Photo: Hernán Piñera
The saying goes, ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. I’m sorry, Samuel Johnson, but London is bloody tiring. Don’t make me feel bad about my work-tube-bed-repeat lifestyle. I’m exhausted, I’m broke, and I spent the whole weekend cleaning mould from the walls of my tiny, extortionately priced flat.
I was lucky when I first moved to London. I knew a guy who knew a guy who had a room to sub-let for a couple of months in Waterloo. I managed to skip all those late nights desperately trawling through pages and pages of single-bed closets for £600 a month on SpareRoom, and found myself with a double bed in Zone 1 at a price low enough that I could afford an after-work pint or three on a regular basis.
The greatest part of it all, though, was that I could walk to work. Not only that, but my commute spanned almost the entirety of South Bank, from Waterloo to Tower Bridge. By 9am I’d have ambled past London’s most spectacular landmarks from Big Ben to St. Paul’s. Being summer, working late wasn’t so bad. I watched the sun set over the Thames while a street performer roped an innocent bystander into his juggling act. I ate ice cream and felt the cool air tingle my skin. I loved life. This is the London we fall in love with, the tourists’ ideal where the sun shines more than three days a year and we all feel like we’ve made it.
But this isn’t the real London.
Then comes September, and all of a sudden the guy I’m subletting from wants his room back. I spend frantic hours scrolling through single-bed closets on SpareRoom and sobbing into my pillow before I’m thrust into an estate in Bethnal Green, and worst of all, I have to get the tube to work. If there’s one thing that will dispel your rose-tinted vision of London, it’s the Central Line in rush hour. What should be the crowning achievement of city architecture and design is in fact a demeaning cattle car of people far too polite–read: awkward–to so much as look each other in the eyes.
I could only stand about a month of this clammy, monotonous routine before I figured out a bus route, and it’s probably the best decision I ever made. I get to see the city I fell in love with. But even this is from the window of a box, wondering what sort of drunken being may vomit himself down the stairs at any given moment. By now, the London I fell in love with exists only in flashes of my day. This isn’t a matter of adult life. This is a matter of a city forced into its own confines with no desire to make it comfortable.
Why does a city that’s bursting at the seams with people from every background imaginable make you feel so alone?
Whether it’s people I’ve met traveling, friends from University or other Northern ex-pats, I’ve always thought I have plenty of friends in London. After all, it’s a magnet for graduates and travellers (not to mention yuppies and hipsters), and it’s the most visited city in the world. So why is it we don’t spend any time with each other?
Ask yourself that. It’s not like you don’t try, right? You were invited to that flat warming party last week, but the thing is, it’s all the way in Oakwood and you’re in Stepney Green. That’s sixty minutes, five zones and two changes on the tube, which we’ve already established is the closest thing to hell. Perhaps you and a mate have been talking about seeing that new show at the Soho Theatre they recommended in TimeOut, but whenever you try to set a date, one of you already has plans and the other can’t afford it anyway. Maybe an old friend from home happens to be in London one evening and wants to get some drinks, but you’ve just worked a ten hour day and all you want to do is go home and watch Peep Show. You send a can’t-make-tonight text and promise next time they’re in town you’ll be there.
It comes down to the same justifications: we’re too tired, too busy, too broke or live too far away, which really are all feeble excuses for not spending time with someone. Despite being one of the most exciting cities in the world, London is known to be an anti-social city, isolating in its fullness. By making excuses not to spend time with your friends, you’re only making it worse for yourself. Sure, a brunch date in Upminster might seem like mission impossible, but you just have to go the distance for eggs benedict before you become a loner. Or worse, a Londoner.
Hear me out, Londoners. I have nothing against you. I did everything in my power to become one of you. And when I did, I was lapping the city up every evening and every weekend. I was barely ever in my lovely Waterloo sub-let. I’ve come to know and love almost every London stereotype: East’s twentysomething hipsters, the City’s wanker bankers, West’s wealthy socialites.
Recently, I got stuck behind a slow-strolling pedestrian on a crowded street on the way to work, and I was livid. I actually felt real anger toward this person. Then came the depressing realisation I’d become the worst type of Londoner: impatient, unfriendly and broke (unless you live in West, of course). I felt nostalgic for the old me, the girl who had arrived in the summer and smiled at strangers and strolled slowly through the streets.
How often do I actually go out and enjoy the city now? This thought struck me again when I was eating dinner in bed one night, staring mindlessly at my Facebook timeline, and I saw that an American friend traveling Europe had attended a silent disco on a Thames riverboat the night before. I couldn’t help but feel very jealous, and a little ashamed. After all, I live here. Why am I never doing anything like that? All I do is complain about how tired I am.
So I’ve made a resolution to come alive to London again. I want to remember why I came here in the first place: this city is unbeatable, and there is literally a shit load of weird and wonderful things to do and see all the time. We have pillow fights in Trafalgar Square, January’s spectacular festival of lights, the delight that is Columbia Road flower market, all the Indian food you can eat on Brick Lane, even the amazing feast for the senses that is Edible Cinema. Not to mention London is peppered with gorgeous green spaces and parks, from Hampstead Heath to Clapham Common. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to remember why you moved to London in the first place, you’re not alone. The tube is torturous, the tourists are infuriating and living here is bank-breaking. But there has to be a reason you came (or stayed) here in the first place, right? If you want to stay here, you have to remember that. You have to reignite the flame and revive your love affair with the Big Smoke. All it involves, really, is letting yourself enjoy it.
Don’t listen to Samuel Johnson. If you’re tired of London, that’s okay. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to wake up.