For a while now I’ve felt my job, as a resident Zone 6-er (now 4, folks) has been to defend the suburbs. In a similar way you might defend Love Island to someone more acquainted to watching Black Mirror, the not-quite leafy greens of London have always had a significant piece of my heart- and I wanted to write a bit of an appreciation post for outer-borough living, and the place over half the cities population live.
There’s an image that’s painted, from friends- acquaintances and others about something suggestively unsexy about living on the outskirts of the city. It’s not the affordability people snuff at, or the two up two down and south facing gardens either- I don’t think so anyway. In fact, when I lived with my parents- a street a few roads away was continually used for television adverts as it typically was a Hallmark for the ‘ultimate suburban’ British street. Little front gardens with grass mowed each Sunday and front drives with a family five-door hatchback.
I went to see one of my someone I love talk live recently, and the way she spoke about the suburbs painted it with an image I felt inclined to write a little letter back.
For a lot of people, growing up on the cusp of somewhere leaves a taste of wanting more from a place. Why wouldn’t it? It can feel ordinary, unexciting and constant (even if Bowie did grow up around the corner). The suggestion of almost living somewhere, yet never quite being close enough is perhaps why the suburbs don’t ooze the appeal of a big bright-lighted city- constantly changing- Pop ups! Coffee shops! Parties! A new exhibition that is only showing for 5 minutes that you can’t consider missing! It’s the image that staying somewhere that your parents live almost sends you straight into a period of your life that feels too adult to fathom. Sainsbury’s delivery vans peppering the pavement each morning of the week, hormone-fuelled school rush hour traffic on the 61 bus and sleepy high streets any time before Saturday at midday.
Sometimes I wonder if staying in the place I grew up is something that should have changed. Is never leaving somewhere the sign of being complacent or simply just happy? Having always grown up on the cusp of the city, it’s the outer edges of a place that almost feel the most familiar. The straddle between the chaos of the central line marred with a blur of the last stop you can use your Oyster card before orange tickets are necessary. It was reading this article on Vice a few years ago too that made me realise there’s a shared sense of unity with this too, EVEN SIX YEARS AGO, CLIVE YOU ALWAYS GET IT RIGHT.
But my goodness, sometimes I think about what I’d have done without these sleepy suburbs growing up. Without my just-slightly-out-of-borough-postcode I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to intern and some of the magazines I was able to. I could sleep amongst posters torn from the NME in my own yellow floral childhood bedding instead of sofa surfing with people whose kitchen sink tidiness would have inevitably irked me in more ways than one. Work in the Whistles on Westbourne Grove on the weekends and pretend, as I walked home past the beautiful white townhouses of Notting Hill, peering inside, that I was a local. Could I have been able to spend so many after school nights with my friends in London as a teenager, mingling outside of Rough Trade before in-store gigs after sixth form- just to make sure we had the prime spot for photo taking and obviously, A Level Photography research (cough). It’s living in the suburbs that set me up for a lifetime of love, lust and longing for London. It’s the love affair with a city that feels like I could never get tired because it’s never been too much. It’s the adventure of still having to get a ‘big train’ in to the centre, but still knowing after a long night out a cab won’t set me back more than a couple of pricey cocktails at a bar on Southbank. I feel nothing short of fortunate to have grown up on the outskirts, so much so that staying and never having left feels less of a feat than a somewhat now defining feature.
So here’s to the high streets that might have a Pizza Express over a ‘Slice’ (written with an italic pink neon sign). The familiarity that always feels like home and the sense of belonging amongst the mundane.