I am an Irish woman married to a New Zealander, living in London for the last decade and a half. I never intended to stay. Nor did my husband. However, we are still here, still threatening to leave and still going nowhere. London is a wonderful city. I have studied here, worked here and had my children here but I still do not feel that I belong. I wonder if anyone who moves to London, particularly from abroad, ever truly feels like a Londoner.
I am a doctor and also a PhD student. I am a wife and a mother. Most days I feel I do all of these things badly. I frequently wonder whether I would do them better if we lived in Ireland or New Zealand. I suspect the answer is no but it is a constant source of disquiet, like a loose tooth that I cannot stop myself from fiddling with. Life here is good, but London to me is a place of small spaces, homes, gardens, tubes, offices, all designed for fitting the maximum number of people into the smallest possible area. It is a place of strangers, a place so big that it is easier to embed yourself in a corner and try to think of your corner as a village. It is a place for passing through. Most of our antipodean friends have moved back already and more are planning to go.
In my never planning to stay, I was especially never going to have children here. There wasn’t enough space, we would be far away from our families and the safety-net of grandparents and siblings and we had heard enough about the cut-throat sport of manoeuvring children into schools to want to avoid that game. There was already enough divided sports allegiance in our relationship without adding children who supported England. But in time, all these problems seemed minor, and anyway, we were planning to move, so we went ahead and now have two little girls, complete with English accents. We have met many lovely people, have embraced a life of trips to the park, rather than running around in a big back garden and have been making the most of the wonderful things London has to offer a child- museums, iconic buildings, double-decker buses. We also get out of London as much as we can, though that didn’t stop my smaller child from mistaking a large dog for a cow, or my elder from asking if we were at the zoo when we did actually see a cow.
So why have we stayed? We tell ourselves that it is because of our jobs. We both have careers that are not easily transferrable. In particular I need to finish my PhD and probably become a consultant before I move. Increasingly though I think it is because we do not know where to go. My husband would probably need to change careers in order for us to move. If we move to New Zealand or to Ireland we are still far from someone’s family. We have both been away for such a long time that we begin to wonder if we belong there anymore. The reality is that, whether we belong or not, London is home, at least for the present. And in it we live our little London lives.