‘Do you like your city?’ a New Yorker asked me the other day. She moved here two years ago and told me how wonderfully relaxing it was and what a great work/life balance we have. Hmmm, I thought… Really?! I must be a pale and sickly weakling who’d take one look at life in New York and give up like a Victorian consumption patient. So I agreed how wonderful it was to have the green parks, the river, and ‘all this culture’ on my doorstep.
My instinctive reaction is ‘I love London’ when anyone asks. And I do, but why? And do I really make the most of it? This year I’ve been to one play and one gallery exhibition, and I don’t think I’ve even made it to a live gig yet. I’ve never seen the Crown Jewels or been in the Tower of London.
These are of course clichés of London, so what’s the average day like? In the morning I contend with traffic and TFL, and get frequent bouts of rage. Then there are the living and travel costs: the average rent is around £713 according to The Guardian, and a Zone 1-2 travel card is nearly £30 per week.
So a superficial analysis says London is expensive and congested and I average one cultural event per month. You could do that with day trips. But of course there’s more to it than that: there are the people, your favourite pubs and restaurants, and the sheer joy of crossing the river twice a day.
One Sunday a few weeks back – that one where you really felt it was the first day of spring – I walked to Borough for breakfast then over Blackfriars Bridge, along the north side to Parliament Square and back across Westminster Bridge. That’s the thing: you don’t have to try in London to appreciate beauty and history – you just have to walk anywhere.
It’s different for everyone, and at the heart of my love for the city is the history of it, and the fascination this holds over me. Walking around the areas housing the gates to the old city, you can’t help thinking of the murky world of Shakespeare’s London, or (aided by Wolf Hall) Thomas Cromwell’s. London is a palimpsest; though parts of it may die, vestiges are retained in the new by its cultural dynamism. For me, London combines the sense of space, history and beauty of a European city with the edginess of, say, New York.
Maybe I’m making excuses to assuage my guilt. I read this week’s Time Out and thought, no, actually, I really don’t make enough of London. I’m too lazy, too tired. And there is so much going on; you could never do everything you’d like to. But I guess that’s the wonderful thing: always feeling that you might.
Image by _gee_ courtesy of Flickr