It happened. Just over 3 years since I left London, the city that I’d lived in for 3 years prior, I returned. This return wasn’t planned to occur when it did and I barely had time to contemplate the realisation that I’d be returning to London when, a mere 5 days after finding out that I could be going to London, I was boarding a plane.
When you’ve spent a few years away from a certain place your mind becomes a bit blurry. As things that used to form a part of your everyday life become but a memory, you begin to question whether what you remember is truly what you remember or are the proverbial rose tinted glasses creating a filter?
With 5 days dedicated to work and 5 days dedicated to play, just what would being back in London be like? Here are 10 things that I realised upon returning to London.
So Much Remains Unchanged…
At its core, London was exactly as I remembered. It’s still an electric, vibrant city and being in London feels being in the centre of the world, where things of note are happening. The tube is still the best way to get around central London, O2 still make you listen to a bunch of annoying, irrelevant advertising before actually getting to the part where you can top up your phone, the announcement on the number 97 bus to Putney High Street is till broken, announcing a destination of “Putney High Street-t”, and Monmouth still does great coffee.
Hawksmoor still does great steak, the place across the road from my old flat still has those garish curtains, Bond Street tube station is still undergoing redevelopment, Oxford Street is still a nightmare to navigate, the tube is still full of advertisements for cheap holiday insurance and niche online dating sites.
Oh and “Cockfosters” is still funny.
…Yet So Much Is Different
While there were a few big changes that I noticed, it was the little things that had changed that really stood out to me – things that formed part of my everyday life. There’s now a Whole Foods Market on Fulham Road, the self-service checkouts at Sainsbury’s Fulham Broadway are organised in a much more efficient layout than they used to be, you no longer need an Oyster Card on public transport – a contactless bank card now works.
T-Mobile and Orange are now EE, a lot more small corner stores have been taken over by the major retailers, there are loads of the new double decker busses about, there are new, brighter and more spacious trains on the District line, there are some new announcements on the tube, and there’s now a new woman and a man too who do the pre-rerecorded tube announcements.
Just like so many other things in life, it really is the little things that make all of the difference.
Every City Should Invest Heavily In Public Transport
I remember that public transport in London was good but was it really as good as I remembered? Actually, it was better. I forgot just how liberating it was to have a variety of options to get from A to B – be it underground, overground or bus there were always a number of options that I could choose from to get from A to B in a timely manner.
Contrast this to cities like the Australian state capitals that, even at their best, have huge swathes of the cities that just aren’t accessible on a practical basis by public transport. I’ve been driving to work for the past few weeks and it’s such a frustrating experience. Not needing a car is liberating, and less cars on the road is better for the environment. Investing in a proper, extensive public transport system is a no-brainer as being the way forward for growing cities.
This is such an obvious fact that I’m often astounded how, in countries like Australia, we can have governments who pull funding for public transport projects and insist that building roads is the future. This is not the 1960s. No city in the world has ever built its way out of congestion – ever. Just look at the 10+ lane superhighways in Los Angeles that are packed bumper-to-bumper during peak hour to see where that road (excuse the pun) leads.
When I lived in London I used to think that the city was so quiet in January. While it is quiet relative to warmer months and the peak summer tourist season, London is no means quiet in January. It is, in fact, still busier and more hectic in the middle of January that Melbourne is at its peak. Once you become accustomed to a slower pace it’s easy to forget just how hectic a place like London can be. Quiet/Busy, Fast/Slow – it’s all relative.
Another thing that I perceived differently was any delays on the tube. When I lived in London, having to wait 5 minutes for a delayed train or waiting 30 seconds in a tunnel at a red signal seemed like such inconveniences. After living with Melbourne’s public transport for 3 years, and dealing with trains unexpectedly skipping stations and delays turning 15 minute frequency trains into 30 minute waits I’d give anything for trains that ran with anywhere near the efficiency of the tube on a bad day (strikes excluded of course!).
London Still Feels Like Home
I was never “ready to leave London” as such. In my time there I really grew to love the city. I was passionate about being a Londoner and was proud to be a part of the city’s story. I was constantly discovering new parts of the city and immersing myself with facts about the city’s past, present and future. I felt a passion for the city that I’ve not felt for either Perth or Melbourne, the other 2 cities in which I’ve lived.
Landing at Heathrow I was surprised at just how quickly I fell back into the swing of things. Walking through customs, getting a tube on the Piccadilly line, changing at Earl’s Court to a Wimbledon train, getting off at Fulham Broadway, dropping my bags off and walking around Fulham just felt right and was completely second nature. I couldn’t get the smile off my face and everything just seemed right.
When I walked around Central London the following day, the fast pace of the city didn’t faze me one bit, and I was soon getting as frustrated as any local resident with tourists unaware of their surroundings and slow walking people on the footpath. I mightn’t be English, I might have only spent 3 years of my life in this city but, at my heart, I think I will always be a Londoner.
People always ask me what it is that I love about London and to be honest I can’t put my finger on it. I can point to the fact that it’s a global city, with an amazing history, food scene, cultural scene etc. I can talk about how great it is to be able to hop onto a plane and be somewhere completely different in an hour or two, I can go on about the vibrancy and energy of the place but, when it comes down to it, none of these things are really why I love London. It’s intangible, and no words will ever be able to describe why I have such an affinity for the place.
Melbourne Also Feels Like Home
What I felt about Melbourne while I was in London was quite interesting. While Melbourne as a city has never excited me in the same way that London has the fact of the matter is that it is my home these days and it is a great city. I’ve made several new friends in my time here, I’ve had old friends who have moved here, I’ve got a good job here and, of course my wife and I have an apartment here. I’m always out and about doing something in Melbourne and the list of things that I want to do is always larger than the time that I have to dedicate to it all. I am grateful to have a rather great life in Melbourne and, as much as I loved being back in London, I was completely ok with the fact that I had to go back to Melbourne once my 10 days were up.
What Is Home?
On the subject of a place feeling like home, how does one define the word “home”? Is it the physical place where one lives at a given time or is it the place that an individual feels most comfortable in and has affections for? My heart is in London, my life is in Melbourne, and my family is in Perth. I consider all 3 of these cities to be my home and I’d love to be able to split my time between them as each city means something to me for different reasons.
I look at how easy it was for Australians to get UK passports and vice versa up until the late 1990s/early 2000s and find it frustrating that it’s become progressively more difficult as the years have gone by. It’d be nice to have the flexibility that used to exist before fear (mostly irrational) gripped the psyche of governments around the world.
London Really Isn’t That Cold
Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m not built for warm weather but even objectively London isn’t that cold. Being back in the middle of January the thing that was most annoying was the short days. I’m not saying that the place is balmy all year ‘round but compared to so many other cities that get a lot colder during the winter, a place where the average January maximum is 9 and minimum is 5 is very tolerable. Yes they are cold, but London’s winters are never so extreme that you actually need to stay inside and are prevented from doing things.
Real Friendships Persevere
Meeting up with friends that you haven’t seen in over 3 years, you’d think that there was a lot to catch up on. While social media and the connected world means that you’re never truly disconnected from your old friends, there’s still nothing like catching up in person. It’s funny how much little catching up you do and how it’s more a matter of just picking up where you left off. Meeting up with my friends after so long away was another example where it felt like I’d never left.
A Pint Of Real Ale In A Proper English Pub Is One Of Life’s Simple Pleasures
There’s not too much to say about this one really. Whether silently contemplating life while solo or talking complete nonsense with friends, there’s something about a pint of real ale being drunk in a proper English pub that’s unbeatable. There are lots of faux “Traditional English Pubs” in cities all over the world but they are full of tat and bear little resemblance to an actual English pub.
I don’t know what it is about the welcoming nature and vibe or a proper English pub but it’s something that seems to be impossible to replicate outside of England. Cheers!
So there you have it, my musings on returning back to London after 3 years away from this wonderful city. Have you lived abroad, moved elsewhere and later returned as a visitor? What did you notice when you went back? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.