I live in London. Nothing remarkable in itself about that, about eight million other people do too. What I think is noteworthy, though, is how many of my friends who don’t reside in the Smoke ask me why I live in London – the question’s invariably followed by comments containing words like ‘impersonal’ and ‘uncaring’ (they’re still talking about their perception of London at this point, not just having a go at me because they disagree with my reply).
So I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, perhaps sparked by the realisation that I’ve now lived in the capital for over a decade, and god help me, I absolutely love it. Why is that, I wonder?
Initially, I considered that it might be because I lived in the south of England until I was 10, and so living in the Midlands and the North, as I did pretty much constantly between the ages of 10 and 24, was something that I was trying to escape, with a sense of returning to the south as the place of my birth or something like that. Well, I dunno, it was just a thought, and for the first few years of living in Sheffield, people there were always keen to remind me I was effectively an outsider, so I thought it might be the reason. But no, I think I’ve twigged what it is.
Aside from the fact that London is somewhere there’s almost always something to do (want to buy a book or CD at 10.30 at night ? No trouble), and has some great buildings and scenery (fancy a stroll along the South Bank at night, anyone?), and loads of art galleries and museums (including Sir John Soane’s Museum, of course), the fact is this: London has been extremely good to me.
Before I got a job here, I’d been unemployed for about a year in Sheffield, and despite making genuine and concerted efforts to get a job, I was unable to get one, and that sense of beating my head against the wall was ultimately a pretty miserable experience. Since moving to London at the start of 1995, however, I haven’t had a single day of unemployment, and I’ve changed jobs several times now (and incidentally, the send-to-reply rate when I’ve been applying for jobs in London has been considerably higher than in Sheffield; if I send out a CV or application form in the Smoke, more often than not I’ll get a reply, even if it’s a rejection. In Sheffield, I was lucky if I got one reply for every ten send-outs, which rather added to the disheartening nature of the search).
Living in London has led me to meet a startling number of genuinely remarkable people, and to have experiences which I would never have imagined having when I was in Sheffield; now, that may well be because my general situation in Sheffield in the early 1990s was such that doing those things seemed about as likely as … well, as getting a job, actually, but the fact remains that here, in London, these things have happened for me. Or to me, depending on your point of view.
Granted, in an ever so slightly alternate dimension, there’s a version of me that is feeling exactly the same about the life that alternate me is living in Bradford, Exeter, Carlisle, Lille, Kyoto or St Petersburg, but that’s not the me of this dimension. And so, I have a kind of loyalty to London, on the basis that it’s been good to me. Very good, in fact. Yes, I could have felt this way about anywhere in the world … but I don’t, I feel this way about London. Which is why I live here, and why I stay here, and why I enjoy living here.
And besides, as any of you who know me will understand, it is very handy indeed that the bookshops are open until so very late. Ah, the smell of a new book…