…and with only a short time left in London, I happily sit here at The Victoria Pub, one of my favorite places to write, watching the misting rain cascade off the windows and think back to all the good times, bad times, and average times I’ve had over the past three years of living here. I’ve been extremely grateful for the amazing opportunity to reside in the city that Dr. Samuel Johnson quotes, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that is life.” As true as that can be and with no offense to Dr. Johnson, I’m tired of London – but not tired of life. I just believe that three years is long enough for anyone to remain in one particular place to appreciate what it’s about, embrace its culture, discover what it offers, and to feel like a local. That’s probably because I’m also a true believer that humans weren’t meant to be sedentary, but designed to be roamers, nomads, and wanderers like the wildebeests of the Serengeti – always searching for more, a higher meaning, and the unknown answers to unknown questions. Now I’m not exactly sure that wildebeests are philosophical creatures, nor am I sure they’re not, and I’ll also agree with the good doctor and say there is more in London than a person can experience in a lifetime, but I’ve realized that if I spent all my waking time exploring London, I’d never see anything else except London. And as large as the great city is at 1,600 km², I’d wager the 510,000,000 km² of land and sea the world offers is a bit more extraordinary.
So before we leave and head off elsewhere, I felt it necessary to at least embrace my time here and compile a list of my somewhat pointless thoughts of London town and what I really think of it:
Coming from a city (St. Louis, MO) with a population of 300,000+, riddled with gun violence, nearly nonexistent public transportation, highly segregated neighborhoods, and heavy on the highways and parking lots, to a city of 8.5+ million with no guns (not even the police), a public transportation system that embraces bicyclists and runners, free healthcare, and a diverse culture with over 300+ different languages spoken, was a complete culture shock that kicked me right in the crotch. And it wasn’t till after I got back up and dusted off my tiny little ego, that I began to see that there is a really big world out there – and I need to experience it sooner rather than later.
“Where’re ya from, mate?” is a question I will not miss, having been asked it nearly every day for three years because of my accent, which I don’t have. Everyone is so sure of an accent, but most people guess Canada before the US, apparently because Canadians get a little insulted if someone calls them out as a US citizen.
People not from the good ol’ USA love telling you what’s wrong with the good ol’ USA, especially our political system. Trump an’ guns an’ guns an’ Trump, is a song I know so well!
More trees means happy people, and a huge bonus in my eyes is the exceptional amount of greenspace in London and how easily accessible by public transportation it all is. This negates the need for parking lots and provides even more nature to enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites – Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, a lovely 625 acres of grassy green calm (but where every tourist goes) and home to Kensington Palace, the Peter Pan statue (seen in Hook), Serpentine Lake, and so much more. Regent’s Park is a solid 325 acres that includes the London Zoo, beautiful gardens and fountains, and is near the canals. Greenwich Park, with only 180 acres, isn’t so much about the park itself, but the huge hill with a perfect view of Canary Wharf and Queen’s House from the top. The Royal Observatory, the Prime Meridian, and the Maritime Museum make it darn cool too. Richmond Park, London’s largest park, filled with Red and Fallow deer (watch them stampede here), is so open you’ll feel as if you’re in the countryside. But my favorite park in all of London is Battersea Park – a small, un-touristy, dog-friendly park located along the river Thames next to Battersea power station with views all the way to the Shard. By far, the best around and my prime Brewster-walking spot where I’ve spent countless hours running, contemplating life, reevaluating life, coming up with ideas for writing, and just going Zen.
EVERY city needs to embrace bicycles on streets! It is NOT a fad.
Weather here is absolute shite for nine months of the year, and I’m pretty sure that most of London is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. The locals love complaining about the gray, but still choose to stay for some reason. During the non-summer months, I found myself grumpy, antsy-in-the-pantsy, and craving the sun and sea. All I could think about was being elsewhere, which is why “elsewhere” is where we’re headed because 3/4 of the year is too long to complain.
To counteract the weather is the pubs, and there are hundreds of excellent dark-wooded, plush armchair-filled holes where you can spend rainy afternoons drinking ale: The Victoria on Queenstown Road is our local, where I spend a good amount of time writing, thinking, drinking, eating, and beating Leah at Gin Rummy and ping pong. The Jerusalem Tavern is approximately a million years old with all sorts of history involving the Knights of St. John, and it serves up some amazing beer – if you can find a place to sit (so tiny). Kings Arms near Waterloo station has the best fireplace and is super cozy when not packed. And lastly, even though I worked there for over two years, Brewdog (any of them) is an excellent place to get some craft beer in London.
Someone from St. Louis asked me if I felt safe in such a big city and I responded politely with, “It’s easier to run from a knife than a bullet.”
Touristy stuff is cool. St. Louis has touristy stuff too, but not the 1000-year-old history that London offers – Tower of London, Nelson’s Column, Wellington Arch, British Museum, Shoreditch graffiti…just go online and look it all up. You’ll be amazed at how much there really is here – but I quickly found myself avoiding those areas because of…well…the tourists. Tourists suck, that’s all there is to it. It took about a year-and-a-half to become completely jaded from bumping into baseball-capped, fanny pack wearing yokels – and eventually, I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. So the question I asked myself was, why still live in London when you rarely go into London anymore?
Food! – Love me some super-authentic Indian! Pub fare – good! Fish ‘n chips – good! Sausage rolls – good! The majority of pubs and restaurants locally source their menus. Bad chemicals and unnatural ingredients do still exist, the obesity rate isn’t great, and the UK definitely has its problems when it comes to healthy eating – but every time I fly into ‘Merica, I think, “My God, there are a lot of fat people here.”
I discovered what free healthcare actually means and, having lived here for a short while, I’ve never been more ashamed of the awful capitalist insurance system that the United States forces on its citizens.
Travel, travel, travel is one of the real reasons for – and perks of – moving here. I’ve found places I never thought I’d find myself in and a few I didn’t even know existed: Malta/Gozo because of the amazing diving. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities ever. Munich’s Oktoberfest was a bucket-list priority and did not disappoint. Belgium has the best beer ever. Cornwall holds the most killer views of the Atlantic and a crab sandwich that beats any sandwich I’ve ever had! Copenhagen has Warpigs and a sweet Segway tour (enough said), and Morocco was so unique and different that I’ve never felt so happily uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone on vacation before.
Having been landlocked my whole life, large bodies of water have never been easily accessible. Since I’ve been here though, I’ve happily opened myself up to an endless amount of new hobbies like sailing, kite surfing, diving – and I’m randomly finding myself just jumping into whatever body of water will graciously take my naked body. Look out Caribbean Sea!
An overabundance of people means an overabundance of waste created. The math is simple: people equals trash, more people equals more trash, and even more people equals even more trash. When I walk through our neighborhood, I’m always disheartened at the excessive amount of filth everywhere. Obviously, rubbish is to be expected because we’re an indifferent, one-use society, but I think that living in a place where so many people can ignore the problem and simply disregard it as normal has finally dug its way under my skin and really started to bother me. The problem isn’t as bad in Central London, but the poorer boroughs are overwhelmed with overfilled bins and uncaring, inconsiderate people which, combined with the strong winds coming off the river, creates impressive trash tornadoes of chicken shop boxes, plastic bags, cider cans, puke, and an endless array of cigarette butts and dog crap. I pick up what I can in the park, but even if I were to quit my job, dedicate all my time and energy to the issue, and shout endlessly at kids to pick up their litter, it still wouldn’t be enough.
Don’t just pick up your trash, use less!
Despite the fascinating history, vast greenspaces, diverse people, ease of travel, public transportation, and everything else a great city like London provides, there’s also an overabundance of frustrating and disheartening problems like pollution, overcrowding, indifference, a dwindling exchange rate, and so much more that seem to balance out the good in it. I also find myself struggling with the idea of settling down, going after that career, and staying in a place that I find myself resenting ever so slightly. In the end, I’m happy to have spent time here, but I’ve done it and now it’s time to move on. So now, like the wildebeests of the Serengeti, I’m eager to philosophically wander around, find a new place to call home, and discover a leisurely way to explore the world and the chance to humbly embrace what it offers.