Post image

Forget terror threats and air pollution, London is a wonderful place to raise children, says Celine Bell

I grew up in rural south Wales, and never expected to find myself, 30 years later, raising two small, snotty sons in east London, land of the bearded dad with cool tattoos. I’m not cool enough: I need to lose half a stone and gain some piercings. I need to get my kids to gigs from birth, and drink cocktails out of jam jars. (To be fair, I’m pretty good at the latter).

And yet I jest. Because for every single time I’ve felt that I should move to the countryside and teach my kids how to identify a cow, I’ve been saved by my neighbourhood. By the pub with endless highchairs and a garden in which the kids can run riot, where the barman gave them free chips and me a kind smile, and watched them while I rushed to the loo when my husband was running late. By my local hairdresser who made me a cup of tea when I locked myself out and turned the telly to CBeebies for my hangry toddler. By the plethora of activities, from the zoo to child-friendly gigs to movie showings and classical concerts.  

And if you don’t want to spend any money, you don’t need to jump in the car and spank petrol to get to the park. I don’t even have a car (because, let’s be honest, parking isn’t going to make it on to my London’s Greatest Things list). You can stroll up the road in most London boroughs and find a vast expanse of green: home to conker trees and over-confident squirrels. You can teach your kids to ride a scooter or a bike, or to splash furiously in muddy puddles, or to find giant oak leaves or tiny clovers. (And to spot a dog turd from 20 metres, but let’s ignore that for now.)

Am I being judgy about the countryside? Not at all.

And whereas I went to school with a load of people just like me, my kids are meeting people from a zillion different backgrounds. From the kids with two mums, to the nursery bestie who speaks Swedish before English, London is a mirror on the world, and opens the door to an open mind. The primary school I toured last week had male teachers, and a male dinner lady (a dinner man?) – and is so different to the school experience that I had and that the kids of my friends back home still have.

Am I being judgy about the countryside? Not at all. I’m a massive fan of big green spaces, rural living and country life. I grew up with fresh air that my kids certainly don’t breathe inside the M25. I lived in a big house, with a big garden, that you can only afford within zone 2 if you’ve won X Factor. I had plenty of space for pets, and sleepovers, and teenage tantrums that led to me running away (just down the road, and then Dad would come and rescue me).  I appreciate everything that the countryside had to offer, and live in fear of how far my kids could get as grumpy teens should they choose to run away with the Tube at their disposal. But in a world in which Trump champions his own petty-minded brand of politics, based on fear and prejudice, and where our government tries to extricate itself from an organisation set up to prevent world wars, I reckon any extra tolerance and generosity of spirit can only be a good thing.  And I see a heap of it in London town.


:: Follow Celine’s blog here or see her terrible photographs, love of cheese and lack of sleep on her Instagram feed.