Saturday, 31 August 2013

10 things I loved about living... in London

London isn't quite as exotic as the Falkland Islands, but is still a very significant place in our lives - and is (following my original thoughts for this series) a place other people visit.  I grew up in South East London, went to Bible College in North West London, and worked in Central London, so I know the city particularly well.  My husband, being a Geordie, has an intense dislike of London - despite having met me there - but I loved living there.

So, what did I love about living in London?

1. The Underground.  I know many people complain about the transport in London, but having lived in many places without an extensive public transport system and not driving, I miss it terribly!  I especially love the underground.  For three years I commuted back and forth from South East London to North West London almost daily for College.  Then, after I moved to North West London to live, I commuted back into the Centre of London for work.  And I loved commuting.  Loved the feeling of time 'to myself' even surrounded by strangers.  I even quite enjoyed that packed in the train feeling during rush hour.  If it wasn't for commuting during my college years I probably wouldn't have passed my degree, since I did most of my reading for lectures during the 3 hours travel back and forth each day.  In about five or six years of commuting I very rarely had a problem with the London Underground - in fact I was able, with a bit of running down the escalators at London Bridge and careful timing at Finchley Road, to jump from one train to another with barely a wait in between.  I also love the fact that it is almost impossible to get lost in Central London if you know the Underground.  If you find yourself confused, all you need to do is go below ground and you can find your way back to somewhere familiar.

2. Green Spaces.  London is full of green spaces, specifically the Royal Parks.  (see http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks for specifics)  There is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, St James' and Green Park, and then Regents Park with its very own Zoo - all within the Central area of London.  Then, in the South East, you have the vast park lands of Greenwich and Blackheath, and in the South West you'll find Richmond Park.  I have always particularly loved Richmond Park, and even the thought of it fills me with wonder.  A vast park land, full of wild deer, in the middle of a major city.  Gloriously absurd!  We used to go there as kids to ride our bikes and just generally explore.  We took my eldest daughter there when she was small, and enjoyed prowling around as adults - despite the interest my husband took in the potential for living there and the dangers for overhead airplanes (don't ask!).

3. The Christmas Lights & trip to Hamleys.  Every year when we were small we would go up to Central London to "See the Lights" at Christmas, and most years we also went to Hamleys too.  I loved the excitement, the crowds - can't imagine how my parents coped with the worry of loosing either of us girls in all those people given my propensity for drifting off, but hey, we enjoyed it!  I remember they used to employ what I assumed was a police officer to control the foot traffic, and one of them would shout "Charge!" when it was time to cross the road.  (I don't know if they still do this at Christmas?)  The shop windows were the highlight - and of course, like all things "were much better in our day".  I remember eagerly moving from window scene to window scene, following an unfolding story - usually Fairy Tales.  It was magical, an important ritual in the lead up to Christmas.

4. Multi-cultural London.  Now, I know that there are many race issues in London, little conflicts, times of unease and all out inter-racial hatred at times, but for me growing up it just seemed normal to have friends from different cultural backgrounds.  It was a shock to me to move to Devon and see only 'white' people most of the time.  I remember sitting on a bus travelling through Peckham during one of my visits home and feeling such a wave of affection for the people, all so different from one another and from me.

5. Museums & Theatres.  Growing up it was such a treat to have a good range of museums to visit in Central London - especially the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the V&A and - if we were very lucky - the Science Museum (which was expensive).  Now, of course, all the museums are free - even the Science Museum - and you can happily potter from one to the other.  There are also so many theatres in London.  Some how, without any real passion for theatre on my part, I have been to many plays, musicals and even the ballet.  I have watched Shakespeare performed at the Globe, seen Agamemnon in the Round, watched Starlight Express, Grease, Phantom and Les Mis.  I've even seen Korean Opera.

6. Shopping.  No where else I've lived quite compares to London for shopping - if you can cope with the hustle and bustle, of course, which after many years in quieter locations I do find a bit overwhelming these days.  There are the High Street shops of Bromley & Croydon where I ventured as a teenager and Watford & Uxbridge that I enjoyed in my 20s.  There is the out of town shopping heaven that is Bluewater.  There's the crazy mixture of boutiques and chain stores that fills Oxford Street & Regent Street where I would hurry on my work lunch hour.   And all the other glorious little pockets of shops in London like Covent Garden, Greenwich or Kensington.  Really there are too many places to shop, especially as they are basically the same mix of shops - and I'm not really the biggest fan of shopping purely for fun.  But the time I really appreciate having all these different places to shop most is when I'm looking for something particular and the shop I'm in doesn't have my size.  This happened when I was looking for a bridesmaids dress for my sister's wedding.  A couple of phone calls by the store staff and the dress was located in Croydon.  Cue a dash to the store in Croydon and I have my bridesmaid dress!  Simple.

7. Royalty, Pomp & Ceremony.  Growing up in London, I was particularly aware of the Royal Family, and always enjoyed watching the Changing of the Guard and visiting Buckingham Palace.  I think both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace are beautiful buildings.  My husband and I loved to walk in Windsor Great Park on summer Saturdays - another place with deer!  And, one of the great things about Husband's job can be getting invites to special events.  While we lived in London we were extremely privileged to be able to go to one of the Summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace - you can believe I went shopping with a passion for that!  He even got tickets for my parents and cousin to go to the Trooping of the Colour.

8. Meeting Husband.  On a very personal note, I met my husband while we both lived in North London.  I used to walk to the train station to commute to work, and he was walking up from the train station to go to work.  I saw this very handsome man, dressed in a suit and a Crombie Coat, most mornings for a couple of weeks and we started smiling at each other when we met.  Then, one day I went to visit my friend and was introduced to his new flat mate, a young man who looked very familiar to me.  After a moment I realised he was the man I smiled at in the mornings.  Destiny!

9. Courtship & Exploration.  So, London became even more significant for me.  After a brief period of courting, he asked me to marry him and I refused him three times until I realised he was serious.  It was during this time that I explored London a bit more with him - being a Londoner I hadn't often done the tourist things like visit the Tower of London or Tower Bridge once I was grown up.  It was wonderful to be a Tourist in my home town.  We found little pubs on the outskirts of London, travelled around the M25 in his MR2 and basically enjoyed London as only a young couple can.  We were married in the lovely CoE Church in the parish where we met.


10. Miss I.  London is also where my first child was born and spent her first year.  Together we went through all those first things - cuddling, sitting, crawling, walking, talking.  For her first birthday Grandma took her to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs, introducing another generation to the joy of living in London...

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful Nicola. Just beautiful.
    These are excellent ten reasons! And I found I agree with most of your points, and they are the sae ones I say when I compare London to other places. Though I prefer the buses to the tube. I love watching the city pass in front of the window.
    I love living in London, for reasons 1-7, and like you it is linked with my wedding as my first visit to London was for our honeymoon. We fell in love with it then and promised ourselves we will someday find a way to live here. Only took us 8 years :)

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you love London too - definitely makes a change from the response from Husband to any comment about it. Funny how much we have in common, isn't it? We shall have to meet up next time I'm back and explore some of those great places together. How great that you got to fulfill your promise to yourselves to live there!

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  2. Really enjoyed reading this. I have never lived there but have a love/hate relationship with London.

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it. London is such a big and varied place that it's hard to encapsulate it in just a few word. To be honest, I'm not sure I could live there now - just too busy after the other places we've lived!

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