Back when I was a teenager, I dreamed of London. It was the one place I wanted to be when I was a proper grown up.
Whenever I was fortunate enough to visit, I would look at people on the tube and think how lucky they were to be a part of this city. Just to get on the tube every day to wherever they were going – for 14 year old me from medium-sized Bedford, this was the dream. I loved wondering what interesting things people were off to do. I loved all the posters on the tube showing me all the exciting things I could do if I lived here.
In my mind, I would be part of this city one day. I would live somewhere with a tube stop. I would be part of those crowds going about their business. I pictured myself in a little flat in Covent Garden, possibly with a balcony. (HA! I had no idea, clearly.)
Obviously the Covent Garden flat never materialised; but for a while in my 20s and early 30s, London was my every day. Then life took over, and with a family came the realisation that perhaps the outer fringes would be more realistic than the central London flat. BUT, we are inside the M25, on the tube map (on the Overground, obviously); and still get London Tonight; so we are just about clinging on to the dream…..out here in Zone 8.
Over 20 years have passed since I dreamed of my flat with a balcony and I am more realistic now, of course I am. I know that most people are fed up to be on the tube and are going about a pretty regular 9-5 existence. I know that London doesn’t mean going to the theatre every evening and to exhibitions every day (unless you are VERY lucky, that is).
There are plenty of things that I dislike about London, too. I hate that normal people with normal jobs are being priced out. I hate that this means we are losing proper communities. I hate the fact that everywhere you look there are more and more luxury apartments appearing, as if these are what we need.
But my overwhelming feeling is that I still love London.
I love how alive I feel when I’m there. I love the sense of possibility. I love that I could eat my way around the world, and ridiculously cheaply too if I did my research properly. I love that, to balance out the city folk with their shiny shoes and pocket squares; there are creative people writing or painting or performing…..attempting to follow their dreams. I love the peaceful squares and the enormous parks and the busy markets. I love hearing different languages. I love stumbling across a street of colourful mews houses. I love that there are plays, musicals, ballets, operas, huge rock concerts, tiny gigs, mainstream comedy, off-the-wall comedy and everything in between every single night. I love that there is always something or somewhere new to discover. I love the buskers at tube stations. I love that you can have big hair, no hair, 1980’s hair, bright green hair, rollers in your hair; and nobody looks twice.
I love that people come from all over the world to be a part of somewhere with so many possibilities. I love the message that London gives my boys, and how much of life they see when we visit.
And yes, London with children is a joy….as long as you don’t try and do everything in one day. We run around Trafalgar Square and stroll along the river. We watch the buses and cross the bridges and count the boats. We go to a museum to find child-friendly things to see or touch or build. We watch street performers as Yoda and people waving bubble wands on the South Bank. We run in the parks and watch the ducks. We watch as millions of people go about their business every single day: people from different cultures and backgrounds; people with different dreams and aspirations. People working and living alongside each other and keeping the city ticking along.
We love London and what it stands for. So do millions and millions of others. And we will continue to enjoy everything that is brilliant about it.