A Break Up Letter to London
Oh London, we fell in love too quick. It was a full, brimming, traveller’s love – one that makes you forget all else.
Then it wasn’t.
Maybe it was my youth. Never before had I seen a city so dynamic, so vibrant… so, err… big? London, you were to be my all.
I returned after our brief affair, ready to flood your streets with rapids of adoration. But you were not ready for the commitment I itched for.
A bittersweet realisation? No, just bitter. Here I am living within the M25, baffled and a little embarrassed.
Your iciness bruised my ego while your swift pace ripped out my heart, crumbled it and shoved it back into my chest. I am weepy whenever I recall how quickly I fell for you, but I’ve learned more through your cold shoulder.
Nevertheless, I wanted to write to you – to the parts that make up your whole.
London, this is my break-up letter.
First, to your iconic skyline: a cluster of gherkins, history and roofs slanting the wrong way. I thank your spew of a cityscape, as it guides me home on nights when a powerless phone renders one directionless.
London, musings on you must include a nod to the tube that worms through. I would say snakes, if only it operated so smooth. Still, I thank TfL for keeping me moving knowing I’ll get to my destination… eventually. Except if there’s a strike, in which any hope should be left at the gap commuters are repeatedly told to mind.
I must also thank you, tube, for giving me a taste of true claustrophobia on my maiden rush hour trip. You’ve taught us commuters how to scale breathing back to the minimum to avoid inhaling the offensive vapours that drench your carriages during peak hours. A skill fundamental to city living.
To your streets, sporadically cobbled. Down is the only direction to look if one wants to avoid a collision with the ground. An audience of unsympathetic Londoners will only hurry past, leaving you flat-faced in shame.
Now London, let’s meditate on your affordableness. I write affordableness even though it’s not a word, because its concept – and any variations thereof – don’t exist within you.
To your escalators, I’m grateful for the strict etiquette that accompanies your use. Except when one winds up walking in the fast lane with no option but pretend they did indeed choose to hurry up a functional escalator.
However, London, even you must consider your “order” nonsensical. A country that drives on the left and overtakes on the right should logically do the same on all walkways, moving or not. It is your fault, escalators, that static areas of human traffic are such warzones.
Speaking of human traffic, your footpaths are not wide enough. I now know never to stop abruptly, regardless of the situation. Sudden strangulated hernia? Keep walking until your organs spurt out a la Alien. Any less reason for stopping is not enough. Your high streets, Oxford and Regent in particular, are quite the fantasy-fulfillers. Never did I think I could act out my zombie-movie imaginings in non-LARPING situations.
Thinking about crowds leads me to reflect on the controversy that is Primark. It is an ethereal dimension where children scream, bodies of husbands fill the floor and hangers pile to knees as you swim through racks trying to find the perfect pattern. You end up paying more than £1 for socks – you purchase them with the currency of self-respect.
Now London, it’s time to address your vehicular traffic.
Firstly to your “pedestrian” crossings – thank you for having countdown timers so we know how fast to run. The meek shall inherit the earth, but the brave will get to work one minute faster.
In regards to your cyclists, please train them better. They rarely obey traffic signals and have no hesitation to mow walkers down while trying to catch the green man on his last sly blinks.
Speaking of “road rules”, please remind your drivers how to use an indicator. Also, tell your cabbies that the middle of the road is not a designated pick up zone. Despite these shortcomings, your bus network is an unexpected blessing of top-level front seats and (mostly) accurate arrival times. Sydney buses have much to learn.
Transportation grievances aside, your independent coffee shops are sickeningly hygge places to feel sophisticated while pwning nerds on Reddit. Brick walls, Ethiopian beans, ambient lighting and Aussie staff are all you need to lure the glasses-clad Apple Mac Squad in to guzzle flat whites and Wi-Fi. Notwithstanding the pervasive presences of Starbucks and Costa, your café scene is beanin’ good.
Now we must talk weather. On one hand it’s taught me never to get too attached to an umbrella, and to not expect a functional one for less than five pounds. But I have complaints re: winter, as many afternoons spook my iPhone – who refuses to reach full potential below ten degrees – into hibernation, leaving me stranded, naked and afraid. Perhaps not naked, but definitely afraid, and most horrifically without the reassuring sounds of RL Grime.
London, you must be praised for gifting newcomers with intellectual awakenings. Your cinemas have stirred my inner film critic, as at £12 plus per ticket I’ve cracked down on what movies matter most. You’ve created a ruthless cinephile.
Now let’s talk nature. I know you might brag about the cleanliness of the Thames, but all it does is demonstrate how all rivers will look when Donald Trump screws up any chance of slowing down pollution and climate change. Yet your parks are admittedly well maintained, and seeing rogue deer in Richmond is a guaranteed antidote to city-living blues.
To the West End, it’s disappointing that minimum wage kids struggle to enjoy you. The day I can buy a full-price, not-last-minute ticket to a show will be the day I’ve made it as a Londoner.
With the main London Life Lows (LLLs) aside, there are some things you deserve to be appreciated for. I don’t want to inflate your ego too much, but this may get gooey as we reminisce on your better qualities.
To east London, my new home. Ugly on the outside, sure, but your literal and figurative underground establishments make way for memorable occasions any night of the week. Extra kudos to Shoreditch’s omnipresent haze of marijuana, keeping us loopy enough to forget how much rent costs.
London, your multi-cultured inhabitants deserve congratulations for diversifying the city. A rising tide of foreign cuisine is a force of good, and living in a place where “thin, tan, blonde” isn’t the only standard for beauty is beneficial for one’s mental health.
To your off-licenses – thanks for letting us purchase cheap alcohol at any time of day. I’m surprised I’m not yet alcoholic when K cider costs £1/can.
In my humble opinion, it is not rational to have three chicken shops on every street, but thank you anyway. Never did I expect to become a regular at Dallas Fried Chicken.
To the gentlemen and women of Kensington and Notting Hill reeking of caviar and cash, thank you for not scorning this hung-over mess as it wanders down the street on early mornings. You partied once, too.
Re: your brunch menus – they’re not as good as Australia’s, but the effort is appreciated. Not your fault you can’t grow avocados here, but I have strong feelings concerning the flabby nature of your bacon. Fix it or at least stop labelling ham as such.
To your latitude, thank you for reminding us to appreciate the sun while it shines. Never again will I take Australia’s laughably glorious climate for granted.
Now to your pubs. From the Angel and Crown, where women with more toes than teeth play pool at 11:00am, to, I don’t know, some spruced up hunk of timber with ‘Shakespeare in the title and £8 pints. Thank you for hosting cheeky bants, even if the pub quiz is always rigged against my team, Les Quizerables.
To your markets, thank you for being festive enough to make being away from home during December bearable. Alcohol deserves to be mulled every month of the year.
Finally, to your tourists. Thank you for reminding residents that we live somewhere desirable, even if we struggle to see it through the smog.
Cheers London, for teaching me to rely on only myself whilst navigating life within your borders.
But you know what? I take it all back.
Acknowledging flaws is what lovers do. You’ve benefitted me, and beneath your pandemonium is something extraordinary. I fell in love too quick, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a relationship worth pursuing.
London, forget what I wrote. I love you.
Cover by Joshua Jackson