A love letter to London
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We’ve only been apart for a few months, but I really miss you, London.
No hard feelings, though. I think we can agree it ended on good terms.
We go way back
Our love affair started in 2014 when I packed as many of my worldly possessions as possible into a couple of suitcases and got on the train to King’s Cross. I’d landed my first proper job out of university and it was, of course, in travel. I couldn’t have been more excited — or more naive, as I’d later learn. I will be forever grateful for the first few weeks I spent living out of a suitcase in the spare room of my friend Emma’s house in Kew, west London — they truly are some of the best memories.
It became my dream to live in London after spending New Year’s Eve 2007 watching the fireworks by the Thames. It was the first time I’d visited with friends with the freedom of no parents. From then on, I was dead set on getting a place at UCL to study French and German. I was heartbroken when I got rejected, even though I knew by the way my interviewer looked down his nose at my Northernness that I wouldn’t be making the cut. Looking back, I’m actually glad things worked out the way they did — London is an even tougher gig for students.
Where I’m from in the North East, and many other areas of the U.K., it’s common for people to love-to-hate London. They complain about almost everything — the “rude” people, how packed the Tube is, how much a pint costs, the long commute times, the rent and just about everything else that’s different outside London. That never seemed to dissuade me, though. I was only ever intrigued, excited, curious and eager to find out what living in the Big Smoke would be like.
We love you, London
The love I have for London is shared with around 30 million tourists who visit each year from all around the world (during non-COVID-19 times, of course). No matter what the haters say, you are one of the most visited cities in the world, and for good reason.
They’re mostly attracted to London for slightly different reasons to those of us who choose to live here. I mean the classic tourist attractions — sporting events like Wimbledon, absolutely anything to do with the Royal Family, Harry Potter, Madame Tussauds, the London Eye — the list goes on.
Then you’ve got the quintessentially British London stuff like the vibrant soul of the West End and its theatres, a proper British pub and fish and chips doused in vinegar and ketchup — these are things Londoners tend to enjoy, too. (If you’re reading this and you’re not from the U.K., we don’t actually eat fish and chips every day.)
But that’s just scratching the surface. Look past the obvious and delve a little deeper and you come to realise that there are so many more reasons to fall in love.
Here are 10 reasons why I did.
1. The people. Whoever you are and whatever you’re into, you will, without doubt, find “your people/tribe/gang” in London. I’ve never really been one to have one tight-knit group of friends, rather, I have several really close friends whose social circles I then get to know and grow to love. I’ve made some truly incredible and unique relationships during my time living in London — ones that I’m sure will last a lifetime.
2. It’s impossible to get bored. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever once said: “I’m bored.” There is always something to do, someone to see, a pint to drink or a new area to discover. If you get bored living in London, then the chances are it’s because you’re boring yourself. There, I said it.
3. Cheap flights. Ironically, one of the greatest things about London is how cheap and easy it is to leave, with more connections and airlines flying to more destinations than anywhere else in the country. If you need to escape it all, a last-minute cheeky weekend break is only a couple of clicks away. Living in London has made it so easy and affordable to explore the world. Sometimes a Ryanair £5 one-way flight to Gdansk is all you need, right?
4. Opportunity. As cheesy as it sounds, I wouldn’t be where I am today and you wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t for London. The jobs I’ve had in London have been a right mixed bag. I’ve been promised the world, had bosses who’ve made me cry (and I’m not ashamed to say it) and I’ve met some absolute legends along the way. Ultimately, the combination of experience I’ve had, the risks I’ve taken and people that I’ve met, topped off with a little dusting of happenstance have come together to get me where I am today and I will be forever grateful.
5. Soho. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of cities across the world, but nowhere I’ve ever visited has an area like Soho. It really is the heart and soul of London. The buzz is electric. There are more restaurants than you could wish for. A nice after-work pint or boozy brunch in Soho is nine times out of 10 going to result in a sore head, an empty bank account and maybe even a walk of shame — if you’re lucky.
My favourite thing about Soho is that it truly has something for everyone. From high-end restaurants and underground speakeasies to proper British pubs and arguably one of the best, most welcoming and colourful LGBTQ+ scenes in the world — it’s almost impossible not to have a cracking time. It’s also one of my favourite places to just sit and watch the world go by.
6. The Tube. No, I’m not joking. As much as some people hate it, it’s actually an incredible invention that allows us to go wherever we want, pretty much whenever we want. I’ve only realised the extent of the independence that it gave me when I moved back to Durham and I actually had to plan my journeys. Then I got a car, which brought new problems like parking. I preferred not having a car in London to having one in Durham. There is an exception to my Tube love — the Central line. I do not and will not ever love its infernal temperatures.
7. Outside space. You’re never very far from a common or a park in London, and it’s something that should never be taken for granted. You’ve got your classics like Hyde, Richmond and Greenwich Parks and your local hangouts like London Fields, Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Clapham Common. Can you imagine a summer without BBQs and a tin of your favourite tipple on the common or autumn without fireworks at the park? Nope, neither can I. London life just wouldn’t be the same without it.
8. London is one of the most multicultural, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the entire world. I love that when “France me manque,” I only have to go to Kensington to hear mostly French being spoken in the street. Similarly, when I’ve got saudades of Brazilian and Portuguese food, I can head to the restaurants and cafés of Little Portugal in Stockwell and feast on my favourite Portuguese and Brazilian delights. You’d almost be forgiven for saying that London isn’t really British given its eclectic mix of worldly cultures, races, languages and dreams. But when you add in the occasional afternoon tea, a couple of bright red buses and a splash of rain, there’s no denying its great British heart and soul.
9. The London grit. If London will do one thing, it will make you resilient. There’s this can-do, will-do, must-do attitude in our capital that is contagious. You almost have to adopt it in order to succeed. That said, there’s a time to know when to call it quits, too.
10. Pubs and beer gardens. There’s really nowhere better to spend a long summer’s evening than in a beer garden. The pub is the perfect place for a Sunday roast by the fire in the winter, birthday celebrations, bad dates, terrible dates, drunken dates or just simply to hang out with mates. Yes, there are pubs and beer gardens all over the country, but they’ve just got a little added something in London.
The above reasons are just part of why I never, ever got homesick living in London. There almost wasn’t time to be.
I will admit, though, there is a darker side to London, which I alluded to earlier when I mentioned being naive. As a non-Londoner, nobody could have prepared me enough for London life. They say the rent is extortionate, but you don’t realise the extent of the daylight robbery until you’re paying 60% of your monthly salary for a tiny room with a not-so-double bed in a shared house with strange people and even stranger mould patches that won’t go away. The daily commute is usually hot, often cramped and more than likely to be smelly in parts. Dating is an absolute minefield. And did I mention the rent?
Living in London as a young 20-something certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, but despite the drawbacks, I would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat. The experience has what has shaped me into the 30-year-old man I am today.
London was everything I imagined it would be and more.
TTFN, bye for now
As I sit writing this on a bright, sunny autumn afternoon in an Italian café in Durham, I hear a student speaking of his excitement about moving to London when he finishes his degree. It’s with that same excitement that I packed up a couple of suitcases and headed into the unknown over six years ago. What an adventure he has in store.
For now, though, I’m afraid it’s goodbye. My best friend Sophie and I had grand plans of moving back in together and starting the next chapter of our London lives, but the pandemic had other ideas.
In terms of how relationships go, I think ours is one that is only temporarily over. We’ve both got some things to work out before we’ll be happy together again but however long that takes, I’m almost certain that one day, we’ll be back together — there’s still so much I have to explore!
On that note, I’ll finish with a quote from London’s most famous bear — Paddington.
“A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.”
Featured photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images.
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