Friday, 4 November 2011

I'm a survivor!

There's a reason some people shudder or cringe a little at the very thought of living in Shepherd's Bush.

There's a reason that they sometimes doubt your own choice to do just that.

There's also a reason people prefer other pockets of London, even if they are more expensive and more inconvenient in terms of transport links and facilities, the silly billies.

I know this and indeed most one time or long term Shepherd's Bush residents know this. The reason is, I think, that Shepherd's Bush isn't an "easy" place to live. Parts of Shepherd's Bush are dirty or noisy, chaotic or unsafe, unsavoury or unsightly or all of the above. But in the words of Chris Martin, a man I don't regard that highly if I'm honest (I never "got" Coldplay); "Nobody said it was easy." And that is a motto I believe could and should apply to life itself. In other words, if you want to experience real life, real London life, Shepherd's Bush is as good a place as any, if not better, and always real; Shepherd's Bush doesn't come sugar coated!

However, rather than dwell on this and the lows of the Bush, let us consider the highs, which is ironic seeing as the Bush is a relatively flat place being so close to the Thames. And there you go, I have just mentioned two good things about Shepherd's Bush; it is flat (so good for running, walking, cycling, hopping, crawling etc.) and it is close to the Thames, and a nice part of the Thames too. Writing about all the good things in W12 is going to be easy!

I asked for some help from readers of the blog to compile "Shepherd's Bush: A Survivor's Guide" so thank you to all who contributed and special thanks to Joaquim of guest post about the Bush Saxman fame, who sent me extensive information about what's best about the Bush as a parent, something I'm not at all qualified to comment on.

Thanks to what I refer to as the "magic triangle" of Goldhawk Road, Uxbridge Road and Shepherd's Bush Market (and dare I whisper a mention of Westfield) you don't really need to leave the Bush to get life's essentials and I don't just mean fried chicken, imported Indian fabric or booze, all of which you can buy in abundance in the Bush. The majority of Shepherd's Bush's independent businesses are run by hard working local people and so supporting them should be a no-brainer if you're in favour of avoiding corporate chain takeover. Shepherd's Bush resident and foodie Iain wrote a guest blog post about the joys of food shopping locally and I've reviewed far too many local restaurants so do check out these posts for more inspiration on the About the Bush page..

Public transport in and out of Shepherd's Bush, is on the whole, fairly decent. You are connected to the outside world by the Central Line tube, overground trains, buses and despite bad traffic during rush hour (and most of the weekend - thanks Westfield!) the roads can also take you away out of London pretty swiftly; I used to commute by car to Reading every day from the Bush and it was around a 45 minute journey - providing I left W12 before 6:30am (!).

No, that was not a sales pitch for TFL, but rather another pro to living in the Bush. What Shepherd's Bush is missing, however, are the Boris Bikes or Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, which I became a bit fan of and I'd like to think I did my bit to campaign for the scheme reportedly being extended to W12 next year. (Of course Westfield's mulla may have had a bit more sway!)

Having stressed the importance of staying (or rather buying) local, that is not to say I didn't leave W12 postcode boundaries now and again, because I did and would occasionally feel a strong need to! The fact that the Bush borders the more upmarket and arguably calmer areas of Holland Park and Chiswick should be seen as another bonus and going further afield the Bush is a healthy hour's walk away from Hyde Park, Kensington and Barnes Wetlands Centre if a complete change of scene is needed.

This blog is a belly full of local restaurant reviews, which should be testament enough to the fact that Shepherd's Bush will satisfy most taste buds. I can't actually think of another corner of London which has as many different international cuisines on offer within a one mile radius.

My favourite Shepherd's Bush restaurants are Sagano on Askew Road (amazing Japanese), Esarn Kheaw on Uxbridge Road (quaint and authentic Thai) and Patio on Goldhawk Road (Polish food served in the plush living room of the Polish grandmother you never had). Oh and having been away from the Bush for nearly two months now I am seriously craving falafel and spicy potatoes from King Solomans, though the falafel at Mr Falafel comes close. In actual fact, the Falafel-Off I did with boyfriend NewMan and old lovely flatmate Mo proves that it is impossible to find bad falafel in Shepherd's Bush. Oh and I nearly forgot that Sunday lunches in Princess Victoria are exceptional, but always busy so book ahead.

Diversity is also the pint of life when it comes to watering holes in Shepherd's Bush. From basic British pub to classy cocktail bar W12 can provide. Of course the basic British pubs are also fairly intimidating QPR pubs where if your tattoos aren't homemade you're a minority and those cocktail bars I refer to are actually over priced soulless corporate chain bars of Westfield. This should go somewhere to confirming that the boozers of the Bush, although varied are a very subjective selection and are also a bit hit and miss. However, my favourites, in no particular order, are The Goldhawk, Crown & Sceptre (tucked away on Melina Road) and Albertine Wine Bar, which is frankly in a class of its own.

Life in Shepherd's Bush doesn't have to be all about getting drunk, unless you're a flip-flop-in-February-wearing Aussie heading straight for the Walkie; there are numerous sober things worth doing on an evening.

Shepherd's Bush happens to behold two of my favourite music venues; Bush Hall and Shepherd's Bush Empire. Yes, I am biased, and yes, I lived a short and easy journey home from both but I have also put in hours of research cruising around music venues across London getting beer spilt on my shoes and tinnitus in my ears and these two venues still stay in my top ten, nay, top five. Both have different but excellent acoustics, character and history and between them they host the biggest mainstream acts, the best in up and coming music and the finest in world music artists.

Speaking of music, it has been confirmed that Bushstock is going ahead again next year after a successful debut in June and who knows maybe October 2012 will see Oxjam return for another Shepherd's Bush Takeover?

Another worthy music venue is Ginglik, the underground club on Shepherd's Bush Green nearly opposite the tube station. It also hosts regular hilarious comedy nights and if you sign up to their newsletter they often run quick and easy competitions for free tickets. Regular comedy nights can also be found at Bar FM (, another late night bar in Shepherd's Bush, which, err, probably isn't for everyone but I could often be found there dancing away to awful mainstream R&B.

And I cannot leave you without reference to my beloved Bush... Theatre, that is. I am slightly moved to use the word "institution" to describe this unique creative hub of activity now in its new home in the old Shepherd's Bush library building, but institution offers too many restrictions and suggests the Bush is a bit "establishment", which it is not, even now. The Bush Theatre can better be described as a testament to four decades of hard work, the most open minded creativity and to a real commitment to the local area. They offer discounts and special offers to local folk so if you haven't already sign up to their Bush Local members club (this extends to postcodes neighbouring W12 so don't be shy!) and if you could pop in to their new home to have a nosey around and try the coffee as I'm gagging to know what it looks like now it's all finished.

It is fair to say that I didn't maximise the facilities on offer within W12 boundaries for fitness purposes. Two years ago I surrendered my gym membership and decided to just stick to pounding the pavements as a "runner", which although didn't always go smoothly for me, I genuinely now do miss my running routes around Shepherd's Bush (it really is that flat!) and beyond, up to Hyde Park (less flat but downhill on the way home!), or down and through Kensington (to perve at the big houses, oh how the other half live!) or even around Chiswick and along the Thames Path. If you're on Twitter you can search #bushrunners to read tweets from other W12 runners and even ask questions about routes (also use the #bushw12 hash tag!).

However, there is more out there in the Bush to do to get good guns or lose some weight. Aside form the chain gyms (Gym Box in Westfield and Fitness First in West 12 Centre) don't overlook the council facilities which from what I've heard are generally sound and decent value for money. My old flatmate used to swim regularly at Janet Adegoke swimming pool on Bloemfontaine Road and my other old flatmate used to use the fitness centre at the Phoenix Centre (in the same building) and had no criticism. There are also fitness activities to be found on a smaller scale; at Shepherd's Bush Village Hall (on Wood Lane, which is definitely worth supporting as it is an invaluable historic local space seemingly always under threat from council) there are regular yoga and zumba classes and don't overlook the pilates and yoga on offer at The Happiness Centre.

If your kind of sport is more spectating than perspiring, then then you should definitely think about going to a QPR game, especially this season now they are in the Premier League. That said, this does make tickets expensive and hard to come by. As thrilling as it was to see QPR be promoted it was also heart breaking a couple of months later to hear that season tickets were now out of the price range of many life long fans. I sadly never went to a game at Loftus Road (a huge regret!) but would always love to soak up the atmosphere and tailgate swarms of fans as they descended upon Uxbridge Road to get beers and food before a game. Though some residents may find this intimidating and indeed there have been some (very minor!) clashes with opposing fans, I would definitely recommend embracing the electric atmosphere on match days rather than rejecting it.

And if all else fails stretch your legs in Ravenscourt Park, not strictly within W12 postcodes but well worth stumbling upon or incorporating into your running route.

Does local history do it for you? If so then have a read of these posts I did about the 1908 Olympics, about local architecture, about the Bush's important role in the history of TV and film production and I was very honoured to feature personal stories from two "Bush babies" who sent in photos from their childhood - thank you Stuart and Paul. Stuart also found and shared with me old maps he found of the Bush, fascinating stuff.

You may not think it but just walking around the Bush a little bit aimlessly and with your eyes wide open (though of course in daylight and with your wits about you) will reveal little pieces of local history. This was demonstrated well on one of my favourite London blogs Faded London who took a walk around our borough and found many interesting signs of a bygone time.

In terms of modern history, it's worth keeping an eye on the Twitter account "Central Lining" and the associated Facebook page run by local guy Howard who likes to reminisce and share retro popular culture references and he also brought this fascinating video to my attention which shows how the Bush looked 50 years ago; I think it looks beautiful and so classy! (I am easily impressed...)

I sadly only indulged a fraction of my growing interest in Bush history and among the other themes I would have loved to have explored was the history of Victorian gin palaces in the area (Princess Victoria was one of them), the history of Shepherd's Bush Market and I would have loved to have just known more about the flow of different ethnic groups to W12. If you have any great insight into any of these subjects then please do get in touch, though you run the risk of me bombarding you with questions...

Yeah, I'm sorry I didn't stick around long enough to pop out a couple of Bush babies as I think W12 would be a great place to raise children as it remains a fairly family orientated area, even with the likes of us young professionals swooshing in and cursing when a child starts screaming in our ears in the pub/at the bus stop/in the flat below us. This was why I was so grateful to Joaquim, or Wildman of the Bush as he likes to be called, who provided the following insight to how he and his wife and their three kids get the most out of the Bush:

"Simply put for me life in bush is about getting the most out of it and trying not to go anywhere else. I work and live here and as I have 3 kids aged 4, 3 and 4 months I do not leave much. Indeed, I take the tube or bus out of here maybe only 4 times a year. We go out of London by car only about once every 2 months, in fact the only reason I keep a car is for emergencies and to take the whole family out on summer holiday or camping. Mostly we walk everywhere and we use our Christiania bike (with a box on the front) to carry the kids about. So our challenge is to find all the things we need as a family in our local area. The only exceptions are Holland Park & Dukes Meadows for green spaces, Turnham Green Terrace for the mummy charity shops, Hammersmith for some shops missing in bush (TK Maxx) and Chiswick Auction house. All of these places are bordering the W12 area so can be got to by bike.

In the last 3 years we have done this successfully, and we feel no need to get out of this area for anything really. By striving to live just about all of our life in Shepherds Bush I feel we have managed to get to know more of our area and get to know more of the people in the area. Furthermore our kids feel that they know the entire area and are very at home here.

My current must dos for this area are really based on being a young family:

Best swings
There's a little park between St Stephen’s and Godolphin Roads and these
 swings are brilliant as the length of the chain is so long and the swinging movement the kids experience is the most exhilarating of any swing I know of. (I just hope the healthy and safety people don’t find this little gem tucked away in the backstreets of Bush!)

White City Playgroup costs just £1 per child per visit, which is an outright bargain as the group is so well supplied and catered for that even the posh mums from Chiswick come here!

CafĂ© Tuga on Uxbridge Road sells great ice creams which are a good treat for kids (of all sizes!) and the staff there are very good with children. NutCase is another shop worth visiting on Uxbridge Road (between Ingersoll and Bloemfontein Roads) as it is an Aladdin’s cave of buts and other sweet treasures which all kids love.

Bush Hall and Music House School is one of the smallest and sweetest venues in London, the music house run many events for kids that are always worthwhile.

In Shepherd's Bush Market there is a pet shop which is always worth visiting with kids and we’ve always found the owners welcoming and they will even let your kids handle the animals. They constantly have new things there to look at so well worth return visits.

If it wasn't for the fabric shops of Goldhawk Road our daughters' dressing up box would have cost a fortune, that and a little needlework.

QPR Football in the Community and the opportunities that this outreach project offers to local youngsters is without doubt one of the great things that this area has going for it. (I second this emotion and you can read more about the project and their Tiger Feet walks here - Bird.)

Joaquim has recently set up a new blog in which he will be sharing Shepherd's Bush news, views and photos so do check in regularly.

One of the best resources local to Shepherd's Bush (on Masbro Road, W14) for children and families (and anyone really!) is the Masbro Centre, a uniquely proactive local community gem. Read more about their activities and support services (mostly all free!) here.

Without wanting to preach, I have found one of the best ways to feel a bigger part of my local community was as a volunteer. I haven't mentioned it in too much detail on this blog but for the last 3 years I was a volunteer reader to a VIP (visually impaired person - I love that acronym!) who lives in the Bush. Once a week I used to read her mail to her, that was all. It took a couple of hours, we had a cup of tea together and a general chat about our daily lives and then I'd walk home down Uxbridge Road feeling like I'd regained a bit of worthy perspective; it actually turned into a relaxing highlight of my week. Sadly the charitable organisation who I volunteered with no longer exists (a sad victim of recent hard times), but I know for a fact that there are numerous other great causes active in Shepherd's Bush, which are always on the look out for volunteers and helpers.

A good place to start researching this is Hammersmith & Fulham Volunteer Centre, and also research local charities; off the top of my head Broadway Centre, Masbro Centre and Healthy Planet are all local charities active in the local community who may need volunteers. Shepherd's Bush also has a regular film club for the homeless at St Stephens and St Thomas church (another active force in the local community), which I also briefly volunteered at, and this is a very easy and fun way to support locally displaced people. My experience of this film club changed my opinion about local homeless people  in our area. I used to think the majority they were all suffering from substance abuse issues and spent their days drinking 24/7 on the Green shouting slightly offensive things about the size of my bottom to me. In fact, pretty much all of the guests at the film club are sober, friendly, polite and actively seeking to better their situation... and when it comes down to it aren't we all just trying to do that in life?

Also local events like Bush Festival, which is scheduled to not only return next summer, but to also have an event near Christmas this year, will need the support of local volunteers.

I would also be grateful if someone could check in with the Big Issue seller at Central Line tube station, who nearly always had a smile for me when I remembered to buy the magazine and who was always grateful for a chocolate bar at Christmas (I think he likes Mars best).

Shepherd's Bush has possibly more than its fair share of odd people. Again this is related to a high number of homeless folk, some of which do suffer from substance abuse and although the majority are harmless, no one likes to feel intimidated in their own local area. I've been called "fat", "ugly" and "a monster" (!) by some of Shepherd's Bush finest "odd balls", but I've also had fairly polite conversations with many local characters who are often who I turned to first to find out local news or gossip!

It is fair to say that petty and indeed more serious criminality is an issue in Shepherd's Bush and that only too often I have heard of houses and cars being broken into and sadly I've heard about muggings and only 6 months ago I witnessed a violent attack by one woman on another woman. Personally I have had my car broken into twice, and both times was seemingly for somebody to sleep in there, though on one occasion my Abba and Alphabeat CDs were stolen too and aside from some unpleasant verbal abuse on a bus once, nothing more serious has happened to me personally. The only time I felt unsafe in the Bush was when the recent London riots were taking place across the city, though ironically and brilliantly the Bush was left unscathed. I know I am very lucky to have not experienced worse.

In my experience for every odd or threatening person you meet in the Bush, there are at least ten more who are honest, hard-working and decent people. Though it may be hard when that 1 in 11 targets you, it is important to remember that. Oh but a quick word of advice, for some reason the harmless and more eccentric odd bods frequently congregate in Morrisons (in West 12 centre) or in the Post Office so do bear that in mind and go prepared!

That's it. Though I could write much more, I think this has covered the main ways in which I not only survived but fell in love with Shepherd's Bush.

I hope in this post that you have found some fun new things to try, some comfortably familiar things to revisit and at least a handful of reasons to be cheerful living in Shepherd's Bush, where life isn't easy but it is never boring and is always, always real.

P.S. Please do feel free to share your own "tips for Bush survival" in the comments. Reading comments has been far and away the best thing about this blog. Thank you, Birdie x


  1. Man, I'm going to miss this place.

  2. That is the problem with the Bush. Everything you need is in that triangular area (apparently called NoGo by estate agents!) that I don't feel like I live in London any more. And that was the whole point of me moving to London...

    Still, now that I'm a Dad, I'll be consulting this guide at alarmingly regular intervals!

    You also forgot to mention the huge adventure playground at the Goldhawk Road end of Ravensbourne Park.

  3. wonderful piece BB - is that the swansong? (geddit??)


  4. Mmm. Nutcase baklava. World class!

  5. I'm moving there in just a few weeks.. So glad I've found your blog!