I never really imaged I’d work anywhere but London when I was growing up, or when uni was coming to an end and I needed to think about jobs and being able to afford more than one pint of milk at a time. I grew up on the London/Surrey border, never more than half hour from Big Ben and all his attraction mates, so it felt like it was bound to become my working home- which it did and it still is.
It’s been about five years now since I went out and bought sensible shoes and a collection of black cardigans that have been periodically lost and replaced every few months since 2012. That time feels so fast that it could have been last week, but at the same time it seems long enough to make me feel like I’m getting on a bit. Time is weird.
When it comes to living in London, everyone knows you need some serious dollar tucked away to set up house in a nice family home you can grow into in any of the ‘nice’ bits, but that’s just how it is. I’ve happily grown up on the sidelines, happily lived in zone two, and am now preparing to move out into the ‘Greater London’ commuting belt. Hoping this will also be happy, fingers and toes crossed.
I love London, really I do, but it’s tested my patience plenty of times these past five years, being part of the daily grind and the rush of folk off to work, off to lunch, off to buy street food. I’ve gotten angry, distressed, poor, confused, sad, weepy, exhausted and grimy (thank you underground dust), but also it’s been a bloody blast. I couldn’t think of a better place to call home or to go to work in every day and that’s probably because I’ve become so used to the place that I just let it wash over me. I guess that’s a kind of coping mechanism, but after all this time it’s become more of a personality trait. You have to accept that life in a city like this is never going to be easy and it certainly won’t always be simple, but once you’ve taken that in you just adjust. You kind of mould yourself to fit in with all the complexities (and to fit on the tube in rush hour) and London-proof yourself.
On the plus side though, the city has made me ambitious, made me money, given me options, hosted many memorable weekends, made Friday nights gin-soaked and brilliant and it oozes culture and history, which I love.
It frustrates me to the moon and back that the housing situation is screwed, that I’ll never be able to live in an area of London that I love, or that it’s pricing people out left right and centre, but there’s good and bad side to every story, and it sometimes take a little effort to find the good.
I understand how a person could feel like the bad overpowers the good at times when it comes to London, but it’s all about balance. If you can get the balance right, it’s an incredible place to be, but it’s most certainly not for everyone and I get the make or break thing- it really happens. I know people who’ve been broken. They’ve come here with a picture of what life will be like and then the harsh realisation sets in that they don’t have the resource, can’t keep up with the competition or can’t bare the crowds and pace and have promptly left again for a happier, simpler life elsewhere. Different strokes for different folks. I also know others who have moved here from all over and never want to leave. Whatever London is, it has it’s positives and negatives, like everything and everywhere.
I also find that very small things determine how my day will go here. For the most part it’s the transport. Commuting from one part of London to the other feels like it should be easier than it is.
My first commute into the big city was a long one, going into East London every day and getting down with the moustaches and flat whites of Old Street, but it was also on the sturdy and mostly reliable northern line, stoic and bloody long. Over-crowded by Balham, mostly empty by Colindale, it’s had my back for many years and I have few complaints about the service. When I moved to Fulham with some friends to lessen my commute (read: have two new nail varnish collections to raid and pub partners to come home to) I was instantly horrified. If you’ve ever had to rely on the District Line going from the south into the city, you’ll know my pain. A terrible commuting time all round, but it was what it was. I read Game of Thrones, got good at sudoku and observed many rows about how much space there was to move down.
The transport is just another one of those things that you have to factor in to the balance. I find that all the negatives get outweighed by the pace that new stuff pops up to go alongside the classic London experiences. There’s such a wealth of stuff to do and see and eat and you can say that about every city I’m sure, but it’s what I love about London.
It isn’t an easy life, it isn’t simple and it takes some sacrifice but I wouldn’t want to call any other city my home.