London's continuing and irresistible pull

Last updated 10:43 07/08/2012

What is it about London that inspires so many of us to live there? I'd aimed to do a stint in our collective second home since I was a teenager. But when the exchange rate dived and job opportunities shrivelled up I chose the place that growing numbers of us are migrating to: Australia. A country that, despite all its mockery, is happy to claim us (especially now we're beating it on the medal tally). It's an overseas experience that comes with better money than the UK, nicer weather, and a quick, cheap flight home. More coin means greater savings for longer travel stretches, hence my six months on the road.

But there's no dampening London's call. I thought it had abated last year when, surrounded by endless people (eight million and counting), I was belted with homesickness as the full scale of my inconsequentiality dawned on me. I had a fantastic time but was glad not to have made the permanent move. What need had I to live here anyway when another visit was already on the cards?

Tower BridgeNow, on my last day in this marvellous, versatile, history-soaked place, that next trip is almost over and I've changed my mind. Panic has set in - I can't foresee when I'll be back and my last opportunity for the big London-based OE is sliding through my grasp. Is it the Olympic buzz affecting me? Or is it the realisation that my friends who still live here won't for much longer?

All of the above. But I long to live in England's capital mainly so I can soak up the city as a resident, with the freedom of time. Perhaps detrimentally to our own identity, most New Zealanders have been seeped in British history since birth. Our ties to mother England are still strong whether we like to admit it or not. I studied English history at school and have been enamoured of its authors all my life. Visiting this country is to drink orangeade and eat lashings of pie with Enid Blyton's Famous Five, travel from the marshes to the banks of the Thames with Charles Dickens' Pip, and dash across the wild moors in imitation of Emily Bronte's tortured souls, Catherine and Heathcliff.

All the literary tourism I'm undertaking on this trip is not enough. I want to spend Sunday afternoons rereading Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, imagining the lost boys and the fairies crowding around and flitting away as soon as I turn my head. I want to pay an exorbitant amount to soak up the history at the Tower of London while I read about Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn's rise and rise in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, and their crashing fall in her sequel, Bring up the Bodies. I want to take day trips to Edinburgh, that literary queen, with weekends in Whitby picturing Dracula's ghost ship crashing into the harbour and midnight strolls along the clifftops. That tyranny of distance is really hitting home.

Peter Pan

We kiwis seem to have an innate calling to see the world. New Zealand will always be there and we'll come back to her. But I've never seen Ireland, and Spain and Croatia beckon. Perhaps I'll just check the logistics of postponing my flight home by a year.

Have you done the London OE? Are you thinking of doing it? What are your main reasons to live in London or have you no desire to?

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Hipster-Douchebag   #1   01:41 pm Aug 07 2012

Yeah, I've been to London, three times (but once didn't count, as it was only fleetingly). Of the places I've seen around the world, few were in the category of "Hey - this is really quite OK; I could live here!", and London wasn't one of them. Too many people, the weather's not great, too English (I'm not anti-Brit - my mum was born and bred in Oxford) . I really enjoyed the longer of my visits, where we did lots of sight-seeing, went to a show, walked around Kensington Gardens, etc etc., but... it just didn't grab me. Can't really say why, it just didn't appeal. My sister-in-law spent about 6 years there, as she landed a very plum job, and it was handy for frequent trips to Yurp.

BTW - it's "steeped", not "seeped", as in soaking things for a long period of time until they're imbued with the nature of whatever they're being soaked in. But you knew that. ;)

J   #2   03:41 pm Aug 07 2012

About to embark on my OE with my first stop being London! Very excited even with the doom and gloom comments from those around me. Too cold, too overcrowed, too expensive, blah blah blah. Bring it on! Can't imagine I'll want to stay there for the entire length of my visa (5 years) but want to tick it off the list - very kiwi thing to do isn't it?

Karlos   #3   04:14 pm Aug 07 2012

I was in London for just over three weeks a few years ago and loved it but couldn't see myself living there. Too many people rushing around everywhere for my liking. Edinburgh was somewhere I could see myself living but I was there during quite a hot summer so probably not the best representation of what the weather would normally be!

Could quite easily settle down in a nice little seaside village somewhere in Croatia or Spain though... Must buy a Lotto ticket this week :-)

dragonzflame   #4   04:19 pm Aug 07 2012

Haven't done the London OE, but lived in Leeds for five months in 2009. I love visiting the UK but don't think I could live there permanently, with the cold weather and red tape.

On the other hand, Whitby has always been one of my favourite places in the world. I find it utterly captivating and might make an exception if you told me I could go and live there. Yorkshire as a whole is fantastic.

And if you're after literary tourism, you should try and get to Dublin, at least for a weekend. That place is awesome.

Philby   #5   09:47 pm Aug 07 2012

I've been living in London for over a year now and am pretty content. While it's obviously big and crowded, there is still a huge amount of green space (much more so than Welly/Auk) and each part is like its own small village. Still amazing being able to pop up the road to world famous restaurants (which actually aren't too expensive when you're earning pounds) and go for a walk down the Thames, past St Pauls etc at lunchtime! People complain about the public transport but it's still a million times better than anywhere in NZ.

Also, most people get 25+ days stat leave which means that you can take trips if the city gets too much for you.

Muswell Hillbilly   #6   10:45 pm Aug 07 2012

Love London. Spent three and a half years there from 99 to 2003. Arrived in Bounds Green on the Piccadilly line from Heathrow on xmas eve 99 and came above ground to be greeted by a freezing, slate grey day and thought "Bugger this!" but I was torn when the time came to leave my home in the Docklands in 03. My tip to kiwi travellers is get out of London each weekend by train and explore the surrounding counties. Don't get stuck in Ealing, Willesden or Shepherds Bush and the damn Walkabout drinking snakebites. There is more to London than that Kiwi/Aussie cliche.

Anne   #7   11:06 pm Aug 07 2012

We all go to London for four main reasons.

a)It is not too much different from our homeland, so don't feel too homesick. Speak english can buy a pie etc

b)Loads of friends and family all ready there

c)It's proximity to everywhere else in Europe. 1 hr flight to Italy? sure why not!

d)Very easy to get a working visa pre 30years of age

Netstar   #8   01:26 am Aug 08 2012

I've been in London four years now and love it. Sure it has a few downsides - worst summer in 100 years, having to take the tube to work everyday etc. But there is something for everyone here - seriously! Collect pencils? Yep there's a club for you. Like roller blading? You're sorted too. And the same goes for any interest or hobby you might have. I've had some of the best times of my life here. If you've got the opportunity, then do it. You won't regret it.

jon   #9   10:25 am Aug 08 2012

I've been in London 5 years, thinking I would only stay for one or two at most. It's so easy to get out into Europe, and the more of Europe you see, the more you want to do! There's so many places and little villages that you've never heard of before. Yes, London is big and crowded, but just stay out of the main tourist areas, and you soon learn of places and little tricks of the trade about where to go to avoid the crowds and get away from it all.

fairybread   #10   10:32 am Aug 08 2012

I'm just back in NZ after a year teaching English in Central Europe - I decided not to do the typical Kiwi thing of heading straight to London, I wanted a different sort of challenge with the language, etc - and I've had a really awesome year. I've still managed to travel from my base - 1 hour plane flight to Rome, 5 hours train ride to Berlin, etc.

I visited London back in November for a very full touristy weekend with my mates there, and had a great time. Agree with most of the comments - London's just - London, and it's amazing. But I'm not sure about living there. I think if I lived in the U.K I'd prefer to live in the north, perhaps, and keep London as an exciting 'destination' rather than somewhere I live, commute, shop, and possibly start resenting.

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