Discovering the Joys of Inner City Living
Posted on: 04 January 2011 by Diane Priestley
After a quiet life in the suburbs of a coastal township in Australia, the gritty, noisy, multi-cultural inner-city neighbourhood of Ealing in West London has come as a stimulating surprise.
Our leafy suburb in sub-tropical Australia was mind-numbingly quiet, apart from the odd yapping terrier or drone from a chorus of cane toads. Our social life was reduced to nodding at other dog owners when walking our Labrador on the rainforest track.
We exchanged this coveted tranquility for the unpredictable exhilaration of inner city life in London, hoping to revitalise our lives in our early 50s instead of sliding into the tedium of early retirement.
We re-homed the exuberant Bonny to an idyllic farm with a creek and three energetic kids to spoil her. We sold our beautiful new house to a young family who can fully appreciate the parks and closeness to schools and surf beaches.
In contrast, we now live on a busy road with traffic whirring past our bedroom right through the night. I suspect I will come to find the cacophony of traffic sounds comforting as I attune to the pulsating rhythm of our colourful neighbourhood.
Saturday morning I venture to the local Post Office to find a motley mob, including one bedraggled young man in his pajamas and leather jacket loudly discussing how to split the gas bill with his flat mate; not a bit self-conscious about his eccentric attire. I smile to myself at this flamboyant community I’m now a part of and join the queue waiting for parcels to be weighed and stamped by the polite Indian lady.
Next stop, I’m wondering if the Charity Shop is open on Saturdays so I can drop off a load of goods that, although shipped all the way from Australia, don’t fit into our new scaled-down house. I find the shop teeming with eager bargain hunters, a veritable feeding frenzy.
I have come down with a virus and head to the chemist, expecting gleaming, modern premises. But I find instead a quaint, old-fashioned store with a hunched old lady reaching for medications on lofty shelves and fumbling at the till for my change. I smile at the quirkiness of such independent traders, still alive and well in the historic streets of west London.
To my utter delight, we discover the consummate English Pub within walking distance. It is a traditional pub straight out of my BBC fantasies. I’ve always wanted our very own ‘local’ so husband Andrew can wander down the boozer for a pint with the lads whenever he feels henpecked by the missus. The fact that he gets tipsy on one light beer is beside the point!
One Sunday we venture to the nearby multi-cultural church, held in a fancy old cinema, offering up worship so overflowing that the vibrant African and Caribbean congregation of ladies in vivid dresses and headscarves can not suppress their joy and leap to their feet to dance. I love it!
I found out about the church from an elderly black man on the bus, who was nursing a bible on his knees. It seems only elderly men with failing eyesight find me interesting these days. Another kind old chap helped me onboard with the big rubbish bin and mop I bought from the Pound Store.
But then, middle-aged women also notice each other when out and about in public. We nod and smile knowingly as if members of a secret society; understanding without words what it is to be a with-it old chook still holding her own amongst the Young and Trendy Texting Set.
These days we are car-less so I no longer drive miles to the supermarket. I walk around the corner to my local Fruit & Veg and Co Op stores. Lugging bags of groceries along the gritty streets is so different from packing a load in the boot of the car!
I also shop online and have clothes and household goods delivered straight to my door. The nice guys from Argos delivered our flat pack wardrobes and Andrew spent a weekend assembling them! Thankfully he’s a whiz with jigsaw puzzles.
The Tube is a new way of life. I study my trusty little Tube map to figure out which line to catch and where to change. Rattling along through the tunnels, squeezed tight with fellow commuters, I am amused at being part of humanity in motion.
Emerging from the underground is like being in Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree and popping into an exciting new land. Or maybe it’s like playing on a life-size Monopoly board. Where will I land today? Bond Street? Leicester Square? Covent Garden?
As an explorer in the journey of life, I like all modes of transport. My daughter and I went horse riding in Hyde Park, clip clopping along like demure characters in a Jane Austen novel and hubby and I stroll and cycle all the local parks, reveling in the blooms of spring.
Here we are middle-aged newcomers to London and life is full and rich with new adventures. We shipped across all our furniture and belongings in a 20-foot container plus 60 more boxes of family history.
Our new house, although three-storey, has much smaller rooms than our Australian house so we’ve had to down-size; selling on e-bay the huge coffee table, my massive hand-crafted desk, the towering bookcases, the giant lounge chairs, the sewing machine I never used anyway and the huge barbecue.
We have swapped a spacious Aussie home with its purpose-built media room and Big Screen, abundant storage space and large laundry room for a cosy home with a clothes washer in the kitchen!
But we are close to the Tube Station that transports us into the heart of culture, West End shows, galleries and museums, restaurants and pubs, markets and parks. Jump on the Piccadilly Line and we’re at Heathrow in flash.
In the years ahead, I expect we will make new friends with newcomers from all over the world who have converged like us, to start new lives in this vibrant multi-cultural metropolis and we will host a steady stream of curious Aussie house guests.
And our little West London home will be a refuge for our globe-trotting kids, their partners and friends and future grandkids. I believe we’ve made a fair exchange. In the ever-changing Journey of Life, London is an enthralling destination.