Monday, 2 February 2015

London Kills Me

I blame Paddington. Here I was happily pottering along in Oriel when it hit me, a wave of nostalgia and longing, a passionate love indeed but one that can never be. Me and London. Together for 12 years but the parting was inevitable but slow and punctuated by interruptions and false starts. Long drawn out as if I held a hidden belief that London would change for me - that one day we could make it work. We meet up occasionally we do, once a year at Christmas and it is intoxicating, London draws me back not least because I have family and friends there but also because of all the potential endless possibilities of adventure therein your dirty and picturesque streets.

We took the kids to the cinema to see Paddington and you know, I don't know who was more excited, them or me. I remembered the lovely gentle animated Paddington of my childhood and found a vintage set of the books which I am trying so far as yet unsuccessfully to read with the kids. The kids watched the trailer for the movie and I have never seen them laugh so much, they must have re-watched it a million times before we went to the cinema. What a thoroughly enjoyable film, the kids just loved all the boisterous antics of the lovably earnest bear and I loved all the eccentric styling of the film especially the Brown's house and Mrs Brown's enviable collection of knitwear. Even Mr S said he enjoyed it. The New Yorker has an affectionate and eloquent review of the film here.

I think Paddington conjures up for me an expression of an aspirational London lifestyle, the lovely houses, the grand democratic museums, the brisk freedoms of the tube (and with a family!) The numerous hidden alleys and historical streets promise an unknowable quality to London life, you won't ever map them all. There is always another little gem to be uncovered, a secret pub, a quirky bookshop, a verdant sliver of a park. However, the problem between myself and London is an old one, how to cohabit, how to afford reasonable living accommodation that does not involve commuting into the city from say Stoke.

I had nine addresses in twelve years, the last three with Mr S. We had great fun but all the while at the back of my mind was the uneasy fact that none of these houses were my permanent and secure home. We had landlords who refused to fix anything, who let themselves in without warning, roofs that leaked, doors that fell off their hinges, neighbours that slept in the communal hallways, estate agents that showed us many dirty and over-priced hovels. We viewed houses with perfect 1970's décor, damp former council properties with the linger odour of cat and dead granny. We did find the perfect flat once, signed the tenancy and paid the deposit but then the previous tenants changed their minds and refused to move out, only finding out when we went blissfully hand in hand to collect the keys. I cried into my consolation drink in the smoky shaded afternoon light of the pub.

We did find a decent place in the end, in the perfect location, a nice white sunny garden flat with a working gas-fire and a huge bath but by then the damage had been done. We lived there for two years and spent a huge proportion of our wages in rent and a huge proportion of our time working to earn those wages. One night while round at our friends new place in Brixton we complemented them on their quaint choice of location, a pretty little square with a central green and a Victorian pub on the corner, very Albert Square. They responded by telling of finding someone shooting-up heroin in their wheelie bin. Soon, our landlord would phone to tell us she was selling-up. It was time for a new chapter.

Our most recent visit was such good fun, we ate pie and mash, went vintage shopping at Greenwich market, went to see The Railway Children beautifully staged on a repurposed platform at Kings Cross, (running until 6th September 2015) I popped into the British Library to see the gorgeously curated Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (which is unfortunately ended now) The kids really enjoyed running around the Cutty Sark, especially trying out the crews bunk beds and exploring down in the hold which smells intoxicatingly of tea. They stayed in leafy Brockley and sedate Maida Vale, wandered in the beautiful Cassiobury Park in Watford and became old hands at tube travel, clutching their maps and counting off the stations. E was especially delighted, proclaiming as she arrived at each destination, smiling as she emerged into the light; that London was the most beautiful place in the world!

I fear that I have lost her to our family characteristic, that of the desire to travel, to migrate. While I was having a having a little aimless wander while waiting to meet the rest of the family, I found this charming little street,

Keystone Crescent just off the Caledonian Road, five minutes to Kings Cross/St Pancras and so only 2.5 hours to Paris! The property envy! What must it be like to live here, I want to knock on every door and discover what stories are playing out behind those pretty painted doors. The reality of the London property market however is not so picturesque.

Almost weekly I read the horror stories of those desperately trying to put a roof over their heads, painfully high rents for half a room, the severe lack of social housing, and the obscene waste of the empty protected landscape of the uber-rich. As a family of four we would probably need to win the lottery to move back and continue to have any semblance of life/work balance. We would leave behind this:

My heart contracts and I feel a little bit teary though, every time I hear this:

 The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset.


 The Clash, London Calling
And This:

Pulp, Bar Italia
Every time, every single time.


  1. Aw, you got it bad. I head to London for book research in a couple of weeks. Salivating at the very idea of all I will do.

    I loved Paddington too. But would you put that pair together??!! She was so sweet and cool. He was such an uptight twally! That street you found looks a lot like theirs.

    Oh, lovely London!!

    1. I got it real bad! Time is a great healer. :)
      You lucky duck, I hope you have a fab time.
      Now, I would put the Browns together - remember that little snap shot when they were young and fancy free with long hair and a motorbike -he just allowed himself to become uptight after the nippers were born.x

  2. Somehow, I've ended up in London with four kids, which wasn't the plan. This has only been made possible on public sector pay, by buying in Catford in 1995. It really saddens me that families are moving out. Love your blog and your outake on life.

    1. Hi Katherine! I'm an ex Sarf Londoner, (via N. Ireland) I used know Catford pretty well. Thanks so much for your kind works and for the follow on Bloglovin'. I popped in on your lovely blog and it is great -I hope I am now following you now too. x

  3. Ah well I'm a London girl myself, born in Battersea, schooled in Fulham. I was always just a hop and a skip away from the best bits of London. I even used to sell collectables at the very same Greenwich Market you visited. We live in Sussex just now but pop up to London fairly often. Week after next I'm going to Bonhams to take a peek at Lauren Bacalls estate which goes under the hammer in March. Then in April we are going to see Georgie Fame at Ronnie Scotts. I still love London but wouldn't want to live there anymore, unless of course i was mega rich and could afford something palatial.


    1. Hi Jean, it must be nice to live within commuting distance of the big smoke. Are you going to blog about your visit to Bonhams, I hope so. I just adored Lauren Bacall, such a feisty strong woman. Have a lovely day! x

  4. London is lovely and I adored Paddington, my favourite film last year. You do have it very bad, I hear the longing in this piece. You have a wonderful writing style.

  5. What a lovely thing to say! Thanks so much Lisa.