Dr Johnson Didn't Live In Tottenham

08/09/2016 13:15

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," so famously said Samuel Johnson to his friend and biographer, James Boswell. "For there is in London all that life can afford."

One can imagine the buzz of a thriving London in those days - with horse and carts clopping up and down a cobbled Fleet Street, the excitement of a nascent world-hub of printing presses and news, the exotic smells of the newly-emerging coffee establishments, the hubbub of law and justice scurrying around Temple Bar. Certainly, London was alive with the marvels of life.

"Have we done the right thing?" I ask my wife, the words of Samuel Johnson riddling me with guilt as we unpack the last of the boxes in our new home in the country.

But of course Samuel Johnson didn't live in Tottenham. Nor did he have to pay for parking. And nor, I suspect, did he have to get three kids to the swimming pool during rush hour. In fact, I bet there is a whole range of things that if Samuel Johnson had to do today he would more than likely head straight back to the peace of Staffordshire from whence he came. Because there is plenty about today's London that can make a man tired. Very quickly.

The truth is being a parent in today's London rarely - if ever - affords one the time and money to enjoy the beauties and wonders that make up the myriad of London's rich culture that Samuel Johnson could enjoy. As we rush around our daily lives, dropping the children off at school and the baby at nursery, as we squeeze into someone's armpit on the way home from work and try to get the dinner ready, as we try and get the laundry done, the garden mowed, the car repaired, the bike tyres pumped, the bills paid, the dentists booked, the homework done, the birthday party planned, the washing machine fixed, the DVLA address changed, one can barely find time to even look up what's going on in London, let alone have the energy or the money to actually go and enjoy it.

Between doing the family shop and the weekly karate club, in and amongst the washing up and getting a spare key cut so your neighbour can feed the cat when you're away, whilst trying to remember the physio appointments and parents' evenings, there comes a point where the wonders of London disappear completely. Like they don't even exist. One could be living anywhere. A sunset walk along the Thames happens about as often as a blue moon on a month of Sundays; and visiting the latest art exhibition or going to a restaurant becomes nothing but an afterthought while brushing teeth and going on a bear hunt. The theatres are expensive - so is the baby sitter, the bars are full, and the coffees in the park are overpriced. Yes, there is in London all that life can afford, but only if you can afford it. With both money and time - which few can. No, Johnson's London is out of reach for the ordinary working parent. We simply can't get there. Milling about discussing poetry and memoirs in central London is simply not on the table.

Instead, we peddle our urban hamster wheels, rat-racing the same streets, sitting in the same traffic, struggling to park; we queue and wait and queue some more as we try to get through our endless to-do lists; we walk past mattresses and fridges abandoned on the pavement for someone else to pick up; we queue for hours in the supermarkets with the rest of the neighbourhood because Saturday morning is the only time we can all do it (although it's strangely full at any time of day!). There is no respite; it is relentless. We live on the edge of tolerance and patience constantly. It's not pretty, there is no buzz. It is frantic. And exhausting. It is grey and demanding, and noisy and malodorous. There are no sounds of horses clopping along cobbled streets. No, dream on, Johnson. Afternoon tea is interjected with police sirens, helicopters, fast cars and boom boxes. The streets are filled with litter and mental health. The parks are filled with dogs' mess and cigarette butts. It's everywhere. And inescapably so.

Of course, there are wonderful places in London. I know that. But I can barely afford to even park there (if I can find a parking space, that is), let alone live there. And for those who can't afford to live in the places that make London the best city in the world, it can simply be a testing, grinding chore. I wonder if Johnson could hack it today. I wonder if he might change his tune. I wonder if he might instead suggest that a man tired of London has actually done pretty bloody well; he has done his bit and can hold his head high when he decides to leave and move somewhere with a little more calm. Somewhere with a little more green. Somewhere with a little more thinking space and a little more freedom for their children. London is a fantastic city, yes. But it is easy to get tired within it. And there is no shame in admitting that. I can't feel guilty for leaving. Nor for dragging my wife and children with me. I've done my time. London was good to me. But it is precisely because I'm not tired of life that I wanted out for a while. There's a lot more in me, I hope. And now I get to enjoy London as and when I want.