Just thirty-nine steps…

Here on the Grange life has been rather less than tranquil. I’ll keep this brief.

Upset tummies.

Not sayin’ any more than that because you KNOW what I mean. So, rather than dwell upon this unfortunate state of affairs, I’ll relate our away-day fun and shenanigans in London’s Chinatown at the weekend.

After a week and a day of … well… you know (upset tummies) and with all the physical strength of a bluebird’s tick (yes, that would be the small flea-like creature that I am assuming lives on the skin of the bluebird…. aw, c’mon, allow me a little artistic licence here won’t you?) we decided that enough was enough.

Those rail tickets and West End theatre tickets only have one use. Well, unless you count folding the paper up to snuffle under the wobbly dining table leg at the dodgy Chinese buffet? No? OK then, just the one use.

And so it came to pass that on Saturday morning last, we three *kings* from Yorkshire Afar did board the 11.59 train to London King’s Cross on our merry journey south. And verily, it was a marvelous, comfortable and remarkably speedy journey. So fast that my navigation app on my Galaxy phone could simply not keep up and had us still in Doncaster when we were clearly nearing the capital. Clearly, my phone doesn’t know its apps from its ebays…

Fun was being had on the train thanks to Toby’s incredulity at his mother’s approaching senility and the frequently farcical nature of our interactions which I might say, for the record M’am, were almost entirely unintentional japes. Certainly some of these centered around ritual repetition of the immortal lines from ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (or the ‘Sorceror’s Stone’, depending upon your position either side of the Atlantic), where an innocently cherubic Harry asks ‘Can you get all this stuff in Landan Hagrid?’ and receives the roguish response ‘You can if you know where t’look!’ from said half-giant. For some reason, the exaggerated accent on the word London makes us giggle like demented despicable minions – there’s just no explaining why it’s funny!  I’ll spare you further details; it should suffice to say that we alighted from the 11.29 (rather earlier than expected at 1.45pm) in a light-hearted and frivolous mood, which was a great relief after a week of ‘upset tummies‘.

Our itinerary was deliberately rather sketchy:

  • Board train at York, preferably the one that we had tickets for, to arrive in London at around two o’clock. Try not to trip up whilst getting on the train (or getting off it for that matter). Try also not to get thrown off for inappropriately childish behaviour – telling the trolley-dolley ‘I’m all set, fanks‘ (a la Ronald Weasley) then exchanging knowing looks before reciting ‘We’ll take the lot!‘ at top volume before dissolving into howling fits of chuckles, leaving the poor woman scarred for life…
  • Check out Platform 9 and three-quarters (of course!) with intention of snapping one or more of our party attempting (as Muggles are wont to do) to push a trolley full of luggage through the wall. Like you do. Hmm.
  • Get some form of public transport – bus or underground – to Trafalgar Square to put us in the right vicinity of the Van Gogh (I’m English, so I’m saying it like this… Van Goff. Actually, I am a reasonably well educated, former Art teacher with a great love for the work of this particular artist, so actually, I usually attempt a more European approach which sounds like Van Gockshlghzs. Yes, I know that makes little sense… but then, we’re talking about a madman anyway!) Exhibition. For the first time (possibly ever) two versions of the inestimable ‘Sunflowers’ paintings, both originals, painted by Vincent, are sitting side-by-side at the National Gallery, because those nice people at the VG museum in Amsterdam have lent theirs so that buffs like me can look at the two together with our own two eyes. No camera trickery required. It’s like a MIRACLE! I was really excited about this particular treat.
  • Mosey on round the side of the NG to Leicester Square to gawk at the Odeon, where all the premiere’s are shown.
  • Shuffle on around LC and down to Piccadilly Circus to ogle at the atmosphere, Eros and the iconic advertising boards and find our way to the Criterion Theatre to watch the show we had tickets for –  The 39 Steps.
  • Post show wandering into Chinatown to eat something authentic – we figured it’s more likely that Hong Kong Chinese food will be more like actual HK Chinese food than it usually is in English takeaways. Plus, it’s nearly Chinese New Year, so it is bound to be spectacular!
  • Possibly (depending on how we’re feeling by this time) mosey on round to Covent Garden. No reason. Just fancied the idea.
  • Finally, return to King’s Cross and catch the 9.00 train back to York.

It seems like a good plan.

Except for a couple of things.

We DID get on the correct train, at the appropriate time.

We'll take the lot!
We’ll take the lot!

We failed at not behaving childishly. Note to self: *grow up*. Note back to self: * Not a chance!*

We DID NOT manage to visit the hallowed Platform 9¾ as the queue of Muggles went half-way back to York. All things considered, perhaps Saturday lunchtime was not a good choice of time to visit. Fortunately, we did manage to pop in to the shop on our return, where I purchased a lovely Hedwig key-fob and made a note to get a Platform 9¾ lanyard for my grand-daughter’s upcoming eleventh birthday. It’ll go well with the letter from Hogwarts of course 🙂

Unperturbed, we trundled below ground to purchase London roamer tickets, so we could get any bus or underground train we wanted/needed to during the day. I bemoaned my absentmindedness at forgetting my Oyster card, which I believe is still valid and was roundly admonished by my lovely hubbie as he punched the required information into the machine. He was doubly put out with me when later I found the Oyster card in a pocket of the bag. Hmm. Oops!

Then, toting my camera like a proper tourist (which is odd, since this is about a mile from where I was born!)

The Shard - London's tallest building
The Shard – London’s tallest building
A new red London Bus
A new red London Bus

I snapped shots of various intriguing architectural features as well as the back of a shiny new red London Bus, knowing that later I would probably ‘rondulate’ them (which I have, of course!). We boarded the 91 and journeyed along the well-trod route inexorably towards our destination.

Tavistock Square
Tavistock Square

Passing Tavistock square was rather oddly moving – I was swept back to my very last day at QBS, the seventh of July 2007, when the carnage of the London Bombings prevailed. There was no obvious memorial – not that I could see from the top deck of the bus that is – but there was something in the air that brought me up sharp. Maybe it was simply the street name marker on the high wall.

The Fourth Plinth: Hahn/Cock
The Fourth Plinth: Hahn/Cock

We tumbled down the stairs to alight at Trafalgar Square, which looked much the same as it always does, with the exception of the Fourth Plinth of course. Today it bore the startlingly blue rendition of a domestic cockerel entitled ‘Hahn/Cock’ by Katharina Fritsch which, if you’re at all intrigued, please find out more about by clicking here for a link to the GLA’s explanation & video.

Then came the second change to the plan … the queue to see the Van Gogh’s was ENORMOUS! Clearly, if I had all day to wait then I could have seen it, but we didn’t have all day and so vowed to visit again, on a day that perhaps might not require us to spend so long just wait. ing. I have better things to do!

Not the Canadian Embassy?
Not the Canadian Embassy?

So then, I was struck by the wonderfully iconic image of the Canadian flags flying frantically, bedecking the frontage of what I took to be the Canadian Embassy. It turns out that it’s NOT the Canadian Embassy… although you could have fooled me! If anyone knows what this building is, I’d be happy to stand corrected. It lies on the East side of Trafalgar Square and even if you Google Street Map it, you can see all the flags. Hmm.

As the Plan lay in a tattered queue somewhere in the depths of my mind, we ambled round the back of the National Gallery – which somehow always feels as if it should be some kind of illicit activity! It’s not, of course, it’s just a rather nice alleyway-cum-shortcut to Leicester Square. There were some *dudes* redolent in baggy sk8ter pants attempting death-defying maneuvers down the steps. Of course, there are only about eight steps so not really with all the death-defying malarky of course! But they felt challenged, so I was happy to watch as we wandered past.

Maccie D’s for a quick cuppa revived us momentarily and we ventured further down Coventry Street to Piccadilly Circus. When I was small, I thought (genuinely!) that it would be better named Piccasilly Circus – I’ve always loved a word pun (Thanks Dan Kingkade!). Some very silly people inhabit this area indeed!

Street performers
Street performers

Toby was drawn into the interactive performance artists’ exhibit to much joy for all concerned.

The 39 steps at the Criterion Theatre
The 39 steps at the Criterion Theatre

‘The 39 Steps’ at the Criterion was fantastic – what a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture and furnishings! The Greene Bar is just breathtakingly lovely, but no photography is allowed of course, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The show itself was entertaining, amusing in parts, inexplicably flummoxing in other parts. I won’t give the game away by revealing what the steps actually are (I’m not sure I could!) but it certainly appealed to my mathematically-oriented intellect. Apart from a minor panic attack because the theatre was so full, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

By this time we had covered far more of the West End than just the thirty-nine steps, and given our state of ill-health the final part of the plan had to be concertina’d into a short tromp around Chinatown, stopping somewhat ill-advisedly perhaps at a small establishment that offered an all-you-can-eat buffet for £6.95 – truly a bargain under normal circumstances!

Having scoffed at the trough, we hastily departed and spent a (fairly) pleasant hour wandering in and out of various Chinese shops, recalling such times spent in similar pursuits in Hong Kong.

Toby's favourite Chinese snack!
Toby’s favourite Chinese snack!

Toby found a shop selling his beloved koala bear crunchies and ‘meltykiss’ treats galore.

Chinatown's decorations for the Lunar New Year
Chinatown’s decorations for the Lunar New Year
Kung Hei Fat Choi!
Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Another store sold all the gaudy paraphernalia required to decorate one’s home for the New Year – small stuffed horses (as 2014 is the year of the Horse),

Chinese lanterns
Chinese lanterns

paper lanterns, gold-embossed calligraphy urging appropriate New Year Greetings – ‘Double Luck!’ ‘Great Fortunes!’ and my personal favourite, ‘Long and Fruitful Life!’, alternatively known as ‘Fu’, ‘Lu’ and ‘Shou’. waving catThe ubiquitous waving cat, beckoning good luck towards your kitchen is a must as well. And of course, where would we be without the traditional kumquat tree whose tiny orange orbs  are reminiscent of golden ingots and also represent the sun, with all its gifts. 

The roof inside King's cross, lit up at night
The roof inside King’s cross, lit up at night

Laden with our New Year goodies, we tubed back to King’s Cross just in time for a short sit-down under the magnificent latticed roof before the return journey home. What a great break! We really should do this more often!

Thanks for reading 🙂



P.S. Tomorrow (or possibly the day after) I will post all the orbs of these pictures – some I really like! Come back soon!




4 Replies to “Just thirty-nine steps…”

  1. Thanks Dave! We had a blast – Toby is such a mushroom nowadays 🙂 By that of course… you know what I mean … he’s a real funghi. Fun guy? No? Well, I KNOW that you’re giggling now!


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