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.