london, it’s not over! i still believe…
"Hopefully one day I'll be proof that you can start from scratch in this city."
In response to Sami Mikhail's london, it's over, and it's not me, it's you...
Unless you count the last few months, I am not a Londoner. I was not born here, I have never been educated here and it's only now, after three years of libraries, having my bike nicked and being banned from walking on most forms of grass, that I've started to work here. After twenty-one years, my roots are entrenched deep in the soil of the West-Country, almost as geographically and anthropologically far from London as it's possible to get. And still, earlier this year I decided to relocate to a city everybody else is apparently leaving like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
At least I tried to. I thought I'd be part of the annual exodus of graduates who descend starry-eyed on the capital, shack up in up-and-coming parts of North London and spend their evenings partying at pretentious rooftop bars before their mortar boards have even hit the ground. However, after less than two minutes browsing 'spareroom.com', I realized London really is as frighteningly expensive as everyone says it is and instead I've wound up living out of a suitcase, sofa-surfing my way around the flats and apartments of the few friends I have that can actually afford to rent. And yes, most of them do work in finance.
So why do I put up with this shit? Why do I wake up at six am and fight through an overcrowded tube station, only to spend my day slaving through yet another unpaid internship, to then fight my way back, sometime after midnight, to somebody else's home where, let's face it, I've probably outstayed my welcome. Why have I chosen this lifestyle in London when I like to think I could probably have a job, a flat or at least a relatively normal sleeping arrangement in any other UK town or city?
Unlike my lifestyle, the answer is simple: I am in love with London, and we're still very much in the honeymoon period. It is the creative epicenter of the universe and it makes me feel as if I have the world at my fingertips-- even if I don't have a five-figure salary. It has art in abundance with world-class galleries and countless spontaneous exhibitions and 'happenings' like Doug Aitken's Station to Station, all offering free entry. And for me personally, as an aspiring writer, it's also home to the press.
Most of all, London has an ability to inspire more than any other city on Earth. When George Orwell needed material for The Spike, his first published essay in 1931, did he stay in the comfort of his parents' home in Suffolk? Like hell. He went on "tramping expeditions" around the capital instead, finding sufficient material for the essay and Down and Out in Paris and London in which Bozo, a London-based stargazing tramp and pavement artist, tells the narrator: "You can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, 'I'm a free man in here'", before wisely tapping his forehead.
Of course Virginia Woolf didn't share Bozo's poverty but she certainly shared his sentiment, often seeking solace not in the peace and tranquility of her home in Sussex, but by wandering London's streets. She doesn't condemn the commercialism and corporate industry that drive the city, but in her essay Street Haunting: A London Adventure, she admires them. She even immortalizes the pastime of window-shopping, observing "the tide of trade which deposits its burden so punctually and prosaically upon the shores of Oxford Street".
It is this indescribable creative high London induces that makes it so seductive. As well as the countless lawyers, bankers and management consultants, I've been joined on my migration to the Big Smoke by two actors, a comedian, an artist and a handful of fashion designers. All of us are 'struggling' but none of us resent spending our evenings, not at showy skygardens, but apologizing to bartenders as we scrape together enough loose change for another bottle of house white.
Do we give a damn that our living standards aren't what we might enjoy elsewhere? Of course not; we're not flies, swarming around a rotting carcass that has nothing left to offer. We live in London, a city that unveils a new quirk or characteristic every day and the city needs us. If we leave, who's going to be left to protest when the powers that be try to replace age-old London institutions with more high-rise apartments? Who's going to be left to make sure that London doesn't just become a city built on... well… The City?
Besides, London forces us to be creative, but in a nice way. Okay, we didn't get tickets to go see Taylor Swift, yes, a West End musical costs us a week's wages and no, none of us want to face the snooty glare of the scarily tall pretty door-girls at London's top nightclubs when they tell us that we're not on the guestlist. So we go see the bands at the Kopparberg Urban Forest in Hackney Wick, or immersive theater shows like The Heartbreak Hotel in Greenwich, or we find places where we can drink and dance without standing on a Z-list celebrity's toes and we have a bloody brilliant time.
Admittedly, unlike friends in Manchester or Birmingham, I don't have a job or a flat and I can barely afford to buy a round of drinks and, granted, that annoys me. But if I lived anywhere else I'd be in a job I didn't want, in a place paid for by the job I didn't want, probably buying more rounds of drinks to drown my sorrows and wondering what if.
Hopefully one day I'll be proof that you can start from scratch in this city.
Text Morwenna Jones