London is a harsh mistress, and it didn’t take me long to realise that everything I grew to love would eventually be snatched away for no other reason than to hurt me. New and amazing concepts are always popping up and disappearing again in London – gin bars with alcoholic atmospheres, a mini Tokyo, crème egg cafés, supper clubs and everything in between.
Londoners are just too easily bored for permanency; either that, or the concepts of these pop-ups are often too ridiculous to be a real long-term thing (I’m looking at you, FryHard. You can’t just plunge everything you get your hands on into a deep-fat fryer and expect to make a living). It works, though: events with a time limit become must-visits. Their exclusivity and weekly TimeOut endorsements ensure these temporary sites are packed to the rafters and have queues winding down the street.
Imagine the mortifying experience of catching someone’s eye on the tube. Imagine looking away, only to catch their eye again in your opposite reflections in the window. It’s so horrifying that it’s not worth thinking about. Thank fuck for that guy who gives out that free copy of NME before I take out my Oyster in the morning. I’ve read the same paragraph about 50 Cent beefing with some guy on Twitter four times just to avoid acknowledging there are other people around me.
Dancing in the street
It’s often hard to remember during the long, long British winter, but London is bloody amazing in the summertime. Londoners flock to Hampstead Heath with picnic baskets full of sausage rolls and bottles of plonk from Tesco, restaurants cram all their guests into tiny al-fresco dining areas on rooftops and pavements, and there are frozen cocktail bars and boutique ice cream stalls popping up left, right and centre. By far the best thing about a London summer, though, is that the city’s streets are taken over by festivals. The biggest street party in Europe, Notting Hill Carnival, is the pièce de résistance, attracting hundreds and thousands of revellers across the Bank Holiday weekend ready for two days of Red Stripe-flavoured debauchery.
Expensive hipster coffee
From Fuckoffee to Kaffeine, London isn’t short of trendy coffee shops with ridiculous names. What is it about these establishments that draw us in time and time again? It has to be that little chalkboard with its witty little message and cartoon mascot, right? It’s the same story every morning: you’re on your way to work, a place that probably has a perfectly functioning coffee machine, and you see a sign. It’s like a message from God scrawled across a chalk board: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy coffee, and that’s pretty close.”
Two minutes later you’re forking a fiver over to a girl with a lopsided fringe for a cappuccino so tiny you’ve downed the lot before you’re out the door. You swear you won’t get suckered in again, until you walk another two blocks and see the next sign that says, “Today’s Special: no it’s not, have another coffee,” and you roll your eyes and pull out your wallet.
The allure of boutique coffee applies equally to food, clothing, homeware and more or less anything you choose to spend your money on in London. Oxford Street is a no-go for shopping (So. Many. People.), and don’t even think about suggesting Wetherspoons for a cheap drink when there are bars where you can sit on a bookcase and drink mojitos out of flowerpots. As for food, yeah, you probably have bread and stuff at home; you technically don’t really need to leave the house this weekend, but there’s something so enticing about paying £4 for a bowl of Cornflakes at a café that literally sells nothing except cereal, isn’t there?
If you’re not in a hipster coffee shop, chances are you’re in Pret. Particularly if you work a 9-5 job anywhere in Central London, because literally every two buildings is a Pret. Resistance is futile.
Gone are the days of being a keyboard activist—you live down the road from 10 Downing Street now, so you can join a bunch of other pissed off people and go tell David Cameron he’s a wanker right to his face. Well, not quite, but you can at least write it on a sign and put it on Instagram.
If there’s one thing London does well, it’s a market. There’s something to suit all needs, whether you want to stock up on bric-a-brac on Brick Lane or stuff your face with free samples at Borough Market. Head to the East End to hear some proper cockney rhyming slang from market traders and pay only a Lady Godiva for a week’s worth of fruit’n’veg. The capital’s best markets are big, maze-like and noisy, full of unexpected treasures and mouth-watering street food. Spend one Sunday strolling Columbia Road Flower Market, or a Friday evening at Brixton Village Market’s late night sessions and you’ll be back every weekend.
In a city heaving with tourists, being pissed off about something is a unifying force for Londoners. It’s mainly tube-related: waiting for over three minutes, strikes, congestion, red signals, people that don’t move to the centre of the carriage, someone standing on the left, someone talking during rush hour, someone with a huge suitcase, someone listening to music, someone eating food, someone breathing the wrong way.
Either that or it’s about money: the rates of rent, Oyster card costs, the price of a pint, the low living wage, the fact you don’t even meet the London living wage at your current job. There is nothing more therapeutic than going to the pub and venting over a £5 pint about the two thirds of your income that goes straight to your landlord’s pocket. Being broke and annoyed are the staples of a London lifestyle, the mood that forges some kind of community in an otherwise isolating city.