Places I Have Lived

August 2, 2010

The Wells, Epsom (bottom of hill)

The Wells, Epsom (top of hill)

So my entire childhood was spent living on The Wells a housing estate near Epsom surrounded by open countryside. Very nice.

Norfolk Terrace, UEA, Norwich

Mannington Hall, Saxthorpe, Norfolk (16th century cottage)

Central Norwich

Three years in Norfolk while I was at UEA. Norwich is a wonderful place to live and the middle year out in the sticks was unique – our front door had no lock and my bedroom window looked onto Mannington Hall.

Willesden Green, London

Ladywell, London

Swiss Cottage, London

Kingsbury, London

My flat rent years, moving on every 6 months. Some of those places were dull, dull dull! Swiss Cottage was good, though.

Great Holm, Milton keynes

Great Holm, Milton Keynes

I lived in two houses in MK, a city I love and enjoyed living in so watch what you say! While owning my first home there I also lived overseas for a couple of years as follows.

Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

Lardphrao, Bankok

Lardphrao was 13km away from my office, which took 1-3 hours by car! Bagkok is my second home and I love the place.

Reigate, Surrey

Nice big house. Moved there for work and then changed job!

The Wells, Epsom

Back with my parents post divorce. Its a long story . . .

Station Approach, Epsom

Brand new shared ownership flat. Nice, but noisy and no parking.

Commonwealth Drive, Crawley

Unusually I rented my (brand new) house for 6 months and then bought it at a knock down price. I’m very happy here, so hope to stay a long time.

Summary: I’m a a suburban person at heart. I don’t see that as a negative. I love London and big cities, but I need to get out into the countryside regularly. Another feature is that three of my homes have been brand new and one was only five years old. I’m not a DIY enthusiast.  I think you should be able to move into a house and live in it – not spend all your life doing it up and then moving on!

Regrets: apart from Norwich I have never lived within walking distance of a decent pub!


10 Things I Love About Crawley

June 29, 2010

Three years ago I moved to Crawley rather reluctantly and for personal reasons. Well I have to say I really like the place. Here are some reasons why.

1: Crawley Parks

Crawley has some genuinely lovely parks. My favourite is the Memorial Gardens, right in the middle of our shopping centre. The planting and landscaping is really good, and it is a popular place to hang out in the sunshine. Special mention also of  Tilgate Park – a vast area which includes a lake, a mini zoo, wonderulf gardens, and the beginning of a forest.

Crawley Memorial Gardens

2: Metrobus

Unusually for a town of its size in SE England, Crawley has an excellent bus service. We even have an extensive network of guided busways – which are fairly pointless but are used by some very comfortable and frequent buses. Because a key function of the buses is to take workers to and from Gatwick Airport, the good service levels continue to late at night, with some buses running 24 hours per day. Fares are reasonable and there is a good range of season tickets.

3: Good Train Services

There are four stations in Crawley. Three Bridges and Gatwick Airport have excellent train services to lots of destinations. I don’t really need a timetable to pick up a train at any time to London or Brighton, and trains run through the night. I can get to London in around 40 minutes in an air conditioned train. And the trains are very reliable.

4: Close To Brighton

Its a good reason to live here: I can get to Brighton easily in less than half an hour. We spend a lot of our time there, just hanging around and enjoying the atmosphere of England’s coolest city.

6: Crawley Shops

If you want chain stores, Crawley is a good compact shopping centre with all of the usuals. County Mall is a decent sized modern shopping mall. There are virtually no independents in the town centre, but every community in Crawley has a local shopping centre, built from the 1950s to 1970s. Many of these include wonderful independent shops including specialist Asian food stores, music shops, and even a specialist model ship shop.

7: Multiculturalism

Crawley has a much higher percentage of people from minority communities than most towns in the South East. We have a very large Asian community, including Muslims and Hindus. We also have some more unusual communities such as the Brazilians and Portuguese, Mauritians, Irish, and even the UK’s main concentration of people from Diego Garcia. They all make a unique contribution to Crawley, of which the Brazillian cafes and new Hindu temple are good examples. My hairdresser is Mauritian. She says “There is no racism in Crawley. We all get on very well and its a fantastic place to live.”. I wouldn’t say there is no racism, but one thing any visitor will notice is that the groups of people you see around town are often multi racial.

7: Egalitarianism

I’ve seen surveys that suggest that Crawley is the 4th most equal town in the UK. I puzzled about this for a while. It means that the gap between rich and poor is smaller than in most places. I think this is for two reasons: we have very low unemployment; but we also have very few very well off people – there are no big houses for them, so they mainly live in the Sussex countryside around us. It means we have a distinct lack of high calss clothing stores, posh restaurants, and 4 wheel drive cars. If that’s not a good reason to live here, I don’t know what is!

8: The Hawth

The Hawth is one of the better regional theatres, but we rarely go to the theatre there. But I love the various festivals and free events such as the Beer and Folk Festival, and the Mela. Its a great facility set in a wood with open air and indoor stages. The Hawth is 300m from my front door (although to be fair that would involve walking across a railway line).

9: The Library

Shortly after I moved in a new library opened. Modern, airy, and busy, it holds regular events and has made big efforts to attract young people. Best of all there;s a great coffee shop there too. This year the library won an RIBA award.

10: The Countryside

Around Crawley there are hundreds of hectares of open space. Nearby we have St. Leonards Forest and various parks and gardens such as Nymans. Further afield is the south Downs and Ashdown forest (one of my favourite wild places).

In general Crawley has a friendly non-snobbish atmosphere and is a good example of how a new town can be developed succesfully. Its not to everyone’s taste but take a closer look before you knock it.


Welcome To Crawley

March 24, 2010

You might be aware that Google’s Street View now covers most streets in the UK. And wonderful it is. The youth of Crawley were particularly keen to welcome the Street View car as it passed through Crawley one day last Summer . . .


Public Transport – Not Always Easy!

October 1, 2009

First a quick apology as I haven’t blogged since my holiday.

In common with most of my friends and family, I pride myself on using public transport whenever possible. But I sometimes wish it could be easier.

My journey: The Trafford Centre to Manchester Piccadilly. I did my research. I knew that Metrolink is closed in the city centre and so doesn’t serve Piccadilly station directly. I knew that there was a frequent bus 250 direct from the Trafford Centre to Manchester Piccadilly.

I found the bus station at the Trafford Centre. IT has 15 nicely designed stands. It has a roof but is otherwise open to the elements. It does NOT have a simple list of destinations, the routes that serve them, and the stand where you catch those buses. So all you can do is walk down each stand and read the timetables. I found the 250 stand and the Metrolink shuttle stand. That was how I found that the 250 doesn’t serve Piccadilly Station – it goes to Piccadilly Gardens. Silly me? Hard to decide whether to use the 250 and make my own way to the station, or the shuttle service then tram then replacement bus to the station.

This decision was not made easier by the complete lack of real time information at the bus station. The 250 arrived very late, and at the same timer as the ML1 shuttle. I opted for the shuttle.

Next annoyance: the shuttle whisks you out of the Trafford Centre then several minutes later it serves another stop somewhere else around the centre. Then several minutes after that it serves a third stop. This might be convenient but it effectively doubles the journey time.

Next annoyance: get to Stretford to change to the tram. Would you believe there is no real time information on the tram station? I hope this is being rectified during the current renewals and expansion.

Next annoyance: the replacement bus is a few minutes walk from the tram stop at St. Peters Square. Not a particular hassle, but it was raining. The bus is supposed to be every 12 minutes. I waited 20.

Then I arrived at Piccadilly having just missed the London train. That was when I remembered the good news: London trains now run 3 times an hour, so I effectively got straight on the next train.

I know I am sounding like a grumpy old man, and maybe I am spoilt because I work in London where the bus information is superb. But even in my home town of Crawley most stops have real time information – I can even see how my bus is running using the internet before I leave home.

GMPTE has a reputation of operating a world class public transport system. But information is certainly lacking, and that detracts from the whole experience.


Southern – No Pride

August 2, 2009

Along with dozens of other people my son and his friends turned up at Three Bridges to travel to Brighton for Brighton Pride. With four sixteen year olds and a fourteen year old, Groupsave would be the ideal ticket. But guess what? Southern suspends Groupsave for Brighton Pride day (also for White Air and the Lewes Bonfire Day).  While we were waiting we heard three other groups of people find this out at the ticket sales point. They were all as annoyed as we were.

Now I understand that Groupsave is designed to fill empty of peak seats, and that there would be fewer empty seats on Pride day. But to the customer this looks like nothing less than a rip-off.  Southern advertise a product, and on the one day someone wants to use it they withdraw it. Sneaky.

It wasn’t made any better by the fact that the ticket office doors at Three Bridges were stuck closed – resulting in huge queues at the ticket machine.

Don’t get me wrong – I do like Southern. I like their nice trains, and the range of good fares. But they do need to get their act together in other ways.


Journey to Work

July 31, 2009

How should I travel from Three Bridges to my office near Oxford Circus each day? There are lots of options:

1: Three Bridges to Victoria then Victoria line to Oxford Circus then walk.

  • Three Bridges – Victoria = 40 minutes
  • Victoria – Wells Street = 16 minutes including 5 minute walk
  • Two trains per hour from Three Bridges
  • BUT Victoria line horribly crowded – you have to wait for several trains to pass before you can squeeze on. Coming home is just as bad – see my last post!
  • Walking along Oxford Street in the morning is pleasant. Walking along Oxford Street in the afternoon is hell.

2: Three Bridges to City Thameslink then bus – Wardour Street then a short walk

  • Three Bridges – City Thameslink = 52 minutes
  • City Thameslink – Wells Street = 25 minutes including 5 minute walk
  • BUT only one suitable train from Three Bridges
  • Bus trip much nicer than tube
  • Walking across Oxford Street much easier

3: Three Bridges to London Bridge then tube and walk

  • Three Bridges – London Bridge = 39 minutes
  • London Bridge – Wells Street = 25 minutes including 15 minute walk
  • 2 trains per hour from Three Bridges
  • Jubilee line pretty busy
  • Walking along Oxford Street in the morning is OK

So, what to do? Pick and mix at the moment. Victoria is fine in the mornings, but really difficult in the evenings from Oxford Circus. I tend to go home via City Thameslink as I like the bus trip and the longer train journey gives me more time to read the new paper.


A Coach Trip!

April 21, 2009

The exclamation mark is because it is years since I have been on a coach. I had a meeting at Heathrow last week, and coach is the obvious way to get back to Crawley (because of Gatwick Airport).

The first obstacle was finding out about coach schedules and fares. The Heathrow website has a lot of detail on local buses but little on longer distance coaches. There is no easy way of finding out who the operator might be, although, of course, I know that is is likely to be National Express. So, over to the National Express website. This does not provide any traditional timetables. Instead you have to click on the Book Now sidebar. Type “Heathrow” in the “From” box and you get an extensive drop down list of places in Heathrow. I was travelling from Terminal 1 so I put that in and put Gatwick in the “To” box.  Oh dear “We were unable to find any journeys using the locations and dates that you entered.”. That can’t be right? A little more research showed that you HAVE to put Heathrow Central Bus Terminal in the “From” box. This way I found out, as expected, that there are several buses an hour, so no worries.  

Once I was en route things improved. The bus terminal now includes a comfortable waiting concourse complete with information screens and retail units. I bought the ticket (£20!!!) using an easy to use self service ticket machine. But even at this full price I had to choose a coach to travel on. (No walk on fares with Natex!)

The coach was three years old and very comfortable. Only four other people on board. Leather seats and plenty of legroom. We called to pick up at Terminal 5. The journey to Gatwick was scheduled for 1 hour 15 minutes and, despite heavy traffic, we arrived exactly on time.

The sensation on the journey is a lot better than a bus. A sort of quiet rolling swaying feeling, rather than being flung around. But it did make me feel travel sick and so I didn’t read while we were travelling.

All in all I think the services was very good – except for the difficulty in finding information.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The transfer from coach to bus at Gatwick is horrible. I will post in detail another time!


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