Whoever said they’d rather be skint in London than rich in Hull is clearly lying to themselves. With house prices reaching absurd levels, novelist David Mark urges disaffected Southerners to try the life of luxury in Lincolnshire.
Monday: opera. Tuesday: ballet. Wednesday: dinner in that nice bistro in Shoreditch where they serve raw veal-cheeks on planks of wood. Thursday: drinks at that tapas place by the river – the one with the slam poets who wear their trousers on back-to-front to show they’re turning their back on popular culture. Friday: a banquet at the new Friary-themed restaurant below the church; y’know, the one where you wear a cloak and eat by candlelight and get to wrap a cilice around your upper thigh while whipping yourself bloody with the main course. Saturday: quick bit of naked zip-lining from the roof of the 02 then a Harry Potter-themed afternoon tea then it’s off by motor boat to a concert at that converted vivisectionist’s off Harley Street …
Yes, okay, there’s lots to do in London. But there’s a good reason why Londoners take such pride in the fabulously cultured ways they can spend time in the capital. It’s because nobody wants to go home. And why would they? It’s tiny. It’s cramped. There’s a war going on over who’s due to pay for the repairs to the communal stairs and the bloke on the top floor has started sacrificing hamsters again. And don’t mention the housemate, with their passive-aggressive notes politely enquiring who it was who finished their three-day-old pizza crusts they had been looking forward to with a pot of garlic mayonnaise. And oh, yes, the rent’s due again. For the cost of a five-year-old Ford Fiesta paid by Direct Debit on the 27th of the month, you too can share a converted coal-bunker with somebody you can’t abide and enjoy a bedroom so small that in the event of your tripping over, you’ll become wedged before you reach the floor.
Apparently, there is a new class of Londoner who spend a lot of time bitching about the cost of living in London. Well, yes! Of course they do. Have you any idea how mad it is to spend hundreds of pounds a month for a bedsit in Brixton when you could be living a life of luxury in Lincolnshire?
It’s no wonder so many ultra-defensive Londoners spend their lives waxing lyrical about their sophisticated lives or the marvellous cultural treats they can experience during their leisure time. If it were me, I wouldn’t go home either. I’d go straight from work to a gallery opening, or a premiere in Leicester Square. Hell, I’d go and have a game of football with the tramps rather than sit at home watching the walls close in. I’d have my favourite coffee shops and bars. I’d spend sunny days watching the roller-skaters fall over in the park and my wintry days ambling around the British Museum and saying ‘hmm’ at pieces of Greek sculpture.
What I hope I wouldn’t do is convince myself I had a superior life and that my day to day life was worth every penny of the fortune I sacrificed each month to sustain it.
A new report claims that it can cost a Londoner up to 50 per cent more than a non-Londoner to achieve a “decent standard of living”.
Because stuff costs more in London than anywhere else in the UK, a single person in Inner London apparently has to spend £410 a week to get by — £130 more than the UK average. Well, I have a suggestion or two. How about eating at home? Cook a meal, in your actual kitchen. Make coffee in a flask and stop spending £4 a go on massive mugs of froth. Or, and here’s a real cracker of a suggestion …move North.
Let’s just compare for a moment. I live in a tiny village midway between Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Hull. It has a church and a pub and the last exciting thing that happened involved an escaped chicken. I live in an old parsonage. It has five bedrooms and comes with three acres of land, on which I keep four horses. It has stables too. It costs me a little under £1300 per month in rent.
Sometimes, when I feel a perverse desire to torture myself, I watch the daytime property shows on TV. Yesterday I saw the presenter showing off a studio flat in Hammersmith that cost the same per month as my home. It had an open plan kitchen-cum-lounge and a bedroom. And that was that. Apparently it was really handy for the tube, which was held up as some kind of selling point. For that kind of money I’d expect the taps to dispense single malt and that bathtub to dispense Monica Bellucci.
Now, I don’t hate the South. I’m rather fond of it. I’m there once or twice a month for meetings with publishers or my agent or to show my face at book launches. Sometimes I even go for the simple pleasure of seeing a new play or pottering around the observatory at Greenwich. I made a special trip recently for no other reason than there is a restaurant on Butler’s Wharf that does really good steak and I fancied one. At such moments, I see the appeal of having a residence in the city, if only to cut down on the cost of reaching the capital.
It costs just over £100 for me to get to London and back in a day on the train. My nearest train station is a five minute drive away. From there it’s an hour to Doncaster and then two hours further to London. The idea of a 9am meeting is preposterous and if I attend an evening event I have to leave at 7.30 to make the last train back. That can be a pain. But it’s not enough of a pain to uproot myself from what I think of as a pretty luxurious existence 180 miles north of Westminster. Even if I suddenly sold enough novels to count myself a multi-millionaire, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to spend colossal chunks of cash on a property that simply couldn’t be worth such a huge sum of money. I’d need to keep telling people how much it cost in the hope they would be equally outraged. I’m like that when I get back from Bloomsbury and tell my neighbours what I was charged for a Double Jamiesons as a digestif. They tend to look a bit suspicious about the use of the word ‘digestif’…
When I saw the piece in the Telegraph stating that the author would rather be skint in London than rich in Hull, I did not feel angry for the poor misguided soul. I understood completely. He’s probably just spent his morning tube ride into work with his face in somebody’s armpit. He’d no doubt spent three quid on some form of complex chai latte and narrowly escaped being sandwiched between a bendy bus and a Boris Bike. Perhaps he’d used the last of his monthly budget to buy himself a box of sushi and pak-choi and realised he’d blown a tenner on some raw fish and wet leaves. In such circumstances, it’s okay to question your decisions and to comfort yourself with the knowledge that at least you’re living a cultured and sophisticated life in the heart of the big city.
I wasn’t cross, because I read the piece on my iPad while lying in bed watching the horses play in the fields. Then I made a reservation for the nice restaurant in the next village (Michelin-starred) and struggled to decide whether or not to attend the new play at Hull Truck Theatre or go and see the folk group at the blues bar 20 minutes further inland.
I’m not bragging (well, a bit) but I would rather be moderately well-off in Hull than skint in London. And what’s more, I’d rather be rich in Hull, than rich in London. Want to change my mind? Send money now ….
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