Leaving London Not Quite the Dream

I recently met Helen on our Facebook page.  She promised to share her story and I'm delighted to be able to share it with you now.

I left Highgate Village (N6) for Royston on the North Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border on the 31st July, 2013. Having lived in London since 1982 (came from Northumberland to college) it has been a big culture shock.

I doubt that I would ever have left London had I not been widowed in 2011, met a man from this area and been seduced not just by him, but by the open space, ease of parking and house prices up here compared to London. It's only forty miles away, but a completely different world.

I do like Royston and the community spirit is wonderful. In a very short time I knew more people here Londonthan I did in seventeen years of being in Highgate (all those rich Russians and Kate Moss in their mansions), but oh how I miss London and I think that I always will. It's a short hop on the train so hardly in the sticks, but now I feel in a sort of limbo-world, neither a tourist nor a resident. I miss that feeling of being part of a big adventure that London (for me) brings, or seeing that an exhibition or play is on and just nipping into the West End on a whim. Now, despite the short distance, I've got to sort out someone to look after the dog!

We have a lovely big house, a massive garden, I can always find a parking space at Tesco and people are so kind here; there is no doubt, life is easier. Had I children of school age, my priorities might be different, but much like Carrie Bradshaw and New York in SATC, I have had a love affair with London since I moved there thirty-three years ago and now, no longer living there, it feels as if someone else is having fun times with my lover, not me, damn them!

Would I do it again? No. It was time for me to leave the house - all the shifting of furniture wasn't going to change it from our house to my house after my husband died - but in retrospect I wish that I had stayed in London.

My partner and I both felt that it was important for his sons to have as little disruption as possible (their mother died in 2010 when they were fifteen and eighteen), but just as we moved into the big family house in Hertfordshire (only a couple of miles from their previous family home), they became much more independent and so now, two years after I moved, it's apparent that we could have bought somewhere in London for us and somewhere in Cambridge for them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

I'm not unhappy here - there is no beating of the Rigby & Peller-clad chest and sloshing Merlot in misery every helen2_thumbnight (well, not EVERY night) - and I can honestly say that I very much like living here. But I LOVE London and I miss living there, and when I go to London and I get back on the train at Kings Cross, it doesn't matter how much I tell myself that I can spend just as long on the train getting home as I used to do sitting on the 390 bus to Archway and then getting up the hill to Highgate (all true), my heart feels as if I'm going in the wrong direction, literally and emotionally.
Helen Bailey is a writer and has her latest book coming out in October.  She also writes a blog called Planet Grief
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1 Comment

  1. I just read your piece and found it very helpful. I too left Northumberland for London after my student days were over and have enjoyed London life ever since (whilst in my case, also complaining regularly about the air pollution, noise and litter). I’ve been dreaming of relocating to somewhere more rural and having a characterful cottage, large garden and small dog for some time and it would make perfect economic sense, but I can’t quite make the break. I think I’d miss London too much if I left…. But am willing to stay open minded and perhaps prove myself wrong.

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