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You can never really leave London, says Mike Diver

 

Vice’s gaming editor moved to the seaside: how’s that working out for him?

When I left London after a decade living in the capital, I was lured by marginally cheaper house prices and something like 900 pubs for just over a quarter of a million people. Like many of those who pound the streets of this city, I went in search of calmer climes – Brighton, specifically – but I drag my sorry bones back to the city almost every day for work. I moved because when I step out of my front door now, glance to my left and see the sea, a little wave of happiness washes over me. I did it because I wanted a better life for myself, and I suppose my loved ones (I’m a family man, so they had to come, too).

I might have paid my money and taken my leave from the choking cacophony of the capital to the massive skies of the South Downs, the pebbles of the beach, the stink of the chip shop fryers and ear-piercing shrieks from the hen parties wobbling down West Street, but back I go to London, frequently. The city has somehow become both grey and garish to me, and so oppressive; at home there are green hills rolling to the horizon on one side, and white-crested calm to the other. I drink it in: the sea so close I can taste it. Then I walk to my right, to the station and the office in the Big Smoke.

And I resent it. I hate the fact that while my family has forever escaped London’s grip, I walk straight back into it, willingly, repeatedly. Take a look around you. Chances are that if you’re on the tube, or a bus, or just walking around London, you’ll see others like me. Others who have left but can never leave, others who have to be here, but are in thrall to the siren call of home. We all have our ways of dealing with it.

There’s a guy beside me on the platform at Hayward’s Heath as I write this. He’s got a tidy grey suit and a briefcase that’s seen better days. The 10.17 London Bridge-bound train rolls in and we board together, immediately finding whatever seat we can that’ll likely keep a vacant one beside it until East Croydon. As we do, I spot the can of Gordon’s pre-mix in his hand. Envy’s not the feeling, but neither is pity. I guess it’s more like – I suppose – solidarity. I fumble in my backpack for whatever interactive coping mechanism I’ve brought with me, to numb the tedium of another Brighton-to-London journey. We all have our ways.

The 19.47 is my regular train back. It’s the first direct one out of London Bridge after peak time, so it’s always crammed full of workers, day-trippers, dribbling half-termers and luggage-lugging tourists heading to Gatwick. It’s a service best tackled with support, so it’s a rare day that I don’t pick up a travel beer or two prior to boarding. I squash myself into any corner I can find and pop the top. Solidarity, sir. We all have our ways.

But as I sip my drink and leave London behind, I think about all the drinkers and revellers I passed on the way to the station. I think about their long commutes on crammed tube trains to distant zones of the city. I realise that their stresses are the same as mine, and their commutes too. The difference is, I get to go home to the sea. We’re all in this together, I’ve just stepped out for a moment.

By Mike Diver

Want more ranting and raving? Read Sam Baines' column on why she spends the marathon crying every year.

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