Doctor Johnson’s renowned proclamation in praise of London — suggesting your willingness to endure life positively correlates to your willingness to endure this city — has been playing on my mind of late. This is mainly due to a spate of friends, acquaintances – and those people you are Facebook friends with for no discernible reason and haven’t yet got around to culling – fleeing the capital and the country. From Australia to South Africa, New York to Tokyo, and all the lovely tax-free Emirates in between, this year has seen an exodus of my peers. Some have even moved to Manchester. I can’t help but wonder why all these people are so fed-up, restless and “bored” of London life.
I’ve had the pleasure of living and working abroad and so I do understand the appeal of getting your teeth well and truly into another city. I have also traveled a fair bit and love to Instagram a new skyline as much as the next Millennial. However I am still fascinated by the recent uplift in evacuation and expatriation.
When questioning people about their motivation to leave, what strikes most is their disenchantment with a place I’ve called home my entire life. Does London really no longer hold “all that life can afford”? Or is the problem that London life has become so hard to afford? You have to question a place where people think nothing of spending £7 on a bowl of porridge (26 Grains I am looking at you).
Pricey breakfast oats aside, with spiralling rents and a negligible chance of ever owning property, it seems that the draw of lower taxes and higher salaries elsewhere is a big motivator for Londoners to leave. This makes total sense. However, in my experience living in the Middle East, people soon realise that what they gain in bank balance often comes at the expense of culture, human rights and free healthcare – all items that this city of ours proudly offers its denizens.
Other respondents’ sense of languor has stemmed from love – either the desire to escape bad relationships and find new people to shower with heart-eye emojis, or to embark on an adventure with their #bae. Again, these motivations make sense. Physical distance from a painful heartache should help and lovers’ desires to cultivate their own little world are natural. In London it has become increasingly hard to meet people without the flex or flick of finger over phone screen and, when you do meet someone special, the aforementioned cost of living and cocktails means wooing becomes a serious investment decision. I would maintain that there are, however, very few other places where there are so many free and amazing date spots – from some of the best museums in the world (the Launch Pad at the Science Museum provides for hours of competitive throw-back fun) to the parks and heaths that help make the Big Smoke so wonderfully verdant.
The final trend of note in my quest to understand my friends’ yearning to be elsewhere originates from a desire to discover – despite the interconnected web the internet weaves and the sensory overload social media gives us without leaving our beds – this is probably the one I find hardest to argue against. I love to go away and always say how “nice it is to escape London”. My scratch-map of the world is a prized possession which motivates my holiday choices. Travel porn is an addiction in which I am guilty of indulging. There are however few greater joys for me than flying back in to Heathrow with the city flickering beneath the plane. I will say that out there in the jumble that is London you will find people, food and stories from every country in the world, and you can experience countless Londons simply by walking around, observing and laughing.
With the political upheaval of this summer I understand people’s dissatisfaction, but I urge people to take to the streets by foot, Boris bike, or micro-scooter if you think you can pull it off (you can’t), and fall back in love with this city of ours. All it takes is a fresh pair of eyes to help you realise all the life she has to offer – and if you do decide to leave her, may you always speak well of this magnificent metropolis.
Laura Lumley is a lawyer from London. We enjoy her writing even more than her alliterative name, profession and hometown.