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August G…uest #12: A Move Back In Time

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 Please meet Pete Johnson and read all about as he put it in his own words:  “The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk”
I lived in London for sixty years. Born and raised in the dockside area just south of Tower Bridge, it was all I knew. I grew up there, went to school there, and got married there. Like most people, I moved around. It’s a big city, lots to see, and all the districts are different. I lived in middle-class areas, upper-class areas, and cramped rented flats too. After two divorces, and a geographic circuit of the Capital, I spent the last twelve years in the trendy confines of Camden Town, a stone’s throw from the centre.
I worked there too. One third of my life as an EMT, dealing with the demands of a population of over seven million, plus the tourists and commuters. The next fifth of my life spent working for the police, a total of thirty-four years in the emergency services, dealing with every bad thing that one of the biggest cities in the world can throw at you. By the age of fifty-nine, I was worn out. London is not really a place that you live in. It is something you endure, somewhere you survive. You learn to live by its rules. Don’t use a car unless you really have to. Don’t flaunt anything, and walk straight, catch nobody’s eye. Never back down. Only fools speak to strangers, and only tourists or children sit on the top deck of the bus.
Oh, it has its perks. Restaurants, cinemas, bars, theatres. Lots of them, everywhere. Shops, shops, and more shops. You can buy anything you want, but not always what you need. You are a small fish in an enormous shoal, so unlucky if a predator spots you. Stick with the crowd, and you will get by, unnoticed. But forget trying to sleep. Sirens, helicopters, 24-hour life and transport, with ambient light so bright it feels like the sun never sets. Always tired, struggling through one day to the next, in the relentless pace demanded by city life.
Retirement loomed as I approached sixty. Time for a change. London is no place to be old.
So, we bought a house in Norfolk. Only 120 miles north-east, but it might as well be in another country, and at another time. A drive of just over three hours by car takes you back over fifty years in the process. We settled in a place where people still say “Hello” as they walk past. Where a parcel left outside your door is still there, a week later. You don’t have to lock your car, and you could probably leave your doors unlocked too. Children don’t follow old people to mock them, but to help them. Your neighbours help out, and are happy to ask for a favour in return. Traffic jams are but a memory, and within twenty minutes drive, we can be standing on a deserted beach.
And the house cost less than the price of a lock-up garage, in the street we happily left behind.
It’s not all perfect, nothing is. Public transport is almost non-existent, and I have to travel twenty miles to buy a decent shirt, or to find a good street market. There is one cinema, and the choice of places to eat is limited by the modest expectations of local people. No local shop, and no real village centre, so it is not easy to meet new people. But it is dark at night, and I can see the stars, for the first time other than when on holiday. I can walk my dog past wild deer, and watch fish jumping in the river. I feel like I live in an England that I only ever read about in history books.
And I know which place I prefer.
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94 thoughts on “August G…uest #12: A Move Back In Time”

  1. Pingback: August G…uest Post Roundup | The Recipe Hunter
  2. It’s great to see Pete here. I follow his blog and must admit the place where I live is a bit like the place he describes. Unfortunately, for family and other reasons, I’ll probably be moving on soon. Thanks for providing this great opportunity for bloggers.

  3. A delightful post, Pete! I thoroughly enjoyed the read and your details of London and Norfolk. The photo of you and Ollie is terrific- with Ollie actually sitting still! I’m glad you were a guest on Esmé’s blog.

  4. Wonderful post Pete. The world seems to be getting bigger and with it comes the hustle and bustle. Glad you’ve found a peaceful place to enjoy your life. 🙂

  5. I have to say, Pete, I have reached the age you were when you left London, but I still enjoy being here. I like that i can get on a bus (top deck, of course!) and see the city (and for free, next year) and all the people busily going about their day. I’m not as close as you were to the centre, though. I guess living in Waltham Forest is a bit like living in Norwich, by comparison. We are close enough to be able to get into town in 45 minutes, but right on the edge of Epping Forest.
    I’m pleased you are still happy in carrot crunching land!

    • Good to hear you are still enjoying London life, Ian, albeit that you do so from ‘the edge’. It’s a personal thing, I know. I have friends and relatives older than me who still love living in London, and would never move.
      It wore me down in the end though. Maybe because I lived in Camden/Euston for so long?
      Cheers, Pete.

  6. Pete, you remind me (as if I’d forgotten), exactly why I never want to live in London again. Yes, I miss the theatres and museums but long before we moved to Crete, we’d stopped travelling into the centre because it was so stressful and expensive. You get from Beetley exactly what I get from the Isle of Wight. And the next person who quotes Dr Johnson about being tired of life, I shall scream loudly and clearly – “I love life!”

  7. Salut Pete! I DID enjoy this piece … visiting London and living there are polar opposites. I still visit from time to time but I can’t imagine living there again. Norfolk on the other hand …. Norfolk I could consider if I ever thought I would like in England again 🙂

  8. I love Norfolk too, Pete. I lived there for a short time and Suffolk too so I know what you mean about the different pace of life there. Not only that, but there are so many large, open spaces, beautiful countryside and rugged beaches to enjoy.
    I have never been one for big city living. I can’t bear huge crowds and there is no way I would get on the Tube! I know it has its merits of course, everything on hand day and night, but I would rather just wait a few hours for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet at night. 🙂

  9. It is lovely when we find our own little piece of heaven, isn’t it?…Big cities are lovely for a few days… but not to live in 🙂 Pleased you have found your little oasis of calm and tranqulity 🙂

    • Everyone expected me to miss London, and I suppose I had a feeling that I would. But I have only been back once in five yeas, and it felt oppressive and depressingly unchanged.
      Many thanks for your thoughts and comment.
      Best wishes, Pete.


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