Life has a funny way of giving my ample tushy a good nibble. None more so than Friday's day off in our capital city, London.
My friend Jane and I decided that we would have one day to do what we wanted, when we wanted with the emphasis on being able to chat without interruption from children, husbands and other such distractions.
So there we are sitting on our spanking clean train waiting to depart from Luton when there is an announcement. The train's going to be delayed due to a passenger medical emergency on board and they are waiting for the paramedics. So we wait and people watch, until we are advised to get off and board the train on the opposite side to continue our journey....this is number 1.
People Jane and I recognise...Lesley the vicar from St Luke's Church...tick.
So we get to St Pancras and spend the next fifteen minutes looking for the bus stop to get to the National Portrait Gallery. During which time my husband phones and I end up losing my travel card. So, we retrace our steps and low and behold, just outside the station on the ground is my ticket...this is number 2. Yep this day off is going so well so far...You think?
National Portrait Gallery wandered through, I stared disapprovingly at Sarah Churchill, who manipulated poor Queen Anne (one of my favourite and very mis-appreciated monarchs) we head off toward Covent Garden in search of lunch. Can we find somewhere that's reasonably priced? No. So a quick check at my phone (which is at this time being used more as a mini computer rather than it's primary purpose) for free attractions within walking distance. It suggests the British Museum. So off Jane and I set, still in the search for food. Eventually finding an Italian restaurant with a meal deal for pizza or pasta, salad and a drink for £10 we order. Sitting outside Jane and I people watch, mostly of strangely clad, faces glued to their phones/tablets humans. Have we really evolved this far that we spend the majority of our time glued to a screen rather than use our voices to interact with others? I realise the irony of this comment seeing as I am staring at a screen typing this blog post.
To our abject disappointment there were no trip ups from the glued screenables walking past us. We enjoyed our lunch despite the serving staff constantly asking us if we wanted them to remove our salads and no we didn't. This was number 3.
The British Museum beckoned. Absolutely stunning and imposing building. We walked in, and due to the immenseness of the place, I walked out. For me it was far too much to cope with and at this point in our trip I needed some peace and quiet. Hence my cuddle with Leo the Lion outside.
So Jane in her wisdom suggests the British Library. We could go in, grab a book and sit down with a cup of tea/coffee and relax. That is the plan, or so we thought.
We wander through the back streets of London in search of a bus stop to take us there and discover some of London's gems. A tiny park with benches only for use by weather beaten townhouses. A widgey little shop filled with oddly named bottles of beer and whisky are our attractions, and despite needing a cup of tea, this is turning into a good day.
Eventually we find the bus stop and the right bus. Get on, only to be told as we make ourselves comfortable that we need to get off at the next stop as its well behind time and will be terminating. So we get off and wait at the stop for the next bus, only for an hysterical woman to run past us saying the word 'bag' over and over again. From the tone of her voice Jane and I deduce that she is deaf, a quick glance at her ears and she is wearing two hearing aids. Understandably this poor woman is deeply upset, we ask if she needs help, and try to explain to the bus driver what has happened.
At this point this poor lady has tears in her eyes, and is getting more and more hysterical. So Jane and I attempt to calm her down, and we interpret (I can understand a bit of sign language thanks to Justin and Mr Tumble.) with the bus driver. She contacts the previous bus and to our relief, the conductor has found it...Thank God. However, she needs to get off at the next stop and go to the bus stand to retrieve it. Unfortunately the woman doesn't understand, so Jane and I make the decision to escort her and help her. The bus is waiting outside London University hospital and the conductor hands it to her. The woman asks us our names and hugs us, so I attempt to sign our names, she asks how I knew sign language and sign 'Mr Tumble' which brings a smile to her face....This is number 4.
FINALLY after all that kafuffle we arrive at the British Library. Now here is where I didn't do my research and admit that I should have done. In my innocence I thought that the British Library had LOADS AND LOADS of books and we would be able to find a book and sit down on a gorgeous leather chair in silence. Yeah, I was wrong BIGTIME.
It turns out that the British Library is in fact an archive and in order to use the reading room you need to register and then follow a list of rules and regulations about what you can take in there with you and what you can use, etc...which for me was a heck of a disappointment sadly...Number 5
A mooch around the Library shop provides me with goodies, including a Librarian badge in the colour of my old senior school house Whittle which was red, Yay! I was a librarian at Bexleyheath School for 3 years and I loved it.
After a cup of tea Jane and I go back inside and look around an exhibition. To my delight the treasures there are a copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels and a letter from Queen (Princess as she was then) Anne describing her irritation with her sister (Queen Mary) for insisting she dismiss Sarah Churchill from her service. I seem to be rather obsessed with Queen Anne at the moment.
Its a wonderful exhibition and well worth a visit in my opinion especially for a history buff or for someone who loves books and how they have evolved.
After this we decide to head to the station and look around the shops, stopping at a Scottish bakery stall to buy two doorstep pieces of shortbread. One of my favourite shops Fortnum and Mason has a shop in St Pancras and I spy packets of Queen Anne tea. However, Jane in her wisdom drags me out and insists that for Christmas from the kids I ask for tea and biscuits from them. More people watching.
We had to wait unfortunately for the peak time to pass before Jane and I are allowed to get onto the platform. Sitting down and waiting for our train I spy a familiar face, Gail Porter. She is a Scottish celebrity. Anyhoo, a woman was struggling with her baggage and before Jane and I could offer help she and her daughter had helped the woman up the escalator. Gail had asked if anyone had helped her at all, to be told she was travelling from Vienna and commuters had been rushing by and at one point knocked her over.
The train arrives, and just before we board I summon up all my courage to say 'That I thought she looked like Gail Porter' to be told by her, that she was. Her delightful daughter bursts into laughter.
We get on the train together and chat about how kindness and compassion seems to be disappearing from everyday life, we exchange a few stories, Gail shakes my hand before going off to find a seat...This was our number 6.
I didn't ask for a 'selfie' or an autograph. For me observing the way she went out of her way to help someone was enough. We seem to be blinkered and caught up in the busyness of our everyday lives that sometimes we need to take the blinds off to see what's really going on around us.
In conclusion, our day in London has been an eye-opener for me. Jane and I saw more coffee shops, mini supermarkets (we counted ALL the main ones within our walk), and a myriad of uniquely dressed people, one of whom actually 'clicked' his fingers to summon his assistant! or minion as I referred to him. After arriving home I tucked into my tea of chow-mein, caught up on Four in a Bed and hit the hay.
Writing this blog post brought this observation:
Giving someone a helping hand with their bags, a simple hello in the morning on the school run, or even writing a card to say you care. It's the little things that count and a little human contact goes a long way. So look up from the screen occasionally, there's a big wide world out there and the reality may be more rewarding than living in cyberspace.
I'd be interested in hearing your stories.
A big thanks to Jane for resisting the urge to strangle me during the day.
Keep it Kooky!