On the UK

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July 8, 2023 6 min read

It's been a while since I've written anything on my blog.

I'm safely in the United Kingdom and have been here for several months now. I've been through the austere cold winter months of February and seen some of the Sun of Summer.

I don't think I have anything profound to share, but I'll share for the sake of completeness.


The sky in London feels low. Not crushing, just imposing. I don't know if it's the overcast weather or the density of the buildings. Whatever it is, it has a cramped feeling about it. Occasionally there are brilliant, sunny days where the clouds retreat and the space feels expanded. Everyone here really loves those days. These days are few and far between. Even now, in Summer, it's currently cool, raining and cloudy.

The cold is not that bad, provided you have the right kit. The darkness of winter is more meddling than the cold. There are no issues when it comes to electricity. Yes, it is outrageously expensive but it is always available. The same goes for gas. If your house is feeling a bit nippy you can just turn the heating on and things get toasty in no time.

Things are expensive here too. Groceries are reasonable, eating out and wine are extortionate. Rent in London is unhinged and simply unjustifiable. The flats are miniscule and stacked on top of each other. I've learnt to live with it, but it's absolutely bizarre to witness.

As you move further from London rent prices drop drastically, while the floor size climbs. I imagine I'll be living outside of London soon enough. The transport network makes it easy to live further out.

In general, it seems that income inequality seems diluted here. There are the ultra rich (it is London after all) but it seems there is a far bigger and rounded middle class here. Moreover, the working class here seems much better off than in South Africa.

People tend to resent the government quite a bit here, however I don't think they quite appreciate how bad it can be. That said, it is all relative.

We decided to buy a car, but we don't really need it. Cars seem to be the exception not the rule when it comes to travel. We would be fine without one; the public transport is sufficient. Granted, the there are frequent train strikes which are hugely frustrating but can still be manoeuvred around easily enough.

I have taken the wrong train twice and the wrong bus once. I've gotten off at the wrong stop twice. It is hilarious in hindsight but overwhelming at the time. There are apps that make getting around easy, but there is very poor cellphone signal coverage which cripples the help afforded by the apps.

The cellphone signal coverage is actually extremely poor - not something I had anticipated. I've changed networks and spoken to others and it seems it really just sucks.

People in London are not friendly. They don't greet each other and are not very polite. Outside of London people tend to be warm and kind. I've been taken aback twice now when greeted out of the blue by a passing stranger in London. I immediately feel guilty for not being the one to greet first.

One of those times was on a run. On that same run it dawned on me how easy it is just to put my running shoes on and go for a run. Yes there may be rain and it might be muddy, but there is practically no crime. Moreover, there are many amazing parks in the UK. I am still rather alert (with my South African roots), with a part of me always aware of my surroundings. I think this is a good trait and it doesn't impede me.

There aren't many hills at all in London and 11 m above sea level, so running is much easier here. I tremble to think how I'd cope running now back in South Africa.

I'm enjoying being close to my friends that live here. Seeing them is ironically more difficult here than in South Africa, as we are bound by transport links and times. Nonetheless, it's good to know in nearly every situation you'll have some way to get back home. Worst case, an eye watering Uber ride can be taken.

On the social side, drinking and alcohol in the UK is omnipresent. There are pubs on every corner, always patronised. Come late afternoon, they begin to swell with people and boisterous chatter circulates. It doesn't bother me, but it differs from what I'm used to. Specifically, the concept of a pub/drinking hole and frequenting one. It is a shift from socialising at a restaurant (or home) with a glass of wine (if desired) over dinner.

I've been rather constantly sick since arriving. I blame the cold and the new climate (with a good dose of stress). I've noticed on the train or tube that people in London are perpetually sick. Always with a light cough or sniffle (even in Summer). Your cold or sickness might go on sabbatical, deceiving you into thinking it may have absconded, only to return motivated and empowered.

I do have access to free healthcare (that I had to pay a lump sum for, so not so free). I've yet to use it but I've heard mixed reviews. Unlike South Africa, you can't simply walk into a doctors office or hospital. It requires a booking (unless you dupe the system and phone the emergency line) and they can be hard to come by. Similarly, don't even get me started on Health and Safety in the UK.

Closing Thoughts

I haven't quite decided in which country my preference resides, it is far too early to make that judgement.

I miss the ease of living in South Africa. It is a simple place with plenty of freedom and space. South Africa is cheap and it is what I know. I do not miss loadshedding or worrying about safety.

I am grateful to be closer to a lot of my friends, sad to be further from my family and friends in South Africa. That said, everyone is just a flight (and small fortune) away.

When it comes to the UK, I love the reliability of the public infrastructure and services. Everything just seems to work (provided you don't scratch beneath the surface).

London is eclectic and always buzzing, it's an energetic and exciting place to be (if you can afford it). I am blessed to be able to experience London and all it has to offer. I am about to start a string of trips into Europe too which I look forward to.

I'll come back to this topic in a few months, hopefully once I've come to some sort of conclusion on the matter.