Why does city life remain appealing despite being so stressful? Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan on why she won't be leaving London anytime soon.
I have lost another friend to foreign lands. Well, Dorset. Others over the last couple of years have given up the struggle to stay in their various cities around the UK and disappeared into the countryside, trading flat whites for rolling hills.
And they’re all loving it. Partly because, of course, if you sell up and move out, you effectively become a member of the aristocracy overnight. A poky flat transforms into a house and garden. Going out for a meal with someone doesn’t require three months’ planning and a second mortgage. And if you’ve got children, childcare costs drop like a stone. One of my cousins rang her new nursery to query her first bill because she thought they’d left a nought off.
I couldn’t do it myself. I spent my Southeast London childhood hankering after a Milly-Molly-Mandy style life in the country but the older and busier I get, the more I want things HERE and NOW and RIGHT ON MY DOORSTEP. Tales of buses leaving villages every two hours fill me with horror these days, not longing.
BUT. Watching friends do things differently elsewhere has still been revelatory. It has made me realise – as I suspect we should all realise, and about many more things than this – that a lot of the guilt I carry round with me like a giant, unwieldy backpack, is unwarranted. I am not, I begin to see, necessarily doing life all wrong!
What we are forgetting is this: that city life is mad. Mad, I tell you, mad! Take the money issue. Through vicarious village living I have now come to the understanding that it IS almost impossible to save because living in a city just IS cripplingly expensive. That’s the price I pay for being where lots of people want to be. And they want to be there because there are things like buses. And jobs. And loads of interesting people to bump into. And cafes. And restaurants. And museums and galleries and theatres should I ever decide to be cultured instead of just fully conversant with the new series of The Walking Dead.
Sure, the government is inflating rent and property prices beyond all that is moral and, in the long-term, sustainable and sensible, and we shall discuss that another day. In the meantime, you know what? That’s still not our fault! Let this thought free you. Slip a strap of that backpack from your aching shoulders.
Same with socialising. Working in a city is hard, it’s tiring and it involves long hours. Again, that’s just the deal, especially in your 20s when you’re trying to establish yourself. No-one gets enough time and energy left over to do the friend thing as well as they’d really like. You have to manage those scarce resources carefully. Instead of feeling bad about it, I’m going to put it on my CV.
Our willingness as women to blame ourselves for everything is a constant bafflement to me. I don’t know where it comes from but I seize any opportunity to disrupt the mindset. Looking at how my friends are now flourishing in a different context has reminded me of the vital truth that actually very little is truly our fault. We all need to forgive ourselves a little bit and learn to put blame where it really should be, whether that’s on a faceless metropolis, a crappy boss or a bad boyfriend. Slip the other strap off and put that bloody backpack down.
What the internet was made for
This week, I have discovered something that divides humanity more thoroughly than politics, money, religion, Marmite, or even fancy dress parties. It is YouTube videos of blackhead poppings. That’s the thing. That’s what will split any group of friends in two and leave them staring in baffled horror at each other from opposite sides of the abyss. I love them so much (Drpimplepopper is the best, FYI). To watch the removal of an impacted worm of grot from a host’s unwilling flesh is a thrill, a tonic and a soothing drink all in one to me. To others, I soon found when I shared what I thought was uncontroversial news the other day, it is not. Not at all. Many won’t even listen to the different methods of extraction let alone a description of the various results (small globule, pebble, the aforementioned worm in black or white, unexpected explosion), nor paeans to the sense of peace that comes over you when you see it all removed and order restored to the body. To life itself! Join me in purgative heaven, won’t you?
Photography: Ellis Parrinder