This is the story of when I got lost downtown London as a kid and what it taught me.
This experience has been on my mind now in the last days even though there are many years since it happened. As I’m constantly becoming more aware of that success in business and in life in general, has so much to do with self-improvement, self-growth, motivation, our environment, our upbringing, how we view the world and our past experiences, I have been examining my past more to see what has shaped me to the person I am today and how my story may inspire others. So I wanted to do a blogpost on the time I went to London for the first time to visit my aunt.
Way back in 1990 when I was 12 I had been enjoying my summer vacation in the North of Iceland with my other grandparents. At that time I lived in the capital of Reykjavik in the South with my parents but my favourite place to be and were it truly felt home was in the North with their parents. It was actually in the end of summer in August when the phone rang and the parents of my father wanted to take me with them to London to visit their daughter who had been living there for many years. The idea of having an extra vacation in another country was very exciting as school was just around the corner.
Having lived in Denmark for 3 years before this it was not a completely new experience for me going to another country but I had never been to a city like London and I knew that it was BIG. This was a quick decision as the plane was leaving the day after so off I went and two days later I was in London. Although summers in Iceland could be ok in temperature it was nothing like being in London with 30+ degrees celsius. It was a nice change. All that traffic, the foreign smell of everything, the people – everything was so busy and different from the small town I was playing football in just 2 days ago.
The first days were spent taking walks in the park, taking a look at the nearest neighborhood and meeting some friends of my aunt in a garden party. At this time I was highly interested in airplanes and wanted to become a pilot and I used to have airplane models that I had assembled with glue. Naturally I had been asking my grandparent about going to see if there was some kind of toyshop nearby that would sell airplane models as the supply in Iceland was…well…not spectacular. So my grandfather promised to take me shopping the next day – probably just to get my to shup up.
The next day me and my grandfather went off while my grandmother went about some other business and my aunt was at work as I remember. We began by walking in good weather down to the trainstation of the Putney district. There we took a train down to the Waterloo trainstation. I always remembered the name because of that song with ABBA which I was not a big fan of but my mother used to listen to. From there we took the Subway to Oxford street which is like the main shopping street in London. I remember feeling quite confident as I knew that my grandfather had been visiting his daughter before and that this was not his first time traveling London. I think we must have walked for like an hour up and down Oxford street trying to find a good old Toy store but with little luck. Then we decided to try a new strategy and go to Regent street which is just next to Oxford street, a little less busy I remember but still with a lot of shops.
At some point we decided to take a red bus, you know the famous double decker, at the top of Regent street and see if we could locate a Toy store from the top of it as our legs were starting to get tired. So up we went and it was great sitting at the front looking at all the people from a good view like that. London was great! Then half-way down the street I spotted a store I really wanted to check out so I stood up and ran down the stairs shouting “granddad hurry up I saw one!”. Expecting my grandfather to be on my tail shortly I leaped from the bus as it was stopped suddenly in traffic. I must have over-rated his sprinting skills at 50-something because he sure took his time to get down from the second floor of that bus to join me on the sidewalk.
But as soon as he was about to exit the bus (the double deckers didn’t have doors – theye were open at the back – or at least this one was) the traffic started moving again and so did the bus and I watched my granddad drive away with the bus. At first I was sure that the bus would stop again or my grandfather would shout at the busdriver to let him exit but that didn’t happen for whatever reason – maybe he thought the same thing or maybe he wasn’t a good english speaker but I remember starting to run after the bus on the very busy side walk. The bus sped up and all the people shopping made it very difficult to keep up and soon the bus had vanished at the end of the long street. I couldn’t believe it. Two days ago I was a worryless kid playing with my football out on the field an now I was lost downtown London? I remember having flash-backs at watching Home Alone about that poor kid. This was for sure something that just happened in movies right?
I can still remember as clear as I sit here today and write this post the exact moment when I saw the bus disappear and having to decide what action to take. I had not been in the situation before and now I really needed to take the right action. London is not maybe the best place to be alone if you are 12 years old, not having been there before, being able to speak some english for sure – but not fluently. I didn’t know who to speak to but I remember having some thoughts about finding a police. But the thought of it scared me as I didn’t know if my grandfather would come walking maybe anytime soon and I didn’t want to embarrass him. Also I didn’t see any police nearby. So what did I do? I waited. There were a lot of people in the street and I decided it would be ok to see if he would come back so I stayed in the same place for about 20 min. When he wasn’t back by that time I knew that I had to do something. My grandfather was probably in Scotland by now and it was on me to find a solution.
I decided to just go the same way back we came from.
I searched my pockets and I don’t remember if I had a return ticket for the subway but I think so – so I started trying to remember the Subway station from were we came from. I knew it must have been Oxford station or something like that because we arrived there. It was quite a walk back but I managed to find it. I remember all the people walking by me, how alone I felt, the hot breeze through the tunnels and the noise. I remember seeing finally a police man but I was actually to afraid, to embarrassed to talk to him and I also had never seen a police man with a gun before. In Iceland they don’t have guns so this was a little bit frightening I remember. So I just walked by and decided to use the rule of elimination. I knew that I had to get to Waterloo station. I remembered that we exited the train there so I would manage to get there I was almost half-way back. Half-way to safety and we could all just forget about this whole thing.
There I stood in front of the Subway map that looked like an unsolvable math equation for me at this age but after some scanning I did find the word “Waterloo”. Now just to get there. I decided to ask a fellow stranger – somebody who looked nice – about how to get to Putney area. But incredibly I couldn’t remember the exact name at the time – I just remembered that it started with a P – so there I stood in front of this poor man asking him directions on how to get to Pi, Pah…Puhh….Pehhh……and finally he asked “Putney?” And I was like YES! He told me what tube to take and soon I was off my way to Waterloo station. The sweat leaking down my legs and ankles is a very clear memory as I had probably never in my life been as stressed as in that moment. Alone traveling the Subway at 12 not really knowing where the hell I was going….in U.K.
As I stepped out of the tube and walked up the stairs I was very impatient knowing if I would recognize myself again. Sure enough this was the train station I had been just hours before with my grandfather. What a relief! Suddenly it felt closer to home. Now I just had to find the train from Waterloo to Putney. I recall having a return ticket of some kind of extra ticket – I don’t remember exactly – but after some searching I did find the train going to Putney and being able to board it. I remember being very stressed about locating familiar surroundings from the train window – and after a short time I did see landmarks that I had seen before. The feeling was great. I knew the way home to my aunt from the train station as we had walked there one time before this. It was up a long street from there and to the left on the 3rd crossing. Luckily it was still daylight – if it would have been dark I’m not sure I would have found the way home.
Incredibly I had found my way back to the front door of my aunts home in about two hours time from when I had been alone downtown. To my big frustration there was no one home. So I sat there probably for about an extra hour watching the planes fly by. There was an airport not far from her house and I remember seeing a Concorde fly by and being able to almost see the passangers inside. What an unforgettable moment. That noise! What an unforgettable day!
I remember suddenly hearing my grandparents and my aunt come home ( I think they were arguing hehe) and I remember their faces when they saw me sitting there. My grandmother had gone full-mental on her husband for “loosing” me downtown London. Something about that he “had one job” and “he managed to screw it up”. Later on they explained to me how my grandfather had come devastated to my grandmother explaining how he had lost his grandson downtown. Poor fellow. I have never blaimed him as my impatience and eagerness simply outwitted the responsiveness of my grandfather. These things happen. It sure was a good story for dinner parties for many years in my family.
I guess the reason I decided to do this blogpost is to show that I think all people are capable of so much more than most of us think. Specially when they are put in situations were they simply have to act. Many of us simply deny to take action until we are up against the wall. But many of us are just “dabbling” with our success, “dabbling” with making money online, “dabbling” with their business and goals. But they don’t take true action until their life depends on it and that is a situation many people have to be in if they really want to succeed.
I don’t know what your dreams are or what your goals are. But if you have them then start taking action today! Take imperfect action. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But just take the steps. At some point you have learned enough to start taking action. Some people never go out of the “learning phase” because it scares them. They are scared to take action because they are afraid of not having the results they wish for. But not taking any action for sure will not have any results. So start today. It may not be as you wanted but you are taking the steps. The road will take you sideways, up and down, sometimes straight. That is what everyone who achieves something that is worth something must go through.
“”When you want to succeed as bad as you wanna breathe than you will be successful.”