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Ten years in ten homes in London
East meets west meets, well, pretty much everywhere
On 1st September 2013, I packed my little life into a suitcase, a travelling rucksack and a handbag and moved to London. My mum put me on the train at Kettering, and I bustled down to Kings Cross - along with many an adult Harry Potter fan bound for what I understand is an annual vigil at Platform 9 3/4 - ready to start my first job in the big city the next day.
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I can’t quite believe a decade has passed since that sunny September day. So much has changed, and yet in many ways, I still feel exactly the same as that 21 year old, fresher faced, ambitious but anxiety-ridden young woman who got the bus all the way to Bermondsey because it was cheaper than getting the tube. In my teens, my Mum would tell me she still felt 16, and now - at 31 - I think I understand.
I find it difficult to put into words quite how much London means to me.
Growing up in comfortable middle class middle England, London was always a just out of reach beacon of excitement, experience and extreme opportunity. My parents - one of whom grew up in London, with the other living here for seven years working as a nurse - made sure we were vaguely streetwise, bringing us to London in the holidays to go to the Natural History Museum, to the Planetarium (RIP, who would ever close that place down!), and later, to the big Topshop on Oxford Circus, where they’d take turns to embarrass me by sitting on the sofas with a thermos flask while I tried on overpriced crop tops and low slung jeans to my heart's content. The youth correspondents in my life tell me 90s fashion is very much back, which makes me feel old and nostalgic for those days in equal measure. We’d stay with my mum’s great friend who still lived in a rent-controlled flat on Wimpole Street in Marylebone, giving me a wholly unrealistic expectation of renting in the city.
Later, I’d pass through London intermittently on my way down to Exeter University, stay on older friends sofas while trudging through weeks and weeks of unpaid work experience at various media houses (thank god this mainstay of the privileged seems to be becoming a thing of the past), and trapse up and down to the capital for graduate scheme interviews. Finally, I landed a job - predictably, through my then boyfriend's cousin - and at last, my time to move to the city I’d long loved had come.
I don’t think I ever thought London was forever. And perhaps it still isn’t. But a decade on, I feel more at home here than I’ve felt anywhere else. I still feel excited by the opportunity of this place. I love that a new, incredible restaurant opens every day. I love the parks, particularly Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. I love that I know how to walk to most places, I love that I still find myself lost in new areas I’ve not spent time in. I love that this place has now been home for longer than anywhere else - albeit, in many, many homes.
To celebrate ten years as a Londoner, and fittingly, a few short weeks as a homeowner in the city, I thought I’d look back at all the places I’ve lived. Buckle up, it’s a long old list.
Homes 1 & 2 - sofa surfing, of sorts, in Bermondsey and Kew
My first one way trip down to Kings Cross led to a few months of very privileged homelessness. I was waiting for friends to move to London to share with, so bridged the gap by subletting from friends of friends and family.
First up, Bermondsey, an area I’d go on to live in later, and one that I absolutely love. I was staying in the room of a friend’s friend who was on holiday. I paid her rent for two weeks, and she posted me her keys with a hand drawn map and instruction manual for getting through the Fort Knox worthy lock system that was their shared front door. They lived in the ‘grittier’ part of Bermondsey near Old Kent Road. They did not have an oven. I absolutely did not care.
She returned from holiday, and I made for Kew, for a very comfortable month living in a friend of my parent’s house, just off the green. I co-existed amicably enough with her teenage grandson, I did a bit of baking, and developed more unrealistic expectations about what my entry level PR salary would afford me on the London rental market.
Home 3 - Nine Elms, or no man’s land in 2013
After a few weeks, I had two friends ready to flat hunt. We settled on a charming - read, mouse-infested and quite damp - flat in the area now known as Nine Elms, which back then was an odd no man's land between Stockwell and Vaxhaull.
I took the box room which could just about house my bed but absolutely nothing else, and plastered my room with grainy photos snapped in Exeter’s woeful night clubs, which slowly fell off the wall over the year as the damp refused to let us ignore it.
Earning a pretty measly starting salary, I had literally no money; I walked to and from work in Victoria every day, ate the (not measly) free breakfast and lunches work provided, and baked my friends cookies for their birthdays rather than buying presents. It sounds tripe, but I don’t remember it bothering me too much. It taught me resourcefulness, compromise, and kickstarted a still passionate love affair with charity shopping.
Shabby but chic, we loved that flat. We had a little roof terrace and hosted so many parties. We constantly had someone living on our sofa, and as a consequence, were constantly being locked out thanks to mismanaged key sharing. The perfect first London home.
Home 4 - Chiswick
A year later, my best friend offered me the spare room in her flat in Chiswick. Living with her in a much nicer flat was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I packed up my modest collection of possessions and headed west. People say living in a two bed is intense. But we loved it.
Those years were marked by a stream of unsatisfactory love interests, by regular tears on a Sunday night, by eating salted caramel from the jar, and by a lot of very, very hilarious in jokes (you had to be there). I had an emergency tonsillectomy, I kick started my baking ventures, and eventually, I moved out to make way for her then boyfriend, now husband, to move in.
Home 5 - London Fields
It was time to head east to London Fields, this time to house sit for my then boss while she spent three months in California. Included in the deal was her whippet, who I spent a lot of time throwing tennis balls for in Haggerston Park, coffee in hand and many dog-loving friends in tow at weekends. It was short but sweet, and I left knowing East London was where I felt most at home.
Home 6 - Brixton
Next, to Brixton, where I moved into a room that needed filling in the flat that another best friend was living in. While tired like most London rentals, that flat had such good bones. It was a Victorian conversion, and we were old enough to buy lamps and rugs and curtains to make it feel like a proper home. Paper thin walls and three girls + three boyfriends made for *very* close living. We spent a lot of time drinking in Brixton village and being a bit Brits abroad in the McDonalds on Brixton Road.
I made my first London wedding cakes in that flat, baking into the night and welcoming worse for wear flatmates home in the small hours with bowls of cake offcuts.
Home 7 - back to Bermondsey
2018 brought with it a new phase, living with a boyfriend for the first time, and returning to Bermondsey, my first stop in London. It felt good to decorate a home knowing I’d be there for a while. Spending weekends exploring Maltby Street Market, running round Southwark Park, and really hitting the gas on my baking business. That light drenched flat was where I started my postal bakes business when lockdown hit, and saw thousands and thousands of brownies fly through its doors during a very strange time for all of us.
Home 8 - a blip, via Rutland and then Norbury
The end of that relationship led to my only hiatus from London since moving down. I spent a few months licking my wounds at my parents house in Rutland, before deciding to get my life back on track and moving back down to the city to live in my great aunt's house in Norbury.
A very strange period of my life (lockdown, sadness, living in someone else’s house in a new area), but also a good one, as it was here that I signed my first book deal, and started furiously writing and testing recipes for my cookbook, Postal Bakes. It was the safe haven I needed, and when I left six months later, I felt a strange sadness to say goodbye to an unexpected chapter of my life in the city.
Homes 9, 10 (and maybe forever?) - Stoke Newington
In the summer of 2021, I signed the lease on my very own flat. It was a rental, but it was mine. Living alone, in a small but perfect ground floor flat in leafy Clissold, felt like a real moment.
Growing up watching Sex And The City, I set a lot of store in being able - financially, and emotionally - to live alone. I absolutely loved that flat. It felt like London’s answer to Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone, and Alison Roman’s Brooklyn walk up. Full of old wooden floors, dappled light and with a wild little courtyard garden. I could not have asked for a happier little home in Hackney, my favourite part of the city.
My boyfriend later moved in, and we lived there happily - if a little short on space - for another year. We got engaged in that flat, and went home there after our wedding. We were so sad to leave, but knew it was time to be responsible adults and put a decade of hard saving into the property market.
Last month, we moved into the flat we bought, just 10 minutes away from my Carrie Bradshaw-esq pad, on the other side of Clissold Park. My tenth London home, and one that already feels so happy, so safe, and so very us.
And finally, FINALLY, a space we can paint.
Buying in London is, well, wild. That’s a conversation for another newsletter, but I do want to note that it took us two salaries, many promotions and pay rises and ten years a piece to be able to buy a flat in this city. For anyone reading this who feels like it’s unattainable - I see you, I spent a decade there. It’s so tough, and I have more thoughts which I’ll definitely share another day.
At the risk of getting a bit SATC ‘fifth character’ about London, I owe so much to this place. It’s allowed me to be totally myself. It’s pushed me to chase down pipe dreams. It’s tested me, but in the best possible ways. Here’s to the next ten.
Be right back, just off to spend a million more hours lusting over Farrow & Ball paint, and wondering which non-vital organ to sell to fund my new passion for interiors.
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