Navigating Life in the Big Smoke

Photo by  David Marcu

Photo by David Marcu

Words by Kate-Lois Elliott

I'm in a full-time, all or nothing relationship with London. When it treats me well I'm in love with everything about it, when it treats me badly I feel like the world is coming to an end.

I know many people can relate to this. Living in such a huge place can often fill you with paralysing self-doubt and anxiety one minute and then have you switch to utterly inspired, in love with life and full of faith in humanity the next. A lovely Spanish friend of mine once said to me, ‘No wonder you Brits are confused, look at the weather: you have no certainly, you cannot plan for anything - one minute it’s sunny and everyone's frolicking around the garden and the next it’s torrential rain and everyone has to run into the marquee.’

I think London is a bit like that, with it’s ever changing face, and our ever changing reactions. I’m not sure where that leaves us in terms of expectations, and we all know that expectations determine outlook, and outlook determines a capacity to be happy. Not forgetting that our political, economic, ecological and social climate (regardless of your preferred ideology) at very best will be experiencing some pretty hefty growing pains in the coming years, but that's another article for another time, and maybe never.

Many of my favourite Londoners have been sent packing in recent years, as the thrall of a simpler life in a slightly smaller pond calls to us from various hills around the UK. Life outside of London is slower and more relaxed; you can stroll home from work and not worry about all the very important self-employed person things you have to do when you're home - if those things even exist, as this constant feeling, which has no name, maintains a steady hold on the thoughts of Londoners whether they are busy or not. I'm starting to think that millennials aren't the problem, London is.

The rush of every day life in London keeps you checking your email and to do list at regular 5 minute intervals throughout the day because you have the motivation of a young professional in an all or nothing economy but the attention span of a fruit fly. At best in these times London makes you so wiped out by the end of the day that you have to binge watch reruns of Gilmore Girls until you finally pass out in a pile of procrastination, untouched personal projects and half eaten avocado toast (which was much cheaper than a house by the way).

I would recommend watching this TED Talk by the vicar from my home village. His talk highlights the theory that the belief systems of the world are changing and adds substance to my belief that we should all go back to growing our own vegetables and making home remedies, singing folk songs as we work and living in small flint cottages.

I’m lucky because I work in an industry that allows me to leave London for months at a time. When I’m away I appreciate the things that London lacks, but when I come home I see with clarity the reasons that keep me here. I spent three months in York last year, and had plenty of time to wonder around the cobbled streets, be fascinated by pretty much every experience I had, and to reflect.

Growing up in the country, having something to go back to, is a real gift. Experiencing the traditions, history and beautiful countryside of the UK is a real contrast to the multi-cultural, metropolitan world of a big city, but on my trip to York I realised something: the grass is green everywhere. I know that there are so many things about living away from London that would drive me back after a while, the limitations in variety of work would be the main factor. My experience as a visitor in York may not be an altogether valuable account of day to day life here, but still I think there's a lot that London too could learn from places like it. One of my favourite evenings there was when we went to an early folk music open mic night and sang along, and had a roast, without checking our phones once or taking any pictures for Instagram.

You can never be bored in London, but you can be sad in London. It’s easy to be anonymous but that means its easy to get lost and feel lonely. Ask yourself why you’re here. For most people it will be career or opportunities. Now ask yourself how much time you put aside to do other things. How many people do you say something like, ‘We should really go for a drink' and mean it, but never seem to be able to find the time to follow through?

Just because we choose a life that isn’t nine to five (maybe you’re in the creative industries or a freelancer, or do something that you find genuinely fulfilling) doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to the same trap of working too hard and not ever really allowing yourself to relax and live. If anything that’s all we have. So go out and be in your city. Go to the free museums, have dinner with a friend, get dressed up and go to an event  (as tempting as a night in to rest might be), go to the theatre, take a class, go for a walk in a park on your own. Do whatever you need to do to feel refreshed, and keep doing it, because that is what London is. If you’re in it then be in it.

London has so much to offer but it's true that, even when I do manage to pay my rent, sometimes I can't find time to breath there. There are too many brains squished into one place, too many thoughts, too much energy buzzing around you. It's only occasionally, when I'm walking home from somewhere at night, maybe after watching a particularly good show or having a lovely evening with friends, and maybe the moon is shining on the river, or a fox has come out from hiding and is wandering along the road with me, that I'll find moments of real peace.

Maybe the peace is always there, you just need to put your phone down and find a way of connecting to it through the smog and the suits and the commuters.

Kate profile pic.jpg

Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor and writer. She has worked at XYZ Magazine Brighton and Mouth London. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues. Past Backbone productions have played at the Roundhouse, The Bush Theatre and the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell. (Spotlight: 2212-9084-8035).

Twitter: @kateloiselliott

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