Illustration by Nancy Edwards © http://www.nancyedwards.co.uk
A friend and I killed time in an anonymous City of London Irish pub before going to Soho Theatre. He's from the south of Manchester, I from the south of England - two home grown imports finding themselves in the heart of the city - and apparently - the heart of Britain. An excitable Italian group of tourists were saying how wonderful the Irish barwoman's accent sounded: it was the first time they heard "it in the flesh". A young couple sat by the window, exchanging laughter and anecdotes about their university days and mutual friends who made dubious life decisions. An older married couple sat opposite us and looked around: there was no need to speak, they were taking everything in, and enjoying what the capitol had to offer. To everyone that doesn't live here, London is iconic, thrilling, and exciting. But for us both, somewhat dishevelled and quite possibly hungover, it was all pretty mundane. The scene around us could be happening anywhere in London. It's part and parcel. It wasn't until I brought up the topic of London to my friend that we started thinking: why exactly, do we put up with living here?
As city natives, we're used to an unhealthy mix of stress and mundanity on a daily basis. We've built an immunity to happiness: but this is probably due to the fact we've realised the lengths we have to go to to pay our monthly rent, which must be paid on top of bills, on top of living costs: food, water, transport. It's not surprising that the wonder automatically gets sucked out of everything. How can we truly enjoy ourselves when we're breaking our backs under the financial pressure of just trying to exist in this small space? The fact that we have to use up all our energy working a mediocre 9-5 to keep ourselves in the rat race we knowingly won't win isn't the most inspiring sentiment - but we're still slaves to the wage - and we're conscious of it.
So why do we stay? It's not for the overfull, overpriced, Draconian methods of transport. It's not for extortionate price of living: sure, you may have enough money to rent a pokey flat, but forget the idea of one day you may own it. And it's definitely not because London is the only city on Earth: there's a whole world out there if you don't mind not using your Oyster card. Instead we stay for the idea of what London is, and for what it can provide. It's a place where you can get on a bus and go see a new exhibition up the road. Or somewhere where you could be impulsive and put your teenage years to shame. It's where you could meet the absolute love of your life if you're into that kind of thing. Although half the time we'll spend our free time in bed or on the sofa scrolling through Facebook and not actually doing these things, it's the idea that we COULD do anything we want. Even if right now, we can't be bothered. It's there if we want to take it - it's all about opportunity. If we lived somewhere nice (affordable, green, spacious) we wouldn't have that opportunity - instead we would stagnate in picturesque surroundings.
Let's see how long we can convince ourselves that we're making the right decision by staying in London before we're all priced out: and then we won't even have the choice of staying - we'll be forced to leave.