What I Do and Don’t Miss About Living in London
It’s been almost two years now since I moved from London to Melbourne, which boggles the mind a fair bit.
To be honest, I was filled with a fair sense of trepidation when leaving the UK. After over two years, I’d carved out a life there I was pretty satisfied with.
I had a well-paid job, a good social circle, a fun relationship, and had found a yoga studio and gym to frequent (perhaps not frequently enough, however!). I loved my London hood (Lewisham 4 life), was travelling often in both the UK and abroad and trying new things all the time. Life was pretty good.
Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about home and in the end, decided to go back for a year, just to see how I felt. And heck, I decided I may as well go one step further and move to Melbourne, rather than my hometown of Sydney, where I’d been living before I left Australia.
Fast forward 24 months and I’m more in love with Melbourne and my life here than I could have imagined. I have all the things I had in London but more importantly, I have balance.
That being said, I do still have moments where I miss the UK with a burning passion and I wonder how life would have turned out if I were still there.
I’m always in the mood for a bit of reflection (and am admittedly currently trying to avoid cleaning my bathroom), so I thought I’d look back and pen a few posts about life over the last two years – starting with what I miss the most about living in the UK (and what I most certainly do not miss one bit).
Fried chicken and trash TV
Maybe this shouldn’t be at the top of my list, but there you are.
No one does trashy TV like the British. Australia tries, but just doesn’t quite meet the mark. The sheer amount of entertaining crap that was on offer was staggering – from BBC docos and dramas, to gameshows like Pointless (I hold this so sacred that I refuse to watch the new Aussie version) and Eggheads, plus all the reality TV you could ever hope and dream of.
My favourites were always the dating and wedding shows, particularly ‘First Dates UK’, ‘Four Weddings’ (ONLY IF NARRATED BY ALAN CARR) and for a spell, ‘Naked Attraction’ – where contestants picked out a compatible partner based on their uncensored body parts, NEW LOW FOR HUMANITY. You only need to watch one episode thankfully, otherwise it gets a bit samey, same.
If I got home late from work, I would usually head straight to my local Morleys, order a three quid box of fried chicken, chips and soft drink and take them home, to consume in front of the telly box. No wonder I gained fifteen kilos and needed fillings upon my return to Oz.
This is undoubtably the biggest drawcard of life in London, at least as an Aussie. Suddenly, you’re living smack bang in the centre of the world and you can easily and affordably travel to just about anywhere you wish.
While it was exhausting and I spent a heck ton of money doing it, I’ll never regret the travel I did whilst living there (although I was happy to limit the amount I got out and about on my return home).
The public transport
I need to preface this by saying transport in the UK isn’t perfect.
I’ve had fun incidents where I’ve been stuck on the Tube jammed under someone’s elbow for prolonged periods of time. My borough was serviced by Southern, so most mornings consisted of walking the eight minutes to the station to find the train had been cancelled in between me leaving my house and arriving there. I’d rather walk 10km’s than catch certain Tube lines in the summer – the heat sure does put the ‘bake’ in Bakerloo.
You have to sell a kidney to be able to afford to take the trains outside of London (worst I saw was 150 quid for a round trip to Newcastle – I travel the same distance for five dollars at home). And I couldn’t help but feel more than mildly frustrated when the trains were delayed for reasons such as “leaves on the tracks” in autumn, or due to the “sun shining too brightly in driver’s eyes”. I wish I were making that last bit up, but every word is true.
However, public transport in the UK is still vastly superior to that in Australia, by a long shot.
Sydney’s is laughable – the colloquial name for the train service ‘Cityrail’ is ‘Shittyrail’. Melbourne probably provides the best service the country. I moved there thinking I could get around without a car and was quickly proved wrong. Well, I can, although my personal sanity is the price I pay in return.
If you miss a train, you’re often left waiting for twenty to forty minutes for the next one, rather than the ten to fifteen in London (or, 3 to 7 mins if you’re catching the Tube). The buses in Melbourne don’t seem to understand what a ‘timetable’ is. The trams are okay, but they frustrate me as a driver and I always feel like throwing up when I’m on one, so I’m holding that against them, too.
I’m resigned to a life of never getting to my chosen destination on time, rather than it happening on the odd occasion in London (except when Southern were landed with task of getting me from point A to B).
As a history nut, I was delighted by the sheer amount of human history there is to be had in London.
From world-famous monuments like St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, to tiny Georgian streets, historic pubs like the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping and the plaques that adorned buildings, speaking of famous people who had lived there in bygone eras – it is all so fascinating.
I loved strolling through random parts of the city, wondering who had walked these same streets before me and what their lives were like.
The sheer amount of things to do there
As I’ve quipped in at least 10 blog posts about London in the last few years – you could never get bored in London, but you could easily go broke.
I was never in want of things to do in London and it’s something to be grateful for.
I definitely left London a bigger drinker than when I arrived. While this is not something to be proud of, I really did enjoy the pub culture there.
I like how everyone piles into them after work, stumbling to the nearest Tube station to catch the last train home. They’re quite cosy and inviting and some have the most amazing decor. Plus, you can’t beat a Sunday Roast, particularly if you head to a pub which isn’t owned by Greene King.
It helps that booze is cheaper in the UK and there’s more of a relaxed attitude when it comes to the drinking culture. It’s far less nanny-state-ish than our relationship to alcohol in Australia.
So yes. I miss the pubs, although my liver is quite probably rejoicing.
Christmas in London
While Christmas is definitely one of the worst times to be an expat, it is rather lovely in the UK capital.
Although it’s cold, the winter gloom hasn’t quite set in yet. There are lights and decorations everywhere and people still seem quite cheery, celebrating the holiday season with friends, family and work colleagues.
While I wouldn’t want to spend every Christmas there and it was weird having the sun go down before 4pm, I did enjoy tucking into a large roast dinner, drinking eggnog and mulled wine and watching the Doctor Who/Downton Abbey Christmas specials.
The advent of spring
There’s far more fanfare with the arrival of spring in London than in Australia. This is probably because we still get a decent amount of light in the winter and it’s not really that cold (although it does get chillier in some part than you’d initially believe!).
However, winter seems to drag on and on in London. It’s long. It’s grey. When the cherry blossoms started to bloom and the days lengthen in March, everyone’s spirits begin to lift. There’s a sense of hope in the air. Better things are around the corner – at least five days where the temperature is over twenty degrees, picnics, swims in the local lido or if you’re brave, The Serpentine and probably a package holiday to Spain or Greece.
The NHS isn’t perfect, but there is much about it to be appreciated. While I could never get an appointment with my doctor when I was actually sick, it was grand to know that some things like certain operations, the contraceptive pill, many vaccines and psychologist appointments were free to those who needed them.
Free universal healthcare is certainly something to be celebrated and safeguarded for both the current and future generations.
All the random crap you see
A city this big is going to be home to a fair few weirdos and thank goodness for that. If you keep your eyes peeled (sometimes you don’t even have to look that hard) you end up seeing some pretty odd stuff.
It keeps life interesting.
To be fair, you can buy these in Australia – however, they just don’t taste as good, despite being the exact same thing.
On the flipside, I most certainly DO NOT miss…
The sheer amount of people everywhere
London regularly makes it into the top ten lists of cities that tourists flock to – close to 20 million travellers have set foot in it this year alone.
Throw a population of over 8 million on top of that and you’ve got a pretty packed out city, teeming with bodies. In fact, on the tiny island of the UK, England is crammed with the most people, with a population density of 407 people per square kilometre.
When you come from a country which has a population density of 3 people per square kilometre, it can seem like a lot.
Sydney had a population of 4 million when I lived there, spread over quite a distance and as with Melbourne, you see the same people in the pockets you frequent, making it feel a bit like a country town.
It’s easy to feel anonymous in cities like London, but that can get lonely at times as well. And sometimes you just want to walk down a damn street and bump into no one along the way. There’s something to be said for solitude.
The lack of light
I felt particularly glum when I first moved to the UK and while having no job didn’t help things, I’m fairly certain that it was the lack of Vitamin D that was getting me down. I now realise I was probably suffering from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
One job I took had working hours of 8am-8pm around the clock – even on dayshift I left for work at 6am, had my break at 4pm and left at 8pm, effectively not seeing the sun at all that day. It was grim and I was quick to find alternative employment.
I really enjoy winter at home, but the lack of light makes an English winter difficult and it wasn’t something I looked forward to at all come autumn each year.
You can eat well in London, but it usually costs a pretty penny (I think the one time I got decent sushi, it cost me about forty quid for three measly strips).
It was the mid-tiered meals I really missed while living there – going out for dinner and paying about 15-25 bucks and everything being delightfully delicious. Australia does this well, but I found the less I paid in London, the lower the quality, or I’d simply end up eating at chains like Nandos and Wagamamas.
Three things I’m grateful for at home are the fresh produce (grown within our country), the sheer abundance of choice in the bigger cities, particularly of South-East Asian food (I weep tears of joy whenever I eat Malaysian, Vietnamese or Thai these days) and all-day brunch.
I’d find at most of my favourite cafés that brunch was only offered on weekends and usually ended at 11am. NO. THIS IS INCORRECT. It should end at 3pm, the earliest.
OH and how I missed Australian junk food. Monte Carlos, Mint Slice, Tim Tams, Rainbow Paddle-Pops, Bubble O’Bills, Golden Gaytimes, Shapes, Twisties, Burger Rings… I spent a frightening amount of time day-dreaming about them in England. Now I can buy them whenever I want and never do. It’s probably for the best, where my waistline is concerned.
This is what got to me, in the end. I do like Australia a lot and I hated that it was so far away. I’d feel jealous whenever my European friends would pop home for the weekend for a visit – even when Canadian or Indian pals would be able to journey what, trust me, seems like a really short distance in comparison, to get home.
As an expat, there’s often an underlying fear that one day you’ll have to return home for a really shitty reason – when time becomes an enemy and every hour is working against you. And when it can take upward of 24 to get to your destination, it can often be far too late.
The frenetic pace of life
London is one of the world’s big cities and it’s easy to get stuck in the rat race when living there – working long hours, rushing from one thing to the next. It’s hard to sit back, relax and take time for yourself, to find time for exercise, or just quiet reflection.
Dealing with British Bureaucracy
I think I can safely say that British bureaucracy is frustrating as hell. I was shocked by the amount of red tape I had to go through to do just about anything.
Like opening a bank account, for example. I had a near impossible time trying to do this when I arrived – they wouldn’t take one without proof of address, but I hadn’t started working, so I couldn’t sign a lease, but I couldn’t pay a bond without a bank account or get a job… it was a mess. Thank goodness I soon learned there were banks that would allow you to open an account with just a passport like Metrobank (which I thoroughly recommend) and Lloyds.
And the less said about HMRC the better.
Being close to nature
There are some truly beautiful parks and gardens in London, which deserve celebration. I really like that you don’t have to travel far before you’re in the countryside, surrounded by rolling green hills. And London does have some beautiful sunsets, although that may be due more to the pollution than anything else.
However nature is far more, let’s say involved in Australia. There are trees and plants everywhere. A chorus of birdsong can be heard from dawn to dusk. You don’t have to travel far to immerse yourself into the ocean if you live in any of our big cities, the countryside, or the bush. And nature is more than willing to immerse itself in return into your abode, in the form of all the terrifying creepy crawlies you can imagine.
Perhaps I didn’t miss this last point as much as I initially thought. But I do have a pet spider in my house that I adore – I call him Phillip. He’ll do until I get a fish, or a dog.
Life there was good, but I’m happy to be in Melbourne. Every city has its good points and bad points… Swings and roundabouts, as the Brits would say.
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Walk with me through London Bridge.
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