Having started this little retrospective, it occurred to me that England merits another visit, because I could look at a second phase based on my choosing to go back there, from Wales. I’ll try to focus on things that were different, after returing in 1980, including being a home owner and worker, not passing through the education system. Before leaving for Wales, we’d lived in a leafy north London inner suburb, Muswell Hill, less accessible for being atop a steep hill and abutting heavy woodland. It has been descried as a ‘genteel urban village’. It’s near Alexandra Park, which has playgrounds, woods, and a boating lake, as well as the hilltop Alexandra Palace, a 19th-century edifice with panoramic city views. It’s also close to walking trails in Highgate Wood. It had great access to the main roads heading north or the circular routes around London. It had no Tube or train station, only buses.
House renovation: I spent about 7 years working on our first house, in Tottenham, built in 1896. (In constrast to Muswell Hill, which was to the west, Tottenham is hard scrabble north London urban grittiness; a sparwling area.) The house had great structural features, like so many terraced houses built in the 19th and early 20th century, of which London is full. It was a labour of love: rewiring, replumbing, putting in central heating radiators, new bathroom, new roof, resetting sash windows, sanding floors and doors, stripping walls and replastering, new painting and wallpaper establishing a garden from scratch (digging and laying a lawn), and putting up fences. We were doing the yuppie things. Work was evenings and weekends, with friends helping, major construction jobs done by contractors (not without problems). But, life went on, other than a decision to not have a child until the renovations were done.
Living within our means: I came back to London to work at the Bank of England. My job at the central bank gave access to cheap loans but we decided to borrow what could be sustainable if such loans weren’t available. We weren’t tied to the Bank, therefore. We looked at houses in inner suburbs, but the fashionable areas weren’t in our reach. Tottenham offered lots of bonuses, including being close enough to my office to walk during transport strikes. ☹️
End of pub restrictions: Having grown-up with the tighter rules for when pubs could open and who could go into them, it was a sea change to have looser rules: extended permissible opening hours for public houses in 1988, to 11am to 11pm; previously pubs were not generally allowed to open between 3:00pm and 5:30pm. All those days, as a child, when my parents were in a pub and I was seated in the car with a bag of crisps and a soft drink 🙂
Walks in parks and woods: London has some of the world’s best parks in its centre and all over, and is surrounded by woodland in what is now part of its inner suburbs. You usually don’t have to travel far to be able to stroll in one of such areas, all year round. Sanity is ensured with that sort of environment and opportunity.
Liking London more and living through major changes: Most of my friends from university stayed in or around London after graduation, forming a base of friendships that could continue as we developed careers and started families. London was our home and where we spent most time, criss-crossing for meals at homes or socializing in pubs and other eating places. Covent Garden reopened as a shopping area in 1980, and because one of our go-to places as its location and activities appealed more, funny for those of us who’d grown up knowing it as a bustling flower market into the mid-1970s.
Rush-hour on public transport: Though I grew up taking trains, Tube and buses all over London as a student, and took all aspects of it in my stride, once I started working, those means of transport became some of the banes of my life. As you age, hours of standing with jostling people at close-quarters has less and less appeal. Driving to work was never a real option most days, so it was grin and bear it. (Now, when I visit London, I take most public transport journeys with a good spirit, especially as I rarely have to use them during rush hour.)
Traffic: Our road was a cut-through between two main roads and used by heavy lorries, with near-constant heavy and fast flows. It was a real experience in the debiliating impact of traffic noise. We escaped the worst by spending much time in the rear areas of the house, including the garden, and using the front during times when traffic was calmer. But, even at night, the sound of passing traffic rarely ceased. We battled with the council for years to curb this, and by the time we left London (1990), measures such as speed bumps and narrowing were being put in place. Many London residential areas have suffered from traffic as motorized vehicles increased and roads were mostly inadequate for the heavier volumes.
Cross-Channel travel, before the Chunnel was open: I’ve written before about the trials of ferry crossings. With more money in our pockets, more travel was possible, but at the cost of more Channel crossings. Getting there was great, but getting there was often horrible.
Underground closing: The London Underground was infamous for closing down at night, in a city that never went to sleep. It was partly an issue of noise abatement rules. It forced us to drive when we could easily have used public transport, and have to limit drinking to stay the right sight of laws 🙂 We were not lucky enough to live in London when the Night Tube and London Overground Night Service first provided services to travellers through the night on Friday and Saturday nights on the Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines, and a short section of the London Overground’s East London line. The service began on the night of Friday 19 August 2016, providing 24 hour service on these routes from Friday morning to Sunday evening each weekend. It was suspended from Friday 20 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will not restart until at least 2022.
Mystery floods: Our house was at the top of a hill, so how did our cellar periodically fill with water? We had every agency that has anthing to do with water come to check for leaks etc and never got an answer for the source of this problem. The water was never brackish, suggesting it was coming from some treated source. Our cellar was a storage area, but things had to be raised off the ground. It was where wine was stored, but always having to check that things were not going to be floating up the stairs. Utterly bizarre!