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Want to be healthy and happy? Live in London

Want to be healthy and happy? Live in London

We learnt some things about health and happiness recently. First up the shocking news that four in ten adults fail to manage even one brisk 10 minute walk a month.  

Then we discovered that the way to defy depression, disease and early death is to – yes you guessed it –  exercise. Latterly, a counter-intuitive report from Oxford University revealed that city-dwellers are happier and healthier than those who live in the ‘burbs or the countryside. 

Time to put two and two together.

When my wife and I started living together we each owned a car and discussions ensued about maybe getting rid of one, but no, we couldn’t possibly do that as both cars sat outside our house doing nothing very much at all. Thankfully one of the cars was nicked and we made the astonishing discovery that one car was just fine.

Ten years ago, we dumped the family car and have never looked back. We live in central London, close to two tube stations, busses, a Boris bike stand on our street and the now ubiquitous Zip cars that can be hired by tapping a card on to the car’s windscreen. We are not alone. None of our close neighbours have cars. There are empty parking slots on our street all the time which are only filled by builders’ vans on the weekend when parking is free.

Tell country folk or suburbanites that you don’t own a car and they give you a pitying look that says they didn’t realise you were that poor. During a recent talk at my daughter’s school they were encouraged to work hard so they could get ahead in the world and thus be able to buy a car and not have to travel with odd people on public transport. I wasn’t especially happy about that.

You visit the countryside and everyone seems to drive everywhere, they even drive to a location to take a walk. My wife’s family live in small town in the North East of England where there is a magnificent country park on the site of a former mine. Lottery money helped make it a wonderful spot for hiking and dog-walking, but hardly anyone uses it.

Not so us townies without a car, we walk. We walk to the shops, we cycle to the gym we take the dog to the local park – Battersea Park in our case, which is a never-ending source of joy for me and Rusty. We take exercise without even thinking about it. It’s just been pointed out to me that my new iPhone has a health app that tracks how far I walk each day. My average is about 7k a day.

If you live in London and you haven’t already done so, dump the car, walk and live a happy healthy life. The bucolic countryside may not be all it’s cracked up to be, I know, I was brought up there.

Fascinating fences

Fascinating fences

Take a look at the picture. You have probably walked past these railings a hundred times and never given them a second thought. Why would you? They are black London railings; move on, nothing to see here.

But wait, take a second look. Why are they shaped with that kink at either end? Some design quirk? Enough of the mystery, what you’re looking at is a small but not insignificant part of London’s World War 2 history.

At the start of the war railings across London were torn down to form the raw material to make the bombs, guns and planes so desperately needed to aid the war effort.

In 1940, the London Blitz got underway; bombs rained down on the capital. Firefighters fought the blazes and ambulance crews removed the dead and rescued the injured. Are you getting it now? Yes, these fences were once stretchers; thousands were made (from steel so they could be easily cleaned) and left unwanted when the war ended.

Someone, and it’s unclear who that was, joined the dots and suggested welding the unwanted relics into stretcher fences. They can still be found on housing estates in Kennington, Peckham, Brixton, and Deptford.

Some are now in very poor repair and a campaign has been launched to protect them. Visit the Stretcher Railing Society’s website to find out where they are located and what’s being done to rescue this piece of London history that’s hiding in plain sight.



You’re looking at a picture of our cat Ziggy; not an animal I’m particularly fond of as he bites and scratches anyone who dares touch him and he kills birds (obviously an aristocat).

Our neighbour rang the doorbell the other day in quite a state saying Ziggy was rampaging around her house at three in the morning and this had to stop. I suggested an electronic cat-flap which she subsequently installed. If you’re not a cat owner (lucky you), these are activated by a chip inserted into the cat’s neck. Apparently, all went well until Ziggy realised there was a two second delay once the neighbour’s chipped cat went through the flap, allowing Ziggy just enough time to gain access to another’s food and our neighbours finely stretched nerves. I liked Ziggy a little more after learning this, until he killed a thrush last week. Anyway, more of Ziggy in a moment.

Yesterday was as vile a ‘summer’s day’ as you might expect in this rain spattered country. I was working from home and the daughter was glued to whatever screen was available. It was cold and the rain continued into the evening, but we had to get out; we were stir-crazy.

On the spur of the moment I suggested we both head to the Old Vic to see “Girl from the North Country”. It’s not a juke box musical but uses Bob Dylan songs to underscore a play set in depression era America. The daughter had just done ‘Of mice and men’ at school so I thought it might fit.

Unfortunately, this idea came to me at 7.15 and the play was due to start at 7.30. We both piled out the door, ran laughing down the street, on to the tube and reached the theatre in a record 26 minutes, so only 11 minutes late. But here’s the extraordinary thing, they wouldn’t sell us a ticket as once the play starts the ticketing computer system flips to the next day. Computer says no.

Interlude: You may be reading this for some top tips on London life, so here’s one. The Old Vic has £12 tickets for sale that are up in the gods and you sit on a bench. I’ve found they are often available and you can buy them anytime (well I say that, obviously not after the show has started) and the great thing is that on several occasions I’ve been waved to an empty seat which would have cost around three times as much. If your budget is tight or you’re not quite sure about a certain play it’s a good option.

So, what to do for daughter and self? It’s still raining and cold and we decide to head towards Covent Garden for want of anything better. On the way, the teenager remembers an article about someone in New York roaming the streets and airdropping pictures of their cat on to unsuspecting stranger’s phones. Now we’ve got a plan.

Tech interlude: On iPhones ‘Airdrop’ allows you to post pictures or documents, via Bluetooth, directly on to someone else’s phone. To do this both phones must have airdrop enabled – not sure if there is a similar option on Samsung or android phones.

Daughter selects the above picture of Ziggy and we set about the essential task of ‘dropping’ our vile cat’s picture on to the phones of unsuspecting Londoners.

Out amongst the hoi polloi of old London town we went in search of those who has airdrop activated. When this happens the ‘dropees’ name appears on your phone, you hit send and Ziggy appears on their phone and they decide whether to accept him into their lives. Our highly scientific research revealed that people of Asian origin were the most likely to be airdrop ready. Watching for the surprised looks on the face of those who had been catdropped was the best part.

The daughter claimed to be doing ‘god’s work’ and in just over half an hour Ziggy found four new homes. Frankly, they’re all welcome to him.

Hey Londoners: Be Better

Hey Londoners: Be Better

We’ve all heard it, usually from the lips of an out-of-towner with an anguished look on their face; I’ve certainly heard it many times from members of my wife’s family who hail from the North East. It goes something like this: “Oh London, can’t stand it, everyone’s so unfriendly, people don’t talk to each other.” To which our reflex response is –  that’s not true, we try to get to know our neighbours, we greet them on the street, but we can’t talk to everyone. The conversation ends with neither side convinced. I’m right and they’re wrong – of course.

But wait a minute Londoners, what if you’re wrong and those pesky northerners have a point?

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London (SW8, since you ask) who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

You take your shirts to a laundrette that offers an ironing service. On the first visit, you merely hand over the shirts and ask when they’ll be ready. It turns out the service is efficient; the shirts are neatly pressed and the price is right. Now you are going there every week but you still don’t know the lady’s name and after a while it’s embarrassing to ask. Soon you start talking about ‘your ironing lady’.

Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

Not good Londoners, this has to change. So yesterday when I went to pick up my shirts (yes it was me all the time) I said to the ‘ironing lady’: “Hi, my name’s Jim I’m always forgetting to ask you yours…” She smiled and said: “It’s Ana, I’m from Romania, nice to meet you.” Which was pretty decent of her as I’ve been meeting her roughly once a week for the last two years.

“What’s your name by the way?” may be a simple sentence but it has a kind of magic. I’ve now used this spell on the security guard at a client’s office I regularly attend (Tito) and on my ‘barista guy’ who is actually called Geoff.

Perhaps your ‘dry cleaner dude’ is bored with his job and can use a little social interaction that goes beyond the dead eyed exchange of money, goods and services. Pleasant conversation may ensue. Why don’t you try it?  Then check that your friends in the north are doing it too. Be better, be courteous.

Small thoughts on capital life

Small thoughts on capital life

Welcome to ‘A Little London Life’ – a sideways glance at life in the capital. It’s the small picture, the micro not the macro, and sets out to find stories that are a little off the beaten track. Who knows it might even appeal to those who have never set foot inside the M25.