LONDON – You love it or hate it, or both

Jun 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Readers Contributions

London. The streets are paved in gold. It’s the place where everyone who is anyone comes. It’s the city that never sleeps. It’s where the rich and famous play, right? Well, er, kind of…

I moved to London just over a year ago from Vancouver, Canada – arguably one of the most clean, healthy and stunning cities in the world – and was soon brought down to earth once i exchanged all my savings for the keys to my new abode – a charming little dungeon-flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Once i came to terms with the fact that i now officially paid nearly three times more for my underground digs than i did for my harbour-side, luxury apartment in Vancouver (and was sharing with far more things – a crazy, noctural flatmate burrowed alongside copious amounts of woodlice, ants and spiders), i decided to familiarise myself with all the joys that West London had to offer. I soon found out that these delights included a lot of chewing gum, dog mess, litter, complemented by groups of young guys in hoodies with dangerous looking dogs sans leads. Quite intimidating at the best of times. And my hopes of making random acquaintances were dashed from day one when a woman behind me trod o!
n my ankle when trying to skip the line for the tube and gave me that ‘i wish you didn’t exist’ look that soon had me apologising profusely.

Fast forward 15 months and i’m actually learning to say the word ‘home’ when referring to London, something that i never thought would be possible. I am still working on my dirty looks and ruthless approach to commuting – indeed, i still focus a lot of my energy each day on avoiding scary looking dogs and their deposits (not to mention the owners and theirs) but i’ve learnt that the charm of the city really lies in the hidden gems that aren’t always obvious at first. It’s the little cafe around the corner that serves an amazing breakfast on a Sunday morning or the delicatessan a short bus trip away that gives you the best tasting cheese and olives. It’s the fresh produce from the markets or the smell of the cut grass in Holland Park that reminds you why you apologise to rude people every morning when fighting for the last seat. Within minutes (well, subject to TFL not scheduling one of its many planned engineering works) you’re in a different world, whether it be chilling ou!
t hippy-style in Camden, sipping tea at the Ritz, walking down by the water at Embankment or pretending to be all business-like and important at Canary Wharf, London really does have something for everyone – residents and tourists alike.

I’m still not sure that i’ll stay here forever but i don’t think that matters. In fact, London is all about being transient, being adaptable and being willing to accept. The annoyances i experienced in my first few weeks have, in an odd way, become comforts. I get a wave each day from the guy at the corner shop, a wink every evening from the chip shop owner and i’d be lost if i ever had to not cross the road to avoid the dog at number three. All these things have become part of my London experience and one, i have to admit, i would actually miss if i had to leave. That greener grass is always looming but, for now, i’m happy to avoid the cracks, and the chewing gum.

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  1. I am always unable to resist a wry smile when reading about the experiences of newcomers to this city. London can be a stranger and a friend depending on which of her many moods she decides to show you. Just like Mary from the nursery rhyme, London can be quite contrary.

    I am now in that unlikely minority of people who can say that they are London born and bred and as such I find myself performing a constant balancing act on the see-saw of love and hate for the city I have grown up in. Yes, there have been times when the temptation to just throw in the towel and quit these mean streets has been almost overwhelming and yet I am repeatedly drawn back into the fold by a new experience, or the memory of one that forces a smile or even full blown laughter, often whilst on the tube to the disapproving glances of my fellow passengers!

    London’s image has suffered of late. Violent crime has dominated the headlines of our newspapers and the shadow of recession is a hovering presence. Having lived in London through the last couple economic downturns I know that it is a case of “swings and roundabouts” and that calm always follows a storm as well as preceding one. In my experience creativity flourishes in this city especially in hard times. During the recession of the early nineties I attended some of the best parties and events of my life and met some of the most diverse and interesting people that anyone is ever likely to meet anywhere in the world.

    It is easy to empathise with those that arrive from foreign shores only to find that London does not fit into the descriptive clothes given to her by traditional tourist brochures and picture-perfect postcards. More quirky than quaint, London will always suit those who prefer to dress down rather than up. Like many of the great old cities of the world there is so much more to London than the grand facade that meets the eye of the weekend tourist. There is a back door to another side of her that may lead to a life – long love affair, albeit a torrid one! However, she will not tell you where it is – you have to find it for yourself. If you are a budding Indiana Jones this could be the lost city you were looking for.

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