Lots of my close friends moved out of London during the pandemic and I feel I've been left behind

·3 min read
Hattie Crisell - Ming Yeung
Hattie Crisell - Ming Yeung

They went one by one, or sometimes two by two. Someone accepted a dream job in Manchester; another decided to try IVF back home in Dublin. I waved them off by phone or Facetime only.

I understood why my friends, all in their thirties, had decided to give up on London life during the pandemic, but since lockdown had prevented us from actually seeing each other for some time, it all seemed breezily theoretical.

Then Boris’s roadmap was unfurled this week, and phones began to buzz with social plans. I spied an advert for a festival I liked the look of, planned for late summer in south London, and started mentally scanning my contacts, wondering who might want to come.

Andrew? No, he’s taken a job in Tokyo. Anna? She’ll be living in New York by then. Chloe? She’s been back in west Ireland for almost a year.

Then, with a dawning horror, I started to tot up the friends who had either left since the start of the pandemic or were planning to go in the next few months. Eleven, is the answer.

Eleven close friends of mine, many of whom I’ve known for 10 or 20 years, and would be socialising with on a regular basis, had Covid-19 never happened. While I was looking the other way – staring at my own four walls, in fact – a mass exodus had taken place.

Several of them made the decision to head back to where they grew up. Confined to their expensive, small and gardenless homes in London, with all of the capital’s attractions closed, they started to dream of larger houses close to their mums and dads and siblings – so off they went.

There are also those who got stranded – gave up expensive rents temporarily and went home to their parents, then found that actually, they had no great inclination to return.

"It made me wonder why I stayed so long – everything’s so much harder in London," one school friend told me, on the phone from his dad’s house in leafy Newcastle. He’s now buying a place of his own up there.

And then there are those who took the pandemic as a push into new adventure, counteracting the small life they’ve lived for the last year by making plans to move overseas.

They’ve all got good reasons, but I can’t help but feel mournful about being left behind. It’s like going for a power nap at a house party, and waking up to find that everyone’s gone home.

I’ve missed my mates in lockdown, but I’ll miss them even more when London’s pubs reopen and my friends aren’t in them.

When I take to Twitter to see if others are experiencing the same thing, I receive a flurry of sad responses. "In my kids’ school, one class has lost nearly a third of pupils," says one woman. "I’ve lost seven friends and counting," says another.

Somebody sends me a report by the accountancy firm PwC, which has predicted that the population of the capital could fall by more than 300,000 this year – the first annual drop since 1988.

Many of my friends talk wistfully of trying to move back to London soon, or returning in a few years; I want to believe them, but I can’t.

Escape the capital and you can afford so much more – but try and return, and you can’t afford anything.

"We’ll visit all the time," they promise, and I say the same to them. We have these conversations, full of wishful thinking and soothing prevarication, by phone and FaceTime only.