damage the past five years have done to our High Street: how interesting would it be to create a walk that not only shows off the shops of Westminster but highlights their local and national importance? Take John Lewis for example – the very first department store which opened in 1864. Imagine if it hadn’t. Carnaby Street leading the way for fashion that was available to all in the 60’s and its influence today.
As soon as I was happy with the concept, I went on a reccy. I walked down Oxford and Regent Street, taking photos of shops of interest with my iPhone, taking notes where I could position people and how much I’d have to bellow to fight the noise of constant traffic. I plotted all the shops I found of interest onto a mapping application and whittled my selection down to twelve key stops.
The new/old HMV with its recreated shopfront © Dave Patten 2013
Another thing we were asked to consider was how long the walk would take. If you’re to offer a tour to clients then it’s fairly important you inform them roughly how long it will go on for – this is an unexpectedly common mistake some guides make: I can think of one example after a tour of Brompton Cemetery a few years back where five hours had passed and the tour wasn’t anywhere near finished. There was only one solution to this and that was to actually deliver the walk. So one late-night Saturday, me and Steve toddled up to Oxford Street where I gave a rough one of each stop. Ideally I’d like to have delivered the tour when it was meant to be delivered – a Saturday at 9:30am to replicate the conditions it was to be given, however owning to other commitments that wasn’t possible.
Two hours later, and I was satisifed I’d constructed an engaging walk. Having completed the tour I’d allayed a lot of my fears about whether I’d be able to do it. Now I’d reached Bull-in-a-China-Shop territory. Just get it done, finish the rationale explaining why I wanted to do the walk, milk my brain for a few more nuggets for the quiz questions, it’ll be fine!
The result was delivered back towards the end of January and I’d been granted a merit, which I was very happy with. There were a few things to work on, as expected – explaining things in a little more detail, not presuming everyone knows who John Nash is and so on. ‘An interesting project that will make an enjoyable walk’.
One down. Next – delivering a tour of the National Portrait Gallery. The. National. Portrait. Gallery.