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After feeling his overseas travels had left him neglecting his home city, Chris Ambrose set out on a quest to visit all of London’s 32 boroughs...

It was late December 2014, and I was having a few drinks with some friends. "So now you've nearly finished visiting every country in Europe...what's next?"

I didn't really know. I suppose I could have started on Africa, although I didn't think the budget airlines had embraced them just yet, and I risked off-setting my cost and time efficient trips with all the expense and time-consuming inconvenience of visas. So instead I thought a little closer to home, and it quickly occurred to me that I had been neglecting the city I lived in. 

People travel from across the world to visit London, yet I spent much of my time plotting regular escapes from the city. I decided that I should rectify this, but I wasn't keen on doing all the classic tourist traps. Instead I decided on a way that would take me off the beaten track to the less visited parts of the capital. I would attempt to visit the 32 London boroughs.

I didn't want to rush this though, so I decided I would give myself the whole of 2015 to complete the challenge. Easy, I thought. As an extra element, and as a quaint way of marking each visit, I decided I would ask whoever I was with in each borough to send me a postcard. People traditionally send postcards when they're away on holiday, so I thought it would make a fitting twist if I had some arrive from the city that I lived in. The plan was pretty simple: I'd buy a postcard from each borough when I got there, write my address on it and attach a stamp, then hand it over for them to write an engaging and heartfelt message that they would post and that would land on my doorstep two to three working days later. It would be great, because no one really hand writes things anymore, and all you get through the post is bills and takeaway menus. This would brighten up my evenings as I returned from work after a stressful day nodding in meetings to read all the nice things my friends had to say, probably around how much of a pleasure it is to spend some quality time with me.

However, it turned out not to be quite as straight forward as I'd expected. After a brief (but slightly painful) calculation I realised that this meant I'd have to visit a new borough approximately every 11 days...which is more than every other weekend. It was fine to start with - I'd meet friends for a drink in and around central London, and realising it was usually a different borough, I'd find a local tourist shop on my way and pick up a postcard. It was going brilliantly, albeit in the early days I kept forgetting to bring a pen with me, so I'd have to pester bar staff or strangers for use of a biro, and perhaps inevitably where pubs, alcohol and mischievous minds are involved, I received a lot of incomprehensible ramblings and phallic drawings through the post. But I was now at least someone who carried around stamps, which certainly felt very grown-up.

But then it started to get a little tricky. People started suggesting meeting up in places I'd already been. This was no good. I was still taking the occasional weekend to slip off to a city around Europe and I joined a local tennis club. All of this started to eat in to my spare time, and I started to get desperate as I realised that some of these boroughs were actually quite a way away, and certainly not places I'd happen to be passing by. 

Every free evening became an opportunity in my head: any message requesting a 'catch-up' a chance for another postcard trip. My ulterior motives for suggesting various activities (bowling in Newham, dinner in Hounslow, the cinema in Redbridge) were getting more transparent, although thankfully I have some accommodating friends, but even they started to get increasingly weary of my requests. The other problem was that many London boroughs aren't traditional tourist hot spots, and so not only was there little to justify going to them, but it also made it unlikely I could get hold of a postcard. I had to start improvising. 

In pubs I would sneakily pinch a promo card off the wall, or fold up a menu to post. One weekend a friend asked if I fancied a bike ride. I suggested we cycle to Romford (Havering), which involved a pretty unpleasant ride through horizontal rain along the treacherous A12 where we ended up at an industrial estate. I found a leaflet for a jazz night to post though, so it was a successful trip as far as I was concerned. On another occasion I was arriving back with a friend from a weekend in Svalbard and I realised that Heathrow Airport was in Hillingdon. We'd been travelling for over eight hours from a place where it had been minus 13 degrees, it was gone midnight and we both had work in the morning, but after tearing around the terminal building I eventually grabbed a landing immigration card and got my friend to write on it. Amazingly it arrived three days later.

This was the other thing that surprised me about the exercise: Royal Mail really is quite impressive in relation to what they'll deliver. I actually feel pretty guilty towards whoever delivers my post, and I would imagine I'm now on some kind of watch list. Perhaps the biggest test was the polystyrene plate that was sent in desperation after a dull Sunday afternoon stroll around Cockfosters (Enfield). Beer mats, present bags, business cards and flyers - they all made it through. In fact the only thing that failed to arrive was a napkin from a pub in Surbiton, and based on the...'risqué' sense of humours that my friends have who were tasked with writing on it, I probably don't blame them for not delivering it. It was a pain that I'd dragged us all to the collective inconvenience of Kingston for it though, and it meant I had to return on another occasion to 're-do' it, which really put me up against it time-wise.

It wasn't all stress and desperation though - I got to visit some hidden gems along the way that I may never have otherwise come across or known about, such as a stunning Buddhist temple in Wimbledon (Merton) as part of Open House weekend, the tranquil, riverside gardens of Richmond (Richmond Upon Thames) and...er...I got to ride the tram in Croydon. I even ended up on a nostalgic trip back to the first house I lived in, I played a gig at a night run by hippies in Harrow and used it as an excuse to meet up with someone I'd met travelling years ago, in a Somali restaurant in Hammersmith.

I managed it though, and in late December I met a group of some of the more eager and dedicated participants in a pub in the City (which admittedly I only found out a couple of weeks before isn't actually a borough), where I blew the last of my stamps on whatever paper or card was lying around. It had been a truly pointless exercise in many ways, but it had also brought a little excitement to my life, and I now feel I know my home city a little better. My friends are appreciative, however, that when we meet up we can now just go to the local pub.


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