London has changed

Peter and I lived in London (technically in Maidenhead followed by London) for nearly five years from 2011-2015. From there, we then moved to Seattle and recently moved back to London.

When we moved back to London in July 2019, we lived in Kensington for our first two months and then moved to Islington where we had lived prior to moving to Seattle.

Though we are only about a mile away from where we lived prior, the vibe around our current flat compared to our prior flat is completely different. Part of this is because Islington (and London) has changed and part of it is because we are closer to the High Street with its abundance of shops and restaurants.

We landed in Islington not because we failed at finding housing in our preferred area, Hampstead, but because an estate agent called me with a property that had just come on the market in Islington and ticked all of the boxes. We visited it the same day and we felt it was a good fit and so we went for it.

So how has London changed in the approximate four years that we were in the USA?

Contactless payments

Gone are the days of inserting your card into a machine and entering your pin. Nowadays, the majority of customers pay via contactless payment (e.g. contactless cards, ApplePay, etc.).

When we moved back to London in July, our cards did not have the contactless feature and I felt like a dinosaur inserting my card and inputting my pin when paying. People would glare at me because my chip-and-pin method of payment took too long.

We were only in London for a couple of weeks before we had our new contactless cards and had set up ApplePay, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, I popped into a salon to have my eyebrows threaded and the customer next to me whipped out a fiver to pay and I looked at her with horror. Cash? Is that cash in her hand? I didn’t have any cash on me.

Before the technician started working on me I said, “Just want to quickly confirm that you accept contactless payments.” She said, “No. Cash only for threading but there is an ATM next door.” I said, “I don’t have any cards. I only have my phone and my keys.” and then walked out in disbelief.

More tipping/service charges

Previously, tipping was at the discretion of the customer. The general rule was that tipping was not expected but appreciated and a tip of 10 percent was the maximum amount in most cases.

Since moving back, almost all of our restaurant bills have included a service charge (aka tip) and it is generally 12.5 percent. (By the way, Blacklock is a great restaurant for a Sunday roast, just skip the bloody/beefy mary.)

More motorcycles

More motorcycles are buzzing around London. This is a direct result of more restaurants and shops offering delivery service. The background noise in London is now diesel cars and buzzing motorcycles.

More delivery services

Nearly every restaurant now offers delivery service. I can get almost anything I need to be delivered directly to my door at this point. Essentially, London is getting lazier (and more convenient).

More delivery location options

Background: Due to high package theft by delivery drivers and people stealing packages off doorsteps, all package deliveries require a signature to be delivered. This policy goes back many years and was in effect when we moved to England in 2011.

When ordering products online, customers can now choose to have deliveries made to their doorsteps or to a local shop or depot (at which the customer will collect their package at their leisure).

Also, when choosing to have the package delivered to your door, most delivery companies now either provide a two-hour time delivery window or a tracking system where you see where the delivery driver is currently and how many stops they need to make before your stop so that you can estimate their arrival. The freedom this gives the customer is indescribable.

Previously, customers would be stuck at home all day waiting for their package. And if you think being stuck at home all day every now-and-again isn’t so terrible, then let me explain further. When you are stuck at home, you cannot do things like shower because you know luck has it that the moment you step into the shower and lather up your hair that the damn doorbell is going to ring and you are going to miss the delivery!

More pedal cyclists

I happened to be walking down Islington High Street (aka Upper Street) the other day during evening rush hour and was surprised by the number of pedal cyclists. Peter and I often dream about how peaceful London would be if it were made a car-free zone.

More Tube trains in disrepair

Tube trains were in terrible shape when we moved to the US and they are in worse shape now. The cloth on the seats of some train lines has been worn so thin that foam is nearly poking out of the cushions. In 2015, Transport for London was talking about replacing cars on many of the train lines (i.e. Piccadilly) and here we are, many years later and the cars have not been replaced.

There are still only four London Underground lines that have “air-conditioning” (i.e. District, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, and Circle). I put air-conditioning in quotes because the air-conditioning cannot keep up with the sunshine pouring through the windows and the doors constantly opening and closing on even slightly warm days.

These four lines run above ground (technically subsurface). In addition to these four lines, London Overground trains have air-conditioning but experience the same issues with keeping the trains cool. None of the London Underground trains that are contained (or mostly contained, i.e. Piccadilly) underground have air-conditioning. In the summer, temperatures in the tunnels and platforms underground can soar to 116 °F.

More smoking

More people are smoking on the streets of London. This includes cigarettes, vaping, and marijuana (illegal). I was recently in Peru for nine days and I can count on two hands the number of people I saw smoking cigarettes and over half of those people were Westerners. In Peru, I never smelled marijuana and I did not see anyone vaping.

I concluded that almost no one in Peru smokes (cigarettes or tobacco). This was the most surprising thing about Peru and though it was great to walk down the street without people exhaling smoke into my face, the smell of cigarette smoke was replaced by extreme pollution.

More fancy gyms

When we lived in London previously, the fanciest gyms were Barry’s Boot Camp, OrangeTheory Fitness and Virgin Active (their top tier clubs). Now there are fancy gyms everywhere and they all want your business which means there is fierce competition with pricing and it is marvelous.

More skyscrapers

London is starting to look like a big city. Up until recently, Canary Wharf has been the hub of skyscrapers and in the photo below, Canary Wharf is not included in the frame.

More independent shops

Maybe my taste and desires have changed or maybe there are more independent shops or maybe it’s both but there are definitely more small businesses in London than a few years ago. Though the espresso in London is still not on par with Seattle, I do appreciate all of the independent coffee shops near our flat.

More homeless

Not only are there more homeless people loitering around train stations, supermarkets, and shops but there are more homeless people who are addicted to drugs and there are more youth homeless.

When we lived in London previously, I would see homeless people but it was a rare event and only in certain areas in London. Now I see homeless people daily across London but nowhere to the extent of the number of homeless people I would see on any given day in Seattle. Seattle is on another level with its homeless epidemic and is one of the top reasons why we chose to move out of Seattle.

There isn’t a core demographic of homeless people in London. I see everyone from women in their early 20’s to immigrants who have made the perilous journey from Syria to the UK to men in their 70’s who are chronically homeless.

Crossrail is still incomplete

Technically, this is not something that has changed. It is something that should have changed so I’m writing about it anyway.

Crossrail (aka “Elizabeth Line”) is a 73-mile new rail line that extends from Reading in the west, through Central London, and to Shenfield in the east with a couple of small branches along the mainline.

Crossrail construction began in May 2009 with an estimated completion date of December 2018. The timeline has been extended at least two times and is now estimated to be completed by March 2021 (excluding Bond Street station).

In 2019, and after the timeline extension to March 2021, the new estimated cost of the line is £17.6 billion, more than £2 billion over the original estimate. I hope that we see the opening of this line in our lifetime because we have lived through closures and refurbishments of train stations not only in Maidenhead in the west on the Reading-Paddington route but also in Central London.

Electric black cabs

Electric black cabs have finally hit the streets of London! I have only seen a few of them but they exist and London will smell better and be more quiet with every diesel car that is replaced by an electric car.