“Rent control,” says a friend, explaining how she can afford to live somewhere nice (nice, can you imagine?) in Vienna.
“Uhhhhhh, rent control,” I repeat back to her, practically salivating.
I worry that I sound aroused. Maybe I am. This mention of rent control, I realise, is like hearing a friend talk about how much their partner goes down on them, when you’re dating someone who “has issues with that”. London is exactly that sort of selfish prude. Trust cities like Vienna, Berlin and Paris to be way more attentive, rent controlled, lovers.
Later in the evening, I’m clicking and dragging my way through Southwark. At least I think it’s Southwark. I’m playing GeoGuessr, an online game where you’re placed somewhere in the world chartered by Google Maps, and you have to work out where you are based on your surroundings. It is intensely nerdy. It also helps me get to sleep.
You can set your location to particular cities, so I’m testing my geographical knowledge of London, the city I’ve lived in most of my life. As I click past blocks of yellowish brutalist low-rise flats, onto a high street with a Travelodge, I notice a lump in my throat.
Then it hits me like a big, vommy night bus: I’m going through the worst breakup of my life. London is ghosting me. In the process of searching for a rental, after years of living with my parents, £800-a-month crack dens are a dismal indicator of just how aloof the geographical love of my life has become.
My walk through Google Street View is effectively me trawling through an ex’s Facebook pictures. Even London’s blandest streets are hot. I’ve been reduced to tears by a Travelodge. I’m dangerously close to opening Spotify and tapping “Adele” into the search bar. I wonder if I’d do a London Travelodge. Not do someone inside a Travelodge, but somehow actually hump the entire building. I did hear about a woman who tried to marry the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
There’s something about looking at London on the internet, as opposed to just walking out of the front door, which reminds me exactly how beautiful it is; how even kebab shops, tower blocks, and racks of Boris bikes are enough to make me nauseous with the exact tit-breaking sadness evoked by someone you love treating you badly.
Maybe the entire London-based portion of my generation needs to wake up to our city being a negligent fuckboy and move out. All on the same day, preferably. That’d teach the money-grabbing narcissist.
“YOU MAKE IT SO HARD FOR ME TO LOVE YOU, LONDON,” I want to scream, every time it downs the money on my Oyster card like a £5 pint of Carling. “I’m moving to The North. Enjoy being spit-roasted by sweaty billionaires. I have too much self-respect to pay £10 for a frozen burger in a pub. And another thing, the Shard isn’t even that architecturally interesting. By the way, compensating for much, you self-absorbed, boring starfucker?”
Before I know it, I’m back on Rightmove, scrawling through veritable shacks and trying to convince myself we can make it work. Because I’m in love. Even if my city doesn’t love me back. Maybe there’s some comfort in the fact that once London gentrifies itself into one massive glass dildo, it’ll die surrounded by semi-robotic bankers furiously masturbating into the Thames.
There aren’t enough love songs about rent control.