For the most part, I love East London. Shoreditch and Hackney are two of my favourite areas in the city, but I have to admit that there is one area I routinely avoid: Bethnal Green. I lived in Bethnal Green for almost a year when I very first moved to London to start university. Excited as I was to be in London, where I’d wanted to live ever since visiting when I was 16, my first year in the capital was certainly challenging. I had moved into a flat with my then high-school boyfriend, and I hated it! Our block of flats was infested with cockroaches, and we hardly ever seemed to have running hot water. In the spring I got glandular fever and was forced to spend ages in the apartment, which I grew to dislike more and more.
My boyfriend and I soon started growing apart too, as our personality differences became more pronounced: whereas I was keen to interact with friends from university and explore every inch of London, he generally preferred to stay at home. Even though, then, there was so much that was positive to my first year in London, there were definitely negatives too, and, even after I’d moved out of Bethnal Green, I associated the area with rather unhappy memories and rarely went back.
Last weekend, though, I decided that it was about time I put negative connotations aside and finally started exploring Bethnal Green (beyond Brick Lane market) and its surrounding area properly. To start off, I paid a visit to the V&A Museum of Childhood. I was so impressed by the gorgeous building, which plays a big part in making the museum such an exciting experience for children (and adults!). The space is quite small, but feels light and airy with arched ceilings and beautifully patterned tiles.
The Museum of Childhood has two fun exhibitions, along with its permanent collection, on at the moment: The Alice Look and Small Stories (a collection of dollhouses). The Alice Look is a very small exhibition, but it was still enjoyable to look at the collection of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland paraphernalia that is being shown in celebration of the novel’s 150th anniversary.
The little (or not so little – I think I played with dollhouses far beyond the age that is socially acceptable!!) girl inside me couldn’t fail to be enthralled by the beautiful dollhouse display for Small Stories. I was especially taken with the more modernist structures. Don’t you just want to live in this house?
That would be me on the roof terrace! This dollhouse was rather striking too:
It was a pleasure to see how engaged and excited the children were at the museum, and it really is a fabulous place to go if you have kids. Happily, too, both of the current exhibitions are free, so it makes for a very inexpensive day out! The cafe at the museum looked quite nice, and I remember liking The Gallery Cafe (very nearby) when I lived in Bethnal Green.
I didn’t get time to explore more of Bethnal Green properly that day, but I’d love to know if any of you have suggestions for any places you think I’d like in the area, to help me negate any unpleasant associations I have?! I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have any of you ever had trouble liking a place after living through some unhappy times in it?