This article will kindly omit the topic of the pandemic, because enough has been said for now. Instead, let’s talk about London.
I live in London. And the title was a naughty little clickbait.
London is the 3rd largest city in Europe, not the largest, but somehow people often forget that Istanbul and Moscow, the two largest ones, are also in Europe. That aside, I love London. It’s my home, it’s my place of comfort and it’s incredibly convenient as a place to live. But as anywhere, it’s not flawless. Today, I am going to skim over the obvious issues which most people will realise the moment they set foot in the inner city, and I’ll focus on the things which you might not be familiar with.
- The quality of housing
Rows and rows of beautiful Victorian and Georgian town houses, city full of skyscrapers and the Buckingham Palace. That’s what most people picture when they think about housing in London. What most people do not picture is that classical accommodation is prohibitively expensive, most neighbourhoods are saturated by UGLY 1970s -1980s social housing and the grand majority of the beautiful townhouses have been cut up into flats. The gardens are tiny and a surprising number of homes suffers from subsidence because they don’t have foundations. AC is not a thing, you either get draughty windows or windows which don’t open, presence of mould and raising damp is commonplace and your neighbours are likely to be loud foreign twats.
However, if you have £1.2m to dispose of, a nice 3bed semi in a leafy neighbourhood is possible.
- Inadequacy of the public transport for the number of users and the span of the city
There are 9 million people living in London. Imagine meeting that in the rush hour. Although the Transport for London is quite incredible, it is also somewhat inadequate for the number of people and the sheer spread of the city. You would of course have to have a death wish to commute from Wimbledon to Upminster…but regardless of your wishes most ‘normal’ commutes are done in a less-than dignified fashion of being squeezed onto either a freezing cold or a blazing hot platform, being shoved into a tiny, dusty and stuffy tube carriage and then having to elbow your way out. Mind boggles on how Londoners actually manage to remain polite with all this.
And the busses? They’re great. In the early morning the 24h routes come with a resident homeless person who is just waking up, and in the evening with a sleuth of middle-aged suits too drunk to walk to the nearest tube. Which brings me onto the next point.
- Binge drinking culture
The real business gets done down the pub here. Also, the funny business and the no business at all get done down the pub. If you happen to be in London and you are surprised by the sheer volume of tipsy locals in the Leadenhall Market at lunchtime on a Tuesday, let it be known that the British, for the most part incredibly lovely, are in fact incredible drunkards too. Average Brit drinks an equivalent of 108 bottles of wine. Per year. But who are we kidding? Beer is the iconic drink and the average Charles (or Charlotte, for the ladies can hold their drink in the UK) drinks 427 pints of beer per year. That’s a small puddling pool, or 3 full bathtubs, if you need a visual.
And it is part of the culture. Granted, nobody will ever force you to drink (or you need new friends), but you will more likely than not be exposed to intoxicated humans in large, mostly harmless, groups.
- Inequality in access to primary healthcare
NHS is a fantastic institution. Literally a lifesaving one. But the NHS as a whole works with GPs who, in addition to being for the most part excellent medical professionals, are largely also private contractors and business people, responsible for running of their surgeries. And just as any business, the service is not uniform across the industry. Most neighbourhoods will of course have at least a couple of surgeries you can sign up to. However, surgeries, dependent on a number of factors, often operate within limited (and generally inconvenient for working patients) hours, have frequent staff shortages, have too many patients for the number of medical staff available and have limited facilities. This translates to people in some neighbourhoods needing to wait for weeks for an appointment. It also translates into some surgeries being able to provide more services directly while others needing to push the patients into hospital system for the same services (in example for minor surgery appointments). The end result is that of a vast and inconsistent landscape where everybody can access services, but it’s a lot harder for some.
- Flavourless food
London has an incredible selection of different cuisines, restaurants and dining experiences. But it also has, just as the rest of the country, bland produce. This is partly to do with the fact that most produce is shipped (unripe) from far afield into the country and partly to do with the local climate, food production methods and the general trend of supply chain being detached from produce seasonality. Sadly, this results in basic produce just being less flavourful than that produced in France or Poland or Italy. This in turn translates into to the foodies’ forever dilemma – you can import the best chefs but if the produce is bland, the dish won’t be as lively as it could be. Not all food is bland, don’t assume that. But it is fair to say that with the exception of things like fish & chips, on the whole the food just isn’t as tasty as elsewhere in Europe. It’s about double the price though, just saying.
Is London a bad place to live? No. It’s a fantastic place to live. There aren’t many places I’d willingly swap it for. It just happens to be imperfect, and that’s ok!