When I moved from Yorkshire to London, I ended up with maximum living costs for minimum lifestyle. In one move I went from spacious, decent, quiet, reasonably priced accommodation, to horrible accommodation of half the size and twice the price. For the extra money, and the extra work – Londoners work harder than people in most parts of the country as a direct result of dense population – I now breathed the most polluted air in Europe, equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day, queued everywhere, endured motor transport that travelled little faster than walking speed, was subject to continuous noise, especially from neighbours and most of it unnecessary, and was surrounded by people at all times who contained individuals who in the bad old days would have been contained in prison or mental asylums. London is an extremely expensive and polluted mad house.
But, hey, I’m a quiet person. Known to spend entire days, sometimes weeks, just reading books. Should be possible to lead a quiet life, even so?
Well, not in a tiny slum bed-sit, with continuous traffic noise and the neighbours from hell. Sometimes you just have to get out for a bit of peace. But where can you find it? Before I moved to London one of my simple pleasures was going out to a cafe to have breakfast. Just have a pleasant meal prepared for you while you let your mind idle. But where to go? The nearest cafe was an archetypal .”greasy joes”. Why go to have breakfast in a place as dismal as my own home, but with the addition of having to listen to ghastly music blasted at high volume. The next alternative was a nice cafe, blessedly music-free, serving nice breakfasts, at Hilton prices. Then I found a nice, reasonably priced cafe, no horrible music – filled with parents and children. And that is the point. You are not just going out for a fuel-stop. You are seeking a pleasant, reasonably peaceful environment, where you can also give your mind a rest from distraction and racket. Not something you find in the presence of other people’s children. So I stopped going out for breakfasts. My already tiny social life contracted even further.
For a time I tried different venues – coffee shops. But the same pattern occurred. Anywhere that was nice, and affordable, was filled with kids. I abandoned that and sought refuge in the local pub. For a short time that worked, and I would finish work, pick up a newspaper, and find a seat in the local pub where I could drink hot chocolate, and also have a breakfast, before going home to my hell-hole flat, that I worked so hard to support. But then the area yuppified, and in the complete absence of any other venues at reasonable prices, mum’s and kids turned my last sanctuary into a child’s playground. I must add that the pub in question was not the semi-restaurant family-friendly type. More like a doss-house with a bar. But it was quiet – up till then.
Now I am aware of the facts of life. I was a kid once too, but unlike other people I remember what childhood and other children are like, and developed an early preference for child-free environments, where you don’t have to watch them like hawks in case they do something suicidally stupid like bolt out the door into the traffic, or playfully tip a cup of hot coffee over baby to see what happens. An adult environment where you can relax, enjoy the conversation, or in the absence of conversation, hear yourself think.
Children have their spaces. But that should not mean every space. Adults need their spaces too.