This weekend I’ve escaped London to visit my family in the South West. Having grown up in Leeds, and then lived in the capital, I’m a city girl at heart. As the train nears Devon I can feel a tickle in my throat and a rash developing all over my body, in anticipation of the hay fever to come.
I can’t cope with the snail’s pace at which everyone walks in this small town. I’m not in a rush to get anywhere at all, but I can feel my blood pressure rising as I get stuck behind a group of plodders. There’s slowness in other parts of life here too. My sister comments on a shop sign that has recently changed following a re-brand. I ponder as to how long ago the signs were replaced in London; definitely more than a year ago.
For all that, I realise that there are parts of London life that I hate, which I only notice when I go somewhere that doesn’t have these annoyances. Space, for one thing. We can step out of the front door and go for a walk, never once struggling for pavement space. Even in my London suburb you can’t walk to the train station without having to dodge commuters marching towards you from the opposite direction. We take a walk along the river, and I can see the sky in all directions. I can see trees in the distance. At home you can never see the horizon for all of the buildings that have been crammed in the way.
The atmosphere is completely different; we exchange a “good morning” with every person we pass, there’s a feeling of community. It’s unthinkable to transpose this friendliness onto my neighbourhood in London.
I feel calm. A novelty. It may sound clichéd, but you can feel that the air is cleaner, smell the nature, hear silence or the sound of a ticking clock or birds singing, you can breathe more easily. My skin feels cleaner, without the gunk of the city’s pollution clinging to me. The seagulls’ squawks remind you that the coast is near, the beach just a short drive away. I associate this place with the colour of the sunny blue sky.
For me, London is grey. The buildings, the roads, the river. The sound is traffic or planes overhead or train horns or the hubbub of too many people in too small a space. I am constantly claustrophobic. Crammed into a train, uncomfortable and hot. The stink of the carriage, filled with stale coffee breath and sweat. The pace is frenetic, the people angry or grumpy.
Of course, the slow pace of life is manageable, even pleasant, for a weekend. I’m not sure how long I could enjoy the silence for, though. The pier, the river, the fields; they’re all beautiful, but don’t provide much entertainment. There’s only so long you can stand marvelling at peacefulness and gorgeous scenery.
London suits my pace at the moment; I can see the positive side to the buzzing atmosphere of millions of people in a city. I can’t see myself moving to a tiny place out in the sticks, but nor can I see myself staying in the capital forever. I’m on the lookout for the town of Happy Medium.