London Life

flats

Sorry I disappeared for a while there. I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t have any internet in my new flat until yesterday, which meant that I spent the entire summer practically ignorant of the goings on in the world around me, which was actually rather restful, when I come to think about it. I’d love to say that I got loads of reading done, but I didn’t; I stayed in London for my holidays this year, and was so busy exploring and enjoying the city that I barely had the opportunity to sit down with a book.

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I’ve moved to one of the only remaining unfashionable areas in this rapidly gentrifying part of the city; you won’t find any artisan coffee shops, flower markets, pop up vintage shops, art galleries or zinc-ceilinged New York style bars round here. The local market is filled with stuff that clearly came off the back of a truck, the only coffee you can buy is from Greggs (Brits will know what that means!) and the most exciting shopping experience can be found in the local charity shop. But I love it here because of all this; it’s real London, with real Londoners, living real lives. It might not offer many instagram-friendly photo opportunities, but actually, when you look closely, what appears to be a bit of a dump is actually an amazing receptacle of London’s history, largely unseen and unvisited because it’s completely off the beaten path.

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My new neighbourhood is intrinsically linked to the water, and walking along the canal path, peering into the windows of the brightly painted houseboats and picking blackberries off the bushes that grow in a tangle along the water’s edge, are some of my favourite ways to pass an idle afternoon. The cobbled streets and weathered brickwork on the old wharf buildings by the river, along with the few remaining pubs and houses from the 17th and 18th century that crouch like elderly gentlemen between the shiny new blocks of flats, sweep me right back to Victorian London, and make me feel like I’m in a Dickens novel. I love wandering through the leaf strewn grounds of the majestic Georgian Hawksmoor churches, whose spires can be seen from miles away, and whose lofty architecture speaks of a time when this now rather down at heel spot was once home to London’s elite. And I love the searing brutalism of the midcentury high rise blocks of flats that pierce the skyline and whose sides are often decorated with some interesting examples of street art. So, you might not come here for a culinary, cultural or sartorial day out, but you’d be hard pressed to leave without having seen something beautiful or surprising, reminding you of just how diverse and ever-evolving London is.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of my new patch; I’ll be back soon with a book review, and Simon and I will definitely be recording a new podcast this week, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

35 comments

  1. Even though you found your recent lack of Internet restful, I’m very glad you are back. Your blog was THE blog that made me fall in love and think that I could maybe blog myself.

    So it will a great joy to see your posts on my dash again.

  2. I have been reading your blog for a long time, but I have never commented before. it is nice to have you posting again. I just wanted to thank you, since it is through your blog that I have discovered some authors I now love. Mollie Panter-Downes is one. Her One Fine Day is one of my favorite books. Also, it was through you I first heard of Persephone Books. I am going to be in London (I live in the US) in April. Do you have any book store recommendations? Again, thanks for all your detailed reviews. They are always a pleasure to read.

    1. Hi Jennifer – thanks for saying hello and I am so glad that I have been able to introduce you to some new authors! One Fine Day is indeed a marvellous book – and Persephone Books is a treasure trove! How lovely that you’re coming to London – I have plenty of good bookstore recommendations! Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street is a must-visit – they organise their books by country of setting, and the building is beautiful – you should also go to Foyles on Tottenham Court Road – it’s an institution. For used books I love Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road, as well as the Oxfam Bookshop on Bloomsbury Street. Cecil Court, which is off Charing Cross Road, is probably the last remaining little street of second hand book shops in London, and it’s worth a visit, though the shops tend to be quite specialist. Further afield, there is Skoob, round the back of the Brunswick Centre near Russell Square tube, Ripping Yarns in Highgate and the most amazing second hand book shop that is literally full from floor to ceiling in Hampstead, whose name I don’t know, but it’s on a tiny alley off the main street called Flask Walk. Lots of people like the Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill, which is on the way to Portobello Road market, though it’s not a favourite of mine. Any Oxfam book shop in London is also a good bet to find a nice selection of used books for reasonable prices – Bloomsbury Street is the best branch in my opinion, but there’s also a very good one next to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street, and if you’re in Westminster, the one on Strutton Ground is also very good. I think that’s quite a few for you to try!🙂

      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I really appreciate it. I will have to check out your recommendations. That should keep me busy when I am there! I discovered Daunt Books last time we were in London. What a beautiful shop. Most of your other suggestions are new to me though. I can’t wait to explore them. Thanks again.

  3. Welcome back, Rachel. I’ve missed you and look forward to that review and to seeing a bit more of your part of London. I love that view of the tombstones – oh what stories they could tell.

    1. Thanks very much Penny! Yes those tombstones are really evocative – I wish the inscriptions were more legible so that I could find out more about the people they memorialise. I’ll have to go back for a closer look soon!

  4. Thank you for your beatiful blog. I live in Copenhagen (I’m Danish) but have been to to London mayby 20 times over the years. Next time I’ll visit your new patch, it is Limehouse I suppose.

    I read a LOT of English literature (Robert Macfarlane is one of my favorites) and will do more so when I retire 1. january!

  5. Hi Rachel – can I please ask where you are now living? Is it Bow? I have a dream of living in London one day, and have looked up areas and affordability and proximity to cool areas, and whilst Bow lacks glamour it comes up trumps with all these and seems like an interesting area on its own merits.( I went to Bow last year to check it out and it seemed to me) I really need some suggestions. Actually I just looked closer at your pics – I was always very interested in Poplar because of affordability (I’m a teacher like you) – so are you in Poplar? And you obviously like it?

    1. Hi Kathleen! Yes of course! I’m not living in Bow – I’m in Poplar. Bow is actually pretty trendy and quite expensive because it’s got the DLR and the tube. Poplar just has the DLR so it’s a bit less expensive. I like it a lot – and it’s affordable on a teacher’s salary. It’s definitely worth looking at – there’s not much glamour but there’s plenty of open space, you can walk to the shops and parks and restaurants at Canary Wharf, and it’s a short bus ride to Stratford for the Olympic Park and the big shopping centre. Plus it’s really close to all the fun East London places that people love, so you can enjoy them without paying the rent to live there!

  6. Glad to see you back!

    I’m also curious about where exactly you are in London, because I love all the things you mention about it. One of my other favorite blogs is Spitalfields Life exactly because of that glimpse of real Londoners living in the ancient city as people have always done and without a thought to being Instagram-ready.

    1. Thanks Jenny!

      I’m in Poplar, which is near where Spitalfields Life is based. Yes – round here, you can still experience what is the reality of London for most – and that’s what makes is so special. I love it!

  7. Hi Rachel, I’m glad you are back! Obviousy you had a very eventful summer. I hope you’ll have a wonderful time in your new surroundings – I greatly enjoyed the little tour you gave us. Looking forward to
    reading more. Best wishes!

  8. Hi Rachel! Good to hear from you. Looking forward to read your next book review. Congrats with the new apartment! I hope to visit London soon. Have you seen Jane Eyre at The National? Best wishes from Norway

  9. The London of my first visit in 1971 and that of my last in 1992 were two different places. When we first went, we had been told we never had to worry about our safety. All the buses and subways were fine for us. We wandered and wandered with not a fear. Granted we were in our early twenties, but still. We went back again in 1977 and it felt much the same. But by 1992, I felt more anxiety and my husband was indeed pickpocketed on a bus in broad daylight. He looked at me when it happened. He felt it, and the people were packed in so tightly we could hardly move. We had our kids with us. I wish they could have seen it in those older years.

  10. You surely know the work of Geoffrey Fletcher if you follow Spitalfields Life?

    Your new manor being where it is, you need to get hold of one his lesser known works, “Pearly Kingdom”, virtually (shhhh!) being given away on Amazon.

  11. I’m wondering where in London you are. Although I live in the Midlands, my daughter lives in South London, so I get to stay there a lot and dream I am living there! I somehow come alive in London in a way I don’t seem to be able to at home, I find London life very invigorating!

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