Saturday, 30 July 2011
How did it come to this - Part 2
Why stay? Why not just pack up, head back and chalk the whole thing up to experience.
Well, aside from the fact that I never believe in leaving anywhere without burning every bridge in sight, I actually like it here most of the time. Perverse I know, but I like the isolation, I love the country sports that have become an inextricable part of my life and I still like the idea that the kids can run feral without getting into too much trouble. At least not the same type of trouble that you see on a day to day basis in London. Not the sort of trouble that is going to get you dead.
For most of the time we lived in London, we lived in East London, mostly South and latterly North of the river. Five miles from the City, as the crow flies. Mostly we lived in edgy places, described as "up and coming" by the local estate agents; Deptford, New Cross, Surry Docks before it was euphemistically changed to Surrey Docks in a misplaced attempt to gloss over the fact that it was a working class area that didn't want to gentrified. Areas mostly described as a fucking war zones by those who weren't estate agents. We spent the last couple of years before we moved, living in Hackney; Victoria Park to be more precise, in a Crown Estate Mews. Conspicuous wealth cheek by jowl with abject poverty; always an incendiary mix - still makes for an interesting life. "Local colour" is the vernacular use by the aforementioned estate agents. Local colour consisted of a rich mix of little scrotes still to hone their criminal skills, one of whom specialised in stealing pizza delivery mopeds, which he used to dump outside our house. The little bastard must have stolen over a hundred mopeds, often the same one multiple times, most of which ended up outside our front door. I could have set up a moped dealership ... this guy had a real talent for stealing. I wonder if he has progressed to stealing things that go faster than 20 mph? I wonder if there are still pizza mopeds in our front garden? I hope so.
Moped-boy was the lighter side of the Hackney criminal fraternity, which embraced the normal mix of drugs, hookers and extortion. More interesting was the undercurrent of menace that pervaded the local Vietnamese community. When the local Viet restaurant burned down for the first time everyone moaned about the loss of a pretty good place to eat. When it burned down again, three months after reopening, it looked like they either needed to sack the chef or pay the Triad.
It's amazing how little things like this became part of the fabric of London-life. Looking back on these from a distance, both temporally and culturally, they seem so alien now. It's laughable to think of the uproar that is caused by the most innocuous of things in these parts. The residents of our hamlet get upset if you park your car anywhere except outside your own house; ignorance truly is bliss.
Living in London was always a compromise. You never had quite enough money. You never have quite enough space. Even though you earned a King's ransom, there was always a multiplicity of things to spend it on. Too many distractions. If you are reasonably well off by London standards, London is great, as long as you don't have kids. We spent fifteen years eating out six nights a week and partying pretty hard. Home was a place to sleep, in between work and the bar. Central London is tiny, in reality you can walk to most places. So you can be drinking in Knightsbridge at six and dining in Camden at eight.
When the kids came along, London shrank. We went from living in London to living in Hackney. Not quite the deal I'd signed up to. To be honest, we'd been thinking about moving out for a while, but couldn't really decide where to go. Cornwall looked good.....we both loved the West country, but "it's such a long way away". I wanted the Highlands, but same objection. The biggest draw for me was the biggest problem for my wife. Staying put was the easy option. The easy option lasted five years, so the kids were five and three when we finally moved out.