Crouch End. Another home. The leafy suburb in North London where Dave and I bought our first home together, a small one-bedroom flat where we lived for nearly four years. We would have happily stayed forever in the area, had we been able to lay our hands on the half a million pounds required to purchase a property with an extra bedroom. We loved Crouch End’s villagey atmosphere, its tree-lined avenues of Edwardian villas, its arty actor locals and the quirky restaurants and bars clustered around the Broadway.
I had been back to Crouch End once since we moved up to York, but Dave had not, and I chose this challenge simply as an excuse to revisit as something which we weren’t when we lived there, namely parents. Crouch End had always seemed to be bursting with families, and the cafés on weekends had been an obstacle course of buggies and children. Dave and I of course found this terribly annoying. We were probably jealous of all these people that had been able to settle properly in Crouch End and afford a family-sized home with enough money left over to eat out in restaurants. But it is fair to say that yummy mummies and kids en masse are annoying full-stop. So now it was our turn to be annoying and find out just how family friendly life in Crouch End really was.
We drove into Crouch End from the Bishop’s Stortford Travelodge, and decided to park outside our old flat. Thanks to it having houses only along one side and a park on the other, our street had always been the easiest one in North London to park on, so we were fairly sure we’d be guaranteed a space, plus we knew the way there. But to our initial horror, when we arrived it transpired that the road had become permit parking only in the interim five years, but thankfully on closer inspection the permit parking didn’t apply on weekends. As we pulled up, our old next-door neighbour Maureen was emerging from her flat, so that’s twice in a row I have made a trip into London and seen someone I know a few seconds after disembarking.
Our old flat was looking a little dismal, partly because everything looks dismal in winter grey and rain, and partly because the lounge windows which needed replacing five years ago have been left by subsequent owners to deteriorate to a really quite disastrous level. Furthermore, the house on the other side was knocked down shortly after we moved out and still seems to be a boarded-up building site. So nothing to make us feel too homesick there. We headed across the road into pretty Stationer’s Park and spent a good while in a part we had never had reason to visit before – the toddlers’ play area. The park was muddier than I have ever seen it, and it was also striking that the few other parents in the play area completely ignored us. In York we would have exchanged at the very least a smile, maybe a hello, or a bit of a conversation. We might even have got a helpful tip about something happening in the neighbourhood, discovered that we knew people in common or - heaven forbid - become friends. But you just don't talk to strangers in London.
|The lounge windows of our flat are to the left of Dave's ear|
|Toddler play area in Stationers Park|
We then headed down to the Clock Tower and the Broadway to have a wander round and see what had changed. Woolworths had long been replaced by a Waitrose, the independent book shop had gone, two new artisan bakeries had opened up, there was now a Jojo Maman Bebe here too, and various bars and restaurants had changed hands as they inevitably do in the never-ending cycle of London life. But much was just the same. However, it was all kind of dull for a toddler in a pushchair and it became clear that passing time on a weekend in Crouch End beyond a nice lunch out would have been pretty hard work. Suddenly we realised that York was rather good after all, where we can just pop in free of charge to the National Railway, Castle or Yorkshire Museums on a whim, where there are plentiful soft play centres and open spaces to run around in (when the open spaces are not flooded at least), and where we can be at the seaside in just over an hour. Even Crouch End’s bars and cafes suddenly didn’t seem so child-orientated after all, full of beautiful young professionals doing brunch and glaring at us just as Rebecca and Dave might have done a few years ago. Obviously Central London has no shortage of amazing things to do but even these are probably more suited to older kids and it would involve a substantial amount of effort to get there. Waiting for buses, travelling on the Tube, riding escalators, carrying pushchairs up long flights of stairs and fighting my way through huge crowds with a two-year-old is never going to be an appealing prospect. Though I am sure there are lots of little baby and toddler groups and activities on in the various community centres and churches in Crouch End, just as there are in York, to help fill up the week.
|Wintry clock tower|
|"Get off, Mum, you're embarrassing me"|
|Charlotte sups her first Crouch End babyccino|
So for us there on a weekend, a nice lunch it was, in Monkey Nuts, where we had seen my gym “buddy” Dermot Murnaghan take his kids when we lived there. Extortionate London prices of course, but decent food and – thank goodness – space for a pushchair, and baby-changing facilities. We had never had to entertain the notion of dirty nappies in N8 before. We did well to sneak in at noon, as an hour later the whole restaurant was rammed. After lunch, Charlotte could barely keep her eyes open so we headed back to the car so she could sleep on the way back to Stortford.
One thing though - if we had stayed and had a baby in Crouch End, at least I would have been considered an average-aged or even possibly YOUNG mother at 37, instead of the ancient creature I was seen as in York. (Though I'd have still ended up decrepit in either place.) But could I ever have been a proper Crouch End yummy mummy? Rich enough to do all my shopping in the toy boutiques on the Broadway, perhaps almost famous, or at least social-climbing enough to address the celebrities in the gym as though they were my friends, and thin three seconds after giving birth? No. I'd have felt horribly inadequate at my NCT get-togethers down there, I'm sure. And these 40 challenges would have been utterly derided. "You mean you're not taking Charlotte on a rickshaw along the Great Wall of China this summer?" "You mean your blog hasn't been made into a mini-series yet?" Thank goodness for all my lovely friends in York!
Absence had made our hearts grow ever fonder, but our return to Crouch End showed us that now that we do have a young child, moving away was probably the right decision. But I still like to think that one day, we'll be able to hang up our hats there again.