As a child I loved wandering around the streets of London with my parents, my dad pointing out the main tourist attractions and stories of particular roads and places that had specific meaning to him with his own fond childhood memories. My dad’s pride at being an Eastender I believe fuelled my own love for my city. From a family of market traders my dad and granddad had worked throughout London with a range of stalls from Petticoat Lane, the Roman, Brick Lane and Portobello Road. As soon as I was old enough my brother and I loved getting up in the early hours of the morning to accompany my dad on his stall. I saw London wake up and come alive, people from every culture and every background bustling through the market streets and I knew I was in love.
By the time I left school and was studying for my A Levels and then my degree at the Univeristy of Greenwich I was working many part time jobs in pubs, bars and clubs across East and West London. I joined a promotions agency and worked as a hostess each weekend in different clubs, usually finishing around 4 to 5 am. I would wander through the streets to get the district line back home for the first train of the morning and it would feel like the whole city was mine. I partied as much as I worked and studied and I sometimes think back to the amount of sleeping opportunities I missed out on and can never gain back, now that I’m a sleep deprived, coffee fuelled, zombie of a mother. I loved my dirty old pubs, as I called them. The dark panelled, low lit, musty carpeted pubs that told a thousand stories, Dirty Dicks in Bishopsgate being of course one of my favourites.
Yet here I am, 3 years on to the very day I left my beloved city, in a remote village in the middle of the countryside. I have no family nearby, I left them all in London and my husbands family are all in Ireland. So why did I move?
Crime: As soon as I became a parent I began to worry. Everything is a worry from what type of nappy brand to buy to the affects my lifestyle will have on global warming and ultimately my children’s future. Worrying is now one of my main hobbies. There is no hiding the crime rate in London, especially the area I lived in, to be exceptionally high. Even as a teenager myself at school I had witnessed high levels of violence from rival gangs at our school, violence including weapons such as knuckle dusters, knives, belts resulting in some of my school friends being hospitalised and/or imprisoned as the years went by. Working in some of the roughest pubs in London, sometimes us bar staff would just have to lock ourselves in the pub office and wait for the police to turn up and handle the situation, during particularly nasty incidents. Therefore crime was definitely one of my main reasons for leaving.
Education: After graduating I taught for 6 years as a primary school teacher. I have experience teaching a range of Special Educational Needs therefore when my son started displaying at even the young age of 2 signs that he may be autistic I knew I was going to fight to get him the best education I could. (Autism How I Knew) I predominantly taught year 4 and at that point some of the children in my class may have been diagnosed but their parents were still fighting for one to one support. The last class I taught had 32 children in a 4 form entry school and 17 children in my class had Special Educational Needs. It was heart breaking and exhausting to fight for every child with additional needs and without, to simply provide them with the best education they deserved. Ultimately I heard of at least 3 children I taught, who were expelled by year 8 in secondary school. They never received their “statement” (now called EHCP) no matter how tirelessly we fought for them. I was adamant my children, especially my son with his autism, weren’t going to slip through the net.
The Irishman: My husband grew up in a tiny fisherman’s village in Ireland. I never forget the first time I went to visit his childhood home, his house overlooking a bay onto the Irish Sea. Even now each time I visit I am left slightly speechless as we pull into his village by its astounding beauty and the stark contrast in scenery from there and London. There were 6 children in his whole year group in a tiny school next to the sea so it was understandable that he would want his children to have a similar childhood to his own. Therefore after much deliberating and an opportunity of a life time which see us able to move from London to the picturesque village I’m living now, we took the gamble.
I wont deny that adjusting to countryside living has been a challenge. One of the first posts I wrote Sirens vs Birds describes what I initially found difficult and although 3 years down the line now, there are still some that are relevant! Here are some of the things I have learnt about countryside life along the last 3 years:
Public Transport: There are no Oyster cards. Oh the ignorant Londoner who went into the newsagents asking where to buy a new oyster card and top it up! No Oyster? What do you mean? How do I use public transport? Cash…the buses here accept cash. However, once I had counted my pennies, I was in for even more of a shock as I located the little wooden hut I was told was the bus stop. No electronic sign to tell me the next bus due so I chuckled at the fondness of the old bus timetable on the wall, only for my fondness to turn to pure rage and disbelief once I realised the buses run either hourly or two hourly and even more disbelief as I then found they were usually late!
Shopping Habits – I don’t like online shopping. I liked being able to visit big, shining shopping centres with everything I need under one roof. Unfortunately for me there isn’t one for nearly 45 minutes, fortunately for my husband I have now reigned in my impulsive shopping trips! On a more serious note my attitude has changed slightly towards consumerism and shopping in general. The local town has such a quaint, high street of local businesses and I feel I was ignorant to moan about the lack of shops when first arriving in the countryside. Shamefully it has only been the last year since living here that I have ventured into these shops and realised the hidden treasures that lay inside. Wonderfully handcrafted gifts and items which can’t be bought in the larger chain stores I was used to shopping in, accompanied with a real sense of gratitude and friendliness from the owners of the shops. There are a few I now frequent and enjoy a good chat to the owners, as we have come to know one another over the last year.
All Creatures Great and Small – This morning there was a pheasant in my front garden. A pheasant! Three years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a pheasant looked like let alone have one pecking round my rose bush. Throughout the last three years I have learned so much about farming, animals and plants mainly through constant questioning of everyone who may have knowledge but I like to learn and people have willing to answer my questions, no matter how naïve. In March we witnessed the birth of a lamb and my neighbours have hatched chickens and turkeys for the children (and myself) to be a part of. Flies are still the bain of my life and after sending my husband multiple times into the loft to check for rotting corpses I have come to the conclusion that this is just part of country living.
Fashion – In Sirens vs Birds I mentioned my lack of practicality when it came to school run clothing. I can confidently admit that my clothing has become more practical. I own a warm, waterproof coat from Mountain Warehouse, I have walking boots and dress accordingly to the rural terrains. I pass shop windows, spot my reflection and wonder at who I am but I’m warm so surely that’s all that matters!
As I reflect on the past 3 years today I feel so proud of what my little family have achieved. Although at times I miss London and my friends and family so desperately it feels like a physical ache, I know undoubtedly I made the right decision for our futures. People are quick to tell me how easy it is to get back to London during my lonelier periods or to join clubs or groups to make friends in my new area but I have formed plenty of great friendships who I’m sure will be life long friends. What I miss is the familiarity of my friends and family; certain mannerisms, ways of talking that only those I have grown up with for 30 years would know. I am filled with pride when my family visit and can enjoy my surroundings with me and I understand completely when fellow Londoners, who have made similar moves, talk about how beautiful the scenery is and how lucky we are. However I don’t always agree when people say they don’t miss the “concrete jungle” the “tower blocks and dirt” because to me I have always seen through that. London to me is just as beautiful to anywhere else you just have to look a little closer. Even in the less desirable parts of London, I can see it’s beauty and that is something that will never leave me.