My friend Emma mentioned on the young person’s Twitter yesterday that she’d now lived in London longer than she’d lived in her home town. I had that sort of realisation a couple of years ago about Nottingham, and it’s a strange sensation. Do you now belong in this place, rather than that? Why do you continue to go back to that place, when this is now really your home? Well, there are loads of answers to that one, of course…
Like many people I know who either resisted or rejected the lure of London in their early 20s, I have a strange relationship with the place. I both love and loathe London. It can be thrilling, exciting, romantic and just about the best place in the world if you’ve got a few quid and hours to spare.
However, it’s also filthy, anarchic, lonely and displays more than any other place I’ve been (apart from Paris, perhaps) the vivid, cruel differences between rich and poor.
When you’re from the north of England and you’re young, London may as well be on the other side of the world. And when you go there the first time, it really does feel like you’re going on holiday to somewhere wild and exotic. That feeling never really goes away, no matter how many times you visit the place.
But going back home is better. The warm, rich northern accents at St Pancras are the first sign that, in a few hours, you’ll be back to normality – away from the maddening rush and almost surreal London atmosphere. And as the train heaves on through north London and you only have the “delights” of Bedfordshire to look at, well, you don’t really mind that much, because it’s over with. You’ve seen your mates, you’ve been to the gig, you’ve spent nearly four quid on a pint of bitter that tastes like soapy water, and now you long for the more gentle confines of normality again.
I understand completely why people fall in love with London. I like to fall in love with it for 24 hours about three or four times a year. I also understand why people call it the greatest city on earth. It can feel like that when you have some money, and you’re strolling through the streets with your friends to London Popfest, or to some out of the way pub that they’ve found, where you can sit all night and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Or when you follow your team down to London and you have this ridiculous sense of belonging to the black and white – a tiny team from a small town in the north, and you’re there representing them in one of the biggest cities on earth. How does that happen?
But going home is the best bit. There’s a lot to be said for falling off the train, taking a midnight taxi and walking down anonymous streets until you see you house in the distance. And then you think: “Blimey, I was in London three hours ago.” And that never fails to amaze me. Simple things.