Tracey and I have been having a great laugh about mum travel verses solo travel. I lived in London as a single lady back in 2001 and it was great to hear how much it hadn't changed and the bits that have.
Life abroad is good and not because life in London was in any way unfulfilling. London life was busy, energising and full of opportunities, but visiting London once every two years (or annually, if I’m lucky) is a lot more fun. I get really excited when I land at Heathrow... on a British Airways plane, of course!.
The past five years as an expat from the UK have given me plenty of opportunities to share the best bits of London (the bits I miss) with foreign friends and the hoards of people I meet as I bounce around the world writing travel articles. The really great (weird?) thing is that I miss a whole host of things I never would have imagined myself missing.
The London Gastronomical Scene
I have visited 27 countries and 102 cities/towns in 10 years, but I am yet to find a city like London in terms of culinary choice.
I can have curry, paella, feijoada, sushi, fish and chips, pancakes, croissants, crepes, chow mein, tacos, quesadillas, gnocchi, pizza, burger and fries, fried chicken and peas, frijoles, rice pudding, cosmopolitans, artisanal beer, Russian vodka, Italian fernet, Swiss chocolate, macademia nuts, roasted horse-chestnuts, mulled wine, peanut butter, guacamole, arepas, and the list goes on.
East London Vernacular
Nothing beats the sound of an East-London accent and getting back into the swing of saying “free” and not “three,” “arf” and not “half,” “beher” and not “better.” It’s deliciously sweet, ending every sentence with the word, “man” and interjecting each sentence at least three times with the highly useful and descriptive term... “like.”
It might be expensive (privatisation is a real bummer!), crowded and one of the few places in London where it’s impossible to stay connected via mobile/internet thanks to its incredibly deep construction, but The Tube is one of a kind. It is, by far, the most extensive underground transport system in the world and it continues to grow, year after year. Just looking at the map of The London Underground is enough to excite or frighten most people.
The double-decker bus is another London delight, unique to the city and an iconic image the world over. I love getting on the night bus after a night out on the tiles. London is full of characters and they come out by the dozens at night, normally munching on greasy kebabs or deep-fried chicken wings.
The Witty Londoner
When living amongst Londoners, you’ll need a thick skin to let the witty, sarcastic comments pass you by like “water off of a duck’s back,” as we Londoners like to say. Londoners know how to tell a joke, their tongues are sharp and they love highlighting the faults of the people they love with a smile... in in jest, of course, but don’t expect the Londoner to pass up on a joke just to spare your feelings or let you save face. I miss this kind of quick, deadly wit.
Look up and breathe deep. The view is incredible from the ground up. Stop in the middle of any bridge in the city and look out in any direction. You’ll soon realise just how small and insignificant you are. London is a concrete beauty. Not all cities in the world are pretty, but London is. It’s one of the best cities in the world to walk about in, with its cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues.
London’s food and drink scene is not the only element which boasts variety. London is one of the most, if not THE most, multicultural-national-religious places I know. It’s possible to hear at least four or five languages being spoken at the same time when travelling around London. Dreadlocks, saris, turbans, mullets, kilts, kimonos, afros... London has it all. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a microcosm of everything our planet has to offer in terms of culture and nationality.
Polite Tannoy Announcements
Just before Christmas in 2012, I was lucky enough to be visiting London for the festive period and there was one tannoy announcement which really made me smile. So much so, that I’m certain I’ll never, ever forget it. It was a transport tannoy announcement made by a female British Rail employee, just a few days before Christmas. Before the train left the station, the star of this story came on the tannoy and said, “Ladies and gentleman. On behalf of British Rail, I would like to take this opportunity to wish aaallllll our customers a Meeeerrrrryyyyyyyy Christmas and a veeeerrrrrryyyyyy Happy New Year.”
She was sooooooooooo jolly and soooooooooooo British, that I stopped reading the newspaper, looked up and shared a beautiful moment of smiles and laughter with the six or so other passengers who were on the carriage with me. Service matters in London and politeness goes a long way. Magic!
Internet communication doesn’t have the answer for every little problem. The BBC might reach lots of places in the world via the Internet, but it doesn’t make its way to South America. The BBC coverage is irreplaceable. My morning coffee is that much better when accompanied by the latest news updates from the Beeb.
It’s big, it’s brown and it’s one of the first things I see when my plane starts its descent into Heathrow. It’s the moment when I really start to process the fact that I’m back on London turf again for a while. When I lived in London, it was just another London landmark. Now, it marks the beginning of fun times ahead.
So...Why don’t I live in London, if I miss it so much?
Grey skies make me blue, rain makes me lazy, the cold keeps me in bed for longer and friends would say, “I’ll have to go home now because I have to start work early tomorrow.” I love working. I always have and probably always will, but I choose not to live in a city where, on average, work takes priority. At 27, I wasn’t ready to start obsessing about my retirement plan, my savings or property. At 33, I’m still not ready to obsess about those things.
As a Londoner, living abroad, every time I visit, read a UK newspaper online, buy my flight ticket “home,” or share why I love my hometown with others, I beam with pride. I love London more now than ever because when I visit I get to see the very best of her at my leisure.
The Jolly English Pirate is a freelance writer from London. She writes features for female-interest publications and travel blogs. She performs outreach work for female travel communities and organisations which offer internship programmes abroad. Send her a tweet or find her on Facebook if you’ve got something to share.