I grew up in a coastal village in the northeast of England thinking London was the most glamorous place on the planet.
I met a girl at university who was from London (turns out, she was actually from Croydon but I was totally clueless about the difference). She went around saying things like: “You can take the girl out of South London but you can’t take South London out of the girl!” She had other London friends and they all laughed together at that saying. I’d never heard it before. How cool! I wanted to say that sort of stuff.
And… SOUTH London. Wow, I thought. London has norths and souths? And maybe even easts and wests? I didn’t know that. There is no South Sunderland.
When I came here, finally, bursting with party-popper excitement as I wheeled my suitcase down Brick Lane in 2003, people were everywhere – the street looked like a holiday.
At my first job, a colleague told me: “When you get married, you’ll leave London. That’s what people do.”
My reply was: “Nope.”
I married a Londoner. “This is a great place to raise children,” we agreed.
The cultural opportunities – all those museums – the parks, the… well, selfishly, I just wanted to stay in the place that I yearned to live in my whole life. All the rest was just a persuasion.
The cultural opportunities here *are* wonderful though. Whoever you are: a scientist, an artist, a cook, a not-really-sure, you can find something for you here, just a bus-ride away.
And if you have a new baby in London, there are so many groups you can join. So many friends you can make – in fact, NCT-groups are sorted by people who have a due-date within two weeks of each other. In more remote parts of the country, NCT-groups are sorted by due-dates within two *months* of each other. If you don’t want to be, you won’t be lonely with a baby in London.
I live in Hackney, the schools here are actually fantastic. And if I wanted access to private schools, there is plenty of choice – Highgate, Walthamstow, Islington – only a drive away.
But lately I’ve been wondering. Is growing up in London only the lovely whirlwind of museums, parks, amazing food and culture if you’re well-off?
It’s not so easy living in the most expensive city in the world when you’re on a middle income with a family. Let’s face it: our house is pretty small and we can’t upgrade in our neighbourhood. We don’t have a garden.
And with all London’s bustle comes unwanted noise. There is a bloke who lives nearby who swears and shouts and hollers the night away. With our windows open, some nights my baby falls asleep to the sound of police helicopters, hipster parties and this man’s anger.
So, recently, when we went to North Devon, a little part of me yearned for that life for my kids.
Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if my kids could grow up somewhere that they can ride their bikes in circles, safely, in the street? Where we can have a big, green expanse of a garden that they can play imaginative games in with their friends until it turns dark and their noses turn pink with cold?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to have a childhood where they can skip along to their local village primary school, with the smell of salty seaside air taken completely for granted as we breathe it in and out, not even noticing how fresh it is?
It all sounds so blissful. But, if we left, I wonder if I’d find the smallness of a little village crushing. I love being surrounded by all kinds of people, not just one homogenised group. Because I am a city-person, I fear that, if I left, I would begin sentences with “When I lived in London…” and pause when strangers ask where I’m from. I just don’t know.
I don’t think there’s such thing as a right place to live – big cities and the countryside are both wonderful places to grow up if you’re lucky enough to have a family who will give you love, sunshine, parks and culture.
For me, I guess I’ve just persuaded myself to stay here – if I can.
Where do you think is the best place to raise kids? Did any of you leave the city to go to the countryside when you had kids?