Leaving to Live
Part 1: The Beginning of the End
It was 1998 and I was with my friend, Damola* (not her real name), who‘d come to pick me up for church. Damola told me she also needed to pick up a friend of hers whom she‘d recently run into. The friend was a guy; his name was Dafe Foghere. They‘d been part of a larger group which included Damola‘s cousins, who were Dafe‘s friends. Because Damola was younger, one of her cousins had taken her under his wing when she arrived in England. As a result, Damola mingled with Dafe and the other guys.
But they hadn‘t stayed in touch. So many years later, they met again at Thamesmead in South East London. I had just moved to Thamesmead a few months before, from Ealing. Let me give you a brief background of the move.
London, as we all know, has the river Thames running through it. The Thames roughly divides London into two. Now, this division is not just geographical but also demographical. The North and West half of London at the top of the Thames is more affluent than the area to the South and East of it. There are people at the top of the Thames who will never venture to the areas at the bottom of the Thames. The North of the Thames, as the upper part is called, has better transport links—the London Underground and Surface trains—while the South of the Thames, as the lower part is called, is less serviced by London Underground and more by surface trains which are not as regular as those of the London Underground.
We have postcode snobbery in London and every Londoner knows this. The postcode snobbery is exhibited by people living in the W, N, NW, WC, and EC postcodes. WC and EC are Central London, with mostly business and very little residential properties there. Now, in the South of the Thames, we have the E, SE, and SW postcodes. Of all the postcodes in the South of the Thames, the SW is the most affluent with Wimbledon and Buckingham Palace located there and the SE is the least affluent. So, it is right to say that South East London is the poorest part of London. The famous Peckham, a sort of mini Nigeria, is in the South East.
I am ashamed to say that I also bought into the snobbery. I was living in the one bedroom council flat of a friend who spent more time in Nigeria than in the UK and needed someone to housesit for her. But I was still a snob. I lived at Hanwell, a small village near Ealing, and moving to SE London was the stuff of nightmares for me. But I had to move when the lady returned and needed her flat back. I would have to rent my own place at commercial rates. I knew that I could not afford North or West London on my Foreign and
Commonwealth Admin Officer‘s salary. The best I could get on my income would be a room or a shoebox studio apartment. However, if I moved south of the river, I would be able to get social housing or an affordable one bedroom flat.
Accommodation was getting increasingly expensive in London, especially West and North London. The East of London was slowly catching up in rental amounts but there was still an area of London that had affordable housing; Thamesmead – SE28. In fact, the housing association at Thamesmead advertised on the District line. When I lived in Ealing and worked at Whitehall, I often saw their adverts on the train. I took the District line from Ealing Broadway to St James Park where I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a temporary member of staff. When my landlady at Ealing got pregnant, she needed to be based in England in order to get good medical care free on the NHS. She needed her flat and gave me notice, I had to decide between continuing to stay in Ealing but only being able to rent a room or moving further out and being able to rent a flat.
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