So, to mark ten years working here in the big smoke (if not always living here – we’ll always have Swindon), here are ten top London tips. Feel free, of course, to add your own in the comments, for London or your locale of choice.
1. As soon as you live here, you get to be a Londoner. But remember to be a tourist in your own city. Get on the open-topped buses. Sail down the river (I really want to do this on the Waverley this autumn. Hmm. Maybe this weekend, in fact). Do the Tower, and Buckingham Palace, and the galleries and museums one wet Sunday at a time. And subscribe to my mate Andrew’s brilliant weekly email, and buy his gorgeous guidebook, to find more cool things to do.
2. The Tube’s great, sometimes for several complete days a year. But buses let you see more, if you can suss the masonic ritual that is “getting a ticket”.
3. Oyster (Transport for London’s contactless card system) makes life much easier, even on buses. Some privacy activists will tell you, as they adjust their foil helmets, that they won’t use it because Gordon/George/Boris/Ki-moon/Ken will be able to follow their movements as they touch in, and touch out. Yet they have no trouble telling their cabbie where they’re going, and are probably Twittering and blogging the minutae of their paranoid lives from the back seat as they do. Ignore these people, and remember to smile for the CCTV.
4. On the tube, or in the street, keep walking. Briskly. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to Londoners’ fantasies about dealing with those who don’t.
5. No matter how much you earn, and no matter how much more you’re earning with your new London job, you will feel poor. Even Roman Abramovich was surprised at the cost of a loaf down Borough market, and left wondering if he’d taken enough out the hole in the wall for that and an artisan sausage sandwich with organic lemonade for lunch. Really. Or maybe not*. Console yourself with the fact you’re not having to scrape by on less than the London living wage, like one in seven of your new city neighbours. Or maybe you are, in which case, condolences. The government thinks you should survive on the flat-rate UK minimum, despite major banks, other big employers and even the new Tory mayor thinking Ken Livingstone’s higher London minimum is a good idea.
6. Helpfully – because you couldn’t afford a nice car anyway – having a banger with damaged paintwork is the pragmatist’s motor of choice around London. It means you can move into traffic without fear – that BMW/Mercedes/Audi driver will let you in**. It’s not that they’re being nice – they just don’t want to get bashed. Have you seen the insurance premiums?
7. Ah, yes – insurance premiums: for the love of God, shop around. Some insurance firms, landing you with an annual bill that’s one third of your car’s total value, seem convinced London’s full of people madly driving into one another. What? Oh.
8. Don’t buy a house with a basement.
9. Pocketing the money you’ve saved by not buying a house with a basement, save up, and do a really great restaurant. You’ve got an amazing choice, but the best meal I’ve had in London was probably at Rhodes Twenty Four, up the old NatWest tower; British food done really well, with stunning views of the city.
10. But the simple pleasures are good too. Nothing makes you feel like you’re in a great city more than watching the world go by with a late-night/small hours coffee at Bar Italia in Soho, or a greasy spoon breakfast in a formica topped-table caff a few hours later.
* The Abramovich thing is a lie. A flight of fancy, for illustrative purposes only. Sorry.
** This does not apply for London buses. Really. Don’t. Try. It.