Am I going to be the last person left in London? – Telegraph.co.uk
Walking back from the school run – o rapture! – I bumped into a local friend I hadn’t seen since lockdown.
“We’re moving to the countryside,” she announced. “Not another one,” I groaned. “I just can’t do another lockdown in London,” she said, her eyes darting nervously about, as if she expected one of Boris’s marshals to spring out and book her for seditious talk. “We’ve found a place near Stroud. Should be out of here in afortnight.”
Normally, if a friend was planning something as silly as leaving London, I would try to talk sense into them. Think of the awful winters! Think of the incessant driving! What will you do for work? How will you survive the lack of culture, nightlife, decent coffee – the shortage of humans? But this time, for the first time, I was silenced by doubt.
Among its many other extraordinary feats, the Covid-19 virus has made me – a Londoner born and bred, and until now unwaveringly loyal – question my love for the Smoke. And not just me: one in seven Londoners have now decided they want to leave the capital, according to a recent survey by the London Assembly Housing Committee.
Some of the reasons for this are obvious: lockdown generated a panicked yearning for space and greenery, while the Zoom revolution demonstrated that many jobs could perfectly well be done from home, wherever home might be. The attractions of the capital – the restaurants, nightclubs, theatres and arts venues, and the jobs that go with them – have been all-but extinguished by social distancing rules, and may not return at full strength for years. (If ever.)
In terms of social life, there’s no longer much difference between Hackney and Herefordshire: the same rule of six applies. Besides, many people have grown accustomed to a more insular way of life. If you’re going to live in isolation, you might as well enjoy the view.
The disadvantages of city life, meanwhile, are more acute than ever. The traffic is permanently gridlocked, now that everyone is avoiding public transport. Violent crime, which came to an abrupt halt in lockdown, seems to be creeping back. My nights are once again disturbed by continual police sirens and the whup-whup of circling helicopters.
I never really minded the danger and squalor of London before: it was cancelled out by all the fun. But increasingly it feels like the fun is being had elsewhere. Four of my neighbourhood friends have moved to the country since lockdown. They send me photos of cows grazing outside the kitchen window, sun-kissed children picking blackberries in the hedgerows, or the whole family gathered in worship around the puppy they never would have had here.
These things are self-perpetuating. Friends follow friends. Moving to a new place feels less daunting if you know someone nearby. Not everyone can afford to leave the city, of course: you need the sort of white-collar job that can be done online. But it’s cheaper to buy a house and raise a family outside London – for now, at least. Perhaps this exodus will eventually turn the housing market on its head, making London the pauper’s choice and putting Cornwall beyond the dreams of avarice.
I expect I will still be here even then, amid the empty skyscrapers and the crumbled ruins of artisan coffee shops. But I’m mourning it already: the death of the city I loved.