Earlier this year, while back in the land of my birth, I was in central London, crossing the River Thames by night in a taxi with a dear friend who asked me “Don’t you miss all this?”
She was referring to the beautiful view we had of the South Bank, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, as well to the full but exciting business day we just had and the great meal afterward.
I was surprised by the question, because the thought of missing London had not seriously occurred to me since moving to Coastal Georgia a few years ago.
I suppose I occasionally feel a pang for an iconic English view, or when some other reminder of Britain appears — an accent, a photograph, a call with a friend or relative, or even when some random British show comes on the telly (yes, we really call it a “telly”).
However, it is at these times that I remind myself that the reality of day-to-day life in London — and most other huge international cities — is less impressive than any particular postcard memory or moment in time.
I had to remind myself that as wonderful as it is to cross the Westminster Bridge in a London black cab, a 6-mile journey costs more than $50, and of the many times I found myself outside in the rain and cold trying unsuccessfully to hail a taxi after a business dinner at 11 p.m.
The alternative to traveling in the United Kingdom’s capital is, of course, The London Underground, known as “the Tube.” According to www.tfl.gov.uk , the Transport for London website, the Tube carried 1.2 billion passengers last year across its 249-mile network and 270 stations. The average speed was 20 mph.
What the website will not tell you is that after 10 p.m., it becomes a much-less enjoyable way to travel. It definitely is not a crime- or hassle-free zone, in particular for ladies traveling alone.
Now that I have complained about London’s weather, cost and transportation system, what is good about it?
Well, it really is wonderful to have such a choice of shows, shopping, music, culture and excellent and diverse restaurants. The business environment is tough, fast-paced and always exciting.
There are four major international airports in greater London, and within an hour or two you can be in France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Scandinavia and many others. I appreciate these things today more than I did when I lived there.
So back to my friend’s question: Do I miss it? Well, no … not usually. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time there for years, or maybe just because I am little older and not as accustomed to the hustle and bustle and crowds of a major city as I used to be. I am lucky enough to visit England regularly, see family and friends and get a “top up” of all things British.
This is not to underestimate the fact that London is a great city or wonderful place to visit. The distinguished English writer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, famously said in 1777, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
However, it is worth keeping in mind that the population of greater Savannah today is about 362,000, according to seda.org. London in Dr. Johnson’s time was only about double that number, according to www.oldbaileyonline.org, as opposed to today’s 8 million or so.
Draw your own conclusions about this wonderful part of the world.
God bless America (and Coastal Georgia)!
Francis moved from London, England, to Richmond Hill in 2009.