It happened again this last trip to London. I wanted to go somewhere on my own and one of my loving relatives was concerned that I would get lost. This happens every few trips.
I travel for work. I touch down in cities I have never been to and I get myself from point A to point B. If necessary, I will take a cab. It’s more my style to take a bus, a train or walk. It’s what I do and it’s who I am.
In London that style becomes more pronounced. My first Christmas was spent in my Nan’s flat on the North side of the city, near Islington. Some might recognize The Angel as a nearby landmark. When I was little I used to go and visit my Nan for a month, it seemed like every year or so. The kitchen in the flat was small and it was necessary to make trips to the market every few days. The fact that my great-Aunt who lived with my Nan worked in the market also resulted in additional visits.
The market was fun for little me. Stores lined the long street of the Chapel Market. Sainsbury’s as well as Mark’s and Spencer’s still to this day anchor the market. Woolworths used to be another big anchor store. I bought presents for The Child’s first Christmas at that same Woolworths 14 years ago, but I digress.
Along the streets of the market, vendors set up their carts with fresh fruit and vegetables. I used to love getting green grapes from there. There were clothing vendors, music vendors all the way up and down the street. I remember being at the market on holiday in 1979 and hearing for the first time, Paul Mc Cartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time“. It had just been released and it was the perfect song for that fourth Christmas of mine. I can describe to you in detail the Christmas morning from that year. The dinner table was stacked with presents like I had never experienced in my life.
From Nan’s flat, the Chapel Market marked the gateway to The Angel. When I was young, it seemed like every London bus stopped at the Angel. From the many transfers we made, I knew it wasn’t the case, but the hustle and bustle of this hub was always so exciting. When riding the bus, I never realized we were approaching the Angel until we were right on it, then it felt like we had to scramble down the stairs of the red double decker before we missed our stop.
In 2010, I was in town for the weekend was compete in my first 10K run at Hampstead Heath. I took the train to my Nan’s flat to visit my cousin who still lives there and decided to walk about 5 miles back to my hotel. Point of this story is that this is a piece of the earth that I am very comfortable navigating.
Earlier this month, I was staying with my sister and her wonderful family and needed to make a stop to see that cousin at my Nan’s flat. My brother-in-law kindly offered to drop me off and pick me up after the visit. I was on a very strict time schedule for the day and having him drive me would be the smarter choice. I asked my dear brother-in-law instead to drop me at the train station near the Angel so I could get a visual on it and then I would take the tube back to his house.
My relatives in New York and London always fear I will get lost. I assured my brother-in-law I was fine and as we drew closer to the Chapel Market, I saw a Fish and Chip shop that Laura and stopped at to picked up dinner one night about 14 years ago. I bid my brother-in-law adieu, hopped out of the car and was on my way.
As I walked through the market a firehose of memories drenched me in the story of my life; I was little and I was grown up. I was with my Nan and my mother and with my Great-Aunty Myra. I was also with my wife and with my little baby daughter. In the moment, I made the following check in:
I decided to walk out of the Market from the far end nearest my Nan’s flat. We didn’t go that way much when I was a child and it always felt odd. I stopped at the Catholic church at the end of the street and blessed myself. There were two Catholic churches in that neighborhood. One of them was the one that Aunty Myra used to take me to when I was little. Those few church visits made a lasting impression on me.
After I visited my cousin I headed back to the Angel through the market. I walked the streets of my childhood looking at parks where I used to ride my skateboard as a tween. I remembered falling and hitting my head. We didn’t wear helmets back then and my eye twitched for a good 5 minutes. I looked for the long-gone shops from my childhood where I used to buy the Beano and the Dandy every week. Now you can only get them as annuals.
As I entered the market, for the second time, I noticed that the little store that used to sell the ice creams with the two flake bars sticking out is now an Indian restaurant. That place was little-kid heaven.
Woolworths is long gone and the market isn’t what it used to be. Though short on time, I rushed through Mark’s and Spencers and remembered the sweaters I used to get from there. I still shop there when I am in London, even if I don’t need anything. I remembered doing the grocery shopping in Sainsbury’s both as a child and for The Child.
I rushed through the Angel, passed bookstores I used to frequent and ATMs where Laura and I once got cash. I entered the Angel Station and pressed my Oyster card to the turnstile and the gates opened for me like I was welcome; like I was home.