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?
Now, 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.
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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