I’ve always had a very tumultuous relationship with London.
I have fond memories as a young child of riding the tube, fascinated by the fact that I was on an underground train or visiting the Natural History Museum with my brother, enraptured by the dinosaur skeletons. Then as a teenager going to school in Essex, I felt proud to tell people that I was from London, and indeed that fact alone made me stand out as somehow exotic or perhaps worldly. But I never really knew the city, nor had much of a connection with it.
Once I started going to university in London, I realised how little I really knew the city, but slowly (and in no small part thanks to Zab) built up a better mental map of London and all its cool, hidden spots. For a while, I was totally in love with it. I thought that I couldn’t be living in a better city on Earth.
Then I graduated and started working, experienced something you might class as a quarter life crisis and the city started to feel like a trap. Travelling by tube no longer had its childhood fascination. Indeed boarding the overcrowded underground trains each day to go work in a basement selling books felt more and more like a form of torture.
So when I became more or less nomadic in 2010, I was happy to go back to London to visit family and friends, but was so very happy not to be living there anymore. The more distance I got from London, the more I was able to see what made it an attractive place to so many to live, though I realised that’s not what I wanted for myself.
And I knew that this had been colouring all my previous visits to the city since then.
On my recent visit to London last month for work, I felt more like a foreigner than ever before. Simple things took me by surprise, like how people working at supermarket checkouts would try to have conversations with me, or the way the pedestrian crossings worked or not being able to recognise the coins immediately.
Before arriving this time, I had the intention (or at least I thought I did) to come at the city with fresh eyes, leaving my baggage from when I lived there behind in an attempt to appreciate it anew. This time, I would not be the jaded Londoner I had once been, but a lighthearted, easily charmed, attentive visitor. A tourist even.
I tried. I really did. I snapped pictures of the new skyline. I walked around Covent Garden with my mum and brother. I even went swimming in the pool at the London Aquatic Centre, built for the 2012 Olympic Games. All the while, I tried to let myself be open to the city, to give it the attention and patience I thought it was worth.
After a few days, however, I suddenly realised something: I just don’t get London anymore. I don’t buy the hype. I’m more or less done with it.
And that’s OK. I’m OK with not loving the city I come from. I can certainly appreciate that there are amazing things about it, but it’s just not the place for me anymore, if indeed it ever was.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me, and say that London is the most amazing city in the world, and that’s fine. I won’t enumerate all the things I dislike about London (and indeed there are many), I will just say this: Sorry London, I’m over you.
This was by no means my last ever visit to London. I hope to still have reasons to go back there about once a year, so it’s possible that my opinion will change with time, but right now, I’m happy with this revelation. For me, it’s a form of closure, something which I’ve probably been looking for for a while from London but didn’t fully realise till now.
For more pictures like these, check out my Instagram feed.