Kings Cross Station
The trains at Kings Cross are England’s answer to the Italians and their Renaissance, and are a very British response at that. “Da Vinci?” England said. “Oh, quite, yes, I’ve heard of the bloke. A painter, as I understand it. Capitol. Capitol! Painting of Christ in the Italian landscapes and all of that. Of course you understand instead of painting landscapes in idealistic Renaissance scenes, we British built trains so that one might just sit down and in not but the time it takes to sip a spot of tea, be taken to a castle, or to roman ruins, and all with landscapes for backgrounds those Italian painters could never paint so green. No, no, Mother Nature is the true artist. That’s what I always say.”
And it is magical. The trains at Kings Cross are English genius at its best. You stand at Kings Cross station, sit on a train, there’s a bit of a swirl and a blur as the English landscape whizzes past, and then you stand and that’s all you have to do. Sit then stand. Sit down in London, then stand up in an English village or castle or countryside.
All too often at Kings Cross, however, this magical trance is broken by the trolley stuck into the wall at Platform 9 ¾, and this morning it was eyeing me as I walked on my way to where the trains line up to hustle out across Britain. It was early. I had a ticket to Peterborough, where I would hop an easy cab to Stamford. I woke up this morning and it just felt like an old stone medieval town today. I hadn’t eaten breakfast but I know a place called Cozy Club in Stamford where they serve a full English and an Orange Juice with Bitters as an extra wake-me-up, and it’s only an hour start to finish from my hotel. One of the advantages to being in London and having the trains at Kings Cross is you can wake up on any day of your holiday and say, you know what, I skipped dinner last night after The Lion King because I just didn’t have an appetite for meat after all of those majestic animals came marching down the aisles, but now it’s the next day and I’m starved and I’ll be damned if I don’t feel like a full English Breakfast in a medieval town.
“You’re not really magical, though,” the trolley said with a smirk as I passed. “Are you. Bloody muggle.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muggle muggle muggle…” it started, like in the beginning of the song Madness by Muse.
I grit my teeth. “Not again!”
“Muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muggle muggle muggle,” it continued in the melody, reminding me that I’ll always, no matter how quickly and effortlessly the trains of Kings Cross apparate me across Britain, just be a muggle. I can use the cleverness of what muggles can invent and mechanize, sure, but I’m still muggle born. No wand required to board the trains at Kings Cross.
That’s not the worst of its taunts, either. Sometimes it does the Christian Slater as Will Scarlet in Robin Hood taunt. You know, the whole, “There was a rich man from Nottingham…who tried to cross the river…Oh what a dope, he tripped on a rope, and now he’s going to shiver….” And then in the same note it adds… “as a muggle who can’t do a warming spell.”
Even that’s not the worst of it. He likes to make fun of the fact I couldn’t even get into Hogwarts in the first place because not only am I not a wizard, but I’m also an American, and therefore can’t even get into the American school of witchcraft and wizardry called Ilvermorny.
I mean comparing Hogwarts to Ilvermorny is like a Princeton kid saying, “Oh yeah. We’re a great school. We’re responsible for John Nash and his theories of economics,” and then a student from thousand-year-old Cambridge walks by with his middle finger in the air but still looking down at his book of Shakespeare and muttering casually, yeah, but we invented economics.
I tried to ignore him. But this is a tourist attraction, which, until after about 10 pm, has a 45 minute line of Harry Potter fans taking pictures. It knows how to get attention, like any true carney.
“Nice wand!” he yelled. “Or is that just your scrawny ass arm. Sorry, mate, but no trains here leave for a gym!”
I kept walking.
“OI!” it called. “And that must be the Nimbus 2000, or is that just your freaking nose you freaking Pinocchio mother f*&ker! Up! Up!”
“That’s it,” I snapped. “Enough is enough. I may be a muggle, you’re right, but you tell me one damn thing a wizard can do that I can’t do right here in Kings Cross station.”
“Why don’t you try pushing this trolley through to platform 9 3/4, where the real Hogwarts Express is waiting to take real wizards to Scotland from London, in one day, and then you tell me, mate.”
“One day to Scotland, huh?” I turned on my heel and marched into the train ticket counter and I puffed up my chest and pressed straight my kilt (though I was wearing jeans) and I tilted forward my Harris Tweed cap and I said, “I want a ticket to Edinburgh. In Scotland.”
The guy at the ticket counter looked mildly impressed, and nodded, but when he asked on what date I would like to return, and my answer was, today, he slowly lifted his eyes. His nostrils flared with pride. He said nothing as he slid the tickets across the counter. Then he reached into his own front pocket, unfolded a Harris Tweed cap, and fit it snugly. It turns out his belt was actually a rope and when he untied it he released a kilt that bloomed and caught the wind and straightened like a sail. “I might as well be making the tickets out to William Wallace himself,” he said, beaming with dignity and his accent pure Scottish. “It’s about time someone shut up that bloody carney of a trolley stuck into the wall,’ he added. “Braveheart.”
I shoved the tickets into my back pocket, just like where Harry keeps his wand. I passed by the trolley once, twice, but he said nothing. No taunt. He was beginning to think he suspected a trap.
“But then, “Oi, Johnny!” it called. “What painter are you modeling for today, because you’re a poser! Muggle!”
Do you remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf the Grey reveals he is Gandalf the White? I threw off my cloak, beholding my ticket to Edinburgh.
The trolley grimaced, shielding its eyes. “You can’t pull off a day trip to Scotland from London! Muggle!”
And now I’m on my way on a train from London in Kings Cross to Scotland, and I’ll be back tonight. No packing. As for proving to that trolley that I am indeed a wizard and not just a muggle…I guess in the end that depends on if I ever really did apparate. I’m still not sure, or even sure if it matters. According to film, when you apparate, there’s a great swirl of the world around you. You’re pulled apart in a sort of way, and then you’re pieced back together in the new place you thought about before you apparated. You tell me. Muggle.