hate london, hate life?

Dragging every one of my carefully selected and most essential worldly possessions in a large mammal-sized suitcase, I crossed the threshold into my new life, my new city – London, England.

I took a deep breath. Absorbed the charred brown brick structures towering in front of me, scanned across the bruised grey-black sky for any sign of the sun, and choked in the combined exhaust cloud surrounding the five idling black cabs lined up to whisk the wealthier-than-me into town.

And then, like a grizzly child awake past their bed time, I cried. I let fat tears rush down my face unchecked, unable to mop up for fear of my bags being lifted the moment I let them go.

I stood there, amongst the freshly flown visitors streaming out of Heathrow, and I wept.

What the f*%k had I done?

 

So, here’s what happened.

I moved to England with my (now-ex) boyfriend when I was about 21. It was him that really wanted to go, and I forget how he convinced me. Most likely with promises of exotic European holidays and shoes.

And I got holidays. Barcelona, Prague, Istanbul and the like. Shoes, too.

But from the moment I arrived in London to the moment I left, more than two years later; I absolutely despised the place.

They say ‘if you hate London, you hate life’. Which is probably true. But come on. It is a bag of chips, but it's not all that.

I hated the grunge, the rush, the commute, the cost, the people and the crime.

It felt like my idea of a terrible city had been leeched from my imagination by some evil villain and brought to life as my own private hell-on-earth.

When they found out I was from New Zealand, people would ask me, incredulous, why I would leave paradise for this flying-rat infested urban jungle.

“Buggered if I know,” I spat, while they giggled at my silly accent. I couldn’t figure it out. I hated it, and these other Londoners were seemingly implying that it was indeed an unquestionably crap place, of all the places one could live. What the hell were they doing there then?

Did anyone even like this cold, lonely cobblestoned cesspit?

Constantly broke, always running late, forever alone and starved of nature, I was a soulless skin-sack of myself.

When the opportunity finally presented itself to me, an international transfer with work, I leapt without looking into the mist and mild of San Francisco city, slamming the door on my way out. Forget London and everything it represents, I thought. Screw the stress and the struggle.

I never wanted to see that place again.

And aside from flying trips with work, I managed to avoid spending any decent amount of time in her for a good three years.

Until last week.

Last week, I voluntarily travelled from my new home in the heart of France, several hours, through Paris, under the sea, and into the bowels of Britain. I was to spend six days in London, and I was sick to my stomach.

Stepping onto the bright, clean platform at St. Pancras International, it felt, for a moment, that I was somewhere new. Eyes darting suspiciously for some sign that I was, in fact, in London, everything seemed disconcertingly OK.

People bustled and shoved, careful to avoid eye contact. Thirty minutes on the underground, and my nostrils were quickly filled with familiar black soot. The heat and the closeness was overwhelming. I was alone.

And yet, with some new life experience and perspective under my belt…I felt like I could give London another chance.

I sat in the sunshine eating sushi next to Tower Bridge laughing with an old friend. I wandered, unashamedly snapping pictures like a London virgin. I sipped rosé on a roof terrace. I ate slow roasted duck waffles at a summer festival. I swayed among the sweaty masses at an outdoor concert. I ran in a charity race. I drank too much champagne and picnicked in a park.

OK, so maybe it was the alcohol – but I had a real, honest, good time.

In bloody London.

Arriving back in my picturesque, green and calm home in France, worn out and hungover, I knew one thing for sure – I will never live in London again.

But maybe she’s worth a visit every now and then.

Hannah Keystravel, london