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
Pulp, Bar Italia
Every time, every single time.