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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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HomeCulture WarsWhat I miss about London – and what I definitely don’t

What I miss about London – and what I definitely don’t

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DANIEL Johnson in the Telegraph declares: ‘Benjamin Disraeli observed that London was “a nation, not a city”. Today, 150 years later, many people in Britain feel more disconnected from their own capital than they ever have. Meanwhile, Londoners live in fear that theirs is a condemned city spiralling out of control.’

He continues: ‘Residential areas are increasingly unaffordable even for the middle classes, while the office districts are being hollowed out by working from home. Up to half of private-sector employees are still coming into the office only part-time, if at all. Comparable figures are higher in the public sector.

‘As a result of this mass exodus from the inner city, whole districts remain ghost towns. Tourists who still come to London find there is less of a buzz than five years ago.’

Other problems Johnson identifies as causing the capital’s decline are the repeated marches for Palestine and the Just Stop Oil protests, both of which turn London into a no-go area for Jews in the case of the former, and everyone else in the case of the latter. The rise of working from home keeping commuters out of the city, the tourist tax and rising levels of crime all contribute to the general feeling of rot and decay.

Johnson again: ‘Yet we live in a time when the capital’s allure is being put at risk by a fatal combination of public disorder and political vandalism, urban hollowing-out and working from home, rising crime and antisocial conduct, low productivity and ruinously expensive housing and childcare.’

He concludes: ‘London seems manifestly in decline.’

Just how far has the rot set into London? Perhaps readers could share their views.

When I went into Victoria Station and the main thoroughfare last Christmas, I was shocked by how quiet it was and how many shops had closed down. The buzz of London had dimmed. This, personal reasons and some of the factors Johnson identifies are why over the summer I moved back to Ireland with the family.

Over the months I concluded that there are some very fundamental problems underlying the British and London economy. I had spent 20 years in the UK – my entire adult life. I met my husband in London and had all four children there. London and the British had been very good to me. It was not an easy decision.

But as I read and wrote more about ‘British diclinism’ one or two comments cropped up under the general title of, ‘Well then, go home.’ Which got me thinking, Ireland is an option. I don’t have to stay here. We had no immediate family here – they were in Ireland and the lack of support for the children was getting harder and harder. All the children wanted to go to Ireland.

This desire to go to Ireland was especially strong with my eldest son. We didn’t give them unpronounceable Irish names and we didn’t go on about how much better things are in Ireland (although they do have a massive budget surplus) but they enjoyed seeing their cousins every time we returned. Despite my usual media blackout, somehow the children still knew about the stabbings that happened in London and were confident that ‘this doesn’t happen in Ireland’.

Financially it made sense. Perhaps it was the box of Shreddies that pushed me over the edge, but between the interest rate hikes and the ridiculous levels of taxation, I thought I don’t really want to see my husband kill himself to cover both of those expenses and not much else.

We needed an extra room because of the slightly bonkers decision to have a fourth child and there was no way we could get that near where we lived. We would have to move out to Surrey or somewhere and then I’d have to start all over again for the third time in about ten years. So we moved home and got one in Ireland with a fourth bedroom and a study for less than what we sold the house in London for.

Do I miss London? Of course! Interestingly, although I hardly ever listened to Radio 4 in the UK, I listen to it here. It is the station in the car. I read the London Times daily. I still have coffee in Caffè Nero. Sometimes I can go through a whole week just going to Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Nero, listening to Radio 4 and reading the Times and Telegraph. I am sure a shrink would have something to say about that; perhaps a case of post-colonial inferiority complex. You decide.

Johnson is correct when he states: ‘No city in the world can compare to London, not only in the grandeur of its buildings and monuments, but in their significance as symbols of law, liberty and democracy.

‘As the centre of gravity of the English-speaking peoples, London sets an unsurpassed standard of tolerance and inclusion. There is a reason humanity still comes here, to gaze in awe at the true capital of the world.’ So British politics remains the main area of interest for me.

But it is wonderful to see my 80-year-old parents every day, and my brother, sister-in-law and the three cousins at least every week. We live near the beach and the children seem to be settling into school. After an incredibly stressful few months when I thought I would need the aforementioned shrink, we moved into the house of our dreams. We have been lucky. I might even send the youngest to an all-Irish primary school to balance out the heavy English accents of the other three.

What do I miss? First and most of all my friends and the tennis club, the scene of great victories and many laughs. The children are members of the club here but outrageously I cannot yet join. I really, really miss Waitrose and that in London you can order pretty much anything and get it the next day, or even the same day. I would say I would miss the concerts but towards the end I never got into the city to see those and they have some great classical music concerts here. 

I really, really miss the National Trust properties of Chartwell and Emmetts Garden and a few others. I miss not being able to get the Eurostar to France if I want to. You might think Ireland has plenty of woodland – this is not the case. They have plenty of farmland, there are actual cows nearby, but there is a lack of woodland. In fact there are not that many green spaces overall, whereas even deepest London is well served by parks, both large and small. 

And I miss being able to take a right-of-centre position on a matter and not be labelled instantly as ‘far-right’. 

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