A survival guide to living in London with kids
Ten tips… not necessarily in the most helpful order.
1. Right or left?
I’ve been here for two years now and I still can’t answer this question. If cars drive on the left, one would imagine pedestrians walk on the left. However, when you’re in a tube station, you walk on the right – apparently because of the way the tube stations were originally built all those moons ago. That’s all very well-signed. The grey area though - is within what proximity to a tube station does the walk-on-the-right rule apply? From what I can see, walking on the right is generally applied on footpaths anywhere between 1m or 10km of the closest tube. But ask any Brit and they’ll tell you quite simply to walk on the left. So the only advice I can offer is to find a path and go your hardest. Just don’t look people in the eye and smile – they’ll think you’re weird.
2. Tube Rush
This either sounds like an awesome ride at an adventure park or some sort of vile illness you don’t want to catch – the reality is somewhere in the middle. You don’t want to be on a tube in peak hour unless you have to be. If you find yourself in this unfortunate set of circumstances, make sure you know exactly where you’re going – this is not the time to be asking for help or making new friends. The best app you can get is CityMapper. You can plug in your location/destination and it will give you a list of options – bus, train, walk etc. Choose your option and it will guide you each step of the way. Travel cards can be bought from tube stations and convenience shops – you need to scan them at the start and end of each trip.
*A word on prams… we arrived in London with your typical Aussie pram… the big 4-wheel-drive type thing that we bought with the money we got from selling our car. This pram was an absolute nightmare getting up and down the stairs to/from the tube– very few stations have lifts (I have no idea what people in wheelchairs are expected to do?!?!) And while many lovely people did help me carry this ginormous pram up and down the stairs every day, it started getting ridiculous when I couldn’t even fit the pram down the aisle of a bus. So we downsized. Pretty quickly.
3. The Medical System
The Brits love the NHS - and with good reason. It's free. The problem is - a simple thing like getting an appointment with your GP is bloody difficult. You can’t just ring any doctor. You have to register with a GP practice (a process that can take six weeks) and once you've jumped through that little loop, the fun is really only just beginning. Because then you've actually got to get an appointment when you're sick - a process that can only be likened to a 1990’s-style scramble for tickets to an A-lister concert. On the strike of 8:30 on any given weekday, you ring a number. And you keep ringing that number until someone picks up or the engaged signal runs out. You might call that number 28 times before you get through to the receptionist who might then tell you there are no appointments or that there’s a little slot after 5pm if you’re happy for little Johnny to 'wait a while'.
4. Cars – do you need one?
We don’t have a car and get around fine as the public transport system here is amazing but there’s so much outside of London that's worth seeing – and a lot of it can be reached within 1-2 hours drive. We hire Zipcar's but if I had my time again, I'd get one.
5. Amazon Prime – do you need it?
Easy. Yes. You can have something delivered to your door within two hours of ordering it online. Most deliveries are done within 24 hours and if you don’t have a car, things like toilet paper, skin care products, printer cartridges, batteries, hardware tools even furniture are much easier to buy from your living room. Embrace all forms of online shopping. It’s bloody brilliant here.
The rental process here is quite different from Australia. It’s not just a matter of submitting an offer to an agency and signing a form. Every aspect of the process here is outsourced so tenants have to deal with 3 or 4 different companies at any one time. It's a slow process.
7. Hot water systems
We learnt this the hard way. Check the hot water system when you view a prospective property (BEFORE you sign the lease). If it's too late and you've already moved in, check the settings – some owners will purposely set their systems on low, particularly if they’re paying for power.
8. Dog poo
I don’t know whether it’s because there’s just more people and hence more dogs in London or that the people who own dogs here just refuse to pick up after their little fur child, but dog poo is everywhere in London, particularly Fulham. Be alert. And alarmed.
9. Surviving Winter
I’d been warned about Winter in London. But after quite easily surviving December then January, I got half-way through February and thought, quite stupidly and smugly, that Winter was almost over. I remember quite stupidly and smugly shrugging my shoulders and thinking, ‘well, that wasn’t too bad’, and ‘only 2 weeks to go til Spring!’ But it doesn’t happen like that. Spring doesn’t just suddenly spring on the first day of March. In fact, it was still snowing well into April. Our Winter lasted seven months that year and the coughs and colds were endless. Here's what I learnt:
1. Central heating might keep your house warm but it also dries the air out, which makes coughs much worse. Invest in a humidifier.
2. Probiotics and vitamin D supplements – children don’t get enough vitamin D here in the UK in the Winter months. It affects their immune systems.
3. Saunas – the Northerners swear by these! Enrol at a gym with a sauna.
So many Aussies fall victim to the Heathrow Injection, something I sadly have not been immune to. I’m sure it’s all the drinking that’s done here. Back home, if you drink mid-week, you usually drive, which automatically restricts you to just one drink. But here, there’s a pub on every corner – all within walking distance. And there always seems to be a reason to drink – whether you’re kicking back, making the most of the wonder that is the English Summer or you’re just trying to get through another wretched Winter day… the excuses are a dime a dozen.