Meandering Man: A Free Saturday in London

Saturday London Sightseeing
An April snowstorm back home blocked my Saturday return from London. So I had a free day to sightsee and shop for the kids (and me).

Jersey Shopping, Pub Hopping, Pottering – Dad About Town

In the midst of February, buried in snow and cold as we have been, dreaming of April seems a worthwhile pastime.

It nearly always arrives on schedule. You just have to wait.

Though sometimes it brings its share of sudden snow and mayhem in its own right.

Such was the case a year ago, when after a week at our London office I was set to head home Saturday morning, only to learn, the night before, that airports back home, from Chicago to Sioux Falls, were shut down in the blizzard’s onslaught.

There are certainly worse times to find out than a day in advance. So, making the most of my ill fortune — if you could call it that — I set out to explore the London I’d barely seen during my working week.

Would I take a tour up to Scotland to sample my favorite scotch, Laphroaig? Alas, the 12.5 hours by train ruled that out as a day trip.

Or, could I drop in on my adopted favorite football club, Accrington Stanley, as they were vying to make history by winning promotion from League Two? Train tables showed I could just make it before gametime if I headed out early that morning, counting on a walk into town and the stadium, but no guarantees I could make it back and catch my flight home. (They ended up drawing with Exeter, anyway, and won promotion a few days later.)

Turned out, a train to Germany would have been faster than either trip. But also fraught with logistical tangles.

I decided to sleep in and decide later.

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Platform 9 3/4

There’s nothing quite like sleeping in, in a big bed of your own, when you’re used to kids rapping at the door before 6 and climbing in with their cold feet. The fresh air billowing the curtains in our company’s Shoreditch flat proved restorative, and I set out for a Saturday seeing the sights with no rigid timetable, just my willing two feet and “Dadsense” to guide me.

First, I hopped the double-decker bus north to King’s Cross Station, in search of the Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. The London clouds parted and the day was blue and springlike, the temps cool and pleasant as the bus wound through sleepy neighborhoods.

At the station, the usual throng awaited. There was no indication of any big deal, any Pottermania, at least not in the main area of King’s Cross, and so I felt a little self-conscious, training my phone on the platform numbers, wondering if Harry hysteria had abated and I would be the lone freak seeking the magical embarkation point for Hogwarts.

It hadn’t, of course. And I wasn’t.

Though I seemed to be the only one keen on documenting the significance of platforms 9 and 10 side by side, a lengthy queue pointed definitively to where the 9 3/4 shop sat off to the side. There was some event going on, posing for pictures for the new Magical Creatures movie or something, but I was able to skip past that attraction and push my way into the stifling two or three rooms.

From floor to ceiling were arrayed wands and robes and owls and sweaters, and people of all ages angling for a glimpse or feel of this carefully crafted memorabilia. The place may have been a bit more magic, so to speak, if every square foot of space wasn’t occupied by two or three wizard wannabes and meandering muggles alike, with another three or four more waiting to pass through.

I snapped a series of shots, and hung around long enough to purchase a faux acceptance letter for my Potter-mad sister-in-law, which I dutifully forgot to send her for her upcoming birthday and hung on to till Christmas. Sorry, sis. But hopefully she got a little vicarious jolt from the pictures of this hallowed ground?

I was just grateful to have spent an interesting hour and to head back into the sunshine again, before detouring back down into the bowels of King’s Cross to take the tube to Piccadilly Circus.

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Football Kits & Piccadilly Kitsch

My mission in a return to Piccadilly was to head to the headquarters of football, Lillywhites, and see about getting my sons proper football shirts from London.

Piccadilly on Saturday was the usual blend of costumed performers and busy displays that I’d taken in earlier in the week. Though now my stop had some purpose to it.

I climbed the winding stairs to the “Home of Football” — a whole floor carrying the whiff of rubber athletic shoe soles and boasting a jersey from every club worth knowing in the Premier League, as well as the kits of several top teams from the continent.

No Accrington Stanley, though. Pity.

I chose for my oldest son a throwback 1966 England World Cup jersey, with Bobby Moore’s #6. For my middle son,  selected an Arsenal kit in red, his favorite color; and for my youngest, a blue Chelsea shirt.

Lillywhites offered customization, and I didn’t have anything else to do that day, so I ponied up a few extra bucks for them to sew on Foutz and some numbers for the boys — though not on the Moore vintage shirt — and headed back out into the Saturday sunshine to find a pub to hole up in for a few hours.

I’d largely been stymied in my mission to watch any football draws of consequence throughout that week. I kept ending up at pubs where there was pre-paid, private, members-only viewing of the match I preferred to watch. Or — let’s face it — there weren’t many city pubs willing to tune their sets to the likes of Accrington Stanely, or League One side Bradford City.

I settled in to a pub in Piccadilly and watched a good match, anyway, seeing Chelsea come back from 2-nill away at Southampton to take the game. Suitably loaded up on football and a few pints, I ambled back across the square to pick up the gorgeous customized jerseys and spilled back onto the bus back down to Shoreditch, where I had myself a grand afternoon nap before heading back out for a final pub dinner and a good hour or two with a book.

Next time? Maybe I plan that trip better up to Islay, or make a determined foray into the continent. Perhaps take in a proper London football match. As long as there’s time for a nap. Only a few sunny Saturdays have the stuff to top that.


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