North London is the best
Stop saying it’s frumpy
When I tell people I live in north London, they assume many things.
Firstly, many assume that I live with my parents. Because north London has a reputation. It is ‘frumpy’, and populated ‘exclusively’ by the middle-aged, middle-class: plastic lefties who rail against private education but buy up expensive homes near high quality state schools – and some other things you’ve read liberal writers rail against in broadsheet newspapers. ‘Everyone’ is a Highgate mum and thrills – sincerely – in twee pursuits like, “walks on the Heath” and the big sofas at the Everyman on Holly Bush Vale. The young people who live in north London don’t really want to live in London: they are just simulating their gentle Home Counties childhoods. Etcetera.
In fact, north London is the best part of London.
It’s not full of students
I used to really like the Bussey Building; I liked drinking at Bar Story. I liked Peckham Springs, and Brixton Jamm was sort of funny, if you drunk enough that you were squinting. But last time I went out in Peckham, I looked at all the girls and found myself making unsisterly, uncharitable comments. “She looks about TWELVE,” I’d say to one mate, waspishly, and inaccurately, as a stilts-legged art school girl sashayed towards the bar.
Obviously, I was jealous, because these girls are three years younger than me, thinner than me, and hotter than me. They are not 12, they are 22. They are all at Goldsmith’s or Camberwell College of Art, or just out of there; they are all living in the surrounding environs and migrating towards Rye Lane on a Saturday night. It is their prime, and they’re flashing that prime all over Peckham.
Now, while I accept that I get older and less attractive each day – it’s fine, I’m FINE ABOUT IT – I also am not yet sufficiently resilient to want to see it played out in front of me, on a Saturday night. Also, going out to what feels like a student night makes you feel like you’re really missing the point of London. You feel like there is a much better party happening somewhere and you have missed it – because there probably is. You feel like the alumnus who’s gone back for Freshers’ Week. It’s hard to explain exactly why going out surrounded by people several years younger than you feels lame, but it does. And guys – I’m sure you like the younger babes, and they probably like you too. But do you like the younger boys in the urinals, rutting and jostling? Do you like the bouncers assuming that you too are 22, and ascribing to you all the stereotypes that come with this? Do you like watching them strut down the street, in their packs – so confident, so sprightly?
Much of this also applies to the obvious bits of east London (Kingsland Road) but the students are uglier. Weirdly this makes you feel worse. You’re not even hanging out with youth’s A-list.
And being surrounded by adults means there’s more nice stuff
In your first few years out of university, it is both fun and comforting to continue living like a student. Also, you don’t know anything else. You default to eating poorly, drinking regularly, favouring places that your mother would call “vibrant”. But then, there is a series of coincidences. You have been working for several years; your metabolism changes. You actually want – really, want – to give up smoking, rather than just saying it because you should. You find that while you still like getting drunk – especially on Fridays – you’d really rather not do it at Spoons because actually, Spoons is quite depressing when you really think about it. Also, you’re earning a bit more money.
This is where north London comes into its own. Living where proper adults live means there are more nice places to go out. Try pretending you don’t like nice stuff – no really, try – because you’re not convincing anyone. You like nice pubs like the Scolt’s Head and the Faltering Fullback, and you like Upper Street because it’s actually really useful to have a lot of shops selling lots of things on one street. You like Whistles. You like fucking Pret, OK. And that’s OK. You are 25 now. You are OK with who you are.
Nice doesn’t mean frumpy
It turns into a disco after hours
It’s everyone’s first example, but Rowan’s isn’t frumpy. SIN isn’t frumpy. Fink’s isn’t frumpy, and the Alma isn’t frumpy. The New Rose isn’t frumpy. The Lamb isn’t frumpy. The Lexington isn’t frumpy. The Myddleton Arms isn’t frumpy. The Island Queen isn’t frumpy. Black Axe Mangal isn’t frumpy.
Obviously it’s closer to work because work is mainly in central London and there’s more of central London north of the river
You remember yourself when you looked around your house in Camberwell, just after you graduated. You remember one of your housemates – the one who worked in a pub in south London – talking about how well-located this house was. And you remember drawing up the Tube map in your mind. You were still getting to grips with it, but you were pretty sure that Camberwell wasn’t close to where you were interning in Old Street. Nor, indeed, is it on the Tube – you don’t think – because you had to get two buses to get here. But the house is so nice! And your housemate has basically already said yes, and is that a verbal contract?
Once you’ve been commuting for several years you realise that you would choose a house just because it makes it easier to get to work, because you do mind that it takes you an hour to get to work, because you actually spend more time at work than you do at home and therefore this is, entirely, relevant.
The transport links are better
Sure, this sounds like the sort of square thing someone who lives in north London would say. It’s also very obvious; saying that south has no Tube links, and east only really does if you live in Mile End or Bethnal G (because the District/Ham and City lines don’t count, and the Overground is always off) is the sort of tedious observation that makes someone come out batting for south London just to spite you. You later find out they live in Archway.
However, it is obvious because it is true. I live behind the Emirates; there are four Tube stations within walking distance of my house (Finbury Park, Holloway, Highbury and Arsenal on the Piccadilly line, which is within two minutes of my front door). My housemate, who works in Holborn, can be at work in 20 minutes door-to-door, and it takes me 25 minutes to get to work in Shoreditch. Sure, throw a house party/birthday drinks at your place in Brixton – it’s in Herne Hill, by the way, and if north London’s frumpy Herne Hill is too – and then watch as half the people leave to get the last Tube home. The half who remain are inevitably not the half you wanted to stay.
So you can say all you want about how the nightbus holds a mirror up to humanity (you’re a twat), or that it stops outside your door (bet you sleep well), and it’s basically “a continuation of your night out” (you decided to go home – it’s why you’re on a nightbus. Decide what it is you want). Plus you get as many Ubers as I do – whereas I’ll be the one laughing all the way home (and to the bank) when the night Tube comes in.
You can go out in east London without having to live in east London
I lived in east London last year. I lived off Kingsland Road, in a small flat with no living room and presided over by the kind of voluble sociopath who knows he has you over a barrel, because you’re in your early 20s and want to live “in the thick of things”. Once, he made me cry in my bedroom because he hadn’t arranged to install the internet I was paying for. I paid more for that room, in that flat, than I paid to live in a large Victorian townhouse in Finsbury Park the year before. It had three storeys, a living room, a kitchen and a front and back garden. We threw two massive parties there and no one complained. In east London, a woman came round to ask me to stop talking to my housemate in the stairwell on a Saturday afternoon. I moved back to north London when my lease ended.
It literally took us 20 mins to get to London Fields and take this photo
Because there are excellent bus and nightbus routes to east London. The 236 takes me to Kingsland Road, Broadway Market and London Fields in about 20 minutes. The 141 takes me to Dalston and Shoreditch. Uber takes me everywhere. But now I can live in a three-bed, two-storey converted Victorian house, with a large living room and kitchen and huge basement. I know where I’d rather be.