The most common word to describe London is ‘busy’, followed shortly behind by ‘exhausting’ and ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life’. Ok that last one isn’t one word, but just go with me here. Living in London you are never still; just to get to work is a mammoth task of energy, people and exhaustion. Annual leave and cheap travel discounts mean that most people have their lives planned out for the next few months. Actually that’s not quite the whole truth, we have the lily pads planned out and us over-saturated Londoners just leapfrog between them.
It’s the most extreme form of living for the weekend, we live for milestones. Those moments of excitement, calm or celebration that give us markers in our lives. We are not kids any more, getting excited to finally reach double digits. We have to create our own markers of success. So we plan trips to Iceland to see harsh magical landscapes that our parents wouldn’t have imagined. We book the Harry Potter play 12 months out because it’s A THING that can’t be missed. We escape to somewhere warm, just to have light at the end of the tunnel that is winter – a modern day winter solstice.
Those experiences are amazing. They might even be life changing. After all once you’ve drunk ouzo on a beach in Crete it’s pretty easy to imagine you could do anything with your life. Although shortly after having that epiphany you will get into a fight with the sea, call it a fucking bastard and then throw up on your shoes. Sorry I got side-tracked a little there; fucking salty bastard.
While amazing, fun and drunkenly life changing those milestone lily pads are not life, life is what happens when you are making plans. Life is feeling incredible because you have finally figured out the changes at Bank Station (it’s my new superpower, I’m waiting for Marvel to make a movie about it). Life is feeling hopeless when friends are hurting and you can’t do a thing to help. Life is feeling so stuck in your career that you want to scream. Life is those insignificant middle bits, the bits that will never make it onto Instagram.
All those emotions. All the little frustrating, hard, sad, happy and beautiful bits of life shape you and make you who you are, who you might be and who you will be. I don’t know many people who have gone on a trip or to a festival and had such a life changing experience that it shapes their future. I do however know a lot of people for who the frustrations of life (or sometimes the joys) have been a catalyst for some of the bravest choices they will ever have to make.
Once you hit your mid-twenties the changes to who you are become more subtle. Change happens like dominos, each one insignificant but the whole forming a pattern that you can’t help but act on. I guess the most stereotypical example in London are people who end up going home because of the weather, the commute and the expensive flats. None so huge that they can’t be overcome, but all together are enough to make you move to the other side of the world.
I think this is why I struggle so much when people ask me (often with genuine shock or confusion) why I am living in London? I mean I just love London so much, but why? How do you tell someone that you like the bits in between the lily pads, you love the brunch and wine with friends, the subtle changes in weather that can be talked about for hours, getting mocked at work for saying pants in the wrong context, the BBC shows, the monuments and famous buildings everywhere, the art that I never see, the love for the chaos, the connection, the life I have built all by myself. How do you say all that without people thinking you are mad?
So instead we talk about the lily pads. We talk about the travel, the festivals, the shows and the plans. We talk in milestones because we think that is what other people will be able to understand. Of course this is nonsense, we all have our own little lives full of joy and pain. We are all growing and changing between our life milestones. We all find it too hard to talk about and define until a catalyst make us reflect and change. And then, maybe then we can say ‘I did this for a reason’, and ‘I know who I am’. And of course, if all else fails, you can always tell the lily pad story about getting into a fist fight with the Aegean Sea.