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.
Katy MittenJanuary 21, 2019 at 3:41 pm
This is so beautifully written Liv! And the main thing, if you’re happy then that’s all that matters – home is where you make it! x
KristabelJanuary 21, 2019 at 3:48 pm
I love this! I imagine that being in the suburbs of London is a very different experience to elsewhere, we really do have the best of both worlds! I feel like I can’t live anywhere else and because I’m not precious about being in zones 1-2, it saves me money in the long run.
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HollyJanuary 21, 2019 at 4:15 pm
Absolutely loved this post Liv, it is so refreshing to see someone writing about how much they adore where they live rather than just complaining constantly about wanting to move to pastures new. I don’t think there is anything wrong with staying close to home when you move out, and actually think there is a traditional British-ness about that, which is quite endearing, being so happy you don’t need to start a fresh (or too fresh at least!) xo
LauraJanuary 21, 2019 at 4:29 pm
LOVED reading this post and your love for the outer boroughs/zones in general! As a former south-Londoner myself, I love coming to you for tips on what to do in the less roamed parts of London. Because I believe there *is* still lots to be done in the suburbs – you just need to know where to go.
Beautiful piece of writing!
brianaJanuary 21, 2019 at 4:43 pm
This is really interesting! Not a subject you see a lot of posts about. My opinion is that I would recommend that everyone should move away from their hometown at some point (provided it’s financially viable of course) as it’s super beneficial for personal growth and to expand your understanding of the world. But there’s also no shame at all in wanting to return to the suburbs. I just recently left NYC to move back to my suburban beach hometown and have felt so much comfort and relief since doing so. That’s not to say I’ll never live anywhere else again, but just that it’s okay to want comfort and ease sometimes.
briana | youngsophisticate.com
BasiaJanuary 21, 2019 at 4:45 pm
This was so interesting to read! I’m from Poland but I was an au pair in London for a year and to me everyone who lived in London (even in Zone 6, it didnt matter to me) was a Londoner. I always thought it must be so cool to be born and raised in London and I never thought of the possible differences of living in different zones. Anyway thanks for the post 😉
RachelJanuary 21, 2019 at 9:20 pm
As a fellow Bromley gal I loved this! Xx
SarahJanuary 21, 2019 at 10:44 pm
As a born and bred zone 5 girl, this was a great read!
BrianaJanuary 22, 2019 at 3:37 am
I love this and has me missing home!
MaceyJanuary 22, 2019 at 5:43 am
I love the way you wrote about this; I feel quite inspired to be honest! xx
AnnaJanuary 22, 2019 at 10:16 am
Absolutely loved this and found it so refreshing! I lived in the suburbs of southwest London when I was younger and it has such a firm place in my heart. It is still my favourite part of London for similar reasons that you articulated so well here. When I was little though I used to think we didn’t live in London since it wasn’t ‘proper London’ i.e. no tube stop/not central enough — which, as I now live way up north in the UK, just seems hilarious. London is such an excellent city because of the huge range of experience it offers. So here’s to dreaming of moving back to the suburbs one day 🙂
FROM CITY CENTRE TO SUBURBS | THE PRO's & THE CON's - Megan EllabyJanuary 22, 2019 at 1:35 pm
[…] you thought it would. And if you still weren't convinced, since writing this last week, strangely Liv Purvis has wrote a beautiful piece all about growing up and living in the suburbs so do check that out […]
CarolineJanuary 22, 2019 at 3:39 pm
It’s only recently I’ve begun to love suburbia again. The green and the space suddenly make the appeal of moving back there from cramped and grey zone 2 extremely appealing! Love your last line about the sense of belonging in the mundane…..
JosieJanuary 23, 2019 at 6:31 pm
I loved reading this! I moved from more central London when I was 19 with my family to the suburbs and was thoroughly miserable about it – but now I really appreciate the beauty of it, I love being bang in the middle of the city and the countryside. I can go wherever my mood feels like it and I’m grateful for the peace and slightly slower pace of life if I want it. It sounds like a silly thing but as a dog owner I like that I’m not too far away to take him to a nice park or even the beach as well! I so agree with what you say about never being bored of the city, it’s all too easy to take it for granted when you’re in the middle of it all. I think living in outer London you get the best of everything, you get such a good quality of life as I think you experience more rather than missing out! x
Becky |SpiritedpuddlejumperJanuary 24, 2019 at 4:21 pm
I love this post Liv! I now live in zone 5 down the road from you (West Wickham) and have 3 kids now and bloody love it. Near enough to the city to be part of it, have nights out with friends and take kids to so many cool museums/days out, yet close to green spaces. We also think of when they’re older and wanting to intern or go to uni or work in the city, and we’ll be able to support them easier than I had it at a similar age (I’m from Bedfordshire originally and then went to uni in Leeds). My husband grew up here, and although had a short spell elsewhere he came back (with me) and loves it too. All hail the burbs!
A Girl, A StyleFebruary 6, 2019 at 1:16 pm
What a beautiful post, Liv! I absolutely loved reading this touching tribute to the place you call home. I have a complicated relationship towards the city where I grew up; I have such fond memories of living there, but almost none of the family, friends, and people I love remain, so it feels like a sort of empty shell of my childhood so in the end I didn’t feel the pull to stay. But equally I think it’s wonderful to have such an attachment to ‘home’, and I love that you’ve been able to stay and yet make it ‘yours’ for your new adult chapter as well.
EvieMarch 30, 2020 at 6:29 pm
Being a fellow Bromley dweller and having to be isolated in these unprecedented times , it’s nice to read a love letter to our town/borough 🙂 Makes me feel less alone in these uncertain times x
What I’ve Bookmarked | 15 – A Scatter of ThoughtsFebruary 10, 2019 at 9:07 am
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