I went to the UK for the first time in December 2003. I spent my first week "abroad" holed up in Friend One's house down in Somerset; rural, southwest England. He graciously drove me and a couple of others to see the sites -- Glastonbury, Bath, Dorset.
In the second week of January, Friend One drove me (and another holiday visitor) up to London. I then stayed with Friend Two at his tiny flat in east London, in one of poorer parts of Essex.
Ilford's main features were a giant 12-story heroin rehab facility two blocks from the "town centre" overlooking the rail station and a sea of curry shops and convenience stores predominately owned by Pakistani or Indian first-generation immigrants.
A day after I got to Ilford, the Ricin Scare happened. I perched on Friend Two's sofa, watched Sky News, cleaned his apartment and nursed an appallingly bad flu cold before I started venturing into central London via the train. (I kept a death grip on Friend Two's digital camera the whole time I walked miles in the artic weather taking pictures of everything because I didn't really have any money to do anything else.) I heard stories about the crime rate in the UK having increased 300% in the last decade and saw some crazy take downs of perps by meaty, humorless Met officers ... and they do carry guns.
Now the criminal hazards of life in London have popped up again, in a very glamorous way with a jewelry heist. Just so happens one of the suspects was apprehended at a house in Ilford.
And the jewelry robbery itself happened not too far from where I had to go to get my plane ticket changed at a BA office on Oxford Street.