Most Londoners have probably done it: in a moment of weakness, prompted by contemplation of the royal ransoms their accommodation is costing them, fired up a property website and considered their options. If you are a Londoner reading this, you have nigh doubtless uttered that strange, strangled shriek, halfway between laughter and tears, occasioned by the realisation that for the price of your hovel in suburb described by hopeful estate agents as “up and coming”, you could be living almost anywhere else in Britain, in lodgings that offer more room for the servants to hang their waistcoats than you currently have for your entire life.
A recent slew of articles – well, three or four, so if not technically a slew, then certainly sufficiently numerous to justify this sort of contrarian hot take – attests that literally several Londoners have succumbed to the temptation of the relative bargain of almost everywhere else, and scarpered.
You may be familiar with the template of such jeremiads: observation that London is expensive; observation that London is consequently being overrun by moneyed yahoos; complaint about gentrification laced with barely concealed guilt that the author has spent rather more time in his local since it was converted from a dismal pub with the St George’s Cross hanging in oft-broken windows to an artisanal quince bar with a bearded DJ; complaint about crowds carefully constructed to avoid noting that many of the people in those crowds appear to be foreign; gloating that where they live now they can see trees and cows; wry smirk to the effect that Samuel Johnson wasn’t right about everything, etc; invoice attached.
The easy thing for the composer of the antagonistic rebuttal at this point would be to deride these deserters as lightweights and milquetoasts who had indeed best excuse themselves from the kitchen if they find the heat unduly testing.
That would, however, be just plain mean. People forging a new life should generally be wished luck with it – an added advantage of which is that it will vex them with uncertainty about whether or not they’re being patronised.
It would also be just plain wrong. Londoners who leave London are doing their small bit towards undoing the over-centralisation of British life in the nation’s capital, which is of course the main reason that London has become so expensive and crowded that they’re leaving.
This Londoner, however, has no immediate plans to join them, however much of the removal men’s bill might be offset by cranking out a why-I’m-leaving-London op-ed.
It is obviously the case that London is expensive, and difficult. It is also the case that there are reasons for this – principally that many people want to live here because it’s an unusually interesting city, the centre of uncountable professional and cultural worlds, offering unrivalled bounties of opportunity and entertainment.
I was born in Australia, a country which has less wrong with it than anywhere else I know of, but I’ve spent my adult life to date in London, because it’s the largest single gathering of fascinating and amusing people anywhere, all of them defined and indeed distinguished by the choice they’ve made to be Londoners.
And if there is one thing that unites this diverse crew, it is surely the bemusement that descends upon spending longer than about 72 hours anywhere else, to the effect of “This is nice, I suppose. What the tap-dancing heck do these people do all day?”
But there’s something else going on with rueful valedictions such as those which have incited this scorching riposte. Underpinning every one of these farewells from citizens who’ve handed in their Oyster cards is an unmistakable suggestion that London will be sorry; that the nasty, grasping metropolis must mend its ways, lest the exodus accelerate.
Pshaw. Furthermore, hooey. If and when I ever up my sticks, London won’t care in the slightest, and nor should it.