Coming up for breath

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London in the rain

The pace of a city shapes it. Rio rotates to the rhythms of samba, Rome struts, and Sydney saunters. This week I returned to London, a city that races through its days. Any visitor who has ever been here and made the mistake of standing on the left of an escalator will have experienced the city’s impatience. There is always somewhere to go next, someone to get ahead of, a next step to achieve. We rush, and we race.

I relished this pace for years. I fed off it and exhilarated in its excitement. London was alive and I was buzzing within it. I could imagine living no place else – I’d be bored, forever ruined by the city’s magnificence.

But ten years passed, and with them the city began to wear. The rapids no longer carried, but wore away my energy. It was time to come up for breath.

I took that breath for 30 months, through South America, Asia and Europe. I dipped in and out of streams – the barefooted amble of the beach, the spiritual fervour of Bali, the stroll and cycle of Berlin. I was no longer racing, I was perusing ways of life.

This week, I jumped back in to the river I’d once escaped. I was in the London race. I skipped down the escalators, I flitted from spot to spot – breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I smiled at the life. I was re-exhilarated by the vibe, the forward pelt of all its people.

London sucks you in. It slaps you in you the face then catches you in its tide. I reeled from it at first sight, but quickly fell in step with the vibe. I love this city, I feed off it, I fall to its allure. But I know there’s a reason I left. It’s fast pace wears me thin.

I can play in these rapids, I can revel in them, but I need someplace else to swim.

What’s the pace of your hometown? Or what’s your ideal?

16 thoughts on “Coming up for breath”

  1. I feel the same way about New York City. I love the energy there, but after five years of fast-paced life there, I was exhausted and needed a break. Now when I visit, it’s with a renewed sense of peace. I walk around with that same feeling of awe and wonder as when I first moved there, and am always sad to leave. But the anticipation of my next visit is now that much sweeter.

  2. Yes! This is exactly how I feel about London. It’s always weird to answer the “where are you from?” question because when I say “London, but I don’t live there anymore and I much prefer to visit, because I don’t think it’s a great place to live”, I get the kind of ‘are you crazy?’ look.

    I’m here now, and am commuting again to teach on a (thankfully) short summer course. Just a few days after arriving, I was that person who told the tourist standing on the left of the escalator in the tube to move to the right. I didn’t even say please. It shocked me how quickly the city had sucked me back in to its rhythm. It’s a bit scary, even.

  3. I grew up in London, but as time went on I spent all my free time and money escaping to the coast and countryside. I now love visiting London … i think it has changed for the better and plan to do some house sitting there next year. However home for me these days is Sidmouth which is healing, gentle and nurturing. On the whole I much prefer it.

  4. You write beautifully, and pin point the essence of London so well. It’s a city that’s like a human speedball – got the shock of my life when I first went. I grew up in Dorset where the buses stop running at six. TC XX

    • Thank you Claire 🙂 Yes, I actually got a shock in the opposite direction when I went to Devon and found there were barely any buses at all!

  5. Nearly all the Londoners I’ve met have always said how frantic and rushed their city feels to them. I have to admit, I don’t get that sense from London at all. Maybe it’s the fact you Brits queue so well, or people still stop to take afternoon tea, or because we had just spent nearly 2 years in Asia, but I found the city pretty chill and relaxed! Still electrifying and absolutely enchanting—London is one of my favorite cities in the world—but not really chaotic or bustling, and so very quiet! I always love my trips to London, but I do see how it would be wearying long term; I had the same thought that I’m not sure I could live there because the locals really do seem to work so much and many definitely seem a bit browbeaten by it.

    • I love hearing foreigner’s experiences of London, Steph! I completely understand where you’re coming from (yes, compared to many Asian cities, London is not “hectic”), but I think what Londoners comment on as being frantic and rushed about the city is less to do with the way London manifests itself physically, and more a psychological issue that’s deeply ingrained in the culture of the city, and to a lesser extent, the whole UK. You mustn’t talk or make eye contact, or heaven forbid, conversation with strangers. You must move everywhere quickly so as not to impede People Who Are In A Rush. You must work hard for your lowly wage that will barely cover the cost of living in this wildly expensive city. And yes, you may complain about it, but it is frowned upon to make any steps to changing that status quo. Does that make sense?

    • It’s so interesting to hear that you think London is calm! I imagine you didn’t experience the rush hour?! The city definitely has its moments and its quiet spots, but the pace of life when living there is hectic. I’m pleased you like it though. Despite my reservations, it still feels like home and is one of my favourite cities in the world 🙂

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