Living on the coast and having the delights of a metropolitan setting such as Brighton, has left me a little spoiled and occasionally closed minded. I guess I have a degree of understanding for those people from Wales that declare it “Gods own country” without ever having really been anywhere else. BTW people from Kerala say the same, but they are never in Kerala when they say it!
As a young ‘un going through school there was always a nagging doubt, an unconscious pull, a distant realisation that one day I would have to live and work in London. That big, smelly, overcrowded, overpriced, place where everyone walks very quickly, doesn’t have the time, looks bloody miserable to be frank! I had a fear of living life like one of those fuzzy filler shots they would use on the 6 o clock news (does that still exist?) of commuters trudging across Tower Bridge looking like an army of the damned forced into fighting in support of the capitalist dream. Being jostled by other foot soldiers, but not even reacting to the stray elbows of the bowler hated men, so accustomed had these warriors become to suffering such contact.
Ever since then my I’ve grown up with a strong avoidance complex. That is, wanting to avoid London at all costs. I mean I took a job in Birmingham, probably as a warm up act for the inevitable, for two years. With the prospect of having to further my career in the big smoke, I upped sticks and with my all worldly possessions (which at this stage amounted to a Nissan micra full of DVDs and clothes) and moved 3,500 miles away from London to Dubai. Sadly after 3 year years getting sweaty in the desert, hearing every place in the UK referred to as “London” regardless of where it might be situated, I succumbed to the inevitable. Looking for a job back in the UK required acknowledging that there is only one commercial centre, and the gravitational pull proved too strong.
The one thing that hits you when you finally lose all your principles…. Sorry I mean... move to London, is it vastness… no wrong again, apologies, it is how bloody expensive it is. I know this is not news, but truth be told looking for an affordable flat (even with 2 other roommates) means searching some pretty shady areas, and having to put up with low water pressure, lack of maintenance, and a crime rate that wouldn’t look out of place on “Midsommer murders”. Having found the place of your dreams/nightmares you then have to tackle a commute; that takes some figuring out. After about 6 months, I figured out that to get the optimal amount of space on the tube I had to get up at stupid o clock for my inbound journey, and stay until “are you really still here, don’t you have anywhere else to go” territory on the outbound journey.
Next there is the culture of the City. I’m not talking about the greater metropolitan area of London, but where all the slickers live. Hard drinking, hard smoking, hard working, hard womanising, you name it, although where anyone gets the time for this is beyond me. For more qualified opinions on this visit Joris Luyendijk’s comment blog on the Guardian. Face time, being seen to be in the office, busy, but not too busy, socialable but not too… well you get the picture. It is essentially an elaborate mechanism of control. As you realise from the contradictions in the last sentences, there is no rule book or guide to follow, and so the rules are applied arbitrarily to keep you on your toes. You begin to ask yourself; “what happened to just working to get the job done, rather than being in the right place at the right time”.
9 months of 5 days a week city working had done me in. So I escaped to a peripatetic role; roaming the rolling hillsides of Great Britain, taking in the wonderment of a fully functioning railway system, marvelling at the vibrancy of the village market place, or alternatively getting smashed in Nottingham, Enjoying the exquisite cuisine of the only establishment open on a Monday in Southend, or being caught in a snow drift in Edinburgh. Not as glamorous as first imagined, but infinitely better than the stupefying monotony of commuter life in London.
My last role tipped me over the edge. I wasn’t specifically the working conditions (although they didn’t help), it was the return to ye olde Londinium, and all that I have described being applied at a 7 on the Richter scale. Getting up at 5:30 each day, leaving for the train at 6:20 (before @weasypeasy was even awake), eyes down on the train for fear of catching the rest of the passengers silently weeping at the thought of another day, arriving into Liverpool Street station, dodging the free paper jockey’s (Stylist, Standard, City AM, Metro, Sport, and the other one that had something to do with culture), walking in all weathers the 30 minutes to Bankside (as there were no easily accessible tube routes) arriving at bankside to order the largest coffee they could possible provide me with, then being the good foot soldier and applying the principles of face time and looking productive, only taking a 30 minute lunch for fear of taking liberties (how dare you take your mandated lunch hour!), trying not to doze off in the afternoon, slipping out to grab a double espresso to make the afternoon fly by, leave around 6 ish (depending on what you think you could get away with), curse yourself for having sat around working two hours unpaid overtime, walk 30 minutes back to the station, wait 20 minutes for train, due to Olympic improvements endure a journey of 50 minutes that should take 30 minutes, get home collapse eat and go to bed. Repeat each weekday.
I’m giving London a bit of a bad review here. I wouldn’t have stayed in London or its general vicinity if it didn’t have its charms. Saturday’s and Sunday’s in Queens Park could be very hospitable. Plenty of bistro’s and coffee shops to sit in reading the papers, the occasional park to wander aimlessly in, BBQ’s in the summer, access to the theatres and sporting events. And my favourite part was exploring a farmers market for some Sunday lunch ingredients. But it didn’t last, of my own free will, and to follow the love of my life, I moved to Harlow.
I could do an entire blog post on this sorry little island of poverty in an affluent part of Essex. The following graphic merits at least a double page spread in the Times:
That little red dot is Harlow, how is it even possible? “Ranked 132 in England for the biggest risk of poverty and 173 for child poverty out of 326 local authorities”, so says the Grauniad. An anomaly perhaps, but having lived there for two years I will recant one tale that will justify my disgust. In the short time I had before moving to Luxembourg, I was on the phone to my parents, when my mother said “what was that sound, like a barking noise, are there dogs nearby?” it was my duty to inform her that it was 3 of the local inhabitants who had been on the sauce all day barking like dogs at one another. One of many low points during my time there, I know I said only one story, but another one has sprung to mind. I very rarely ventured into the Harvey Centre or general area, as like Superman and kryptonite it sapped my will to live on and diminished my faith in humanity. One afternoon I ventured into town, to be confronted by a Grandmother and 6 children, reminiscent of the pied piper she held an open can of stella in one hand (no need for a pipe) and beckoned the children to “get a F%$king move on, you can play xbox when we get home”. A dystopian vision if ever there was one.
So time ran out on my patience, time was running out on being a good and healthy person and I collected my possessions and those of @weasypeasy (significantly more than a Micra’s worth, especially with all the shoes) to flee for the continent.
I hope you’ll forgive me for not liking the big smoke or wanting to return there soon?