Haven't we all had a public pee in Hackney...?

Haven't we all had a public pee in Hackney...?

Ah, the public piss – that age old custom that marks a top night out and too long a journey home. It's unusual to be on a night out in London and not see at least one turned back and a new burgeoning river flowing down the pavement, steam rising. But do be careful where you lay your piss river or apartment blocks with a 'riverside view' will start popping up quicker than you can say 'pissing fine'. 

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The problem with London guilt

The problem with London guilt

Like many Londoners, I suffer from Londoner’s guilt.

I’ll smile, tight-lipped, when some out-of-towner declares London a disgusting hole. I’ll politely change the conversation when someone tries to tell me that bringing up my children in the capital is tantamount to child abuse. I’ll be overly generous about the virtues of Liverpool’s nightlife or Birmingham’s civic buildings. I will be quick to offer a defence of any provincial dive on the basis of how lovely the nearby countryside is. I support the desire to ‘rebalance’ the economy and tut mournfully about how out of touch the metropolitan elite is with the plight of those in other parts of the country.

I do all of that because I know how lucky I am to live in London and there’s no need to rub it in to anyone who doesn’t. But the Brexit vote has shown that this is a bad strategy. Londoners’ guilt was a luxury we thought we could afford because we were living through a golden age, but it was storing up problems.

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Neoliberalism, the concealed adversary

Neoliberalism, the concealed adversary

In the tumult and panic of the post-referendum world, commentators debated with furore and bewilderment at the result. Void of leadership and consumed with uncertainty, our democracy seemed broken and yet vibrant, the establishment had been defeated and yet also had won. Afraid of what had been uncovered in our national psyche, we had stared into the mirror for too long, unable to recognise the scary face in the reflection.

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Sunday sessions at the pub

Sunday sessions at the pub

I moved to London in 2007. Six years ago I moved back home, to Berlin, which means that I've now spent double the amount of time back in Berlin than I ever did living in the UK. Remembering those years, that point in my life, is hard for me. Not in a “tough times make me sad” kind of way; it is literally difficult. Most of it feels hazy, and I have a hard time pinpointing actual events. Much like the best dreams, it feels unreal, but still manages to leave a deep impact. While I find that my general quality of life has greatly improved since moving back to Berlin, there are certain things that make my heart ache when I think of London.

One of them is Sundays spent at the pub. Sitting in Camberwell's Tiger, the Phoenix, or at the Sun and Doves, are some of my fondest memories of London. Friends pop in and out, a newspaper is messily piled on the table, cold pint in hand, the day lazily stretches out ahead of you. Then, just when you're on the verge of getting a tad too tippers than should be acceptable on any given Sunday, you order a roast.

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A man gets tired of London, it happens

A man gets tired of London, it happens

Samuel Johnson didn’t just give the English language its first dictionary – he also bestowed upon it a powerful defence of living in London: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

It’s a pithy quote with some internal symmetry, so it feels true. Plus, he was an erudite man of letters, so even when delivered by a dumb friend or a tea towel, these words seem authoritative. But Johnson's quote is bullshit; he is wrong, dead (and) wrong. The more appropriate (and truthful) quote is “When a man is tired of London, he is tired.” Full stop.

I mean no disrespect: London is a great city. Music, literature, comedy, economics, politics, it's always had a protagonist's role – and nobody will ever take that away. But it’s kind of a terrible place to live. Unless you like being tired.

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