My girlfriend, Jen, and I recently realised that we have been living in London for almost 4 years. It was a bit of a revelation as it definitely doesn’t feel like it.
London plays a big part in the visual effects industry and if you live in Europe and want to work on features films you will probably end up here at some point in your career so I thought I’d write down my thoughts on the place.
I was born in Manchester and brought up in Wilmslow, just south of Manchester. I went to university in Nottingham but moved back to Manchester afterwards and got my first proper job there. While working in Manchester I always thought I’d end up in London one day but the idea seemed a little too intimidating for an industry newbie.
In the end it was other circumstances, not my career that took me to London. My girlfriend had been living in Brussels but got a job with the BBC in London. Once she settled in London I started looking for work there so I could join her. After a few rejection letters I got my break, landed my job at HMX Media and packed my bags.
Most of the media companies in London are based in Soho, including all the big film post houses. HMX Media was on Wardour St, which is one of the main roads through Soho.
View Soho in a larger map
Soho is a really fun part of London. There is the red light district, with sex shops, brothels and strip joints, the gay area with clubs and bars, there are plenty of fashion boutiques and designer clothing shops, there are theatres, loads of pubs and more places to eat than you could possibly imagine. Because of all the media companies, you are likely to see a celebrity or two on your lunch break.
There is a darker side to Soho. Bikes get stolen at any time of the day and the red light district attracts some of the seedier members of society. There is a lot of drug use too. It’s not usually obvious but pub toilets are designed to make it hard to find a surface to snort coke from and I have seen needles in the street. Despite this, unless you are out in the really early hours, the area is usually so busy that it feels safe.
Manchester is a big city, but London is on another scale completely. It is so different to anywhere else in the UK that it seems like it should be its own country.
The rest of the British think that Londoners are a little arrogant and assume their city is the centre of the universe. But after living in London for a couple of years I found myself thinking the same. When I go back to Manchester now it feels quieter and much smaller than it used to. London has completely distorted my sense of perspective.
The scale of London has a massive effect on how Londoners behave. There are so many people that it is hard not to become one of the stereotypical commuters who doesn’t talk to anyone else and huffs rudely at the tourist who stands on left on the escalator.
The size of the city also affects how you socialize. I know a lot of people in London, whether it’s people from work, my lacrosse club or friends from Manchester who have also moved here, but they are spread all over the city. This means that we usually have meet up in central locations and if you are meeting on a weeknight you usually end up going straight from work. This means a lot more time spent in pubs and many people who move to London have noted that they seem to drink a lot more here. Because most people use public transport to get home at the end of the evening, home time is often dictated by the last tube, which can put a dampener on the night.
Other than the pubs (and there are a lot of them), there is so much to do in London. All of the stuff you would expect in a huge capital city; the museums, galleries, exhibitions, historic sites, gigs, theatre, restaurants, parks etc. are really world class. You have some of the best in the world here.
Coping with London
There are two things that get to me most about London: the time it takes to get around, and the number of people. Sometimes, at Oxford Circus, or at one of the main stations, it is hard to take in just how many people there are. When you are jammed onto the Victoria Line on a Monday morning it’s hard to keep your thoughts positive. I’ve found though that London gets me down the most when I’m not taking advantage of the opportunities it presents me. When I start resenting the city, I make an effort to go and do something that I couldn’t do anywhere else in the world, like going to see the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, or cycling through Hyde Park, and that helps me appreciate why I’m here.
When I used to visit London, before I lived here, there were loads of sights that would make me think ‘wow, London’. But once I moved here, this feeling wore off pretty quickly in most cases. I remember walking to the tube at Piccadilly Circus after work about a month after being here and noticing that I’d stopped gazing at the lights like I used to and had started getting worked up by the tourists instead. Luckily though there are still some sights that impress me every time I see them. I can’t walk over the Hungerford Footbridge, between Waterloo and The Embankment, without admiring the view of the city skyline, being in awe of the size of the river and thinking ‘London is awesome’.