London, United Kingdom
With days counting down, there was no point further delaying today’s inevitable excursion. I hopped on the Northern Line and went all the way to the place I called home for several years, Kentish Town. Getting off at the station was a little disorientating but by the time I was at the top of the escalator – I was back. The first thing I noticed were a few superficial changes – a Sainsbury’s where the Iceland used to be and a new Pret a Manger – looks like Kentish Town has gone up in the world! But on the whole, it was overwhelmingly familiar.
My feet found their well beaten path, heading up lovely, colourful Leverton Street towards my old local, The Pineapple and the shop on the corner that was good emergency vegetarian supplies as opposed to the Falkland Stores (on Falkalnd St of course) that could be counted on for anything else.
It started to rain as I closed in on Montpelier Grove and that felt about right. I had to laugh at the melodrama of it all as I approached # 6 where Matthew and I had spent so many happy years. I also had to acknowledge that I was feeling much stronger than I had turning up at our place in Vancouver just a few months ago. Of course that may also have had something to do with the fact that this had always been a share house – firstly with the crazy owner, Saz who left to write dubious sapphic poetry in France; Isabelle who’d come from France and made the best beer crepes; Flat-Dan (as opposed to Friend-Dan) the quintessential whinging pom; Pieter who we found out years later was working for the Government on counter-terrorism (we thought he worked at a University); even Liz spent some time with us after finding knives under the mattress in her bedsit and of course my sister Rachael, partner Marlon and technically my nephew Madiba who was first found to exist in our little garden flat. A lot of memories, too many to contemplate standing here in the rain in front of what is now someone else’s home. Not wishing to arouse suspicion, I moved on back to the high street, every step reminiscent of another time gone by.
Kentish Town certainly seems to have continued on the trajectory of gentrification that it was on at the time we lived there with even more cool cafes and bars vying for prime position amongst the old local institutions – the less salubrious Rio Spa, Sam Widges sandwich shop, Phonecia Mediterranean Food Hall, The Owl Bookshop and my favourite, Blustons – dressing the ladies of North London in polyester for the last 80 years!
I kept on towards Camden along a stretch once known as the ‘Murder Mile’ for obvious reasons. I still wouldn’t drag my heels if I was passing through at night but as it was broad daylight, I felt quite safe. I gave the famous markets a wide birth at this stage and headed straight to the Elsevier office which relocated to Camden shortly after I left.
There I met Vic, Friend-Dan and Helen before heading to nearby Tupelo Honey cafe for another blast from the past and a delicious lunch. They returned to work and I did what must be done – plunged headlong into Camden Markets! Once synonymous with social discord and anarchy, Camden is still home to punk but it’s now more a fashion statement than a social one. So too has its world famous market been tamed with the annual addition of more fixed structures in place of ramshackle, transient stalls. A recent refurbishment has seen it developed even further with the inclusion of many horse sculptures and statues, too many, acknowledging the markets former life as a stable yard. Even Cyberdog, a once hardcore, underground cyberpunk clothing label, now has an escalator in its 3 storey complex! All this is not to say that the markets have had their day, far from it, it’s still an ongoing and thriving market place with original and interesting wares and people from all walks of life.
I did a full lap before catching my wind again at a tucked away cafe in the old stable section. I’d done well to resist buying anything but for reasons unknown to me, I decided at the last minute it would be best if I bought a very wintery, wool wrap around top and an equally toasty cashmere jumper just in time for me to leave London and head to sweltering Thailand ahead of my return to summer in Sydney. What’s more, I then dashed back up to Kentish Town with a crazy notion that I should buy something from Blustons!
By the time I got there, it was 10 minutes past their unusually early closing time but I was not disappointed because up in the sky, smiling down on me and all of Kentish Town was a double rainbow! It was awesome which I mean in the most literal sense – people stopped and stared, chatting to each other in a shared moment of joy at natures wonder. It was good to be back in my old ‘hood with such a glorious reminder that even though ‘into every life ,a little rain must fall’, without it there’d be no rainbows!
At the end of the working day I wound up back at Elsevier to again rendezvous with Dan and this time, Mary. We settled in at a nearby pub that was decked out for Halloween. We ordered a round of ‘Wicked Witch Ale’ and swapped horror stories. Mary regaled us with one in particular about her recent excursion to get passport photos taken which ended up with the very strange store owner combing and centre parting her hair before taking the photo. He then proceeded to turn into a calendar which he gifted to her as a souvenir of their time together. This could only happen to Mary.
Vic joined us for a second round before we all parted ways and headed for home. Luckily for us, Pete had already prepared dinner when we walked through the door. If I’d started my day visiting my old home, there was little doubt that tonight I returned to a new one.