The Dream of London is a Living Nightmare
We’ve all been there. You’ve just graduated from University, you’ve got a shiny degree and about as much cash in your pocket as an 8 year old on the way to the sweet shop. In other words: you’re screwed, economically speaking. So, you move to London. Because London is a good place to move when you’re broke. It’s where the jobs are, right? It’s where your best mate went when you were pursuing that vital MA in Harry Potter Studies. If they can do it, so can you. Now they work at a hip media company with a swanky business card while you eat pot noodles for the fifteenth meal in a row.
But then you arrive. London. Breathe it in. A miasma of stale lager and cigarette fumes. This is it. You’ll make it here, you know you will. Soon, the spectre of your university loan will be banished; you’ll stuff your overdraft full with all your spare change; people on Facebook will see your photos of communal cocktails in the shape of treasure chests and burn with silent envy.
But here’s the thing. That treasure chest is bigger than your entire flat. Which you share with 6 people you don’t know. You never realised that having a warm flat was an actual luxury until now. To save cash, you all agree to have cold showers. You’ve got a tiny matchbox space in the fridge, where you store your life’s possessions, which amount to two cheese-strings and a pot of week old Greek yoghurt.
They’re gone by the morning. They’re always fucking gone by the morning. John “from Upstairs” is passed out on the sofa covered in wrappers, white yoghurt covering his lips. Netflix is on the telly. It’s been on all night. That’s another £15 to the electricity bill, you think, conjuring the precise figure from the abyss. Because, by now, your brain has developed neural pathways you had no idea you even had and you’ve started to see the whole world in terms of income flow.
Out you go at 6am every day and hop on the bus on your way to your job at an accountancy firm, where all you seem to do is send emails and make Excel spread sheets, and wonder how in the world Friends got made when it bears quite literally zero relevance to reality. What does Chandler even do, anyway?
At 8pm, you head out for a “big dinner” with your old friends to an American style diner that’s just opened where a burger costs £15 and tastes like refried cardboard. Three hours later you’ve spent £100 and all you’ve drunk is 3 double gin and tonics, which you proceed to throw up as soon as you’re within projectile distance of your toilet. You agree to meet up again next week – there’s a Korean BBQ pop-up in Peckham, where the waitresses will feed you for only £35 a head.
As you pass out in your bed, you get on the Internet and start shopping. Why the fuck not, you think. You’ve made it. You spend 90% of your waking hours behind a desk for £25,000 a year, most of which goes on ensuring you don’t starve to death. You may as well spend the remainder on what you want, right? What else is the point of this exercise, if not to amass things you couldn’t get before.
In comes the Apple watch. ASOS gets pillaged. Feeling inspired, you book a flight to Tokyo in a few months time. A kernel of pleasure starts to burn in your brain and the endorphins rush through your body – this is it.
The next morning, feeling a bit lightheaded, but not all bad, you head out. You can’t wait to show people your new gears. Can’t wait to hit up a karaoke bar in Shinjuku with Bill Murray. Because he’ll be there. He’s always there. You’ve seen the movie. This is what it’s all about.
But, the thing is, this isn’t really what it’s all about. Or, it wasn’t what it was supposed to be about. The movie and the reality very rarely cohere, and it’s not really our fault. We’ve been sold something that no longer exists, if it ever did. By the time you spend all your cash on, you know, not dying there’s very little left to do anything with other than escapism.
If London is the cultural and economic centre of the world, which it may very well be, then it’s really sad that the young people who live here are being reduced to feeling idiotic for spending what little they have on themselves.
We’re being asked to save an economic and political system that has – to put it bluntly – screwed us. Wages are low and rents are high, but at the same time, London is continually the stage of new, exciting things. We’ve become the donkey and the carrot – we’re chasing a lifestyle that we’ll never truly own, because it’s not real.
We’ve got two options. Either we live with tighter strings than a tennis racket, saving pennies for that four bed in Hampstead that will always increase in value at a faster rate than we can earn, or consume every fresh thing that you can, but always feel out of date. There’s always a new opening. A new gadget. A new jacket. It’s a Catch-22 situation.
Or, I guess, we could all just leave.