london, it’s over, and it’s not me, it’s you

At what point do we say enough's enough and actually realize we'd rather live in affordable cities? Starting a new series looking at opportunities beyond the capital, we look into what drives someone out the city of their birth and all the way to...

by Sami Mikhail
26 June 2015, 3:30pm

I'm a Londoner, so much so that I pronounce it 'Landan,' and we were together for 30 years. I grew up in a council estate in Lambeth, frequently attended Arsenal games with my nan, studied at three universities in London, and almost all of my family and childhood friends still live there. I'd been with London since my birth in St. Thomas' hospital, which is right opposite the lavish palace where the elected honorable members run the country. But in 2011, I had to say 'fuck you London, our 30 year relationship is over. And for the record, it's not me, it's you.'

When I announced that London and I were parting ways, a lot of my family and friends asked me the same question: 'When are you planning on coming back?' Note, they didn't ask 'if' I was coming back. I'd always reply confidently and without hesitation: 'never.' Then they'd ask me with a truly bewildered expression: 'but can you really imagine living anywhere else?' NB: For all non-Londoners and those who are unfamiliar with our breed, we are typically so arrogant about the awesomeness of the city that we make Parisians and New Yorkers seem modest.

So why did I fall out of love with my beloved London? Because London cannot and will not give me what I want in life, as someone whose salary is only five figured. I don't think I'm asking for much; I only want a secure family home with a garden, enough money saved for a good pension, access to fresh air, and some peace and quiet. So maybe it's my fault for being too demanding?

London is, quite simply, taking the fucking piss. It is the city with the highest living costs in the developed world, but at the same time the air is so foul that just breathing in London is bad for you (the worst air in the EU, no less). That's like being recommended a restaurant where the food is expensive but really good, and the recommender also notes that the food will make you ill. Would you still eat there?

Granted, London has museums, theaters, restaurants, bars, and some other stuff that Time Out likes. But so do a lot of other places. My new hometown is Cupar, in the Kingdom of Fife (Scotland). It is much smaller and has far fewer, if any, world-renowned attractions. But we are a short train ride or drive from Edinburgh, a slightly younger and vastly more attractive city - that also has museums, theaters, restaurants, bars, and some other stuff - and we are surrounded by Scotland, an indescribably beautiful country. Living in Cupar means my partner and I have been able to get an affordable mortgage on a 3-bed bungalow with a garden and garage. All the trimmings. In London we'd be 10+ years of saving away from these sorts of dizzy heights - as two professionals in full time employment - and we'd be renting a small flat in zone 4 paying out a minimum of £1200 ($1900) pcm for a 1 bed flat, *not including bills. And we'd be the proud owners of £150 ($240) pcm travel cards. The cost of renting in London is so offensive that the Daily Mash recently ran an article entitled Londoners reveling in all the things they can't afford to do this weekend. The current mayor of London thinks rent prices of £2,800 ($4,500) pcm actually qualify as 'affordable.' I mean, seriously, that's high-quality satire.

It's not just the rental market either. I was recently charged nine bucks for two pints of ale and I took offense. I felt the need to ask the bar person a serious question: "what the fuck?" Then remembered I was in London and fleecing is the standard procedure. The London Underground advertises a seven-day service, but this is a fallacy. It is effectively out of service on weekends and bank holidays - you know, the time when you want to explore the sights and attractions of London. So I suppose you can drive instead. Oh wait, you have to pay to drive your own car, and 20p a minute to park it, forgive me, every five. So I suppose you can stay in and Photoshop yourself into pictures of the world-class London attractions. Then you can share them on Facebook and make your deprived friends who live outside of London green with envy about all the things you can do with some spare time as residents of the big smoke.

Basically, you can't start from scratch in London anymore. If you're not backed by family money or earning above the minimum threshold (a six-figure salary), then your standards have to be vastly different from mine to permanently settle in London. Because of this, London is becoming like Washington, DC in the USA, where I used to live. DC is dived with poverty at one end serving the wealth at the other, and the wealth doesn't hang around. DC is a place where people go to further their careers before moving on to settle down because it's too expensive to stay.

London has sold out to the highest bidder. This act, combined with the ongoing aggressive style of gentrification is eroding London's soul. It's a cliché, but I've only been away from the area I grew up in (SW8) for four years, and with all the 'Mayor defined affordable high-rise flats' popping up, it is virtually unrecognizable. London no longer feels like part of the UK, it feels more like a federal capital soon to be devoid of heart.

The only thing I want in life, which cannot be satisfied without London herself, is the ability to go and see Arsenal play at home without having to travel 500 miles. Then again, if I lived in London, I probably wouldn't be able to afford to go. But I don't want to end on a negative, so instead I'll end with a parting swipe towards my ex-hometown: Cupar cares more about me than you ever did, and I'm happier now.

The grass is greener on the other side.


Text Sami Mikhail
Photography Adrian Scottow

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