Wednesday 10 June 2015


I never thought I would be able to say this, especially living in a one of the biggest cities out there, but I actually know my neighbors (gasp!). Not just my immediate neighbors but many families around the neighborhood. It’s sad that this statement in this day and age surprises me, but having lived in several big cities before London, it is not something I am used to, nor expected. Not to mention, growing up, we didn't really have neighbours and I was always slightly envious of that backdoor open, ride your bikes around the hood type of existence (of course as I aged, I became more cynical and distrusting, so I've been working on this inner disparity). 

Funny enough, the way the school systems are arranged in England, you often find that most families that go to a school live close by. I mean really close by – I’m about 100 feet from the King’s school and many of the King’s friends live within the surrounding streets. It is widely known (and complained about) that school catchments, especially in the inner cities, are small and cutthroat - and sadly, they are getting smaller each day. One school a few miles away has such a small catchment that I’m starting to think families have taken up residence in the sewer system beneath the building just to get into the school.

However despite this, in any given area, you can have up to four or five schools to choose from (in varying degrees of quality of course) that are mere minutes away from one another. That of course has its pros and cons – the pros being, at least you have a choice (if you’re lucky enough to fall in the catchments for all of them) and the cons, often kids that grow up together, end up at different schools. In the King’s case, many of his friends from his nursery, although they live mere minutes from us, ended up at different schools depending on which catchments they fell in. For those of you not in the know in terms of the UK public school system (that is American public, here public is essentially private. Confused yet?) when your child is of school age, you apply for six schools in your area, list the one that you want the most at the top (pray like hell) and depending on how far you live from the school (determined by how the crow flies, essentially), determines if you will get a place. There are a few more factors that determine your place: siblings, special needs, etc., but that is the process in a nutshell.

In the States, it is basically done by your zip code (post code), and the net is much bigger so you don’t find yourself trying to find a flat/house that sits on the sodding roof of the school. When we were applying for schools here in the UK, we were also simultaneously looking for a flat (to of course be smack next to the schools we liked). My husband would send me out with a circled map of the neighbourhood.  Flats within the circle: good. Flats out of the circle: even if it had double-glazed windows and a walk in closet (as if, haaaaa), it was bad. When we found our current house, and saw how close it was to the school, before the estate agent opened the door, my husband and I had already decided that even if the house had a rotting corpse in it, we were taking it (cause you know, you can dispose of a corpse. No biggie).

As much as I complained that that the UK system was ludicrous and who the heck could find a place to live within such a small radius, once the King started school, I began to see some of the benefits. In short, each area surrounded by a school starts to feel a bit like a village, and you soon realize that you recognize half of the neighborhood – which is bad when you are running to the shop pre-coffee with bed head trying not to be seen.  On the plus side, play dates are so easy as you’re RIGHT THERE, the school run is a piece of cake, and now, I not only know my neighbours, but with many of them, we’re on a, ‘can I borrow a cup of sugar,’ basis. My neighbor two doors down (who is one of my best friends that also moved into the hood to get into a school) not only do we babysit for one another, but we’re constantly borrowing things (they also greatly appreciate my husband's affinity for baking as they get brownies and the like dropped at the door on a weekly basis), keeping an eye on each other’s houses, and can let the kids play out front like it is 1920s suburbia. Her 18 month old is so familiar with us at this point that I often find him peering through our letter box seeing if we're home. Which years ago would've sent me dialling the police and nailing the door shut, but now, well, hey, it's village life. And in a big daunting city like London, befriending one's neighbours, well it feels pretty darn nice, especially for us cynical types. 

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