The leaving of London…

THE baby had just been born and there was a new job at a thriving newspaper in York. Thirty years on, the boy is a primary school teacher and the newspaper is no longer thriving.

Our move north came about at an age when people are now said to be turning their backs on London. We’d both grown up in the north and going back made sense.

It was a good move, even if staying in London would have been better for my career. And my wife gave up her job, too.

It was a confusing, all-consuming time, as it is when the first baby arrives. We stayed with the in-laws for six months while looking for somewhere to live. When we bought the house, we decorated at night, then drove back to Wetherby, often in the autumn fog. Once my wife had to open the passenger door on the MG Metro to check where the road was.

A long time ago, and now we have three grown-up children. None of them  wants to live in London, and who can blame them? It’s a shame, in a sense, as London is a good playground when you are young. Or it was. My knowledge probably needs an update.

I had a great time in south east London working on a newspaper that’s no longer around (bit of a theme going on here). On Saturdays, I did shifts at the Observer (still around, fingers crossed).

All that went with the move, but York’s a top place to live and we’re not aiming to go anywhere else.

According to a report in the Guardian, by financial writer Patrick Collinson, a record proportion of Londoners are selling up to buy cheaper property in the Midlands and the north.

He was commenting on research by agents Hamptons International that found the number of Londoners leaving the capital had tripled since 2010.

Those leaving pay an average of £424,610 for their new property. That buys a “large detached house in a good suburb of Birmingham” or “a two-bed flat above a shop in east London”.

That difference shows you the madness of London prices: not far off half a million for a flat above a shop in an area that would have been considered rough in our day but is now trendy and desirable. Or a proper house in the proper north (or Midlands).

Our flat in London cost £40,000 and sold 18 months later for around £20,000 more than that – enough to buy a three-bedroom house in York. That house was expensive in York terms, as prices had just shot up.

Also in the Guardian, Helen Pidd, the north of England editor, wrote about how she longed to live in London when she was growing up in Lancashire. That’s what she did for most of her 20s. “It was mega,” she writes.

Living in a damp basement was less mega by the time she hit 30, so she headed back. Now she lives in a suburb of Stockport in a four-bedroom house with a view of Kinder Scout from her bedroom window.

Before writing this opinion piece, Helen appeared on last Sunday’s Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4, talking to young people who’d left, or stayed in the north, or gone to London reluctantly for work.

Two of our three live in York. The eldest boy has always lived here, apart from university. The middle boy lives in Salford and loves Manchester. I share an enthusiasm for that city, too, and can see where he’s coming from (or gone too).

Our youngest is back in York after a year in Australia, new job, new shared rented house, with dreams of travelling again at some time.

Only the eldest has a mortgage for a dinky flat bang in the middle of York. It’s lovely but tiny and any cats swung in there would need short tails.

The middle boy is coming up to the age we were when we bought our flat, and he’d like to buy.

All of them want to stay in the north. The days when London was the place to be are long gone. As a northerner by inclination, if not birth or accent, that strikes me as a wholesomely wonderful thing.

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