City living - John C. Kirk
Mar. 26th, 2008
11:15 pm - City living
Today I've been off sick with the dreaded Man Cold. I skived off SJA last night so that I could have an early night with some soup, then stayed in bed today until 4pm. I'm over the worst of it now, but it's left me feeling feeble, so I've been lazing around the flat for the rest of the day rather than doing anything energetic.
With that in mind, I watched Build a new life in the country tonight; this episode was about a couple from Sheffield who buy an old church in Scotland and renovate it into a house. This was a pleasant enough program: it was "reality TV" without being emotional porn (look, they're arguing and crying!). I've heard of a few people who live in converted churches, and I can see the appeal, although I'm not so keen on this particular building; the walls were made of tin (rather than stone) and they lost the benefit of high ceilings when they split it into two floors. (In my current flat, I can't quite reach the ceiling even if I stand on my toes and stretch out my arms.) Still, each to their own.
More generally, I've been thinking recently about the difference between living in urban and rural areas. For instance, when I went on holiday recently, we drove down to Gatwick while it was still dark outside. Once we got clear of the built-up area, I looked up at the stars, and couldn't remember the last time I'd actually seen them. This is because of the "perma-noon effect" of light pollution, and I can normally read the title of books in my bedroom when the curtains are closed and the lights are off. That's not the case in all of London, but it's certainly the way I've lived over the last few years.
In the novel Quarantine (by Greg Egan), the idea is that our solar system has been sealed in a huge bubble, so we're basically cut off from the rest of the universe. In practical terms, this just means that people can't see the stars anymore, and doesn't really have any impact on day to day life. If that happened in real life, I wonder how much coverage it would get in the media? I've heard complaints that the newspapers (and BBC website) are disproportionately focussed on London, so if the average city-dweller couldn't tell the difference then would it attract much attention?
I recently read the graphic novel Pride of Baghdad (by Brian K. Vaughan); this is based on a true story, about a group of lions who escape from a zoo in Baghdad during the Iraq war. Anyway, at one point the leader is reminiscing about sunsets, and he mentions the sun dipping below the horizon; this prompts the young cub to ask "What's a horizon?", since their enclosure doesn't have one. In fact, this is true for all cities (unless you're very high up), and it's strange to think that some people will live like that for their whole lives. I've got used to it, but I do like open spaces.
Really, I think I'm still a country boy at heart. I've lived in London for the last 12 years, but I grew up in Sussex and lived on top of a hill in Durham. One of the main things I remember about Henfield (the last village I lived in) is that I could basically cycle for 10 minutes in any direction and be surrounded by fields. Having said that, there are advantages to living in the city, which I've also come to take for granted. For instance, when I lived near West Kensington I could get home at 2am and see five chip shops still open near the tube station, whereas when I went on holiday to Cheshire a few years ago most of the restaurants closed by 7pm. Similarly, the job prospects are better in cities, particularly for IT work. So, I'm not planning any major upheavals in the imminent future, but I don't intend to stay in London for the rest of my life.