At the end of this month, the tenancy on my one-bedroom flat in West London expires, and guess what, I won’t be renewing it. London seems to be the city that everyone wants a piece of. People move here from all over the world. They flock here from other cities in the UK, all wanting a slice of the pie. People from other cities across the globe literally dream about coming to live here, and flock here in their millions just to snap photos of themselves next to Big Ben and soak up the #LondonLifestyle. So why have I decided to leave the London dream for, yes, the second time?
One year ago I moved back here after 18 months or so as a digital nomad, travelling all around Europe full-time. I quickly found a new job and a flat, and prepared myself to rejoin the capital city’s fast-paced lifestyle, having seemingly forgotten all the reasons I left in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly many reasons to love living in London. Job opportunities, a huge multitude of people to meet, plenty of things to do and acceptance of all types of people and lifestyles. In fact, London is so full of excitement and amusement that the much-quoted 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson apparently said that ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Well, if this is the case, then it seems I must be ready for the long sleep, as tomorrow I will be saying goodbye to London for the second time, and I can honestly say that I have no intention to ever come back.
Now, I hear a lot of London fans gasping in horror that I could say such an awful thing about their beloved city. So many people love this city, but I’m just not feeling the love. Here’s why:
- It’s too big. Yes of course London is big, it’s one of the world’s greatest cities and obviously you’re not going to be able to stroll across it in 15 minutes. I always say that in London it takes you at least one hour to go anywhere. Night out, work, meeting a friend: you’ll be making at least a one-hour trip to get to that random tube station all the way on the other side of the city, then doing it all over again to get back. Whilst London is extremely well covered by public transport, it’s just huge. From where I live in West London, it takes around 50-60 minutes just to get to somewhere central like Oxford Circus. Then add on another 30 minutes or so to actually get to somewhere in the North, East or South. And that’s on a good day when no one’s jumped on the line (at least a weekly occurrence). My commute each day takes between 2.5 and 3 hours, which is probably reasonably average. That’s almost 3 hours a day of my time that’s just sucked into a void, never to return.
2. It’s too busy. Duh, I hear you cry. But what seems kind of an exciting hustle and bustle at first later becomes an endless herd of people to fight your way past just to get anywhere. Every single remotely interesting thing in London will be completely packed out, with endless queues to get in. Trendy bar? Get on the waiting list. Anywhere in Central London? Forget it, it’s too full of tourists. Park on a nice day? You’re lucky to even find enough grass space to sit down. And that’s without even mentioning the tube at rush hour, which is like a prison sentence that you’re not sure what you did to deserve. Soon they’ll be introducing those people they have in Japan to help push more people into each carriage.
3. Everything revolves around work. The real reason most people come to live here, of course, is to get a ‘good’ job. And that’s great if you’re one of those people on £60k or so in an interesting role. The reality for those of us down in the average pay zone, though, is that we make just about enough to pay rent, bills and the train fare to work, and maybe eat at the end of it. Of course much of that is my fault for choosing a career path I actually like (translation), which is unfortunately exceptionally badly paid. In my opinion, average wages here just don’t match up with the cost of living. Whilst the UK average salary of £26k a year probably sounds appealing to some foreigners, after tax this barely pays the cost of living in a shared flat in zone 3 here. And you’ll spend all your time working for it. Forget 9-5. If you’re not at your desk by 8.30 am, and ideally still sitting there at 6.30 or later, then you’ll be written off by the boss as ‘not dedicated enough’. The same applies to ‘luxuries’ like eating lunch, taking breaks, sick days, doctor’s appointments or holidays. Sure… take them. So long as you don’t value the chances of a pay rise, promotion or keeping your job for longer than it takes the boss to find someone cheaper and more desperate. The favourite hobby of Londoners is to compete about who has the worst working situation, who is the most tired and basically whose life sucks the most.
This is all supposedly balanced out by the ‘work hard play hard’ lifestyle that London is famous for. We’re supposed to burn ourselves out in the office, then head straight to a bar and party the night away, or nip from yoga to a language class to an edgy comedy show to a club, then go to the office the next day. Except in reality, you get home at 7 pm at the absolute earliest, or 9 pm on gym days, and basically shovel a ready meal into your mouth and go to bed. At least that’s how it pans out for me. Keeping up with my job, workouts, chores and the small amount of extra freelance work I do takes up 99% of my life. Anything ‘fun’ has to be crammed into the remaining 1-2 hours a week when I’m not falling asleep with my head on my keyboard or trying not to cry/vomit thinking about work the next day.
I’m already anticipating all the comments about how I’m wrong and that actually I’d love London if only I took advantage of more of the upside-down gluten-free weaving classes that make the city so cosmopolitan and diverse. Of course I’m not saying that no-one can enjoy living here, I’m sure they can and good for them. However that’s not what I see around me on a day-to-day basis which is mostly very unhealthy, depressed and tired-looking people staring at their phones, pushing and shoving and cursing under their breath as they try to drag themselves to and from work.
So, am I tired of life? I guess so, because I’ve done my time here and I am so, so done.
What do you think about London? Love it, hate it, or a bit of both? Let me know below!