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As, if our plan for the future works out, I don’t plan in living in England for extended periods after we next leave – I thought I’d take the opportunity of being here to try to be a tourist in my own backyard. I also thought that it would help the time go by more easily, to keep life interesting.
At the same time, as we were saving money, so I wanted to try to do things on a budget. So often just walking somewhere nearby but different, for a bit of an explore, did the trick. Living on the Thames, of a summer evening, we would sometimes pick somewhere on the river to get off the tube or train, then walk along the river to the next place to catch transport back.
And when I started working in central London then different routes to different train stations could also provide a different perspective. Although the London commute is not ideal, it’s a lucky break to be able to wander through places as grand as Trafalgar Square on your route home. I particularly loved the blue cockerel which was on the fourth plinth from July 2013 – Feb 2015.
We went to a few cheap and easy events about the city, like Late Night London Zoo and a charity event that involved dogs in capes. I’m not the hugest fan of London but it’s definitely somewhere you can find lots of weird and wonderful goings on. It also is arguably one of the best cities in the world for food, simply because of the diversity. There may be lots of pretentious eating but there’s something for everybody and particularly lunchtimes you can often find a good deal. The one downside is the New York disease of no reservations for some great restaurants and therefore the ridiculous queuing. Very tiresome. I generally just avoid those places. Life is simply too short and the queues are not!
Even wandering around nearby neighbourhoods could turn up some interesting things. Interesting pubs and restaurants, unique cars, pretty buildings and even fun signage.
On the river’s edge in Twickenham, hidden behind a tall wall, is an incredible fountain which had apparently been abandoned and derelict for years before recently being spruced up. I’d never heard of it, I simply spotted a white marble horses head over a wall and followed my curiosity until I found you could access the fountain freely. It was something quite spectacular that I’d expect to see it in Rome or another grand European city and certainly not open near the water’s edge in an area full of beaten up old barges.
Being on a budget means that free exhibitions are ideal. And for me, working slap bang in the middle of London, on the edges of Soho, there’s plenty within fairly easy reach. The products of the Soviet Years was a small exhibition but one that was of great interest to me.
The eye of the beholder
We are probably quite spoiled, growing up in England. It’s full of old buildings – grand mansions, castles, hundreds of years old – not a big deal. So we probably don’t even notice the great architecture that surrounds us as we walk about our daily lives. It was, strangely, something I missed while travelling. I missed the big architecture of Europe and so I used to get a real buzz when we got a chunk of that style in places as diverse as Maccau, Hanoi, Havana and Montreal.
But still, my favourite building in all of London is grand, only in its scale. Battersea power station is dis-used coal fired power station built in the 30s. It’s luckily grade 2 listed and after being left abandoned for years through lack of puzzlement of what to do with it, is finally being worked on. Hopefully, this won’t ruin the site and will preserve this big old piece of industrial history which stands in an unexceptional part of London, but that always makes me happy when I crawl by on the train.
Back to the sea
When we were living in Richmond, London itself was our main stomping ground for exploring. Richmond into central London is about 20-25 minutes on a weekend, though on a busy weekday commute this would generally take double that. Richmond itself is a very attractive place. Almost too attractive. It’s an incredibly wealthy place and I’ve never seen such spic and span terrace houses. Whiter than white and sometimes verging on the sterile. Having the lake and lots of parks surround Richmond made it often feel like a country town. Being on the river we felt it could feel a tiny bit like living by the sea, to remind us of our home in Brighton. Didn’t really work but it’s true that having a big body of water draws people to the edge to walk and sit and think. Although Richmond is picture perfect on the surface, the cricket on the green in the summer, rowing on the river, green spaces and grand buildings all over, it has a vibe to it that just made us want to escape. It’s a very wealthy and privileged place but that seems to have lead to self-absorption and rudeness in its inhabitants rather than good upbringing, good manners and kindness. I had more doors shut in my face in Richmond than I did in central London. I’m not really sure why this was but it drove us quite crazy. We decided we needed to escape but we couldn’t find anywhere we could either afford or could stand to move to. We came to the conclusion that although it would work out as more expensive, a much longer and more painful commute, we HAD to move back to Brighton for the duration of our time in the UK.