In my twenties and early thirties, London was the love of my life.
I would think nothing of schlepping from a Neil Diamond night in a pub in Bethnal Green to a Korean restaurant in Soho followed by after-beers at the Dogstar in Brixton. I’d visit art exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and watch German arthouse films at the BFI. I went to the latest pop-up restaurants in Clerkenwell and supper clubs in Hackney. I tried Michelin-starred restaurants on my London salary, and drank champagne on rooftop bars in the City.
I shared cheap flats in Clapham and Brixton, having house parties for our closest 50 friends. I spent balmy Sunday afternoons at The Landor and The Falcon; Saturday nights trying out cocktail bars and clubs in Shoreditch, or feet sticking to the carpet at Infernos.
This blog was wonderful in making me visit parks and museums, theatres and bars. I thought nothing of journeying across London, laughing on the tube with friends all the way. The journey itself was half the fun. I had the time of my life. London filled me with energy, it nourished my soul.
But then something happened. And that something is inexpertly peeing on my carpet in an attempt to potty train right now.
Yes, London with kids is another beast entirely.
Your horizons in London with small children narrow dramatically. Your world becomes a small quadrant between your house and a 20 minute radius; between naps and nappy changes and feeds and drop offs and pick ups.
You try to avoid the tube and the bus with their crowds and heat and the complexities of moving and folding a buggy with a sleeping child or worse, a screaming one. Queues for anything – refreshments, tickets, seats – can be a nightmare with a fidgety child. Suddenly you spy dangers in places you never saw it before – dogs off leads and drunks on benches and pollution on Putney high street.
Even your social life, once so buzzing and fun, seems hectic, and you no longer want to drag yourself across London to visit friends or places. You have little time to spend at home to chill and even if you did your home suddenly feels too small to hang around too long. The commute sucks the energy from you so all you can do when you get home is switch on the telly.
Your cosy London house suddenly seems small. With piles of plastic crap everywhere, and a garden the size of a postage stamp, you long for space – high ceilings and a spare bedroom and a utility room and a downstairs loo. You wish your child didn’t think plastic grass was the norm.
London suddenly seems the playground of the rich. You can’t afford a decent sized family house even though your parents did. With endless trips to coffee shops and park cafes, you find you haermorrage cash and are constantly broke. All your friends talk about how broke they are, even though they have great jobs and earn pots of cash. And yet because you are surrounded by money, it is easy to be jealous – of the large houses, private schools and long haul holidays, the Farrow & Ball lifestyles that the precious few can afford.
You try to make the most of London but a trip to the South Bank on a bank holiday drives you to despair with crowded trains and groups of tourists tripping over your buggy. You can’t find a table spare at any of the chain restaurants so you jump on the train home with a hungry child crying. You drive to Richmond Park on a sunny day and marvel at the deer, but then lose it when you spend 25 minutes trying to find a parking space. You queue 15 minutes for hot food at Kew Gardens which is cold by the time you get to the counter to pay for it. You queue so long for the dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum that you have 5 minutes to enjoy it before lunchtime. You try to go to Soho for date night but end up spending 2 hours commuting there and back with works out as an extra £80 in cabs and babysitters.
Suddenly London doesn’t fill you with energy, it sucks it away, leaving you exhausted on the sofa.
You find yourself imagining a different life.
You could sell your tiny terraced house which is pushing a million quid and buy a bloody great estate in Cornwall, or Berkshire, or Bath. You could have a stream running through it. You could have 5 bedrooms, a larder and a boot room. You could live a simple life without the weight of materialism dragging you down. You could buy chickens! Or raise rare breed goats. You could spend your days pottering in your house, or planting vegetables in your garden. You could give up your stressful job and run a book shop or re-train as a life coach.
Your children could run around the house and garden, finding endless things to do – treehouses to build, streams to dam and nooks and crannies to play hide and seek. They would grow up less sophisticated and cynical; like children should be, perhaps.
After school you could go to the beach, or watch the sun go down across the fields.Where once your soul was lifted by the party you lived, now it is lifted by the quiet and the peace and the space.
It’s a no brainer isnt it?
I would miss you, London.
I would miss the Friday nights with girlfriends having sun downers by the Thames. I would miss playdates with mummy friends at walking distance round the corner, having cups of tea and moaning about house prices and the price of living, discussing Farrow & Ball colours and extensions. I would miss impromptu BBQs in gardens so small you have to sit inside. I would miss the opportunity to have botox, laser hair removal, a blow dry and a mani/pedi within a 5 minute walk. I would miss dressing up to head to “town”. I would miss hearing every language under the sun. I would miss that feeling when you walk into a bar or restaurant and think damn this is so cool. I would miss being able to wear anything I liked, however mad or trendy. I would miss the West end theatre, the world class restaurants and museums, even though I rarely go.
I would miss the buzz and the stress and the fun. I may have fallen out of love with London but I’m just not sure I’m ready to walk away just yet.