“The grass is always greener on the other side,” we’re always told. This has not stopped me from thinking about what would happen if I upped sticks and moved elsewhere. Noticing how clean and comfortable the Milan metro was, for instance, or how many nice cafés and friendly street cats there were in Venice. Thinking about whether I’d be able to handle myself on a daily basis in Berlin with my limited German, or whether I could tolerate the number of hills in Paris.
I am reminded why I moved to London, now just over 11 years ago: I wanted away from my childhood (homophobic bullying at school, Michael Gove as the local MP, a constant undercurrent of racism and callousness in public discourse) and wanted somewhere I could rely on public transport, because I didn’t drive and didn’t want to. At the time, the Oyster card, flat fares, and logical, direct routing with clear information on London transport were lightyears ahead of anything else in England. For some years, I would just ride trains and buses to random areas of London, exploring, delighting myself with how cheap and direct it was compared to the every-half-hour bus that finished at 6:30pm where I grew up where a weekly ticket cost £15 and the bus driver would chide you if you didn’t have exact change. (It’s now every hour and the weekly ticket costs you £22.50.)
Maybe what I feel about London is applicable to any big city. “Like any true love, it drives you crazy,” sings Taylor Swift on Welcome To New York.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” Dr Johnson is famously quoted as having said. Do I find myself tiring of London? I am tired of paying extortionate rents which will probably shoot up next year once Crossrail is fully open, definitely, of incompetently planned roadworks, of the bloody ‘see it say it sorted’ announcement on the tube, of the constant thunder of cars. I am tired of the place I call home being used as a political football by those elsewhere, often making racist insinuations about our Muslim mayor. I am tired of everything being expensive. I am tired of more and more ominous buildings springing up offering supremely expensive ‘experiences’ and ‘concepts’ that are, in principle, probably meant for people like me—if I’d been the child of a trust fund manager rather than a caretaker, maybe. I am tired of being close-passed on my bike by impatient men in 4x4s with one hand on their phone. I am tired of windswept plazas designed to make some property developer extremely rich, with architecture designed by someone who doesn’t understand how humans work.
But you don’t stay in a city for 11 years without putting some roots down. Just now and again, those roots deliver some nourishment. Just today, while cycling into central London, I ran into Jacqui, who I haven’t seen in years (you should buy one of Jacqui’s bags, by the way.) On the way back, I ran into another friend at the traffic lights (admittedly someone I’d seen earlier in the day.) I saw some delightful fallen leaves on a newly traffic-calmed street. Yesterday, I saw a convoy of motorcyclists dressed variously in tiger and leopard-print onesies and as the Joker, and a bush of the same kind of rosemary we’re growing on our balcony. I discovered a (reassuringly cheap) restaurant around the corner from my office that I’d never seen before, and a delightfully cheap pizza restaurant near Old Street on Friday.
I am not tired of London. Not yet, at least. Because for now, there is life in London, and that can not tire me.
In other news: the scans of my photos from Venice came back from the lab, so there will be a picture post soon. 35mm photography is proving a delightful (if dangerously expensive) hobby. I’m set for film for a while now, at least.
Coming home from holiday, it was a nice surprise to see the balcony in what must by now be a final flush of flowers for the year: the fuchsia’s popped out another blush of red and white which looks stunning in the warm autumn light, the pelargonium is blooming again and I wonder if any of the alpine strawberry flowers will result in edible fruit. It'll be time to plant spring bulbs soon. Bulb Watch will return soon.
This is my 69th post since I moved my blog to jonathanis.online and tried to get into the habit again. Nice.