So long London…?

By | Category: Travel destinations

A record number of 30 somethings are considering leaving the capital. Kaye Holland is one of them

Dr Samuel Johnson once famously said that  “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

As a proud born and bred Londoner, I don’t disagree with the good Doctor (so much so that I last year I launched a walking tour company, take a bow Talk of the Town London, with the aim of sharing my passion for the colourful, cosmopolitan capital with tourists and locals alike.)

In London there’s always something to do. You have everything you want in terms of activity and accessibility. Every week a new (independent, natch) bar or restaurant is opening and I love the constant buzz. The capital also offers a cornucopia of world class carnivals, museums, theatres and art galleries, plus gorgeous gardens and parks. (30 percent of the capital is given over to green space so wherever you find yourself in the city, a leafy retreat isn’t far away).

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I adore the old and the new side by side: the London Eye towering over the Thames, the tatty fabric shops in Broadwick Street market nestling between Soho’s multi million dollar film companies. I love waking up in the mornings and knowing that the rest of the city is waking up too. The hustle and bustle… the healthy cosmopolitan mix. To see the streetlights! To hear the taxis! The sheer, unadulterated adrenaline of it all!

Sure the capital is costly, but it gives you something you can’t put a price on: energy. London is truly a great city and on a good day, there isn’t any place in the world I would rather be.

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And yet, and yet… I have days when I detest London. Samuel Johnson may have said that when a man who is tired of London, he is is tired of life but with all due respect to Dr J, he uttered his now oft repeated phrase some 200 odd years ago. London 2016 is certainly not the same as it was, circa 1777.

Would Boswell’s erstwhile friend have uttered the same words today had he been stuck living out in the suburbs, while struggling to climb the British housing ladder? (The fact that a modest one bedroom flat in Brixton will set you back a minimum of £350,000, continues to astound me).

Would Samuel have said that now immortal sentence while standing shivering on a Metropolitan line platform, waiting for a train (why is it that they used to come along every few minutes on the Met line, but now we all wait ages) to turn up?

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Would he have felt the same having forked out £212 for a monthly zone one to five travel card only to discover that, despite advertising a ‘seven day service’, the tube is invariably out of action at weekends and on bank holidays – basically the times when Londoners want to venture out and make the most of the metropolis?

Or upon being asked to pay 50p to use a station toilet and finding that you need to have the exact money – even in today’s cashless society? (Really, how hard can it be to make a machine that gives back change, if you put in a £1?)

Would he share the same stance, having parted with £7 for two scoops of ice cream  in German Gymnasium  – London’s latest dining hotspot?

Or after inhaling the foul air (turns out that London is, GULP, the most toxic town on the planet after researchers from King’s College London, found nitrogen dioxide levels to be worse on Oxford Street than anywhere else on earth). As a gal who said goodbye to living in Beijing -partly because of the Imperial City’s appalling air pollution – the irony isn’t lost on me…

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And I’m not sure that Samuel J would appreciate London’s ever changing skyline. The capital – under the helm of its current mayor, Boris Johnson, is in the grip of skyscraper fever with unusually named projects (The Cheesegrater, The Walkie-Talkie and The Gherkin anyone?) springing up all over the shop.  Shiny new high rise buildings may sound brilliant but – take it from someone who spent several years living in Dubai, a paean to skyscrapers – in reality they’re as dull as dishwater and devoid of any individualism. Sadly certain parts of London are no longer recognisable.

You might think that I am being too demanding, but I’m not alone. The stats speak for themselves: record numbers of 30 somethings are leaving London in their droves in search of a property – perhaps with a garden – that they can call their own. Some such as my mates, Chris and Kaira, are escaping to the country while others (Christoph and Caroline, Heidi and Matt) are moving to smaller cities where renting a one bedroom flat doesn’t costs a minimum of £1,200 per month excluding bills. Even my high-earning accountant acquaintance, Patrick, has had to quit London’s inner zones and move to the suburbs – all because, at the age of 40, he’d had enough of living in a  windowless shoebox.

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Bottom line? Unless you’re generously backed by the Bank of Mum and Dad or earning in excess of £40k (and the average UK salary is  £26,500)  the living (in London) ain’t easy.

Which is why I’ve decided to escape the capital city of a cold, wet, grey island for a bit, by boarding a plane for Buenos Aires, Argentina – aka the land of  gauchos, glaciers, futbol, tango and beef.

Sure Argentina isn’t without its problems (corruption and weekly power cuts prevail for starters), but when it’s blue skies and 30 degrees outside and a train ticket from one side of town to another costs just 25p, they’re a helluva lot easier to do deal with.

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Will I go back to Blighty, despite the fact that London is no longer the pleasure it should be?  Yes. I’ll return every now and then – partly because, thanks to that insidious Dr Johnson quote, I feel compelled to keep trying to make it in the capital. And also because London is in my blood: I grew up there and most of my family and friends still call the capital home.

However I’ve reached the conclusion that while I do largely love London – on it’s day, it is a wonderful city – we can’t be together for long.

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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