A Trip to London by Train

I’d booked tickets to see what sounded like a rather intriguing musical experience for the evening.  You’ll remember, from my previous writings, how much I like to get my money’s worth when I head to London so I travelled up mid-morning, taking the train from Uckfield, for my latest assault on the capital.  The journey takes a little over an hour and the train was very comfortable and running to time.

The only annoyance was that infernal “see it, sort it…” message they keep running.  I just have to cover my ears each time it comes on, otherwise they’d have something to sort all right!

After arriving at Victoria Station, I enjoyed a lovely stroll through Green Park to get to Piccadilly.  Green Park is so named because it features only trees and grass throughout its 30 acres with footpaths criss-crossing as thoroughfares to various locations around its borders.  Most of its trees are common lime and plane trees, but there are a few black poplars which are Britain’s rarest native trees.

No flowers though!  The story goes that King Charles II’s wife caught him picking a flower and giving it to one of her maids so she had them all torn out.  This may or may not be true, but nobody mentioned this to the thousands of golden daffodils that dare to show their faces each Spring.

Back in the 18th Century, you wouldn’t have caught me in the park as it was frequented by highwaymen so robberies were an everyday occurrence.  Today, there are no Adam Ant lookalikes, only some office workers lounging in the deckchairs for hire and tourists sporting designer trainers and backpacks.

Hence, I reach Piccadilly in safety and with valuables intact and turn right to walk through the arches of one of London’s most iconic hotels, The Ritz, where afternoon tea will set you back just shy of £70. The good news is that you can add a glass of champagne for only an extra £22.

Of course, you’re not just paying for the combination of eggs and flour, or even the cream and jam topping, you’re there to enjoy the stunning backdrop of the hotel’s former ballroom where the tea is served.  It really is like stepping back in time and to ensure nobody spoils the surroundings for anyone else, there’s a strict dress code so my fellow Green Park strollers can forget about it unless they carry more appropriate attire in those backpacks.

A little further along, I pass the fascinating Burlington Arcade.  This has to be one of London’s most successful, luxury shopping locations and it’s been that way since it opened in 1819.  This makes it one of the UK’s oldest shopping arcades.  It’s a covered avenue with iron gates at each end that get closed outside of shopping hours.  Stationed at the arcade’s entrance are gentlemen called ‘Burlington Beadles’ in fine gold-braided uniforms.  As well as welcoming those who come to shop in the exclusive stores selling jewellery and perfumes, enjoy the personal shoe-shine service or quaff champagne in the Bollinger Burlington Bar, they’re there to enforce the arcade’s rules.  One of these rules specifies that there is to be no singing or whistling in the arcade, although rumour has it that Sir Paul McCartney is exempt from this ban – I know not why.

Shortly after, I reach Piccadilly Circus.  It’s world famous for two things, the illuminated advertising hoardings surrounding the buildings on its northern end and the statue of Eros set high on a rotunda outside the Criterion Theatre.

Today, the advertising hoardings are hi-tech LED screen displays that, to my mind, lack the charm of the older neon signs.  Before neon, the signs used regular light bulbs, but were switched to neon in 1910.  The first neon sign was an advert for Bovril and through the years they’ve displayed enticement to buy all kinds of goods and services from airlines and cigarettes to chewing gum.  One of the most consistent and memorable brands has been Coca Cola.  Aside from when the signs were dark to facilitate the switchover to neon, the lights have rarely been off.  Three memorable occasions are World War II and during the funerals of Churchill and Princess Diana.  Even following the death and during the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth they remained on, although the adverts were replaced with a message to reflect the occasion.

Eros isn’t really Eros!  Although everyone calls the winged, bow-wielding cherub “Eros,” it’s meant to be a depiction of his brother, Anteros, who was the God of selfless love.  When I tell you it was created in the late 19th Century to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury’s selfless work to abolish child labour and secure education for children, it makes sense.  However, as it was the location where I met my (current) husband on our first date, I prefer to think of the statue as Eros, God of erotic love – oooer!

Either way, it’s probably London’s best-known statue and remains a popular meeting spot for friends and lovers alike.

I always enjoy walking past the Horses of Helios, a beautiful sculpture by artist Rudy Weller of four horses cast in bronze, rearing out of a fountain on the corner of Piccadilly and Haymarket.  Today, I’m severely disappointed to find the fountain dry and the horses shut up behind an ugly metal fence so they can hardly be seen.  An internet search shows they’ve been like this since 2020 and I can find no information as to why or when they might be back on display.  Such a shame and a terrible waste.

I dash across Leicester Square as there’s not much to interest me here, although as I skirt Chinatown I can’t help but be impressed by the hanging Chinese lanterns, so I pause for a quick snap on my way to Bloomsbury and the British Museum.

Now there’s far too much involved in a visit to the British Museum for me to simply include a couple of paragraphs here, so I’ll save it for next week’s article, just to give you something to look forward to.  After I’d had my fill of historical culture, I headed to Covent Garden.

Covent Garden is a real tourist magnet but today I’m here for practical reasons.  I’ve made an appointment at the swanky, multi-level Apple store to have my iPhone battery changed.  After dropping it off, I take the opportunity to enjoy today’s busker.  There’s always at least one busker in Covent Garden.  It’s a sole gent who’s not playing an instrument but is instead singing along to backing tracks with both track and vocals coming through a single speaker.  It strikes me that his voice bears a similarity to Nat King Cole and, after a while, it’s clear that he agrees as his repertoire includes many of the great man’s most famous songs.

As I watch, I note people approaching him to show their admiration in the traditional manner (i.e. with money), and I see that even the buskers have gone hi-tech.  Instead of the customary ‘hat on the ground,’ this guy has a card reader so his appreciative audience members can do what they’ve become used to doing best and simply tap to donate.  That’s the modern world for you.  I guess I’m just old school.

After collecting my phone, I get a wiggle on to Pizza Express Holborn for the main reason I came to London and I barely have time to place my order before the packed room darkens.  A guy who turns out to be David Bowie’s former publicist, appears onstage to introduce the evening’s entertainment.

Cue two skinny blokes in unremarkable dress taking their places, one behind the grand piano, the other on a bar stool behind a microphone stand.  These are Chad Lelong, a virtuoso jazz pianist and singer, Oliver Darley.  The latter looks more like Dominic Cummings than David Bowie, and my hopes of hearing anything memorable drain away.

Then Darley begins to sing…

Now I understand why Ray Charles described his voice as one that could “sing the angels to sleep and wake the devil from his bed.”  They kick off with “Life On Mars,” and Darley is able to demonstrate a falsetto that grabs one’s heart and squeezes every drop of emotion from it before flinging it aside, exhausted and battered but crying out for more.

They’re joined by two further musicians but it’s Lelong and Darley that command the show as they lead us through just over an hour of Bowie magic, including some of his less obvious compositions.  They also perform a version of “Sorrow,” a song not composed by Bowie but rightly associated with him due to his superb version on the Pin Ups album.  Every song is rendered beautifully and I’m left desperate for more, knowing I want to see them again wherever they might appear.

They have an album due out toward the end of this year on Lateralise Records entitled “The Seat With the Clearest View.”  I can’t wait for its release.

Burlington Arcade:  https://www.burlingtonarcade.com

The Horses of Helios Sculpture:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Horses_of_Helios

Covent Garden:  https://www.coventgarden.london/

Singer, Oliver Darley:  https://oliverdarley.com

Lateralize Records

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

One thought on “A Trip to London by Train

  1. What an adventure you had in London, Maria! Your vivid descriptions made me feel like I was strolling through Green Park and wandering past the iconic landmarks of Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden alongside you. I can almost hear the hustle and bustle of the city and picture the charming sights you encountered.

    It sounds like you had quite the cultural and culinary journey, from the historic Burlington Arcade to the modern delights of Covent Garden. And your afternoon tea experience at The Ritz sounded like a delightful step back in time. I must admit, the strict dress code adds an extra touch of elegance to the occasion!

    The highlight of your trip, though, was undoubtedly the mesmerizing performance at Pizza Express Holborn. From your description, Chad Lelong and Oliver Darley truly brought the spirit of David Bowie to life with their captivating rendition of his music. I can almost feel the energy and emotion of their performance through your words.

    Thank you for sharing your London adventure with such enthusiasm and detail. Your blog post has me itching to plan my own trip to the city! I can’t wait to read more about your visit to the British Museum in your next article. Keep those London adventures coming—I’m already looking forward to the next installment!

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