May 9, 2011, Monday
After a filling meal at TKS Italian in London City, Frances, Maiko and I hopped on the tube back to King’s Cross.
During our Harry Potter Walking Tour, somebody had asked our guide, Kontiki Richard, about where to find Platform 9 and ¾.
Kontiki Richard said that Platform 9 and ¾ could be found in the King’s Cross Train Station. The scene in the first movie was filmed in the said station, and the actual brick wall they used stands between platforms 4 & 5.
When Harry Potter became popular and tourists started flocking to King’s Cross to find the famous platform, the train officials decided to erect a “Platform 9 and ¾” sign on the wall nearest platform 9.
Platform 9 and 3/4, photo courtesy of Nenyaki
Maiko and I were amazed to discover this. We had chosen a hotel near the King’s Cross Station and we had been using the tube at that station on our daily excursions into London–not knowing that Platform 9 and ¾ was only a few yards away.
It was our last night in London so it was our last chance to see Platform 9 and ¾ before we headed out to Salisbury.
When we told my (former student) Frances about this, she said that she, too, wanted to see the famous platform. The three of us found ourselves at the King’s Cross Station at 9PM.
The tube station is separate from the train station, so we had to find our way there first. We saw a train attendant and decided to ask for help. Feeling ridiculous, I asked her where we could find Platform 9 and ¾. She gave us directions us with a straight face and in a matter of fact manner. (She probably gets asked this at least a thousand times a day).
She told us that since there was some construction going on in the station at that time, they had “moved” the famous Platform 9 and ¾ to a temporary location underneath some stairs.
Platform 9 and ¾ was made up of half a trolley/ luggage cart sticking out of a fake brick wall. The fake brick wall actually looked like wallpaper—the kind that you stick onto a board to create fake walls at a theatre musical.
It was definitely a far cry from its former place on the wall near platform 9, but we were still happy to finally see it.
Maiko at Platform 9 and 3/4!
While we were taking pictures, other fans arrived and queued up behind us. Just goes to show how popular Harry Potter is—I mean people were lining up to take pictures with a fake wall at 9:30PM!
After satisfying our Platform 9 and ¾ cravings, I had to attend to another important matter. It was our last night in King’s Cros, so I had to visit Aunt Helen (my stepfather’s aunt) and deliver some things. My parents had instructed me to buy Aunt Helen some flowers and bring her some grapes and cookies before I left London. I also wanted to give her the souvenir I had bought for her on our recent trip to Canterbury.
I dragged my poor friends to the nearest grocery store (which we had a bit of trouble finding. Luckily a shopkeeper directed us to a nearby Tesco). I bought a box of grapes, some tulips and boxes of cookies for Aunt Helen, and we headed outside.
Maiko and I had walked to her house the first time we visited her. The walk had taken us 15 minutes, but we it was almost 10:00PM, and after looking for the grocery store, we had no idea where we were—and we couldn’t quite remember how we got to Aunt Helen’s in the first place. More importantly, Frances had to get back to the train station in London to make the last train trip for Cambridge at 11:40PM.
We agreed to find a cab. We walked for 10 minutes without much luck. We finally decided that we might as well start walking to Aunt Helen’s. We hoped that the walk would jog our memory and we would remember how to get to her apartment.
The weather had gotten chillier and poor Frances was completely underdressed. I had given her the outer layer of my jacket back at the restaurant and I was hoping this would be enough to keep her from freezing.
As we were walking with our grocery bags, a distraught looking woman with a thick cockney accent approached us.
“Please, please,” she kept on saying. So we stopped. She told us a tale fit for the soap operas. Apparently she had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend at the tube station. He had left her without any money and her cellphone wasn’t working so she couldn’t call anyone. She needed £6 to make the train back to her house and was asking if we could spare her some change. Tears were rolling down and her cheeks and she looked desperate. She even offered to give us her cellphone or her earrings in exchange for some money.
The three of us looked at each other, baffled. The girl suddenly realized that we were foreigners and probably thought we couldn’t understand what she was saying. She asked us if we knew how to speak English, and all three of us answered “yes” automatically. Maybe we should’ve pretended otherwise.
Either the girl was genuinely in distress or she was the best actress in the world. Whatever it was, we were in a great hurry and we had to go. Maiko and I came up with £3 each and told her not use the money for drugs or something.
A bit disturbed, we started walking again. Thankfully, a cab passed by and we managed to make it to Aunt Helen’s by 10:10 PM. (But not before the cab had dropped us off some ways away from her apartment building).
I gave Aunt Helen the groceries. She told us we shouldn’t have bothered, and I told us I was under strict orders from my parents. She laughed and accepted the groceries. I gave her the Canterbury Cathedral magnet I had bought for her so she could add it to her fridge magnet collection.
Maiko had to help her place the magnet on the fridge, as Aunt Helen was having trouble putting it on there. While Maiko and Frances put away her groceries and the tulips (her favorite flower), I placed a call to my Mom on my cellphone so she and Aunt Helen could talk.
My parents had been worried about her ever since her phone line stopped working weeks ago. Aunt Helen is 80 something years old and lives alone at the top floor of her apartment. She’s lived there for 40 years and she’s fiercely independent so she refuses to go anywhere else. Her husband died 20 years ago, but she kept on talking about him like he had just gone off to the store or something.
She kept on offering us tea, but we were still quite full and in a hurry to get Frances back to the Station. We chatted with her for a little bit and even took some pictures with her.
I had my backpack on me, and I was all set to go, but it was so hard to leave Aunt Helen. She was so endearing and obviously was hungry for company. She accompanied us to the elevator and was still talking and waving by the time the doors closed.
Maiko remembered the route we took the other day, so we walked back to the hotel. There, we deposited our bags and the big bag of gift sFrances had bought for us—which she had been carrying the whole day. I also gave Frances an extra sweater had I brought with me so she wouldn’t freeze to death.
It was 11PM and the station was at least 10 minutes away. The three of us ran from the hotel all the way to King’s Cross Station. Frances was wearing high heels, of all things—but the girl was an expert and never broke her stride.
We got her there to the station, said hurried goodbyes and urged her on. We didn’t want Frances to miss her train to Cambridge. With one last wave, Frances ran through the gates and toward the tube.
Maiko and I headed back to the hotel. We were worried that Frances might have missed her train so we stayed up to hear back from her. At around 1am, she texted us that she was safely back in Cambridge, and she thanked us for the wonderful adventure.
What an adventure indeed!
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