He who is tired of London is tired of life: Samuel Johnson

| September 1, 2010 | 0 Comments

As a student of English Literature in central London I studied various writers who wrote about London. I had arrived from rural North Buckinghamshire and had absorbed the poetry of William Wordsworth about the sinfulness of city life and its temptations, presumably alehouses and brothels.

In the long run I ended up living in London for thirteen years, addicted to a feeling of lassitude and inadequacy, lost in the idea that I could never achieve anything in the huge city or ever have any impact on the world. Parallel to this I found it very hard to make friends. Everyone else was motivated by the excitement of London but I was in despair. London has a place for desperation and it’s in the gutter. London was tired of me.

Twenty years later I live half an hour away from my original home, in the countryside of south Northamptonshire. I think about Wordsworth again and realize that he was nearly always right. People have more time for you here than in the big city and when they say something it actually has meaning. Wordsworth’s attitude to local rural characters seems patronizing today. But I think that this was entirely unintentional and that in the Lyrical Ballads, for instance, his evocation of country people who live among the mountains of the ‘Lake District’ says much about the human soul. Yes, he wanted to use the language ‘ordinarily used by men’ or words to that effect – obviously, this statement is full of pitfalls by today’s politically correct standards – but by doing this he wanted to capture something of the integrity of country people. We (I don’t use this pronoun royally) are close to life and death in the countryside. We love the animals which inevitably go to the slaughter. We care about each other partly because the environment is not very populated compared to a city and each encounter with an individual involves a sense of the mood of the person. We live in the country and know what loneliness is like. We also know what it is like to go to church at harvest time to celebrate together. We love to see a horizon that is marked by trees and a green landscape (that is forever England and I might also say that we know who died for us in the wars in order to preserve the freedom that we cherish and the values that are part of our identity in the past and present).

I have meandered far away from Wordsworth in some ways. But anyone who has read Wordsworth will know that that is what he enjoyed doing. Wordsworth also realized that there are moments which are pivotal in our lives or ‘spots of time’ when a shadow falls over us and we are intensely aware of both deep meaning and fragility in our lives. We need to reflect on these times of crucial insight and let them guide us through the complications of life so that we can muster inner strength from them. If we are sensitive individuals, we don’t need a barrage of social drinks’ party gossip on a daily basis — or for that matter the mindless visual and verbal nonsense generally broadcast on the television – in order to be fulfilled. We don’t want our sleep broken by loud traffic and rubbish collection or recycling. I, personally, would rather be disturbed by my dog barking at the hoot of an owl or a predator such as a fox.

Living in the countryside, enjoying the seasons and the company of people, as well as the quietness, to me represents a far happier version of existence than that offered by London, even with all its theatres and art cinemas.

Tired of London? Yes indeed. Tired of life? Get real!

Copyright © Sally Hale


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