I've been wondering recently what makes a true Londoner. Born within sound of Bow Bells? Grew up at an address with a cool London points of the compass postcode? Lived here for 10, 15, 20 years? Instinctively think that Britain is far more diverse than it is because that's how it is here (and know that's a good thing)? Never visit the major tourist attractions except when someone visits from out of town? Never smile at anyone on the tube and don't say good morning or afternoon to people going in the opposite direction when out for a stroll?
I'm mainly wondering because I'm not always sure that I feel like one anymore, though I was once, born and bred. I'm living in the same house now in Chiswick that I was first brought home to from the old West London Hospital. My parents are not Londoners, their families respectively being from the West Country and Scotland, but I grew up as a proud city girl, despite hardly ever venturing anywhere near the centre and being disgracefully ignorant of the geography of central London until I got my first 'proper' job in Covent Garden when I was about 23. I went travelling for a year after university and stayed in some amazing cities including Toronto, Sydney, Hong Kong and Moscow, but coming home knew that of all the places I'd been, I still loved my home town the best.
I moved out four years ago slightly on a whim, chasing a certain kind of job which didn't really exist in London, and feeling vaguely that since I was going to spend the rest of my life here, it'd be interesting to live somewhere else for a year or two before coming back for good. I was aware that you see life from a certain perspective in the capital and wanted to shake that up for myself a bit. Most of my friends, particularly those who also grew up here, were sceptical. "Why on earth would you want to live anywhere else" was the question at first and then later "So when are you coming back?"
My eventual return, though unsurprising to them, has been, to be honest, more born from practical considerations than anything else: I had no particular urge to come back other than missing friends and family. Having very mixed feelings about it was why I started this blog. Transport and rent costs have gone up about 40% since I left 4 years ago; I miss walking in the countryside, breathing clean air, seeing for miles, feeling the reality of what's under all our concrete; I don't like the restrictive inconveniences of having to share my space with millions of other people, such as difficulties parking, the hideousness of public transport at rush hour, how long it takes to get to work, how difficult it is to walk at any speed in Central London because of all the other people. On the other hand, nowhere in the UK is as diverse, cosmopolitan, and exciting. There are a myriad of things to do and discover, people to see and meet, and choices: the choice in London is incredible.
So: I know when it's quicker to walk than to take the tube, and that it often is in the centre of town. I know that you can find green spaces here as well as buildings. I don't think much of travelling an hour for a night out with friends or of getting two night buses to get home again. I call it my home 'town'. I walk through busy streets and fall in love with the city all over again. On the other hand, I'm not as slick with my Oystercard as I used to be. I see on the tube map that Tottenham Court Road isn't on the Northern Line and for a moment I can't quite remember if that's how it's always been - or not. I've chatted to people on the train. And, most of all, I can imagine moving back out again; quite possibly sooner rather than later.
I think that's what really makes a Londoner: not being able to understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else. We - they? - love their city, deeply, passionately. We - they - see its flaws but as though London is a relative and so, despite the fact it often infuriates us, can't be criticised by anyone else in our hearing. Friends, especially those who've grown up here and still live
here, look at me as though I've committed an act of betrayal when I
complain about our city. Somehow, inside, I look at myself that way too. To be honest, I'm not sure where that leaves me.