All about London Fields
I’m presently sitting under a sky threatening to pour with rain (probably no different from 300 years ago); there’s some kind of Reggae music playing loudly over the bar’s sound system, Wimbledon screening live on the surrounding TVs and the simultaneous sounds of coffee and beers being expertly served.
A couple of minutes walk up the road on Hackney‘s high street, people are going about their Friday afternoon business: shopping for the weekend, rounding up their day’s work and preparing to head to the closest pub for a traditional Friday afternoon pint (again, I imagine this is no different to 300 years ago, where apparently there was something like 21 pubs along the main streets in this precinct… it must have been just like Shoreditch High Street today)!
Hackney, the borough in which London Fields belongs, was the largest parish in the county of Middlesex. Being so very close to the City of London, the ‘suburb’ as we would deem it in Australia, had been a favourite residence of wealthy Londoners for several hundred years. Hackney was known for its healthy air and pure spring waters, and apparently became increasingly attractive following the Great Plague of London in 1665, because comparatively, with only 132 deaths, the region had not been extensively affected. The following year of course, was the Great Fire in London, which was further cause for residents to seek alternative locations to live. The area where we reside today was attractive to wealthy ‘locals’ who wished to be close to the Court, entertainment and the financial centre of the Kingdom; but because there was so much space available, these residents could also enjoy the benefits of ‘country living’ – I definitely wouldn’t deem the area ‘country’ today – imagine that!
Hackney was declared in 1756 to “excel all other villages in the Kingdom in the ‘opulence’ of its inhabitants” (trust us to like it here then, although we are only a couple of hundred years too late)!
I’ve just seen a dog that very closely resembles an Australian Kelpie, jumping around on top of a pile of grass and dirt that the council has obviously recently cleaned up. He proudly produces a large stick to his owner, then proceeds to dig for other inevitable hidden treasures. It seems appropriate though, that this dog should be here playing amongst the others (all small ‘toy’ dogs by comparison), because as I study an old map of the area, I notice that there are many references to its farming past: Sheep Lane, Mutton Lane, Lamb Lane (now Forest Road) and the popular Cat & Mutton pub (in the 1800s known as Shoulder of Mutton and Cat) on a diagonal corner from where I’m located at this very moment. The Cat & Mutton is positioned on the corner of Broadway Market (as it was eventually Christened in 1937), the area that will be buzzing with its lively Saturday market tomorrow (as it is every weekend), and that was evidently developed to its present state in around 1860. Until the 1860s (when apparently much of the area was finally built-up), the whole precinct was in fact pastureland. It would have been a bit like Cairns when I was growing up. Again, imagine that!
At the moment (as I wait patiently for the crowd at the bar to fall back so I can order another beverage) I gaze out upon the famous old trees of what is now known as London Fields (park). These trees are over 100 years old (and actually quite similar to those lining Ruthven and Margaret Streets in Toowoomba (Queensland) outside the Grammar School – somehow I always knew those trees reminded me of England, although I’d never been here…). I can imagine the cricket games that were played (the first recorded here was actually in 1802 when a team of ’11 gentlemen’ from Clapton played a local team of ’11 gentlemen’ for a wager of 500 guineas); and military training that occurred (first for fear of French invasions, then German…).
What those trees must have seen. And what they’ve survived! I was saddened to read the date, September 21, 1940, when the area was heavily bombed – Richmond Road and Eleanor Road received direct hits.
Surprisingly, given its prosperous past and thriving development booms, the ‘east’ fell into misfortune around the turn of century (during the Industrial Revolution), and the situation continued to worsen following the two world wars, and then a string of government decisions and funding cuts that negatively affected the surrounding areas. Prior to moving to London even I was prejudiced against the area, claiming “I don’t want to go east”. Again, I learn my lesson to not judge before I’ve experienced! Turns out the ‘East’ is undergoing a renaissance – a reformation, if you will. With the opening of the brand new London Overground line but one year ago, the area has transformed overnight from being under serviced and lacking transport and convenience amenities, to being super-trendy, popular with young and old alike (although there is an extremely contemporary crowd that floats around London Fields each weekend… you know, like us ;-) ; there are new apartment developments surrounding every stop along this convenient and extensive modern London train line (including Haggerston, Hoxton, Dalston and Hackney), and once again the gorgeous Georgian period homes that we’re so enamoured of are reflecting their former glory, as the area resurrects into what we anticipate will one day, once again, be one of the areas to reside in London.
Well it has finally turned cold – and wet, and rainy. It is a Monday morning in mid-November as I sit in the warmth of Starbucks (I know, they should sponsor me!). This time though, I am at a Starbucks in east London, sipping on a much-needed latte before work. My relationship here is now such that they know my order without me having to ask for it. ‘The usual, please’. I even have another ‘regular’ friend here – a lovely elderly gentleman who is always reading biographies in his same seat by the counter each day. But I digress…
Christmas carols and festive menus are now everywhere, brightly contrasting to the grey skies. In fact the awning outside nearly flew off, and it dumped water onto an innocent passer-by, how annoying.
I scored a job (lucky in this current economic climate) and have been working for about four weeks. It is good to be working, and the team is great. The workload, particularly admin, is immense and it is proving to be quite tiring. Am working in London and freelancing to Australia simultaneously, which is rewarding but rather busy. However, it is as I’ve heard – you work hard and play hard in the big city. I think how much I’ve learned in the few months we have been here, as I navigate my way between suburbs on trains, tube and buses. It’s quite extraordinary. All my friends are commenting on seeing Eat Pray Love (the film based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s book of the same name) – they’re all ready to jump on a plane and go adventuring across the world, and I must admit that it’s nice to not be on the envy side of that equation for once. It is fulfilling to be doing and experiencing life, regardless of the challenges associated with stepping out of ‘the norm’.
The weekends here are really fun. Cooper and I now have kind of a date night on Friday, where after work we go and eat and drink in local bars until way past our usual bed time. We can walk everywhere so getting home is not a trial. We particularly like Bayswater, Notting Hill, Gloucester Road and Shepherd’s Bush. On Saturdays we do some exploring – like jumping on a ferry to see areas along the Thames, we go shopping in different suburbs to explore places we haven’t been to, catch up with friends if they are around… There are also amazing trade shows and experiences, like the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Show or the Discover Dogs expo at Earl’s Court. Love it!
Sunday morning is usually ‘errand’ time – washing, shopping, work then maybe a dvd. We are just enjoying ‘being’ in London. Saving has begun for trips to Europe and America, but with the exception of still missing Harry the Dog, life is full on, but ok in the big city. We’re meeting more people and making friends on and offline. All in all, we’re lucky and happy.
Time for work now, will check in later, SB X
Week 2 Finding a flat and preparing for school.
Once the pressure of finding a place to live (a stressful experience where you compete with other foreigners for days, while you wander all over London viewing properties, I had to open a bank account (hint: you need to have a place of residence before you can achieve this), organise a sim card etc only then did I feel less stressed. This anxiety was made all the more easier thanks to the professionalism of Smart Teachers the recruitment agency I consulted to find employment in the UK.
After cleaning (I mean sterilising) my studio flat, I finally had a place to call home, at least for the next six months anyway. I could at last call my principal and organise a meet and greet. So far, all correspondence had been through emails and a 90 minute phone interview several months prior. Now I can meet my principal and check out my new school instead viewing via Google.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little anxious as to what I can expect from my new class of 30 year five students. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who have worked in the UK all echo the same horror stories of the behaviour they encountered in the classroom. Now I’ve had my fair share of challenging (some naughty) children in the classroom, but some of the stories are quite horrifying.
Much to my relief, my headmaster set my mind at ease, as I was given the guided tour around my school in Dollis Hill overlooking London in the distance. To get to my school, Transport I have to catch the tube from Queensway on the Central line, swap to the Jubilee line (24 minutes) and then jump on a bus from Willesden Green (stop B) to my school (14 minutes), followed by a 150 metre walk. I enjoy catching the red double decker bus as I pass through the suburbs of north west London. My £25 Oyster Card covers all travel expenses.
The following Wednesday, I thought It would be wise to practice heading to work, to allow for any problems. Smart move, I ended up on the wrong bus at a shopping centre in Crickelwood. I arrived at work an hour later to set up my classroom. Note to self don’t catch the 302. After several attempts I had mastered the trip.
One more week before school starts, and that excited feeling of anxiety returns.
Along our path of discovery as ‘Londoners’ we’re slowly picking up some tips and tricks to life as an ex-pat. The aim of this blog is to help others crazy enough to follow in our footsteps, so we are learning the lessons and letting readers know what to avoid or what to pursue. Firstly, we’re really warming to the area we live in – Notting Hill/Bayswater is safe and brimming with convenient amenities like shopping, laundries, pubs, internet cafes, transport and Kensington Gardens just down the road. We had a brilliant sunny day here yesterday so I went for a wander around our neighbourhood. Some images HERE. London is so vast, unless you have a suburb aim due to work it’s hard to know where to start looking for a reasonable address, but this area is a good place to start, at least in our experience.
Be wary of so-called Real Estate Agent fees – am still trying to determine whether a random GBP99.00 fee is legitimate, and have been advised to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for information. Same goes for anyone who needs some advice here.Emergency number is 999!
There is a popular online directory here called Gumtree. It’s useful for sourcing for all kinds of things from flats to computers and TVs. However, there are quite a few dodgy operators advertising on here, or utilising its services. We were definitely linked up in a too-good-to-be-true accommodation scam which others could have quite easily fallen for if desperate or not overly internet savvy. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid… just be careful and don’t be too naive. A friend warned us the other day of another mate who was selling a computer on this site. Someone registered interest and dropped around to this guy’s place to check it out – turned out the ‘buyer’ was just a psycho who turned up, beat the man senseless then went to the police to let them know he thought he’d killed someone. This person (not made up – known by friends of ours) is still paralyzed. Another friend bought a TV and DVD set and made the mistake of having the goods delivered to her flat – she was jipped out of part of the deal, then threatened because she wouldn’t pay the whole fee. Use these sites but ensure transactions take place in public, and your whereabouts remain unknown.
On a bright a note, we want to recommend a few fab places we’ve discovered: Bar Soho for half price drinks and food 6 to 8pm! Westbourne House for fabulous tapas – 3 dishes for GBP10.00 Sunday to Wednesday. Kahn’s Indian Restaurant in Bayswater – dine in and take-away yummy, and the delicious Banana Tree Canteen (our nearest outlet is 21 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater W2) which offers a quality array of Asian inspired cuisine and an Express lunchtime menu which runs all afternoon, not just during strict hours of say 12-2pm. Finally, we love love love Loco Mexicano, 107 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater.
For film buffs, a trip to the cinema in London can be quite expensive, if not totally out of the budget. However, if you’re signed up with Orange for a phone deal, look out for their weekly 2 for 1 cinema tickets, issued by text message. Simply present at most box offices around town and enjoy!