I was born here, in Holloway, and I grew up at the end of the Northern Line in Barnet (as in “This train terminates at High…”). Since I left home, I’ve stayed in Camden, Kings Cross and Cannon Street, but mostly in Shoreditch. When I was studying in Bristol, I’d be back here once every few weeks for the weekend, or to play midweek gigs (always on a Wednesday for some reason). So except for seven months in Asia, I can safely say I’ve lived here almost all my life.
I love London. I’m struck weekly, if not daily, with new things that show me how wonderful it is. When friends have people coming to visit, they often ask me to take them around, purely because I turn into an excitable tour guide with a mission to make everyone love the place as much as I do.
London works when you don’t see it as one city, but as a series of interconnected towns, each with its own unique character that you can dip into for whatever you’re looking for. The weather might not be excellent, but whatever you want from food, film, art, music or people, you can get it here.
I’m sure I’ll gush more about London another time, but I just wanted a little balance, because I want to go into one crippling downside. The biggest, most unavoidable, and the most boring to talk about, which is unfortunate because Londoners talk about it a lot.
London is expensive. You know this already, but you might not know what it does to the people.
It kills creativity, so the creative scene here is suffering.
The artists and musicians moving to London like they did back in the sixties now have to work ridiculous hours in jobs they despise just to live in cramped flats and travel all the way across town in their tiny amount of spare time to meet up and work on music, art, theatre or film.
Except they don’t. They are simply too tired, and too broke. So they stay in to save money, and never live enough to the inspire wonderful songs or literature like they could in the 20th Century.
I know couples who stayed in doomed, loveless relationships purely because it made the rent cheaper. It’s rubbish. But you get the point, so won’t go on. The Daily Mash is especially hilarious-yet-depressing when it comes to this kind of thing in articles likethis.
What was this about Berlin?
Well, when I was there last week, I rented a friend’s huge apartment in Kreuzberg for eight days and worked out that it cost less than what it would for three days in London. That night I went to a play translated by an old friend who moved out there a few years ago and lives a comfortable and varied life doing what she loves, working in the arts. Food is cheap. Drinks are cheaper.
I spent evenings going to the kind of bars that exist in London only for a year before someone realises they are cool, so they get bought out by investor landlords and promote them relentlessly as hotspots for cool-hunting tourists until they get crowded, overpriced and eventually die.
I was taken to clubs, the ones that open on Thursday, and close again on Tuesday so people who love music can dip in and out of the parties to hear the music they love. No need to binge-drink to pack “fun” into a four hour window. They give you little stickers to put over your phone camera so you can't take photos inside. Less free promotion for the club on Snapchat or Instagram, but people are forced to actually enjoy themselves. It’s a barely profitable model, but they don't care. It breeds a healthier attitude to drinking or drugs, and it creates probably the best club scene in the world.
The function of man is to live, not to exist
One day, like most others, I was writing in a coffee shop that welcomes pretentious writing douches like me. But on this day I met a lady, also writing. I saw a lot of her, and she reminded me just how happy, how content you can be when you’re able to live as I have always hoped to live:
Do what you love, and love what you do.
And it wasn’t just her. The whole time I was there, old friends and new friends seemed happy with their lives, relaxed and fulfilled because they were actually doing what they love.
So I arrived back into London with this in my mind, reminded on the drive in from the airport just how much beauty even Mile End Road has in the right light. I dropped my bag and went straight out. A friend was visiting from Hong Kong so we got a group together to catch up.
It was lovely to see everyone, but soon enough the conversation moved to money, and work, and tiredness, as it always does. These are smart, creative people whose jobs I didn’t even know until I saw them in London, pushing hard against the pressure and just managing to stay balanced.
It’s not the people. It's not even the place itself. It’s the work, the money, the pressure. It takes away our love of life if we let it.
So let's not let it. And even if we don't all move to Berlin, let's remember the last part of that wonderful Jack London quote:
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
PS The main photo one I dug up from my last trip a few years ago. It's me with a German jam doughnut, otherwise known as a Berliner, as a head.
PPS Get it? As in "Ich bin ein Berliner"
PPPS If you're cringing at how terrible that was, my work here is done.