Why I'm Glad To Be Leaving London (It Might Not Be What You Think)

24/08/2016 17:19 | Updated 24 August 2016

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Thus spake Samuel Johnson, way back in 1777, to James Boswell, who was afraid he might get sick of London if he decided to live there.

I'm not a man, but by Johnson's reckoning, I must be tired of life - because I am tired of London. Come the beginning of September, I'm off, back Up North, nearer where I grew up, and I'm glad to be going.

There are reasons to stay - it is, for example, easier for someone in my line of work to find a job here, and the beauty and diversity London contains are undeniable.

London does still hold all that life can afford, furthermore - great theatre, unparalleled restaurant culture, cool clubs and bars, amazing art and museums - but these days, a lot of people would be hard pressed to afford it.

There are also other obvious issues - besides the expense, there's the pollution, the noise, the sheer volume of people, and in recent years, the heightened sense of tension because of the threat of terrorism.

Then there's the public transport network. A marvel of modern engineering, sure, but also a source of intense stress for its users.

Even the loveliest, purest of souls can't help but be driven slightly batty by it: the cost, the heat, the unreliability, the almost constant overcrowding.

But all that is kind of beside the point.

The long and the short of it is that I genuinely believe living in London (or nearby - I spent a couple of years commuting in from Reading, but that's a separate story) over the last decade or so has made me a slightly worse person.

There's something about this city - maybe it's the combination of these issues, maybe it's simply true of all big conurbations, maybe it's just me - that seems to make people a little bit harder.

Now, I'm not saying all Londoners are bad people: of course not. It's just that, in my opinion anyway, you have to take on certain personality traits to get by on a daily basis. Put simply, you have to be a bit unpleasant, or at least act like it.

That doesn't mean Londoners are incapable of possessing a softer side, of being sensitive, of being compassionate.

But in this city, it's the survival of the fittest, which means sometimes, you just have to be an arse. If you're not careful, moreover, that gives way to continuous mild rage - and I think that's what's happened to me.

For example, these days, I'd think nothing of walking right through a tourist's photo. At the moment, I work near St Paul's Cathedral - if I didn't do this, I'd never get to the office.

On that note, there's also a special kind of anger reserved specifically for people with selfie sticks, who stop to take photos in the most ridiculous places. Why? Why are you taking a picture of yourself in the middle of a pedestrian crossing?

Then there's cyclists: as someone who walks as much as possible, the cyclist is often a two-wheeled harbinger of destruction, rarely stopping to allow people to cross roads, not signalling, not wearing hi-vis clothing (again, of course, not all cyclists).

I've also lost the ability to stroll, meander, amble or otherwise walk at a normal speed. Instead, I've developed what my husband calls Rage Pace - that is, walking extremely quickly to limit the amount of time spent on the street and resenting anyone who walks more slowly.

All this gives rise to something I refer to as London Face: jaw set, brow set, gaze down, because heaven forbid I smile or look someone in the eye and be branded a lunatic.

I realise I sound like a proper grump, and this is all highly subjective, but that's pretty much the point: I feel convinced it's London that's done this me.

Perhaps if you're born a Londoner or simply have a sturdier constitution than I do, it's easier to shake it off, easier to develop an armour against it, but I've never quite managed it. Maybe I'm just not tough enough.

For all its faults, though, I do love London - honestly, I do. I studied here, I started my career here, I met my husband here, I made lots of really good friends here. But if I stay any longer, I risk becoming an irretrievable misanthrope and I'd quite like to avoid that.