In the first of a new series of guest blogs from others who have made the move out of London, Alice Elliott (AKA The Fairy Blog Mother) shares what it was like to move to a new town from London 21 years ago, and then to watch the area change beyond all recognition.
Moving out of London
I went back to London the other week for a meeting. What struck me, as it always does, is the crowdedness, quirkiness and dirtiness of London.
Mind you, it’s not much different in Reading
When we moved to from London to Reading over 21 years ago, I was struck by how bland and grey it was. A bit John Majorish. It seemed insignificant, unexciting and uninviting. All these people going about their business, and I didn’t know any of them.
Reading seemed like merely an extension of Tooting, where we had moved from, but without the Victorian architecture. In fact the architecture was there, we just hadn’t found it yet. All the shops were the same (there was no Oracle back then), there was a ruined Abbey with its gardens, and various rivers running through the town which were not necessarily always the Thames.
Reducing commuting time
After selling our flat in Tooting, my husband was thankful he didn’t have to do the daily commute down the M4 to his new job any more, and we rented a ground floor flat (because of my piano) about a mile from the station, because I will still commuting by train to London. It was pretty grotty, with nicotine stained walls, really sticky surfaces and inadequate heating. This was our first experience of West Reading.
At the same time I found I was pregnant. We were lucky to register at the doctors’ surgery just around the corner (it’s now huge and isn’t taking any more patients) and our adventure towards parenthood began.
We needed somewhere better to live
We started to look for houses to buy. Back in 1994 the housing market was suffering a slump. We had just sold our London flat at a loss, but we didn’t realise how advantageous it was for us that Reading’s housing was also in the doldrums. This meant our mortgage would be less than the rent we were paying for our grotty flat!
After looking at over 30 houses, my pernickety husband was still not satisfied, but with my belly ever increasing in size, I knew we had to do something pretty quick. I couldn’t bring up a baby in our present living accommodation. There was one house I liked with a reasonable sized garden, so we went back to the estate agent only to find another offer had been put in and accepted.
Not that this put me off!
I memorised the house’s telephone number from the estate agent’s folder, and called up the owners. I explained we were instant buyers with no chain, so would this be more desirable for them? Apparently the person who made the offer had a chain of seven people. We also bargained a reduction in the price as the garage was in a pretty poor state of repair.
In the end we under-gazumped that house for £70,000. Now we estimate it is worth over £300,000. The garden is now full of flowers, trees and vegetables, a far cry from the field of dandelions, green alkanet and apple tree stumps that was there before. And we have also created a much better shed from the garage and have extended the loft space into an extra bedroom and bathroom.
Having a family matters
Having children was one of the main reasons why we have stayed so long in this house. All the other permanent neighbours had children growing up, whereas the childless couples didn’t hang around for long. Our first neighbour lived in her house for over 50 years until she died, and the other long-lived neighbour three doors down is about the same. They have seen some huge changes in the area: shops closing, housing redevelopment, infrastructure disappearing as the population continues to grow.
Over the past 21 years our area has changed significantly. There has been a huge influx of Eastern European and Asian families, and the Oxford Road’s shops (what I used to call the ‘village’) have changed from the usual grocers, butchers and convenience stores to beauty parlours, fast-food and money-lending outlets. A massive Tesco has also contributed towards the decline, taking the place of a local hospital.
There are other parents around too
I first met friends through the antenatal classes and parent and children groups and later the school playground. One thing we didn’t think about carefully was the kind of schools in the area before we bought our house. That was a big mistake. In the end I had to move my children to another school, in which there were places only by a complete stroke of luck. Now it is totally over-subscribed and is an Outstanding Academy, the only primary school to be so in Berkshire.
Getting my son into Reading School, one of the top 10 secondary schools in the country, was another incentive for staying. Our daughter was not so lucky, and failed to get a place at Kendrick, the girls’ grammar school. In Reading the secondary school system is like this: two exceptional grammars and then there’s a huge gap in between the other inadequate and rubbish secondary schools. And I mean rubbish: Special Measures is regularly dolled out by OfSTED.
Branching out on your own
Having a home-based business, which I did around my children, and regularly going to networking meetings has also increased my circle of friends. There are a lot of women who have businesses, in various state of success, and some seriously good friends have been made because of this. Some have moved away, or gone onto better things, but I still have a very good friend around the corner, even though I don’t do the school run any more.
Next September we will be child-free. Our son will be in his fourth year at Cambridge, and our daughter will hopefully be starting her degree at Oxford, if she gets her grades. In spite of being at a rubbish school, she has excelled way above her peers and has gone down in history by getting 10 A*s in her GCSEs, and we hope for a similar result in her A-levels. In the end it is about attitude as well as luck, and making the best of what is available to you.
So we may move again
But certainly not back to London. We know that if we move up north, it is highly unlikely we shall be able to afford to move back south again. We have looked at house prices in the Berkshire countryside, but they are well out of our league. We have looked at the area closer to my husband’s work, but neither of us like what we see there. We even haven’t ruled out living abroad.
But we know we want to move out of West Reading. It has changed beyond recognition, and not for the better. It has serviced its purpose: close to Reading town centre and the station with a reasonable bus service, and a mortgage-less house with a reasonable sized garden which we’ve done something with, unlike our neighbours who prefer grass lawns. The schools were within walking distance, there is a big park only five minutes away, and in a very short time by car you can be walking in the Berkshire countryside.
But now we want to move a bit more up market, as much as we can afford. We have outgrown where we live now, similar to when we outgrew living in that little flat in London. We are ready for the next stage in our life.
Alice Elliott, also known as the Fairy Blog Mother®, offers tuition and advice to beginner and post-beginner bloggers. Her particular talent is explaining blogging “really simply” using ordinary, everyday language, and through tutorials and e-courses in a highly visual, step-by-step format. She is currently working on her new blog Beginner Bloggers, which will be stuffed full of helpful ‘How-To’ posts that aim to clarify WordPress and other blogging issues.