|"See Big Ben. Tenner per blink!"|
I am a half mile of walking somewhere between Holloway and Highbury, bursting to take a piss. It’s humid, I’m hungry, my jeans are too tight, and the free internet at the Finsbury Park Costa, was as useless as the Barista who assured me it worked; it didn’t. To top it all off, I am out of change. As I grow evermore pissed-off at not being able to get my piss out, I arrive at a small park in Highbury, where before me sits the wonder of a solitary public toilet. Living in naive hope, I walk to the booth, and then scream a loud “Oh fuck off!”, as I look at the inevitable sign before me, posted on every public toilet within a mile of a tube station - “Insert 20p”. This is London. And I am starting to think, we are being conned…
Everything in London is more expensive, compacted, and static in comparison to any other city, town, village, or inbred outpost in the United Kingdom. Everything. Parking, housing, bicycles, gym memberships, magazines, medical operations, event tickets, clothing, ice-creams (A Thorntons double scoop in Birmingham costs £2.50, In Harrow it is £4.00), chewing gum - you name it, I guarantee it will cost more here. The general consensus to this is simple; rent costs more, prices go higher, and expenses are greater, because people in London are wealthier than the rest of our island.
Of course, there is some grain of truth in this. London is a national and global melting-pot of all things ambitious. It is the city where anybody who dreams of fame, finance, prestige, or power, gravitates to. Governments operate and live here, as do most British arms of financial institutions. The London media control national perception, the Royal Family reside in its centre, and it remains the number one choice for every foreign national who land on these shores; both illegal and accepted. With the exception of the illegals, all the other aforementioned types can easily afford the multitude of facets London life has to offer.
And yet, those of privilege in London are a thread-bare minority. In reality, this city’s masses live a daily grind of pressure from the cost of surviving the smoke. They rent or live in council properties. Work longer hours for an often minimum wage, no different to any other area in Britain; London Weighting never stretches beyond teachers, civil servants, or other government associated industries, which carry a small measure of power over their rulers. They work under greater levels of stress, find themselves at the mercy of ever-expanding laws designed by the rich, for the rich; congestion zones and fixed-penalty notices, as examples of this. All the while, having to pay the same overpriced costs as anyone else within the parameters of the M25.
For the poor young of London, there is added frustration around their daily lives. They live under a force of living within a stones throw, from families where kids the same age are travelling across the world in jets, across London in Jaguars, and all the while doing it in designer clothes, and seemingly without a care in the world. Every penny the average kid who starts at the financial bottom earns, is needed to spend on the basics; just for the “luxury”, of living in a world renowned city.
While it is true London is Britain’s beacon of prosperity; and many people indeed choose to live here. There are millions living the daily roughness of this city, purely because it is where they were born. It’s not a bad place by any means, and – much like New Yorkers, Londoners are a resolute, tough breed. It’s just the ruthless nature of such an ambitious land, tends to disturb the peace of those who merely desire a quiet life; yet are lost somewhere amongst the rubble of organized chaos and smog-filled air. It is not London its inhabitants grow tired of; as opposed to the sheer price of living here…
Eventually, I sneak into a local leisure centre; where I take the third most pleasurable piss I have ever experienced, (the other two, stories in their own right). Ten minutes later, I find myself in the Starbucks of Highbury Corner. It is like most of London; friendly, crammed, noisy, and everything moving five times faster than it needs to. The Barista here will be paid no more per hour, then his colleagues in Birmingham, Bristol, Aberdeen, or anywhere in Britain. Yet his car will cost more to run, his roof more to live under, and his food bills higher to remain fed; all the while, while Starbucks avoids paying its taxes.
London is a dream – if you are wealthy enough. Otherwise, it is quite often a beautiful nightmare.