This post is in memory of Andreas Michli, a central fixture of my local community in North London until this week. It started as a Facebook tribute and I was asked to share it more widely.
If you’ve come over to my place in Harringay, North London, in the last 7 years, I might have taken you to the local grocery shop to have a nosey and meet Andreas and Hulya Michli, my adopted London family. You might have marvelled at Andreas’ coiffed handlebar moustache or Hulya’s toned biceps as she lugs around massive watermelons. Andreas might have quizzed you about your family background, you might have been fascinated by the weird and wonderful collection of pictures and pottery in the shop or giggled as they shouted at various people in Turkish or Greek. Andreas probably gifted you the perfect shiny organic lemon (leaves still attached) or a caramel-soft glistening fig as you left.
Andreas died on Tuesday night. He was 80 years old and still co-running the shop until two days before, pushing crates around and counting out change with his slightly shaky hands.
Andreas was the most passionate of grocers. He would insist on choosing the best locally grown tomato, or aubergine or melon. And he’d quiz you on what you were doing with them and give you recipe ideas. At first, I was apparently crap at choosing the best ones, but then he seemed pleased that his training was working, exclaiming ‘ah yes darling, your ‘inside computer’ is now improving’. He sourced produce from local allotments or fresh from small farms in Cyprus. People travel from all over London for his and Hulya’s marinated olives, cheeses and their giant watermelons (the best on Green Lanes). He refused to modernise in any way, including accepting debit cards (much to my annoyance) and kept tally of cash tabs by sticking little notes of paper to nails on the wall behind the till.
Time Out magazine said ‘Charmingly moustachioed Mr Michli oversees proceedings at what we think must be one of the best Cypriot food stores in London.’ The shop is old skool, like one you might have found in a Cypriot village in the 1970s. They treat people like people, rather than just money-carriers.
Andreas was so much more than a grocer. His presence in a plastic chair on the corner of Woodland Parks Road and Salisbury Avenue made him a bit of a community anchor, waving at familiar faces as they passed. Kids were a favourite – Hulya and him know all the local kids by name and each would often leave with a bit of fruit in hand. I would often get told off for not having been in for a few days when cycling past…. ‘I’ll stop by later Andreas’. ‘You better do!’.
He was an artist. He painted and did all the elaborate plasterwork in their house. He used to drape bunches of grapes everywhere and stack fruit to make it pretty. He loved my multi-coloured toenails and always noticed my colourful jewellery. When dressed up for a wedding or other do, I’d often stop by, fishing for a compliment on my colour coordination.
He was a healer, gardener and a knowledge collector. He knew which herbs would help which health ailments and would tell you how to make a tea to help things from diabetes to dry skin. If you’d been travelling anywhere, he would know something about the history of that place.
He made food for us regularly and especially when our kitchen was being re-done last year. He taught me to cook Cypriot food by learning at his side as he chopped tomatoes, peeled beans, fresh artichokes or hollyhock leaves and used seriously unhealthy amounts of salt and oil. He was exacting and impatient. He sometimes let me chop something, then would immediately take back the knife and show me how to do it ‘correctly’. He was always worried about whether Hulya and his smart and gorgeous daughter Selma, had eaten enough. He particularly fussed over Selma, showing his love through cooking, chiding, reminding, complaining, showing off about her achievements, teaching her to paint beautifully.
He loved it when I brought him new dishes to taste or made him rotli (chapattis), something which I wish to heaven I’d done more often. I told him off for eating sweets, which raised his blood sugar, and he ignored me. On just one occasion he let me massage olive oil onto his dry papery hands.
He loved the little posies of flowers I took from the garden (going straight upstairs to put them in a little glass of water and offer them to Saint Mary). I took the last one for him today, I guess. Including some borage which has just come up for the first time this year – he told me we were very lucky to have borage growing as drinking its tea gives courage. He told stories of roaming the fields, hillsides and caves in Cyprus as a boy, eating whatever wild food he came across and being free. He was increasingly a grumpy sod in the last few years, getting irritable with everyone who came in the shop (‘bloody idiots!’….). But he always had gentle and affirming words for me. He was the closest thing I ever had to a granddad, I guess. I’m so glad Hulya and Selma are here, cos they reflect his big heart and spirit ongoing and I adore them and their hugs. And we all know Harringay won’t be the same without Andreas
If you had met Andreas and want to send a message to Hulya and Selma (and Andreas’ older daughters Marina and Anita), please message me and I’ll compile for them, I know they’d love to hear your memories. Here are some pics.