A place that evokes romantic visions of a glittering city built on the famous River Thames, home to millions from all walks of life. For many, it’s the centre of the universe. However, it’s also home to extreme poverty, rampant homelessness, high crime rates and the place where, quite literally, manners have gone to die.
I fell under London’s spell back when I was a young Brownie on a day trip to the Natural History Museum. The big, busy streets, grand buildings and black cabs were like another world to the one I’d grown up in. As I got older, day trips to London were still immensely thrilling; seeing the London Eye glide past as my train pulled into Waterloo Station would give me a frisson of excitement and I could not wait to be out, mixing with the swell of commuters and tourists like I was one of them, like I belonged there.
Moving there in February 2005 marked a major change in my life and a huge step forward to achieving something I’d always wanted.
The first six years there were brilliant. The first place I lived was in a flat on the Isle of Dogs, my favourite part of the city. For the first couple of days though, I felt a bit nervous of going out and just stayed at home which was really silly as I was finally in the place I’d always wanted to be, I soon realised I should just embrace it! My first proper venture out was straight to Oxford Street and after that, it was just a question of familiarising myself with the area and my commute.
From the Isle of Dogs, I eventually moved to New Cross in South (or Sarf) London which was an interesting place to live, to say the least. Living there taught me to be streetwise, it was a completely different vibe and feel to the East End (which I loved) and I got to know places like Peckham, Lewisham and Deptford.
Back to the Isle of Dogs I eventually went, a nice house share with some nice people, back in my comfort zone. A house sale forced another move and I ended up in Muswell Hill in North (or Norf) London. As different to New Cross and the Isle of Dogs as day and night. As lovely as Muswell Hill is, it does have a every elitist element with its posh shops, quirky restaurants and the sort of yummy mummy element parodied on social media. It didn’t suit me and I only lived there for ten months before high-tailing it back to the Isle of Dogs.
Alas, the dream had to end and end it did. With the advent of the Olympics in Stratford, rents and house prices in East London began to sky rocket. People were being turfed out of their homes so greedy landlords could rent them out for three or four times the normal rent just for the few weeks of the event. I moved further out to an area of South London where I ended up staying for three years.
I’d never liked the general attitude of people in the city. Rudeness and selfishness go hand in glove there. Manners are a thing of the past. Getting on and off busy tube lines is like a rugby scrum, some people think nothing of elbowing, kicking, pulling or pushing someone out of the way just to get on a train. Ridiculous really, when the next service is usually only a couple of minutes behind. The cost of living is beyond what most people can afford, travel is very expensive, it’s overcrowded, dirty, smelly and not very safe.
I remember being on the District Line one morning, travelling to work as usual and a thought popped into my head; “Why am I doing this?” I had a real moment of clarity and knew that the time had come, I was ready to leave.
How fortunate it was, that I changed jobs in 2014 and discovered that my new employers, being a very large company, had offices outside London. Less than a year after starting my new job I had relocated lock, stock and barrel to a beautiful market town in the country. I have gorgeous countryside all around, a car instead of an awful train journey, a 3-bed house cheaper than my 1-bed flat, a nice office to work in and my stress levels have massively reduced.
So, whilst this post isn’t written to put anyone reading it off the idea of ever going to London I would just like to invite people to think about why they might covet the idea of going to live and work there. As I discovered, London is not the centre of the universe; there are so many other cities and towns in the UK with thriving prospects, vibrant life and better opportunities. Ok, the wages may be a bit lower but this is offset by lower cost of living, lower house prices etc.; it’s all relative.
I do have very fond memories of my ten years there and I enjoyed my life. I had a lot of fun, met loads of interesting people and made some lovely friends so don’t think for a moment that I regret it because, I don’t. I guess I’m just older and wiser now 🙂