When I was a teenager, I had a vision for how I wanted my life to go. I imagined three years studying at university, then moving to London for a (fairly ill-defined but somehow glamorous and creative) job, living there until my thirties, and then settling down with a partner in the country. And that’s essentially what I did, only I left London two years ahead of my own internal schedule.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
- I found the woman of my dreams earlier than I thought I would. We both had dreams of living a rural life, elbow deep in earth and home-grown vegetables. We couldn’t have that in London.
- London… was not the city I imagined it would be. Or rather, it stopped being that city.
There’s one really common thing that comes up when people talk about London: ‘everyone’s so unfriendly!’
And that’s not entirely true – we built great relationships and friendships with people all over the city, from the landlord of our local pub, to folks in nearby coffee shops, some of our neighbours… We had good friendships too.
But the city itself seems to cultivate this closed-down, inward-facing mindset. Before Covid-19 hit, I was still commuting in twice a week. And I could almost feel myself shutting down mentally as I got into the city. I walked faster, I looked at the ground, I avoided eye contact. I felt like a different person in London to the person I was at home.
Here’s what we’ve found since leaving London:
- People here want to talk: Generally speaking, that is. I mean, we’re still British, and that involves a certain amount of reticence. But I love it when I’m out in the garden and one of my neighbours pops a head over the fence to ask a question or to have a quick chat. People behind the counter in the local shop know us, and ask about our day – and we ask about theirs. In London, you could try doing that but it was difficult. Talking to people made you look a bit odd. Here, it’s normal.
- It’s okay to move slowly through life: it’s okay to take your time here. London seems to encourage people to rush; the city can be a hostile environment. Here, I don’t feel like I’m trying to helter-skelter through the day, I can step back and enjoy my environment.
- The little moments matter: I mean, this is still true anywhere, but it feels more important here somehow. The small things delight me: waking up and feeding the chickens in the early morning, the slow walks to the allotment, freezing my own veg… Lifestyle creep is a big thing in London – if everyone you know wants to go out to a fancy bar for (admittedly delicious) cocktails that cost £12.50 each, then that’s what you do, to keep up and socialise. You get home and you’ve spent £50 or more on one night that’s already slightly blurry. And then you do it again the next week. Here, it’s somehow easier to step back from that and focus on what feels important, and to take joy in creating those moments in our own home.
One big lesson
When we told people we were moving to a village, we had a lot of concerned friends asking if we were worried that people in the country wouldn’t accept us. After all, we’re a pair of vegan lesbians, and the stereotype of rural ‘middle England’ is that they’re a bunch of narrow-minded, slightly bigoted judgemental types.
Life here couldn’t be further from that stereotype. No-one bats an eyelid at us walking down the street holding hands. When we announced we were engaged to our neighbours, they were delighted for us. Not once have we experienced any sideways looks or snide comments. We used to have a lot of that in London, honestly. From personal experience, London is a much harder place to be openly, confidently gay than rural Staffordshire.
Someone who remembered C from school came up to her in the pub the other day and said he remembered her as someone quite quiet and withdrawn – and that it was wonderful to see her looking so happy and fulfilled. Hardly the actions of a little-minded individual.
Maybe I’m setting the bar too low on my expectations for people here – but honestly, I’ve never felt more accepted anywhere.
So one thing to take away…
If you’re living in the big city because you feel like you have to, in order to have the exciting life of your dreams, and you’re not actually happy… then take the leap. If there’s one thing Covid’s shown the world it’s that there is a lot of work that can be done remotely, so you might not even have to change your job. If you’re a keyworker or need to be based somewhere in person, see what your options are to transfer or find a similar role elsewhere.
Don’t be afraid of leaving the big smoke behind and moving somewhere you can breathe again. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough.