[Photo: Laura McGregor]
If you’re not from London, but you live in London, here’s a scenario you might recognise. It’s Christmas. You’ve headed back to your parents’ place (Yorkshire, for me) and you’re in the pub – chatting to your old friends about your new life. They’ll often have an opinion on London: the tube’s too crowded; the rents are extortionate; the people are rude. ‘No thanks,’ your mate will comment, with an aura of smugness you’ll find it hard not to resent. ‘London’s not for me. I’ll stick here, thanks very much, where a pint doesn’t cost £18.’
Of course, if you live in London, you’ll see things differently. You’re not trapped by rising rents, long hours and a strict social calendar, are you? Your rent is expensive, but then you live in one of the most exciting places on the planet. You probably do work a bit too hard, so you use your time off more wisely. And yes, you have to plan ahead to meet your friends, but that’s because your life’s full of interesting plans already.
There are undoubtedly things that could be better about London. Chances are, however, that if you’re reading this, you’re proud to call this hot, hectic, occasionally-bollocks-but-usually-great city your home.
Here’s what your friends from home will say, and why they just don’t get it.
1. “It’s too noisy”
London is loud. But, the longer you live here, the more you’re able to filter out. The noise of a barking dog, a police helicopter, a two-week-long rave in an abandoned warehouse – it’ll all just become background noise eventually. In fact, you’ll end up finding silence eerie. That weekend away in the Cotswolds will make you inexplicably tense and suspicious, like you’ve stumbled into an Edgar Wright movie.
2. “There are too many people”
[Photo: John Morrill]
True. But then, let’s use an analogy. If London were a nightclub, it’d be the busiest place in town. Would you want to go to that quieter club, down the road? Let’s call it… ‘Birmingham’. Probably not.
3.“Everyone’s so unfriendly”
[Photo: John Kortland]
This is the most persistent myth about Londoners. And it is a myth. Let’s clear it up: Londoners aren’t unfriendly, they’re just careful about who they talk to. There are eight million people in this city, and to try and meet them all is just exhausting. Even the most ardent Tinder swiper will run out of steam eventually. We don’t hate each other, we’ve just not the energy for constant pleasantries – don’t hold it against us.
4. “You can’t get a decent kebab/pizza/fish and chips”
Not if you only hang out around Piccadilly Circus, perhaps. But being a Londoner is all about discovering those places that do things perfectly. Advice to out-of-towners: try the mixed grill at Gökyüzü in Harringay, the pizza at Franco Manca in Brixton and the fish and chips at Kerbisher & Malt in Clapham, then see if you’ve changed your mind.
5. “It’s not green enough”
[Photo: Patrizia Ilaria Sechi]
How much green do you want? London has the most green space of any major European city: 35,000 acres of public parks, to be precise, meaning that 40 percent of the city’s surface area is trees, shrubs and grass.
6. “You spend too much time underground”
There’s an old, unwritten rule about London, that it always takes half an hour to get where you’re going. A long time, right? But that’s half an hour to get anywhere around a vast and wonderful city. Thirty minutes from the British Museum to the Olympic Park; from Tate Modern to the Houses of Parliament. For anyone used to a two-hour bus journey, just so they could play on the Sega Dreamcast belonging to their friend who lived in the next village, that’s nothing. Point being, London’s better than the Sega Dreamcast.
7. “Things move too quickly”
To which we say: ‘No, they move too slowly! We need to go faster! Give me all you’ve got: food, drink, art. Shove it all in! There’s so much to do and SO LITTLE TIME!’
8. “You wouldn’t want to raise a family there”
[Photo: John Nielsen]
Subtext: because London’s schools aren’t very good. Actually, in June this year the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that disadvantaged pupils in inner London were more likely to achieve higher results than in other parts of the country. This, the Institute reasoned, might well be due to the broader mix of cultures and abilities within London schools, and the city’s high quality of primary education. So there.
9.“No one knows who you are”
[Photo: Jon & Tina Reid]
Thank god. Who wants their neighbours to know what they’re up to? Or to be the subject of local gossip? We share what we want with who we want. And, if we really feel like broadcasting our inner-most thoughts, we’ve got Twitter.
10.“It’s full of bankers”
[Photo: Mark Walton]
There are a few, yes. The City harbours an unnervingly powerful financial services industry – but you’ll hear that said in London as much as anywhere else. Here we protest a cheese shop opening because lots of us resent the widening gap between rich and poor, and recognise the negative consequences of gentrification at the same time as we acknowledge the deliciousness of cheese. All of which makes this a flawed and frustrating city, but also the epicentre of any possible, future turnaround in the nation’s attitude towards wealth. In the meantime, we just give anyone wearing a pinstripe suit a wide berth.
11. “It’s dirty”
No, no. It’s just well-loved.
12. “There’s a lot of crime”
[Photo: Tyla, Every 100th of a second]
The person saying this probably won’t be a statistician. They might be an ‘EastEnders’ viewer. Crime happens in London. It affects people who don’t deserve it. It doesn’t affect everyone, however. And that’s the reality that Londoners quickly come to terms with. We’re not sensational and we’re not scared. We treat crime with the seriousness it deserves, but, generally, we just get on with our lives.
13. “It’s full of tourists”
[Photo: Rob Dawkins]
You mean, interesting people from other countries, who’ve turned up to see how awesome this country’s capital city is? There are a few of them, yes. And though they bother us with their backpacks and risqué approach to crossing roads, we’re pretty glad they’re here. It’s a cliché to say it, but it bears repeating: London is a melting pot – it’s a flipping fondue’s worth of people from different cultures, all getting hot and cheesy with each other.
14. “Everyone looks ridiculous”
And yet, you know that, right now, people in Carlisle are dressing like people in Shoreditch did ten years ago.
15. “The rents are even more ridiculous”
It’s hard to argue with this one. The rents are ridiculous. There’s a painful lack of affordable housing in this city, and little obvious urgency among politicians to do anything about it. And yet, we don’t move away. Here’s why: because we’re near to the best nightclubs, art galleries, concert venues, restaurants, museums, markets, theatres, bars and shops in the country, if not the world. And because our jobs are here – the jobs that stress us out, keep us up at night, have us commuting 45 minutes every morning, but promise excitement and success, and (when we finally do get to sleep) allow us to dream about bigger things. Yes, we might be suckers, throwing away hundreds of pounds a month on houses we don’t own. And yes, we probably should move to Berlin, like all our cool friends have. But we’re sticking in out in London, because it’s where our hopes lie and our memories are forged, and because it has all the nice things we like. It might not be perfect but, dammit, it’s ours. And we bloody love it.
By Jonny Ensall
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