City blues

When we first started thinking up the idea for this site, we decided it would be a hopeful, positive place. We want to share our ideas and inspiration for a more fulfilling, sustainable, peaceful world, and show our progress from where we are now, and how we aim to get there. But that begs the question - what is so wrong with where we are now? What are we leaving behind as we move havenwards?

Trafalgar Square Routemaster Bus London 2016

Where are we now?

We both currently live in London. We have a smallish ex-council flat in a part of town that’s getting a bit more gentrified. We have decent white-collar jobs that we manage to work at flexibly, and a life that is full of many great things. So what’s wrong?

Frankly, it’s the city itself, sad to say. Urban living, particularly in a place as crowded and hustle-driven as London, is exhausting and can be cruel. Over the last eight years that we’ve collectively lived here, poverty has got worse and more visible, crime has risen and become more violent. Homelessness has changed from occasional, isolated rough sleepers into homeless encampments and people begging on trains and in restaurants. Drug paraphernalia are more visible. People who clearly desperately need help and support for mental illness and other afflictions are very visibly falling through the cracks, cracks which are now gaping holes. The city has a feeling of being divided between those who live isolated from these problems and can choose to ignore them, and those who live in the middle of it. Communities are isolating themselves from the outside world, creating insularity and hostility, instead of diversity and friendship.

We’re sorry to turn to the grimness so much, but it can be heartbreaking living in a city like this and seeing how divided it has become. We don’t want to move away just so we don’t have to see the problems. That would make us no better than those who live in ivory towers and pretend it’s all okay. Future posts will cover how important it is to volunteer and to give something back to your community, to try and do what you can to make the world a better place. But there does come a time when you need to recognise the limits of what you can manage to do. And though we have the greatest respect for Samuel Johnson, we both heartily disagree with his statement that:

When one is tired of London, one is tired of life
— Samuel Johnson, Diarist and 17th century author

When P first moved here in 2010 it was in a spirit of optimism. It felt like a new path in life was opening up. Friendships blossomed, and she found herself in a warm, friendly community. Over the years, as people have changed and moved away, or found that the world is not as open as they’d hoped, it seems that those optimistic feelings have faded, to be replaced with something a bit more bitter. For C, it’s been a similar experience. She didn’t arrive until 2012, and although the first years in London were hard, while she worked a variety of poorly paid internships, it still felt like there were strong communities to be a part of. Sadly this is no longer the case.

There are still great parts of London, but over the past eight years it’s become somewhere we no longer feel able to be totally at home in. It’s an angry city, a sad one.

What will we do?

We don’t want to dwell on the negative too much - so what do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this? Where something as central to your life as where you live becomes something that is potentially toxic to your wellbeing? This could apply to your workplace, your relationships, all manner of other areas of your life as well.

What we have decided to do is to move towards creating a new life somewhere else. We know quite clearly that neither of us would be happy living long term in a city, but we do love human connections. We want to look for somewhere a little more remote, somewhere we can build strong community networks again. London has everything indeed, but not room for fruit trees in your garden, unless you have a few million tucked away. We’ve looked, we don’t have a few million behind the sofa.

So if you find yourself in a bad situation, ask yourself (like we have), can you fix it? Can you make it better? What do you need to do to make that improvement?

You need to care about both the situation and yourself. Would it ask too much of you to try and solve it yourself?

In our case, we give our time to help the causes we care about most, working directly with homelessness charities and rough sleepers to try and make things a little bit better. But we can’t create the kind of systemic change that needs to happen - turns out, as well as not secretly being millionaires, neither of us is actually the Mayor of London.

We’ve very, very slowly built better relationships with some of our neighbours, and now exchange seasonal treats. But many of the other people who live around us are just not accepting of lesbians, and that’s not really a thing we can change, no matter how many biscuits we bake or conversations we try to start. And that’s okay, everyone gets to decide on what moral basis they live their lives - we don’t think it would be right for us to dictate otherwise.

While we think we should help while we’re here, we ultimately know from London, that the city can’t give us what we want: quiet. Small scale communities. Space. A garden. Pubs that use plates!

Rural path in woodland Scotland Aviemore

make it better

You might be in a workplace that’s sapping your energy. Do you wake up filled with dread knowing you have to get in there each day? Maybe you can repair and improve your relationship with a colleague who’s making your life miserable, but if your workplace requires a whole new CEO and board structure, you might realise you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Take the time to think about your situation. Be honest with yourself. If you know you’ve done all you can and it’s still not getting any better, then there is no shame in moving on to a new chapter. If you think there’s more you could still do, then fight hard to make the changes you think are still needed and that are in your power to make.

And that’s why we started this blog, essentially. Although we are both atheists, we hold in mind the serenity prayer:

Grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.
— Serenity prayer

It’s essentially a reworded version of Stoic philosophy, and it’s something we try to live by. We have changed what we can whilst remaining here. Our next step towards true peace will be moving out of London. Havenwards will chart the story of our journey from here to there.