The sad world of the people who love a London that doesn’t even exist
Cool poster of Big Ben you’ve got there
There is an idea of London and it is everywhere. It’s London not as a city, but a romantic, infinitely Instagrammable notion, a London you can bitch slap your friends who don’t live in London with. It’s the London people who’ve just moved here love – seriously love – like the love you had for the first person you fall for. And like that kind of love, when this dreamy, false idea of London falls apart, you never quite feel the same way again.
What is this London and how does it manifest itself? It’s a city programmed by Richard Curtis films and Royal Weddings, a hangover from the late 90s that never ended. You’ll find this London available to buy as a bedspread, as a poster people from Chorley put up in their first flat in Bethnal Green, as the £2,000 tent shaped like an underground carriage you saw at Glasto last summer.
But the space this idea occupies more than any other is Facebook, specifically in the preposterously sharable, luridly tampered-with photos of the city that spread from Secret London. Look at these:
The people liking and sharing this stuff live in Zone 6 and they’ve moved here from Wiltshire. They cut out bits “to do” from Time Out and they never actually “do” them. If they do go out at all they end up pulling Italian tourists in Zoo Bar. Notice that these photos don’t have any human beings in them – it’s so the people who share them can imagine themselves in these impossible scenes. They can act out what it means to be young in London without waking up on a floor in Peckham with a red wine mouth and parts of your brain coming out of your nose. It’s the London that made them want to move here in the first place, but it doesn’t even exist. You can’t replicate it with twee home furnishings or capture it on your Snapchat story.
The city I live in – the city I’ve learned to accept – is a place where you spend more time on the tube than with your friends, where there are more Chicken Cottages than affordable homes. The problem with being young in London is that it’s intense and unpredictable. It’s never as placid or easy as Secret London or a Buzzfeed listicle would have you believe.
You’re not walking along the Southbank at night, you’re on a screeching Northern Line service back to your £310 a week shithole in Balham. You’re not having cocktails up the Shard, you’re liking a photo of it on Facebook. You’re not exchanging cockney colloquialisms with a cabbie, you’re arguing about the aux cord with an Uber driver who doesn’t speak English. You’re not jogging through Regents Park, you’re trying not to get stabbed as you limp across a dog shit park in Edmonton. You’re not watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican, you’re watching Steve McFadden as Phil Mitchell on an iPad.
You live in London but you don’t live in London.