People who don't live in London get annoyed when others (especially the likes of the BBC) go on about London as if the second you cross the M25 you fall off the edge of the world. I can kind of understand this, but there is an answer. London is Brilliant.
I grew up in all sorts of places, but from the age of 7 it was rural Gloucestershire, and from 11-18 it was rural Dorset. And I mean rural – the Forest Of Dean has a dialect so strong, within a year of leaving, I went back and bumped into an old friend, and I could understand about a third of what she says. You can spit into Wales from the Forest, and the residents frequently do. Don’t be surprised if the census form allows you to choose between Welsh, Scottish, English and Forester in 2011.
We moved to Sixpenny Handley when I was 11, a town of about 1000 people, where my Dad was treated as a local celebrity (he was the Vicar) and therefore everyone knew me. Great when it came to getting the plumb babysitting jobs, but not so great when it came to the “sniper” incident. (note to babysitters, if the 14 year old you are looking after (when you are 16(!)) suggests you both have a go on his brother’s air gun in the back garden, you say – no – the super Nintendo is just fine thank you.)
Sixpenny Handley is 15 miles from anywhere. Salisbury, Wimborne, Ringwood, (you’ve probably never heard of the last two, which aptly demonstrates how remote it is. There is one scheduled bus, which takes a detour through the village on its route between Salisbury and Weymouth. The School bus took us the 15 miles to Wimborne Minster, where I attended QE School, until I was 18. Despite their best efforts, I got the Bs at A level I needed to go to University.
Cardiff is a great City – so many of the wonderful things that go with being a national Capital, (nightlife, shops, museums, gorgeous waterfront, beautiful parks) but shared only between about a quarter of a million people. Going from sixpenny Handley to Cardiff was quite a shock. In Handley I’d learned to drive at the earliest opportunity (3 months from 17th birthday to passing the test – with a 3 week gap to have pneumonia in the middle) just in order to be free from the local pastimes of sitting on the bench drinking cider, or (the very entertaining) terrorising the cows on Woody’s Quad Bike. With free reign over Daddy’s Astra, I could visit friends (they all lived in Wimborne or around), go to the shops; see a film at the cinema… In Cardiff, my friends lived in the same block of the halls of residence, a 5 minute walk took us to the cinema, night clubs, girls (not that they noticed) and all the associated fun of the city.
10 years and one engagement later, I realised I was tired of Cardiff. Our circle of friends were now spread far and wide, I was working in Bristol, having exhausted all the IT Company in Cardiff, and we were travelling to London for culture fixes far too often. We might as well move to London. Commuting would take less time and cost less, gigs would cost more, but at least they would happen (too many tours not visiting Wales at all – still a problem.) and so many museums, venues, shops and restaurants that a 30 year old family of two would take a long time to get bored – or more likely the female member of that family would decide she’d rather have ponies than see the New Young Pony Club and an escape to the country would be required (the 10 year plan).
So we found a nice house, in a nice area which we could afford (just!) and settled down. Saw plays at the national Theatre, The Globe, the West End, gigs at Ally Pally, the 100 club and the Natural History Museum, and got membership to the Tate Modern, but ensured we never missed anything at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy…
Every so often we have the odd moment when it all makes sense, and we bask in that self satisfied glow of people whose lives are going pretty well.
A couple of weekends ago, we had a weekend of those moments. Lisa and I had recently started new jobs, hers a promotion, mine a new start with a new company, and we had a weekend of gigs. Straight from work on Friday, to Mangosteen, the best Thai restaurant in London, then on to the 100 club to see Brakes, preceded by 3 support acts ranging from shouty electro pop, to 2 of the most beautiful Japanese girls playing traditional Eastern instruments to an awesome electro beat backing.
Saturday we had a lie in, got to Camden market and looked around, had a drink at a bar where a work colleague of Lisa’s was DJing, ate huge amounts of cheap food as the markets were closing, jumped on the tube to South Kensington, had a drinks reception in the main hall of the Natural History Museum, before being led to a closed of room where British Sea Power treated us to a free gig! None of this happened in Cardiff (not at that scale anyway) and nothing ever happened in Sixpenny Handley, and we shared a whole weekend of those reassuring moments that everything you’d planned was coming together nicely.