Now officially the most expensive city in the world, according to the current issue of Newsweek, and with an old Etonian as its new mayor, London is certainly having something of a crisis of cool. And by crisis, I mean absolute and total hemorrhaging.
Streets awash in politically bankrupt free-sheets that prove the maxim, “you can’t put a price on total shit”, Johnny Vegas sexually assaulting girls at the Bloomsbury and – fuck – when the So Solid crew starts recruiting shotgun-toting Barristers, surely it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. Although not via Terminal Five, obviously.
I’ve spent a bit of a manic few days hopping all over the city, catching up with a whole bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while – pedalling a boat on the Serpantine with Rob and Richard, lunching in Farringdon with Angus, networking on the Southbank with Mike Butcher and the great and the good of UK.com and finally last night partying in Soho with Zoe, Maggie, Anna, Michael, Tom, Scott, two Alexes and a whole bunch of others. And while the people were as cool as ever was, there was something – a definite something – missing.
Take Soho – I swear drinking around there on a Friday night used to feel vibrant and fun. Rammed, sure. Overpriced, f’real. But fun; and with the sense that adventure – a new bar, a bizarre conversation, a brilliant joke, a girl with an infectious laugh – could lurk around any corner. But last night – standing outside Cafe Boheme, surrounded by boozed-up runners and shaggy-haired APs who, at the first sign of sun, had crowded on the streets to smash glasses and shout ‘oy oy’ at their mates – I could easily have been standing in a G2 article about provincial binge drinking. This wasn’t my beautiful Soho.
As Alex and Zoe – both recently back from the US – observed; no one in London seems to give a shit any more about barging past you or invading your personal space. Even on St Patrick’s day in Dallas, in a bar packed with paralytic college children, there was more basic courtesy. And not least the courtesy not to charge you the equivalent of $100 for lunch and $40 for a bottle of house white.
If two-and-a-bit months in the US taught me anything, it’s that Samuel Johnson was wrong. Being tired of London does not necessarily mean one is tired of life. Au contraire; being in San Francisco, for example, showed me just how un-tired it’s possible to be with life when eating a gigantic cheesecake on a sunny roof terrace, while San Diego revealed the perfect pleasure of lying on a sun lounger between conference sessions with good friends, catching up on business reading. The perfect business / pleasure Venn diagram.
Call me a hypocrite (you won’t be alone) but being back in London I miss being around people who aren’t cynical about everything because it’s cool to be too cool for cool school. I miss getting a ton of work done but still feeling relaxed and healthy. And I miss having lunch and getting change from fifty quid.
So, for all these reasons, I was really pleased yesterday to get the booking confirmation for the first stop on stage two of my travels. An ‘office’ in the mountains of Valle de Abdalajís, replete with high-speed Internet, but also hills for parascending. Six weeks (to begin with) in an amazing place that once again costs far less than even a modest flat here – with plenty of work space and time and with the benefits of healthy mountain air and the possibility of some actual exercise.
Adam Kay suggested the perfect phrase the other day, to describe what I’m aiming for: being a ‘technomad.’ The world as the ultimate open plan office, paid in Sterling and using geographic arbitrage to maximise real earnings in Euro, Dollars or whatever feels most appropriate.
But it’s not all work, work, work and so I’m equally delighted that, like last time, plenty of London will be coming along too, at different stages. It’s like packing up all the adventures, jokes, bizarre conversations – and, who knows?, girls with infectious laughs – of London in a maroon suitcase on wheels and taking them with me, away from the madness.
Of course, I’ll come back to London – lots. I’m still in love with it, more than anywhere else, and always will be. But for now, my heart needs to grow fonder. And we all know how that works, right?