Our London Life: Neighborhood Life

 

I wanted to put together a few posts about our life here in the UK to commemorate our time here so far. There are three, this is the first. A love letter to our neighborhood.

 

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

We live in Southwest London. Known for green space and raising babies.

“Affordable” housing and good schools.

Low crime.

Good links to transport.

Let’s walk around….

Heading out, pretty much every street in our entire universe looks just like this:

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Here is when two streets meet:

 

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The entire area is heavily residential, with 98% of the homes being a version of this:

 

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Victorian and Edwardian homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And if you want to live in this neighborhood, this is the type of house you will have. Just one after another – street after street after street. It’s amazing how similar they all look at first, but they become so different as you get to know them.

Housing is expensive. But like all the other people living in a major city anywhere else in the world – it’s just a reality we put up with. I feel like we make up the housing cost by saving in other ways. One of those ways – is by NOT having a car. No car payment, no car insurance payment, no fuel costs, no parking fees. London’s public transit system makes this very practical for us – both around our local area and around the city at large.

Every thing that we need is within walking distance. If it’s not, we can take a quick train or bus. Occasionally, something is inconvenient by public transit and we can take an Uber or call a cab. We’re used to it now and so are the kids. They walk. We walk. And, although my children regularly challenge their safety by “constantly trying to get run over” as Rich says, walking is generally much safer than driving, I just like that little added bonus.

One of the major draws of SouthWest London is all of the green space. And I’m going to take you to the parks first because it’s my FAVORITE part of our neighborhood.

We have three neighborhood parks. And we are here ALL THE TIME. In the summer…. sometimes, everyday. Our largest and most well-accommodated park is Wimbledon Park (10m walk). It has 12 lit tennis courts, two play areas, a splash pad, an active sand volleyball scene, a lawn bowling league, a putt-putt golf course, a cafe, a sailing pond, a track, beautiful landscape and a HUGE green. This park is my favorite of the three and it’s always milling with people, kids, and families. And it also happens to be where the masses camp out for Wimbledon tennis. So during those couple weeks, there is extra mayhem.

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The Wimbledon Tournament Crazies:

 

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The opposite direction from Wimbledon Park is King George Park. This one is probably the kid’s favorite because they like the playground the best. We can reach the tip of King George in about 5 minutes walk. It’s huge. The green space, again, huge. In King George there is a community center complete with a indoor swimming pool, gym and climbing wall, a second ‘leisure’ center, and a private gym – all of which we’ve used. In fact, it’s where we go for the kids’ swim lessons.

There are multiple fenced-in soccer fields, 12 tennis courts,  a children’s center, landscaped gardens, two playgrounds, and a river walk. Plus, it is conveniently behind our nearest shopping center.

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Thirdly, our smallest, but most visited park is the one behind the school and nearest to the house (3m walk) – Durnsford Recreation Ground.

It has two playgrounds – one that is perfect sized for Viv. It also has a small walking path – where the kids learned to ride bikes – and a nice open green where we can fly kites. This is Viv’s favorite place to come and (probably illegally) pick flowers. There is also a fenced in basketball area.

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On all three of these parks, I would just like to mention that the ‘playground areas’ at each are completely fenced in. AND I APPRECIATE THAT.

Ok, since we’re over by the school – I’ll take you by there real quick. It’s a happy little place.

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And here is the sweet little garden reserved for the nursery kids:

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The school is also the location of the farmers market that takes place every Saturday, all year long.

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From here we can circle back towards the house, out on the “main road” and we will find the bus stop, a cafe, a barber, a laundry mat/cleaner, a fixture supply store, a pharmacy, a mini-grocery store, an electronics repair shop, and a general store.

I can literally see this grocery store from my front porch…I love it in here. I have almost every shelf memorized, I know all the employees (by face), and my current record for visits in one day is 4. Sainsbury’s is a big grocery chain in the UK and they have large ‘big box’ type stores, but they also have mini stores all over the place called ‘locals.’ It doesn’t have everything, of course, but it has all of the staples. And I know of several meals that I can now whip up in a pinch from ingredients bought only from the local.  Heart.

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Also on the love scale – across the street, is JJ’s. It doesn’t look like much, but JJ’s is there for us.

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When we need anything. JJ’s has it. All TWO isles are cramped, the shelves are almost too hard to manage – but they have at least one of everything in the world. And they’ve been there when I needed a dust pan, a mouse trap, a bottle of wine, a fidget spinner, San Pelligrino, a safety pin, latex gloves, a baby potty, and garden shears to name a few.

If we continue to walk down the street we find Papa Johns, a couple other restaurants.

 

And then our favorite take-away, our beloved, cannot live without it, hear the angels sing, Pasha. The only place in London, I hear – south of the river – where you can get a kebab made fresh within in the restaurant…. is this little hole in the corner of the wall.

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For educational purposes, a Turkish kabob is this business right here:

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Across the street from Pasha is the doctor! And a second local pharmacy. Pretty standard.

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If you continue down the main road you would also find a few local pubs

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Also (since gambling is legal here) a gambling… store? I don’t really know what to call it… and a butcher, various other general stores and services, and a Gymboree/karate combo building, and a luxury car dealership.

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From there, we can walk down a little ways to our nearest overground rail station, Earlsfield Station. It takes us about 10m to walk here, 8m if you’re Rich (or me when I’m cold) but more like 12-14m if the kids are with us. From here, you can catch an overground train to lots of places, including a train that will take you to city center in three quick stops. This is Rich’s preferred method of commute.

Also by Earlsfield are piano lessons at the SWS Music School. Several great restaurants and pubs. A bakery and a Starbucks. Another ‘local’ type grocery store called “Tesco Express,” our rental management company’s office, a small local Theater, a “Flip Out” indoor trampoline park, THE BUS I TAKE TO THE HOLY GRAIL – ALDI, and a couple other odds and ends.

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As I said – you can take the train to city center, BUT, you can take it the opposite direction – one stop – to Wimbledon Station.

At Wimbledon there is more shopping – but of most importance to us – the Centre Court shopping centre, the gaming shop where we have to check EVERY TIME for second-hand SkyLanders, my hairdresser, the eye doctor, the dentist, a large Kroger-type grocery store called Morrisons, and a couple other “local” type grocery stores called Little Waitrose, M&S simply food. There is also several other restaurants (including the BEST MEXICAN ever – Wahaca!), pubs, clothing and shoe stores, specialty stores, and toy and electronic stores. The YMCA. The library. A regular movie theater. A high-end BEAUTIFUL exclusive to Wimbledon department-style store called Elys. The Polka Theater (children’s), and the New Wimbledon Theater (100 year old landmark that puts on major productions and our local source of the English traditional Christmas Pantomime).

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From Wimbledon station, called the ‘Broadway’ area we can walk up the hill towards “The Village” where there are more great restaurants and some fun boutique shops. This is also where we can access the Wimbledon Common. From the pictures up above, you can sort of see how large “Wimbledon Park” is. In this following picture, Wimbledon Park is the circle – it’s there as a frame of reference for how absolutely gigantic Wimbledon Common is. And butted up to that, Richmond Park. Even larger.

These are massive nature preserves.  I’ve been surprised and impressed by the green space London has saved aside. From our location, a 40m train ride will take you to Big Ben, and a 10m car ride will take you to Wimbledon Common.

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And here we are exploring part of Wimbledon Common:

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Ok! From the Village – there are multiple ways to get back home. We’ll take the bus and tube.

We go one stop to Wimbledon Park.

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When we pop up here, we can walk down the road and find several restaurants, a post office, an other ‘local type’ grocery store called The Co-Operative, a couple hairdressers, a community center, estate agents, and more specialty shops.

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We can’t forget Finn’s favorite store to buy tic-tacs “Best One”

 

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From this Tube station is also Rich’s second best commute option.

Door to door, about 50 minutes from home to work.

If we walk from the Tube station towards home, which would take us about 10m, we would also walk by the church that we prefer to attend (St Luke’s Church), and the local Mosque.

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But, we’re not going home yet. I’m taking you the opposite direction. Up the hill!

If we walk up the hill from the station, we enter a very different side of the neighborhood. You know how I said that 98% of the homes look like those Edwardian ones. That is true. Then, maybe another 1% are flats and lofts above the store fronts, and then the last 1% are up the hill. They have a smidge more space and cost just a little bit more money.

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That’s how the other half lives. Or the other 1%.

ANYWAYS, if you walk up the hill you are also treated to a view of the London skyline on a clear day:

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If you continue up the hill and around the corner you will run into The All England Lawn and Tennis club (AELTC), which is where they host Wimbledon – or as it’s referred to here “the tennis” or “the championships.” When The Tennis is in full swing the neighborhood is in a different sort of state. People camp out in the park to get spots for tickets, the stores decorate with tennis like it’s Christmas. They change over the platform at the next Tube stop to a tennis court and obviously there are more people and more traffic.

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Across from the AELTC, back towards home, is a convenient golf course. I had to peek myself over the hedges and try a couple times to get a picture, but don’t worry, it was fine. I only distracted two to three golfers.

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From outside the golf course we can walk back home, if we cut through Wimbledon Park.

 

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RECYCLING – 

Not long ago, our neighborhood rolled out an entirely new recycling program. New trash bins arrived at my house with all new recycling instructions. Including the new service of recycling clothing and batteries.

Now everyone’s cramped front gardens are filled with bins of all shapes and sizes, but I don’t care.

I think it’s totally awesome.

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OBSERVATIONS AND CULTURAL ADJUSTMENTS – 

The cable, phone, and internet market is much more competitive here. We have a great internet package for CHEAP.

There is no tax on children’s clothing.

Parents making under 100k/year receive subsidies for 30hrs of daycare per week.

Needing and wanting childcare is not frowned upon, but almost expected. There are lots of nanny/Au Pair/mother’s help options available for a reasonable rate. And mothers don’t judge each other – or themselves – for using them. It is expected that a child will start attending some sort of part-time Nursery around two years old. And in addition to that, it’s very common for mothers – even ones that are home full time – to hire some daytime help.

Also very common, and available at a reasonable rate – housecleaners. Everyone I know has one.

Packaged food ingredient standards are STRICT. Food additives and preservatives are minimal – expiration dates are SHORT and should be taken seriously.

Eggs are brown and unrefrigerated.

GOOD bread and GOOD cheese are cheap.

Antibiotic is practically a naughty word, and is only siphoned out in small doses, when desperate. Better for the long term health of the patient, but took me a while to get on board with this.

Competitive sports for children are hard to find. Everything is more of what an American would think of as ‘rec league’ style.

Often, you have to pay for a public toilet. Consequently, they are (usually) cleaner.

There are no flat bed sheets.

Cigarette boxes have pictures of cancer on them.

Food containers are more often glass than plastic.

There are open-air urinals in areas around lots of pubs and bars. Helps with the street-pee smell.

There is no such thing as cream in your coffee. But there is definitely cream in your tea.

Also – no ice.

Leash laws are much more lax, and most pubs allow dogs.

The cultural view of things like nudity, body odor, and bras are more casual or seen as more “optional.”

What looks to you like a one-way street is just a regular street. When a car comes from another direction – we simply play chicken until someone can pull into or back into a parking space.

Dryers are optional. Kill me now.

First floor bathrooms are optional.

A 20 minute walk is acceptable and considered “within walking distance.”

 

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Even though the US and the UK have many cultural similarities, sometimes the divide is big. And I think, by now, we’ve made a good transition into this culture and my list of “things I miss from American life” is small and looks like this:

casual active wear as acceptable attire when NOT working out

air conditioning

sturdy food packaging

Target

public smoking laws

spaghetti squash

a real dryer

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*** on the accents ***

I get asked this question alllll the time, by Americans and Brits alike.

Are the kids getting a British accent??!?

And the answer is: sort of.

They say a FEW words like a Brit. Like water. And nearly. And car.

When they were first thrown into school they quickly started picking it up. And then they would spend a few days at home or on school break, and it would wear off a little bit.

I would tell friends that they sounded like someone TRYING to do a British accent and doing a bad job.

That’s how they used to sound to me.

Because they would fall in and out of it, were inconsistent with it, and incorrect with it. But they weren’t and aren’t TRYING to do anything.

They’re just little sponges, trying to make sense of the languages they are absorbing. On top of that, when we moved here Harry and Finn were both in the middle of trying to learn to read and getting taught British pronunciations of phonics.

But now, after being in school for almost three years, I think they’ve settled in to their mash up of accents, and have met their absorbency maximum. I notice the inconsistencies much less, and I will be surprised if we notice changes from this point on. It rose, tapered off, and now has plateaued.

To an American, they will sound part British. But to me, or someone who hears a full British accent all the time – they only sound… like, a quarter British.

When you hear their FULL Brit friends speak at school – they sound nothing like them. And I don’t think they could if they tried.

More than developing an accent, they now speak all of the Brit lingo. And, NOW, in order to communicate with them, I also speak the lingo. Most often: jumper (sweatshirt), trousers (pants), pants (underwear), bin (trash can), tell them off (to tell on someone).

 

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And… that concludes post number one of my “Life in London” series!

All is so good in the hood.

Read on for mysterious and exciting tales of doctor visits and trips to the museums.

 

 

 

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