Leaving London: city to seaside and everything in between

Well it’s actually happened. The skip came and went, I found the entire collection of the Disney fairies living behind a dusty bed, the moving truck took everything away, 8 bags went off to the chazza shop (no mother needs more than three onesies), we finally exchanged after a bitch of buyer refused to do so for three nail biting and stress inducing weeks, and that’s that. As of last week our London living days came to an end!

We moved to London in 2008, fresh from the shores of Australia where we had been living in Melbourne. Two young love-sick pups, we moved out there to live the dream, renting a cute art deco apartment on the sea front, skating everywhere, tanning to the max and taking road trips every weekend. But after a while, London called us, I don’t actually know why really, it just did. I was a bit bored career-wise, and as much as we love Australia, we’ve both spent a lot of time there, and were gagging for a bit of grit and culture. (HA!) So we embarked on a mission to reunite with old friends, get married (although that actually took place in a Mexican thunderstorm, another story), and to find ‘some proper jobs’ (I’m still not sure our parents think we have ‘proper’ jobs, but I guess we sort of do). We didn’t really know how long we’d stay in London for, Ben struggles to think more than 2 days in advance to be honest, and the shock to the system when we arrived in London was pretty severe if I remember correctly. After a couple of years of doing 6am jogs along the glistening sunny sea front in Australia, running in the rain through Clapham one dreary morning was a huge wakeup call (I absolutely, defiantly, did not cry under a tunnel like I was in a dramatic music video, nope). But soon enough I got a job I was really interested in, and we moved in with some close friends, graduating myself from music video drama queen, to feeling like I was in an actual episode of Friends, (fully complete with the men brewing ale in the bathroom and me flipping out because when I shaved my legs they smelt like hops). Before we knew it, 1 year turned into 2 which, became almost a decade of London living. There were promotions, babies, weddings, the start of my business, and eventually a mortgage (we do like to do everything out of ‘proper’ order), so reflecting on our time living in the city, London has seen what have become our most defining family moments to date.

So young…so thin…sigh…

I never thought we’d have kids in London, it’s not like we planned to have them anywhere else though, so I’m not sure what I thought would happen after birthing them out in London, maybe appear post labour in farm house in an apron somewhere cooking a hot pie? That didn’t happen, although someone did appear in apron offering to stitch up my actual pie (pie is a fanny where I grew up FYI, I always feel the need to explain that, sorry). I guess I’d just always filed ‘having kids’ somewhere else, capital cities and kids just didn’t fit the vision I had of motherhood, I was thinking more along the lines of space, big houses, seaside, animals, playing out on the streets, you know, that kind of vibe? But life, quite literally, happened, so there I was two kids later, a full on London mum, with a blog and a posh buggy and everything – WHAT a cliché! As it turned out, I loved exploring motherhood in London, as the first of many of our friends to have kids, whilst life changed rapidly for us, it felt like everyone else partied on around us, but as a London mum, I was never without something to do, someone to meet, or somewhere to go. I spent my maternity leave in museums, art galleries and circulating the most middle class organic soft plays I could get my filthy SW19 hands on, and of course, when it was time, and I started up the business, I worked flexibly (there was also a lot of Netflix in these times. God bless Netflix. In fact, one of my all-time highlight memories of maternity leave was being able to sit and binge the entire series of Orange is the New Black and not even feel guilty about watching it in the day or in PJs. I’m sure there were some other nice ones about the actual kids too).

But as the kids grew, I found some of the downsides of city living become more noticeable and grate on me more and more. The first and foremost being house size. Mostly, we lived in Wimbledon, a lovely little suburb for family living; it’s green with good schools, parks, blah, blah and most importantly for Ben, an IMAX cinema within walking distance from our house that he adamantly claims is the greatest screen in the country, plus you can be in the city within 20 mins. It really has been a great place to bring the kids up, and I feel lucky we were able to buy our first house there. But like most decent suburbs in London, it costs a freaking fortune to live there and the terraced house we bought eventually became referred to as ‘the world’s most expensive doll’s house’. We were living on top of one another so much that in the end I felt like I was permanently doing really extreme glamping. There’s only a certain number of times you can cook an Xmas dinner on two hobs. And perhaps we all look at back at our childhoods with rose-tinted glasses, but most of my favourite memories are of the garden; good old 90s water fights, climbing frames and a constant supply of blue tip-tops. We have been able to give the kids an incredible culturally rich experience which is different to what I had, but with a typical London postage stamp garden we were worlds away from any of that 90s free playtime. You don’t need a perfect big house to do things and enjoy spontaneous free play, but you do need more than three slabs of concrete to have a decent family water fight, any 90s kid knows that.

When your whole living space IS xmas!

So we spent over a year agonising about leaving London, and I know many people do the same. The lure of London is strong, she’s a sexy beast who woos you with her charm, culture and energy. It’s very hard to imagine life without her. Making the decision though was a BIG relief, and once we’d done it, despite lots of leaving- London-induced-anxiety-attacks such as: will the 4G work, will we get good coffee, does the news hit there a bit slower, will our imagination fizzle out, what actually happens when you’re not always within 5 mins from an M&S food hall??!!!, it was a big relief to have made the call.

Figuring out where to go was also relatively simple in the end and we ruled out options quite ruthlessly. I think everyone moving out of cities probably goes through these same options, and before you read this next bit, please know that I make no judgements if any of these are you, as it’s different for everyone, and let’s face it this is a nice problem to have, a ‘first-world-problem’ if ever I did see one. The options are all nice ones to entertain, but anyway, this was our thought-process:

  1. Upsize where we are: felt like a heck of a lot of money to move (stamp duty of horror!), for not that much more space, the upsize we’d get just felt too similar to what we had already, basically not big impact enough and still not big enough for a proper water fight.
  2. Going a bit further out: we both felt that in London, you’re either in it or you’re not. For us personally, if we weren’t in the action and near the tube, we felt it would become all a bit ‘meh’, we’re very much two feet in or nothing kind of people, so we figured we’d just be pissed off at life if we had to be ‘outskirters’. We’d spoilt ourselves for WAY too long with premium location living to go there now.
  3. Going even further out: lots of people head to Surrey, it’s the logical compromise, and we briefly considered Epsom, based purely on nothing other than that I really love going to Hobbledown, which is a kind of outdoor farm / playground place (if you’re near, you really should go, it’s got gems in the sand to find and everything), but this was a non-starter right from the get-go, because it just didn’t excite us enough. It felt a bit random, (granted choosing your new home based on a play farm is potentially an odd starting point), but beyond that it didn’t feel right, and we felt like we’d constantly be teased – not too close to the city, but near-ish to it, sort of it. God, it sounded like torture.

And so from the Surrey border, we travelled around mentally around the map, until finally we landed on the idea of moving back to Bournemouth, Dorset, with the logic that if we can’t afford to buy exactly what we want, where we want it, and we do really have to go, let’s just properly go.

Like, fully go.

City to seaside, go.

We agreed we wouldn’t compromise by sticking a pin somewhere nearish London, because this made us feel like the property market was choosing for us and shunting us over, instead we sat down and designed a new lifestyle. Let’s just bloody move to the sea we said over way too many evenings discussing this and once Ben had scoped out the new cinema to his approval. So that’s how it went, or summit like that.

Then it came to searching for the house. We had a few criteria to consider, which as you can see listed below, varied somewhat between the two of us:

Ben

  • At least 10 mins within access of a decent cinema screen
  • Not a ‘granny house’ (I managed to eventually translate that this means something that looks clean and not boring, something modern, that potentially wouldn’t look out of place in Miami Vice)
  • A garden that has a space with the potential to put in a mini skate ramp (not even kidding folks)
  • Preferably nice plugs, taps and door handles already installed
  • A decent coffee establishment nearby
  • A garage, not for a car, but for boards, big boy toys, a punch bag and a weights bench, like Fight Club style (?)
  • Outdoor space which gets the sun all day wherever it goes for maximum tanning opportunities
  • Ability to install Virgin cable internet

It’s a miracle it only took a year to move.

And this is what Ben gets in return, which, I’m sure you’ll agree in my completely 100% unbiased perspective, is far more realistic and reasonable:

Me

  • Somewhere where a cat would be really happy to live, and where said cat wouldn’t be in much danger of being run over
  • Somewhere with a slower pace of life, where not everyone is ‘busy’ all the time
  • Shit loads of them. Just cupboards and storage everywhere. Basically cupboard-land
  • More than two hobs
  • More than one loo
  • Somewhere to put shoes and coats, that is not a banister or the end of a bed
  • A living space with room and a nice spot for a really tall xmas tree, you know, like those ones you need ladders to get to the top of
  • A water-fight ready garden, which specifically means flat grass and good storage for super-soakers nearby, not a lot of beds or concrete, and a decent sprinting space (plus preferably corners to hide around)
  • Not within listening distance of a fire station, police station, train station, basically just minimal siren surround sound
  • A road without traffic around it, preferably a close or cul-de-sac type set up (benefits the kids, but also I’m mostly thinking of the cat)
  • Back to point one, the cat, let’s make that two cats….and maybe a rabbit

After over 400 days of broken chains, dick-head estate agents, scraps with the bank and half-wit solicitors, we moved in last weekend.

Bournemouth is actually Ben’s home town, and my University town, where we first met years ago stumbling around the seafront intoxicated on vodka near the pier. True romance right there kids, but never in a shot of vodka did I ever imagine we’d end up years later married with kids and buying our dream house back down there. We’ve been in just a few days now, and I already know we have absolutely done the right thing. The house is absolutely incredible, I am still in a state of constant emotion and joy that we live there, and you’ll be relieved to hear that we’re about 1.5 miles from the cinema, it’s the PERFECT place for a cat, and the water fights in that garden are going to be EPIC. I have also been upgraded from 2 hobs to 5, plus two ovens (Christ knows what to do with them), more cupboards than I know what to do with (most of them are empty due to owning about 3 mugs and a spoon between us), and, ladies and gentleman, le piece de resistance is that we have made the jump from one tiny, bash-your-shins-on-the-door-every-time-you-bath-the-kid’s-bathroom, to 5 bogs. FIVE LOOS. We can all go at the same time and STILL have one left over! I can’t’ tell you how much joy it gave me to order over 40 loo rolls in the online shop, not only because I am now the proud owner of 5 loos, but also because I have a UTILITY ROOM to store them all in, which also means I can now enjoy Netflix without my pants drying next to me. Result. Plus, one of the loos is outside in the garden, do you know how handy this will be mid-water fight when you’re caught short?! I feel the 90s kid in me whoop with joy.

Of course a big factor in being able to make this move and buy this house, has been a result of building the business over the last six years, both in terms of flexibility and financially.  Setting up the agency and branching out to grow the business, was always mainly about me dealing with a shifting identity from carefree ambitious spirit, to mother of sprogs and a way to feed my hungry ambition to change the industry and lead where others follow. But it’s also been about been becoming financially independent, about me, as a woman (supported by an incredible IMAX loving husband and father), having the ability and choice to design a very specific lifestyle. I didn’t always know where the map was headed, but I realise now that this move has always been the end goal, I just didn’t know it. I have worked so hard over the last 6 years; there have been tears, exhaustion, gaining weight, losing weight, sleeping, not sleeping, loving it, hating it, confidence, no-confidence, but one thing no can dispute is how hard I’ve worked to build the company and make it work. I have honestly given it my all within a cut throat industry where people nick your ideas, and where you’re only ever as good as your last project. But it still blows my mind when I walk into the office and hang out with such awesome people in my team that if I hadn’t have done it when I did it simply wouldn’t exist. I always find that thought so staggering. I never usually like writing stuff like this because I really don’t think I do anything particularly amazing (I mean, I work in marketing FFS), but it’s probably only Ben, from the depths of the cinema, who really knows how hard I have worked to make it work, and making this move and reflecting on all the emotions we have been feeling about moving out of London and our time living there, has finally allowed me to release some of the guilt I’ve had bottled-up about the time I’ve dedicated to the business during the kids’ early years.

It was worth it.

I have always had an inkling it was, but I properly know that now. It has all been worth it.

(FYI reading that back, I feel like I’ve written it like I’m retiring, just to clarify that’s 100% not the case as I now have a big eff-off mortage to pay, but at least I can have a water fight to de-stress and a choice of loo when I’m working from home).

So as I call time on our time living in London, I am thankful to the city for making us as a family. I will never forget holding a little newborn in my arms overlooking the Houses of Parliament and the Thames and telling him ‘this is where dreams are made’. Because it is.  And I will always credit London for helping me mature (against my will) into my 30s, by bringing me great cocktails, incredible food, fabulous fun and inspiration quite literally around every corner. I will still be working two days a week in the city, the plan is for me to travel up on Mondays and head back on Tuesday pms, and work the rest of the week from home, in and around international travel. I certainly wouldn’t be able to give up London full time, and I hope we can get the best of both worlds. And of course I am very excited about the next stage of family life, both kids will be in school by September (!) and this will be the lifestyle and home they will remember as the core years of their childhood. These times from now are the years that will really shape who they are and what they become so if it’s ok to say this, without sounding like a dick, I do feel really proud of myself and of Ben for doing the one thing we wanted to do from the start – dream the house, dream the lifestyle…and go get it.

So stay tuned to find out how it all goes and for the ongoing whinge of if I’ll ever get a decent 4G reception ever again at home, as well as some potentially boring decorating posts and the most important news of all…the CAT!! Bring on the cat!!

Emma x

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Tracey says:

    Love it! 👍
    Em, a thoroughly enjoyable read and you just got me from Euston to Bletchley with a smile when I should really be home on the sofa chilling out.
    Well done! You and Ben are a fantastic team and I 100% agree: just one more furry thing required to complete the dream….
    Can’t wait to meet the cat 😻

  • Pragna Tevani says:

    Excellent post, Emma.
    I’ve often toyed with the idea of leaving London (been here all my 40+ years)… and I think reading your blog has given me some food for thought 🙂
    All the best to you all, in your new home

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