They say there’s a divide: those who live north of the river, and those who live south of it. The Thames is the line between these two halves of London, each of whom think they are superior to the opposing point of the compass.
With the exception of the Southbank, the London Eye and Borough Market, tourists who come to London generally stay north of the river. The real London. The one they’ve seen on postcards, with the bright lights of Piccadilly circus and the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street. Cross over one of the capital’s bridges, and you’re in a different territory. The London underground doesn’t extend to the depths of south London – and for many Londoners, if you can’t get there by tube, it’s practically Australia.
For many years I was firmly in the north camp. Having lived there for nine years, the thought of crossing over The Border and putting down roots in a place where tube stations were few and far between seemed nothing short of ludicrous. Of course, those friends who did live in south London sang its praises. The calm! The green! ‘We’re so close to central, yet we’re out of the hubbub!’ they chime, eager to recruit more north London defectors to their side. ‘Yes’, I’d nod. ‘It sounds great.’ And then I’d promptly head home to Islington and think how great it was to live the right side of the river.
Yet now, I am sitting in a cosy living room, in my very own house, in the suburban streets of East Croydon, south London. The roads are quiet, the neighbours friendly and the parks plentiful. Leaving Zone 1 to retreat to my south London oasis is revolutionary after a manic day in the city. I’m even a keen green-fingered Londoner now, grateful for my outside space after years in a top floor flat.
I’ve turned a corner: I’ve finally realised that south of the river has an awful lot going for it. It’s much cheaper to live here, for a start, yet only fifteen minutes to central London (if indeed you want to stray that far). The area feels like a proper home, not simply a place that we live: we’re all happier and calmer since leaving the mania of central London – we just wish we’d seen the light just a few years earlier.
But when other Londoners sing the praises of north of the river, I don’t jump in to correct them. I don’t shout about the south or condemn the rest. I nod and agree. ‘Yes, north is best’, I say. ‘You should stay there.’ Because the last thing I want is my secret getting out and more people fleeing to my oasis: I want my calm slice of south London to stay exactly as it is.
I’m now a proud south Londoner – but let’s keep it on the down low.