Being at UCL for three years has opened my eyes to all the quirks of the London lifestyle. Love it or hate it, you certainly cannot deny that the city is bursting with diversity. Here are ten pros and cons I noticed about living here:
1. How much cash you burn
Whether it’s buying drinks in clubs or food in restaurants, you’ll soon realise that coins evaporate in your hands. Thought you had £100 left in your account? More like 3p.
2. How much free stuff there is
In London it’s a financial necessity to figure out ways to hold onto those precious pennies. You can find culture for free: the Wellcome Collection near UCL has free galleries and there are permanent free exhibitions at the Tate. Sometimes there are buffet/drinks receptions in Mayfair that you can blag your way into. I always make sure I wear my little black dress – works like a charm.
3. How stressful getting around can be
One way to shave a few years off your lifespan is by daring to take the tube in rush hour. Perspiring commuters are packed tight as sardines. It is almost impossible to move once you’ve inserted yourself; you’ll probably find yourself squashed against someone with rather tenacious halitosis. Don’t even try and make eye contact – it’s illegal.
4. How nice the quiet is
Sometimes with all the throng of people, engines, horns, construction work etc, a bit of quiet can be the greatest gift of all. There are some lovely areas around UCL, like Senate House, which has a wonderful reading room full of plush Chesterfield sofas – ideal for spending an indolent afternoon slumped over some Hemingway.
5. How many chains there are
The march of the Prets can make London feel like a world of déjà vu. Even though you sauntered past one two minutes ago there’s suddenly an identical eatery in front of your very eyes. The same goes for Starbucks, Nero, Costa, Eat etc – Tottenham Court Road is like a hall of mirrors.
6. How pretty it can be
If you’re feeling a bit blue, the greenery of Hampstead heath is a splendid haven away from all the smoggy hustle and bustle. It’s perfect when it’s blazing hot to chill out on Parliament Hill with a crisp glass of Lambrini. Admittedly it’s busy on the weekend, but there are always a lot of dogs about, which is great if you need some canine therapy. Just don’t steal one. Steal two.
7. How abysmal the nightlife is
The glittering lights of Elephant and Castle promise a wealth of excitement. The DJ at Ministry may seem like a modern messiah, and you’ll feel an alcoholic blaze in your head from four double vodka and cokes, but at the end of the night you will be far from nirvana, waking up in a Stratford skip with a kebab dangling out of your mouth.
8. How great the daylight is
It is true that students have a notorious reputation for being nocturnal beasts. But spending some time soaking up the rays is, in my opinion, much more fun than stumbling around the neon sarcophagus of Lightbox. There are rooftop terraces dotted around the city for drinking spots, some great coffee shops in and around Soho, and the portico steps at UCL for reclining on. Camden is a bit hit or miss – it’s very sticky and touristy.
9. How creepy the Jeremy Bentham auto-icon is
In the South Cloisters of UCL there is an unholy wooden cabinet containing the remains of UCL’s founding father. As a way of immortalising himself, Bentham decided to never leave his university by requesting that his corpse be propped up and displayed. But the reliquary is more grotesque than glorious. Whatever you do, don’t google ‘Jeremy Bentham’s head’ – you have been warned.
10. How stimulating university actually is
Seeing the vacant waxy features of Jeremy Bentham is a small price to pay considering the enjoyment found elsewhere. There have been some really interesting seminars, lectures, chats with tutors and evening talks from visiting professors. Bloomsbury is great for literary history: Woolf and Eliot used to mooch around Tavistock Square and Russell Square. London is an amazing place for an English student.
Nick Potter, UCL English graduate