Nothing is awesome all the time. Yes, living in London involves many great moments, some of which I detailed in my last blog post. But London is not a perfect city and there are certainly things about living here that leave a lot to be desired. In fact, many aspects of life in London are a double-edged sword: the quick, extensive and convenient underground system might make crossing the city simple and fast, but that only means that, at rush hour, you are most likely to be met by the fragrant smell of someone else’s armpit and the one person who always thinks rush hour is a great time to take the tube with two enormous suitcases they can barely manoeuvre onto the train. It’s a balancing act. Here are the things that have me browsing listings for houses far outside the M25:
- The lack of nature. I know, I know. You can’t move to London and then say that you feel bereft of rolling fields and the smell of the sea. I knew what I was getting into. But you know what? I do miss the ocean, and fresh air, and seeing more than a single tree in isolation. The parks are not the same! Any regular blog reader will know that we regularly make the trip down to Cornwall, in part so that I can jump into the ocean at all times of the year and feel the salty water soak into my skin and hair. Right now, the city is what I want, most of the time. But damn, if getting up early and going for sunrise dip in the sea or a long cycle ride without having to take a train first (unless you’re willing to cycle for forty minutes each way to reach an open road, which I am not) wouldn’t feel like the best thing in the world sometimes. I don’t want to have to choose. I want both.
- Rush hour. Again, everyone who moves to London understands and expects rush hour. I know this. If you have millions of people converging on the capital by train, car, bus and bike in the same two short windows each day, it’s going to be busy. But I remain surprised each time I try to take the tube at rush hour by just how chaotic it is. It is the most powerful advert for cycling to work, I swear (though bike commuters do have to contend with cars and all the other cyclists apparently trying to break a world record between traffic lights). The tube may be a marvel, but for those few hours around nine and five, it is definitely a marvel best avoided.
- Your rent is how much? Yes, the rumours are true. It is expensive as hell to live anywhere remotely central in London. I am lucky to have only ever lived here with Jake, and for most of the time another friend too (though she had her own bedroom; it wasn’t one of those sorts of households), which means that I have always had someone, if not two someones, to split rent with. Our new place is definitely affordable by London standards, but it would require me spending well over 50% of my income on rent if I were to live here on my own. Of course, you can live further out, but the trade off there is a) more time spent commuting and b) more money spent taking all those trains and buses to get you closer to the centre. Paying through the nose for rent is just what you sign up for living in London.
- How much mediocre food and drinks cost. This must be one of the things I find most frustrating about this city. It’s one thing to pay a load of money for incredible food. It’s another for two average pizzas and splitting a drink to cost almost forty quid without fail. I know this is just what it means to live somewhere with a high cost of living, but it somehow feels like more of an insult when you realise that even a crappy meal will probably cost you a pretty penny. I don’t mind occasionally paying to go out for a nice meal – Jake and I probably eat out together once every couple of weeks, and we have a found a few great, affordable restaurants. But we have also spent a similar amount of money paying for food at very average places – and you can’t find out where is worth the money without trying it! That’s the catch. And don’t get me started on people who buy Pret lunches everyday… why?! I might understand if it was great local food or a hot lunch – but Pret? The food is so average and it will still cost you a tenner each day for soup, a banana and a coffee. Bring food from home! You deserve better than draining your bank account for a soggy chicken and avocado wrap. There is great food in London – but it will cost you, whether you’ve stumbled upon a gem or not.
- London is big. Really big. I can often get to Cambridge, a city sixty miles from London, in the same amount of time it takes me to go from the south east to the west. Because of the aforementioned high rent prices, my friends and I all live a little way out of the centre, which, if we live on opposite sides of the city (which we often do), means that it can take well over an hour to get to friend’s place. This makes weeknight hangouts tricky. And if you decide to meet more centrally to cut down on the commute time, you have to go out to eat, which costs money. I have loved my life post-grad, but the one thing I miss about university life is having most of my friends next door. It’s a bit sad to be living at least an hour from most of my favourite people in the world, when I used to live literally two metres away from some of them, even though we still live in the same city.
- The culture of busy. In the same vein, it is amazing how little a group of people who constantly say they want to spend more time together manage to hang out. Iona and I talk all the time, remain extremely close and make seeing each a big priority – and we still easily go two weeks without getting in any face time. I would love to see all my friends every week – I’m an extrovert, if you hadn’t noticed – but between work, writing, spending time with Jake, seeing our families and doing all the things it takes to keep myself and my home alive and clean there is not that much time. I know that I do still socialise a lot – I probably see friends or family four times a week – but that still means that I won’t see individual friends for weeks at a time, and is only made possible because I work a single job, am financially stable and have no dependents. I try as hard as possible to not play into this mindset and to always be available to the people I care about, but there are still friendships that fall through the cracks for months at a time and this approach does lead me to overstretch myself occasionally. Wanting to spend more time with my wonderful circle of friends and family is good problem to have, I know, but the difficulty of making a plan without two weeks notice is one of the things that is not ideal about living in a big city.
To be clear, I love living in London. It feels like somewhere that is safe to put down roots despite feeling so uncertain about my future plans, because almost anything I could want to do with my life can happen here. It also remains a privilege to be able to live in London, let alone enjoy some of the awesome things about living in a city this vast. But nowhere is perfect, and I don’t want make out that London is some sort of paradise. It is full of opportunity, but those opportunities are still most easily accessed by the most fortunate, and it is plagued by pollution, high rent prices, noise and the inherent transience of a city full of people trying to make a name for themselves. However, in spite of all of this, I love London. I love living somewhere full of room for me to grow. I suppose that’s all I could ask for at this point in my life, black snot be damned.