We are finally back in London – after nearly four months of the journey. It’s not yet quite the end, but we allow ourselves a few days of rest before the very final stage.
I’m not sure what to write about London here. We’ve lived here for over six years, and still are far from discovering all its secrets. It’s noisy, crowded, expensive; we love it here.
For us, coming back to London is all about the food. So we visit all our favourite markets, cafes and restaurants – and there’s enough of it to last us the better part of the week. Having lived, earned and commuted here for so long, it was easy to forget how expensive the city is. Yes, we’ve been told that by everyone, but we had no frame of reference; returning from months spent in rural England, impoverished Wales and half-empty Scotland, we’re in for a shock. You can easily spend in a day what would last you a week elsewhere – not even knowing on what. And we’re supposed to be the reasonable ones…
The weather is perfect, and from what we hear from the locals, it’s been like this all summer. But it’s muggy, the air has that unmistakable clinginess of a great city; dust, smog and humidity cover the hair and skin with a thin film almost from the moment you step outside. That’s one thing I haven’t been missing about London. The other is commuting.
It takes us a few days to get used to the crowd and the noise, and stop getting overwhelmed by the Tube. It’ true what everyone said; London’s crowds are incomparable to anything we’ve encountered. Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle – all pale to insignificance next to mid-week afternoon on Oxford Street. It’s getting harder and harder to remember the silence of Mull, the emptiness of Sutherland.
But once we get back to the ever-pulsating rhythm of the city, it becomes our second nature; it’s inspiring, it’s vibrant, it’s thriving. The crisis, even though caused by the City, seems to have bypassed it altogether. There are new shops and cafes at every corner, even in our little old Wallington; new skyscrapers, new apartment blocks, new estates. Everything is bustling with activity. Suddenly I feel like writing again, feel like trying new things.
And the food! I had waxed at length about the produce of England, about the fish of Scotland, about the milks and ciders and creams and fruit… but London is, still, in a league of its own when it comes to making good food. This is where everything is happening – even if the pies for the Pie Minister stand come from Bristol, and the salmon for the Hansen&Lydersen comes from the Faeroes, this is where everything comes together perfectly.
The people… whatever you may think of the Londoners, the people we know and meet here are just the best. We’ve been away for four months, but once we’re back, everyone recognizes us and greets us like old friends; it’s as if we’re back to our home village, not a 10 million strong city. That’s just quality you can’t beat.
I try not to think of the money, but it’s not easy – we’re over budget as it is, and staying in London is like having a hose connected straight to your bank account instead of a wallet; it’s easy to see how living here distorts the perspective, whether you’re a simple middle-class worker, a businessman or a politician. What’s happening here seems to have almost nothing to do with the rest of the country. It’s an island on an island, as remote from its nearest neighbours metaphorically, as Shetlands or Hebrides are literally. This can’t end well, I’m sure.
There are a few other places in the world we could live, but less than a handful compares to London, and most of them are in Japan, which is rather more difficult to pull off. I have no doubt we’ll be back soon – and not just because we need the car to go through the MOT next year 😉 Besides, we now both have British passports, and that’s quite an obligation. For practical reasons, we must be off this time; but we won’t manage to stay away for too long.
On day two we move to another campsite, this time on the northern side of London, in the Lee Valley, between the river and the leisure centre; we remain here for the rest of our London stay. It’s a lot cheaper than the last one – £20 per night – but a bit farther away; it’s an hour’s commute to the city (there’s a bus stop just by the gate). But at least this one has some free slots, although it fills up by weekend.
The facilities are rather spartan, and could use a lot of improvement, but at least the washing machines are decent. The shop is open till late, selling all sorts of items useful for London, like travel cards.