In 1777 Samuel Johnson once said about London:
Why, Sir, you find no person, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a person is tired of London, they are tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. (*)
I’m adding my love letter here to express my gratitude to the city and to propose a case for living in a high cost of living area, in my case London. And attempting to woo anyone considering moving here (or an alternative HCOL city in your part of the world). High Cost of Living (HCOL) locations can get a bad reputation in the personal finance world. Horror stories abound of people spending lots of money here, yet I want to show it doesn’t have to be that way. So here is my love letter to London.
(*) I have modified slightly for 21st century. Since women can now be considered to be educable and have agency.
On the arts versus science debate I’ve always considered myself on the science side. Without question. I have a STEM degree and work in IT, so clearly I’m on the science side. Little did I know I had made this divide seem so black and white, and couldn’t comprehend any alternative position. I thought it was a clear one side or the other, and didn’t see the nuances of appreciating both. Before I moved to London I considered myself liberal and open. Now looking back on myself, I can see how I was naive, and rarely challenged my assumptions. And the liberal arts have helped me see a wider perspective of the world. Here are a few of the London offerings that changed me.
This beauty is the natural history museum, which you can visit for free. Even the building is stunning, before you start to look at the exhibits. Although there was uproar as Dippy the Diplodocus was replaced, it’s still very popular and great fun for kids of all ages to visit. I love wandering around and seeing new sections, dipping in and out as time allows. Geeks of all ages will also love it’s next door neighbour, the Science Museum. I used to adore this museum, but now I think it is not technical enough (geek alert). I’d say not many of the exhibits go beyond first year uni level, but is is great for kids and people who aren’t so geeky.
I also have to mention the beauty across the road to complete the trifecta of South Ken museums. The Victoria and Albert museum (V&A) took a while to grow on me, but nowadays I love it. The cafe itself is visually impressive, you should wait for a table in the themed rooms, rather than the modern section. And the cafe is much calmer than the museums across the road. The exhibits are so wide ranging, yet all impressive in different aspects. This is the museum to go to if you appreciate the power of visuals. And these are only a few big museums. There are hundreds more museums to cater for every sort of niche; from the old operating theatre, to the Freud museum, the fan museum, the cartoon museum…the list goes on. Prepare to expand your mind.
As you may have picked up I adore all things theatre. My taste is quite wide ranging, I love anything from drama to musical to ballet. While you can spend a fortune on theatre tickets, I do not. I regularly pick up value tickets, and see a lot of shows at smaller off West End theatres. To put numbers on it, while I had to pay £40 to see Hamilton, the majority of tickets are much more reasonable. The London theatre scene offers something for everyone. I could easily go every night of the week and still not see everything that caught my eye. As well as pure theatre, I love the classical side such as music recitals and ballets. Which again, you are spoilt for choice in London.
Shakespeare is another of my passions, dispute his dubious gender politics. I love that you peel of layer and layer in his plays, and learn something more each time. Lately I’ve been loving his historical plays, with Richard III being a favourite. The classic Machiavellian power struggle, it grips me every time. Not to mention the parallels with the state of politics today.
Strangely as someone who visits these for brief periods only, I do actually enjoy having a look around a gallery. London has so much to offer here. I tend to do whirlwind visits. From the grand National Gallery (which holds a few too many virgin mary’s for my tastes) in which you get easily lost, to smaller one room galleries. The national portrait gallery is fascinating from an anthropological view as well, who have the curators decided the nation should remember? And then there is the modern versus classical viewpoint. The Tate Modern is much busier than it’s classical Tate Britain counterparty, but is this due to the nations tastes or just a superior location nearer the tube? I love the fact the Tate Modern has repurposed a brownfield site of a power station, and there are always interesting things and people to spot in the turbine hall. A great rainy day activity.
Places to Visit
London is a mishmash of architecture. Thought to be established by the Romans many years BC as Londinium, and persisting through many wars, fires and bombings to modern day London. Nowhere is the mixture of old and new so evident than the city of London. Modern skyscrapers with unusual shapes live alongside historical churches and the old London Wall. This combination of historical artifacts overlayed with newness is compelling; each age leaves it mark on the city, with only the best of each age surviving. Reading classic literature set in London, you can feel how the city has changed. You can read about when Hampstead was an actual village in Keats, when Cheapside was an address for the poor in Dickens and all about Bloomsbury and Westminster in Virginia Woolf novels. I still get exciting walking across the Thames at night; all the bridges have views of landmarks, from the Houses of Parliament to St Pauls to the Tower of London. It’s magical the first time you see the lights in action, and still magical today. I am so close to power and history, yet it’s still so far away.
Hell, even the cemeteries have back story and character in London. The Magnificent Seven are a collection of victorian burial grounds, that have many facets to explore. They are ornate and visually stunning with many unusual headstones, and various states of overgrown-ness. You get a dose of green, relative quietness and fresh air. Then we get onto the occupants, you can pay your respect to: Marx, George Michael, George Elliot, Christina Rossetti, Radclyffe Hall, Isabella Beeton, Michael Faraday and Emmeline Pankhurst. I think they give Père Lachaise a run for its money.
Living and Working
Before moving to London I did not earn that much, certainly not enough to be thinking of financial independence. Then moving to London gave me a significant payrise. This is one of the main reasons I propose moving to a HCOL location. You can earn much more than in a HCOL vs LCOL, even taking into account the costs of living.
And the physical environment working from London is varied. Skyscrapers aboud, they look great from the outside, but in my experience are generally the usual boring offices inside. Despite the boring office interiors, I’ve lucked on the exteriors. I’ve been lucky enough to have the following views from my office:
- View of the gherkin from my desk
- Office with view of Selfridges
- Office with view of Bank of England
- Desk overlooking a theatre, you could hear matinees
Despite my love for my car, London public transport is second to none. I never take my car anywhere near central London, it goes out of London only. We have Transport for London, who do a reasonable job of keeping the city moving. The tube / bus / DLR / train network across the capital is very well connected, and available to all at a reasonable price, especially compared to some other areas of the UK. Night buses are frequent and safe, and more lines are getting added to the Night Tube. I’ve not got a bad word to say about public transport in London. A car is 100% a luxury if you live in London, and only useful if you have hobbies or interests that take you to more remote location.
This is a love letter to London, so obviously I’m going to cover the items I love about London. But I’m not completely naive, so for a little bit of balance, here are some of the less desirable characteristics. And how I overcome them.
There are people everywhere. Lots of them. Especially at rush hour. You must stand on the right. But it’s not China level busy all the time. There are always places that are quiet once you are in the know. Want to get some good snaps of the city? Go at the weekend, it’s dead then. Visiting Oxford Street for some godforsaken reason? Use the side and parallel streets to get around, and find quieter food options. There are ways to find the quiet in London, and ways to appreciate the busy.
Yes the London property market is insane. Luckily it seems to be calming down now, which is being well received by actual Londoners. London house prices are not for the faint hearted. However this means it’s acceptable to rent at all ages, and normal to houseshare at all ages. Those who buy find themselves making compromises and moving to outer boroughs. I do believe if you earn a good salary and save it is still possible to buy in London, if you are prepared to make enough compromises. You won’t be able to afford zone 1 or 2, or a massive place, but there are still lots of options out there.
In balance, living in London works well for me. It has allowed be to begin a journey to financial independence, and more importantly really being to discover myself. I love London, and am delighted to live here.
Over to you
- Are you a HCOL city fan?
- Do you like London?
- Do you also love where you live?