Look at Life: London Life

4th August 2017

Maybe It’s Because She’s a Londoner

By Jennifer Lipman

My husband was brought up in Birmingham. When we visit his parents, he gets cross with me for describing our journey as ‘down from London’. Geographically speaking, he’s right of course– the Midlands are, indeed, north of London. But having lived almost all my life within the snug confines of the M25, I simply can’t see leaving the city as moving ‘up’.

I exaggerate, perhaps, but not by much. I spent three happy student years in Nottingham, and I’ve plenty of happy memories of other parts of the country; sunning myself on the beach in Bournemouth, experiencing Manchester’s legendary nightlife, or enjoying the festivities in Edinburgh.

I appreciate that many parts of our glorious country possess attributes lacking in London and its surroundings; friendly residents, say, or rolling hills and pollution-free air. Trees and tranquillity. Sunsets rather than smoggy skies. And I know this part of the world has its faults, from crime to traffic; it’s crowded, dirty, horrifyingly expensive to live in, and so large that simply popping to see a friend can feel like a mission to Mars. 

Yet, as the song goes, maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… I can’t see myself living anywhere else. Given that I’m based in central London and regularly avail myself of its entertainments, the thought of moving somewhere more remote – where my Oyster card wouldn’t function and where I might get a seat on the train but I’d pay a princely sum for the privilege – honestly fills me with dread. Commuting from Zone 5 or taking a Thameslink from the London-adjacent suburbs is one thing; a ‘commuter train’ that comes at most every half hour and is invariably delayed by strikes is another. 

I have friends who are desperate to swap the rat race for the rural idyll, or who dream of moving back up North, and with them I play the depressing game of ‘what could I get for the same price in x’ as the London housing market continues to tempt with great properties and ridiculous prices. And yet despite it all, I feel no lure of the Good Life; no desire for chocolate box villages or a local pub with locals you actually know. Or even for the slightly slower pace of life in one of Britain’s second cities; why take a knock-off when you can enjoy the original?  

Truthfully, I’d rather have bistros and bars than birdsong. I’d always choose cocktails over cockerels, and I’m happy hopping to a farmers’ market instead of actually living anywhere near a farm. How, I wonder, could anyone give up the theatres, the restaurants, the galleries, even the 24 hour convenience stores – the very life of the place – that an urban existence delivers? 

Actually, it’s not even London that I’m devoted to. It’s specifically north London and the neighbouring Hertfordshire towns that I don’t think I could leave. I was raised in Stanmore and spent my teenage years in places like Borehamwood, Pinner and Bushey. The biggest move of my adult life has been switching my council tax bill from Harrow to Barnet. Roads like the A41, A1(M) or Totteridge Lane; roundabouts like
Spur Road or Stirling Corner; shopping centres like the Harlequin (or Intu as I must now remember to call it); how could I abandon them? 

In my twenties, I watched many of my friends settle in trendier hotspots such as Clapham or Brixton. South of the river was cool, young, up-and-coming; north London, for all its credentials of champagne socialism and literary greatness, was older, fustier, and more expensive. 

Maybe. But to my mind, north London is still the best place to live, and I will never not want to call it home, even if circumstances or finances push me out. We have the best tube lines – not like the trainless wastelands of south and East London – and the prettiest parks (my ambivalence to the Good Life is not because I don’t like nature; but honestly, why do you need more than Kenwood?). We have quick access to Heathrow and free parking at Brent Cross, not to mention diverse communities living side by side, and so much to do and see all the time.  

Ultimately, it’s home and it always will be. It’s not that I don’t understand why people leave London or stay away – I’m well aware that many simply don’t have a choice – it’s that I can’t understand those who could live there and choose not to anyway. Life in the capital may be harder than life beyond it; it may cost more, it may require more travelling and more traffic. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

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