This is a piece I wrote about leaving London, and what’s happened since. Originally written upon arriving in Amsterdam, I reworked it for the website Honest London.
Samuel Johnson didn’t just give the English language its first dictionary – he also bestowed upon it a powerful defence of living in London: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
It’s a pithy quote with some internal symmetry, so it feels true. Plus, he was an erudite man of letters, so even when delivered by a dumb friend or a tea towel, these words seem authoritative. But Johnson’s quote is bullshit; he is wrong, dead (and) wrong. The more appropriate (and truthful) quote is “When a man is tired of London, he is tired.” Full stop.
I mean no disrespect: London is a great city. Music, literature, comedy, economics, politics, it’s always had a protagonist’s role – and nobody will ever take that away. But it’s kind of a terrible place to live. Unless you like being tired.
The three-year grind
I know because I spent three years there. And the day-to-day life – crowded, expensive, overlong commutes, social schedules that rarely mesh, lovely humans who adopt thousand-yard stares on the public street – well, I just didn’t enjoy living there nearly as much as I thought I would. Or nearly as much as I thought I did.
Because while living in London I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else – as a Canadian raised in a small Canadian town, every day felt WONDERFUL! Like I was part of an evolving history, an atom moving through – and comprising – the epicentre of a very important element.
This is such a great city, I would tell myself each morning as I rode various forms of transportation across its sprawl, jostling with thousands of other anonymous inhabitants. And again each evening I would marvel at my good fortune, as I made that journey in reverse, smushed up against thousands of other similarly deluded and repressed commuters, before going to bed exhausted at the end of the day.
Continue reading “A man gets tired of London, it happens” on Honest London