I’ve recently entered a new phase of my London experience: searching for a place to live where I can do so without flatmates. (London is expensive. This is hard. It’s still exciting.)
I’m currently in my fifth London home: six weeks in a boarding house in Notting Hill; six months in Bermondsey; four weeks subletting in Angel; twelve months sharing with coworkers in Kennington; and now I’m in Clapham Junction, living in a friend’s spare room for a few months.
The current place is great, but temporary: I need to move out by early May. Beyond that, I’m really, really ready to start living alone again. I think the one thing that sharing has really hit home is exactly how much alone time I actually need. I lead a much more social life here in London than I did in Sydney; at the end of it, there’s something very comfortable about going home and not having to deal with anyone else.
The current flatmate and I have a pretty good balance of spending time together and time apart, and I generally get home at least an hour or two before she does after work, which gives me a chance at some quiet time, but it’s still time. The nice part about the current arrangement is that I have 2-3 months to find and move in to a new place, which means I’m not in a frantic rush to find something (as I have been every other time I moved).
On the downside, a lot of places are advertised as available ‘now’ which makes it more difficult to find something well in advance.
Still, some of them are advertised well in advance, and so I’ve started my search already. It’ll probably start slow and ramp up over time, but it’s refreshing to know that I don’t have to take the first place that looks like it might work.
I’m really looking forward to settling down somewhere for the long(er) term. Hopefully, London Home #6 will last longer than the others.
I inspected my first property this morning. Located in Streatham Hill (that’s streat-ham, not streath-am), it’s on a direct bus route to work, even if it is a long way out, and that appeals to me. The area is nice: a beautiful old high street with lots of interesting bars, cafes and pubs, lovely nearby parks. The flat, on paper, was perfect: studio with separate kitchen, gas, bathtub, ultimately no more expensive than my rent was in Kennington.
In practice, it was very nearly perfect but for one thing: the kitchen, while separate, was so tiny it did not have so much as a single counter/bench. It had a fridge, a sink, a stove, some cupboards… and that’s it. Reader, I could not live like that. Where do you chop? Where does the toaster go, the kettle, the microwave? The rest of the flat was small, too – it would be bed, desk (or table, I guess), wardrobe, chest of drawers, and that’s it – but I’m not afraid of small. Still, it needs to be functional.
Were I in a rush to find something, I’d probably have been tempted to apply for this one; but I’m not, and so I won’t. I’m glad I forced myself out into the rain this morning to look – it was educational, if nothing else – and I’m equally glad I don’t need to move there. I’ll just have to keep looking!
(I think the most interesting thing about inspecting that flat, for me, was all the couples. I think I would find it small to live in as a single person; I’m not sure how two people would be able to cope. I’d want to kill my partner in two seconds flat if, when at home, we basically had to sit next to each other on the bed at all times. I understand that I have a good income, and that the London market is hard, but I could not do it. There would be a homicide in two seconds flat.)
I like house-hunting, but I expect my enthusiasm will wane – after a few weeks of it, I’m likely to start panicking about finding the right place, and just worry about finding ‘a’ place. Hopefully something will come up before then!
On Thursday morning, I packed up my bed linen, towel and laptop, and walked a suitcase up Tower Bridge Road in order to drop off the keys to my flat with the real estate agent. By 9am it was done: I was ‘homeless’. Inverted commas, of course, because while I don’t have a ‘home’ right now, I do have places to sleep: I’m covered until the end of January, which is hopefully more than I need. Still, it’s not my favourite feeling, this being without a place that is mine. This is the second time this year – the second time in just over six months – that I’ve been in this situation, and it sucks.
What hasn’t sucked is how amazing people have been. No fewer than four people at work offered to give me their house keys while they’re away over Christmas, and another offered her couch for as long as I needed it. The same has been true of people outside of work. Given I’ve only been in the country six months, it’s a nice feeling: I’m not alone here. For that feeling alone, I am incredibly grateful.
I had a half day at work after dropping in the keys, which was subdued. Three quarters of the office finished up last week, and they seemed to take all the energy and enthusiasm with them. We’ve done our best with bringing in treats, having coffee dates, and even playing carols on occasion, but it’s hard to sustain. I did my bit on Thursday by opening one of the bottles of champagne from the collection under my desk, and that was nice. I skipped out after that, lugging my suitcase on the tube to Victoria, where I had a teeny, tiny hotel room for the night – and a ticket to see ‘Rent’ at the St James.
I’d seen ‘Rent’ live three times before buying this ticket, and I admit, I hesitated over it. The tickets weren’t cheap, and I saw it in Sydney back in April, all of seven months ago; did I really need to go again?
I did. And I’m so glad I made that decision.
At the door, they stopped us all to explain that they were having some serious issues with illness within the cast, and that the matinee performance was going to be only semi-staged as a result; and that if we wanted our money back, or to exchange tickets for another time, they would be happy to do so. I dithered only for a moment: I wasn’t sure how I felt about paying full price to see a not-full version, but on the other hand… I was there. It was my plan for the afternoon. I wanted to go.
And, really. If they could not actually perform the full version, they had clearly had some major issues, and to that end I was impressed they were going ahead at all, and I wanted to support that. (It turned out that the Wednesday night performance had had to be cancelled, even.)
As it turned out, one of their biggest issues was that the actor who played Mark (who is, for those who do not know the show, pretty much the glue that connects everything) was out sick. And so was his understudy. And so they’d dragged in someone new, someone who hadn’t rehearsed properly, but was willing to step in. He performed with script in hand, which is incredibly brave; he was excellent.
They were also down to a chorus of three, which made things a little difficult a few times, but which they pulled off spectacularly.
(And their Angel was the best I’d ever seen: he did backflips on the stage in heels, the crazy man.)
No, it wasn’t a full performance, but it didn’t matter. They had energy, and the audience did too. I felt… so alive, being part of it, and so connected.
And then they gave us free drinks at interval, as if I needed to be bribed not to complain; I have absolutely no regrets. Sure, seeing the full production would’ve been something, and I’m sorry I won’t get to, but I feel like what I saw was something different, and something real. That’s what live theatre is all about, right?
I wept through most of the second half; I do that, sometimes, and it has been an emotional and exhausting few days. Weeks. Months. Year. But I felt lighter and far more relaxed when I left, and for the first time all week I actually slept properly. I don’t know how much of that was because of the theatre, and how much was because of how tired I was, not to mention the relief to be done with my flat; I don’t suppose it matters. I slept, and it was lovely.
Seeing ‘Rent’ in Sydney, earlier this year, was one of the first things I did after my ex moved out. It was my way of reminding myself that I could do things on my own – that, in fact, I had been not doing things I love because of my relationship, and that was stupid. As musicals go, it was perhaps one of the better choices for me: the whole point of ‘Rent’ is this idea that there’s no day but today. ‘Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.’ I needed that, in April, and perhaps I need that still. I think we all do, in a way.
So here’s to living life. To taking chances. To embracing whatever comes.
I’m at the airport, now, on my way to Cyprus. I’m sad, not being with my family, and sad, too, that the package I sent them three and a half weeks ago won’t arrive in time for Christmas. But I’m happy, too: I’m excited about this trip, and enthusiastic about the future.
My life was so different, a year ago. (Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, as would be appropriate in this context.) I imagine my life will be different again, a year from now, though I can’t imagine what and how. But it’s okay. I’m okay. Everything is okay.
My moving plans were rather unpleasantly turned on their head this week, when my landlady emailed to say that, oh, oops, the flat had sold much more quickly than anticipated… and that I would need to move out by the 28th.
This was rather unwelcome news, as I did not have anywhere lined up to move to– the place I’d looked at last weekend had fallen through (alas), and although I had some potentials to look at this week, none were ideal. And, of course, I leave for Cyprus on the 22nd, which gives me even less time to get myself organised.
You may imagine the swearing that ensued. There were also tears; it was a frustrating evening.
Several days later, though, and I think I’m largely sorted. I’ve sublet a room in a pretty uninspiring flat in Angel until the end of January, which gives me breathing room (and has the benefit of being surprisingly cheap). In January, two coworkers and I are going to hunt down a three bedroom flat or house to rent together. I’m hesitant about living with coworkers – I fear we’ll see too much of each other – but I’m also really, really pleased about this: I feel hopeful about the prospect.
I think it’s because I trust them, and that makes it easier to imagine this place as a home rather than just a place where I have a bedroom. I would like that; I miss that.
I have a place to store my belongings for a month or so, so now it’s time to start packing them all up in preparation for them being picked up and taken away. It feels a little bittersweet, and I wasn’t wholly sure why, at first.
Yes, this room has been as much of a ‘home’ as I’ve had these six months, but I’m not really sorry to leave it. I think the thing that is really giving me pause is that, for better or for worse, this flat was the first place I’ve ever lived that I chose for myself, 100%. Everywhere else has been chosen for me, or chosen in conjunction with others. I found this flat; I made arrangements to view it; I made the decision to move in.
Issues with my flatmate aside (and, of course, this rather inconvenient need to move at short notice), I don’t regret that decision. It introduced me to part of London I might not have explored much, otherwise, and it has been mine: the place where I really started to figure out who I was on my own. In that regard, it has served me well.
I’m not terribly looking forward to the next few weeks; I don’t really enjoy a lack of stability, and that’s certainly what it will feel like, having only a very temporary home. But the end result will, I think, be worth it– more time to make the right decision, more time to find the right place. I’d rather wait, now, than desperately sign a lease on something immediately, and be stuck in what could be a worse situation.
In the meantime, I’m a little aghast at how much I seem to have accumulated in the past six months. I moved into this place with a large suitcase, a small suitcase, and two shopping bags (okay, and a backpack). I will need boxes, to move out.
I honestly thought my days of sharing a home with others – people other than a partner, that is – were over. The ex and I moved out of the old, falling-down house we shared with two others and into an apartment on our own about a decade ago; I had escaped!
Unfortunately, the reality is that even though I earn decent money in London, I do not earn decent enough money to live alone– not unless I’m willing to live in zone three or four, anyway (and I am not, not at this point of my life: I didn’t come all the way to London to face a long daily commute).
Some of you will be aware of the adventures I’ve had with my flatmate over the past couple of months. She’s very young, and very naive, and unfortunately, it seems, completely oblivious to my attempts to school her into better flat-share behaviour. Still, I don’t regret moving into this place: it is well situated, introduced me to an area I genuinely love, and has been a ‘safe’ space for me these part four or five months– comfortable, aside from the flatmate issues. It has also done a good job of outlining to me what I want in my next home.
I’d always intended to move out of this place in the next couple of months, but that plan was accelerated when I discovered that my landladies intended to sell. According to the terms of my lease, they can give me two weeks’ notice to leave, and honestly I don’t like the idea of having to panic about finding somewhere new. I’m plenty good at working myself into a lather of stress without that kind of deadline, thank you very much!
So the moving plan is accelerated. I thought I’d found a place, but that fell through. In retrospect, for the best – I can see plenty of reasons why it may not have been a good idea now, so we’ll call it a lucky escape.
The trouble with flat-hunting when you’re going to be sharing is that you’re not just looking for a nice flat in the right location; you’re looking for a nice flat in the right location with people you think – based on five minutes’ acquaintance – you can live with. That’s hard. They’re probably not serial killers, but they’ve probably cleaned the place up for prospective tenants, and they’re on their best behaviour (so are you). Will they be grumpy and snippy and difficult after you move in? Will they steal your food from the fridge, or forget to buy toilet paper when it really is their turn? Will they play loud music late at night? These are things you just can’t possibly know.
This time, I want a place where I can really make myself a home. This will be my fourth move since June, and I’d prefer it to be the last for at least a year, and preferably longer than that. I want to live somewhere where I can have conversations with other people, rather than ignoring them (and being ignored in return). I want to live somewhere that’s kept clean, and where we all use the common areas. At the same time, I want a place where I can still keep to myself if I feel like it, with enough room in my bedroom that I don’t feel trapped if I really don’t want company.
These are difficult things to balance out.
I’m looking at a place tonight that I’m really hopeful about. It’s located in a beautiful Georgian square, with communal gardens in the middle, and from the outside (I’ve been cycling through this square for months, now, and admiring it every time), it’s just beautiful. Obviously, the outside doesn’t matter, but some part of me wriggles with delight at the idea of living in a beautiful, historic building while in London.
I suspect there will be competition for this room: it won’t just be a case of showing up, deciding I like it, and moving in. Impressing people at first glance is not one of my skills, especially when it involves social attributes rather than professional ones, but I am determined to do my best.
The fact that I’ve lost count of exactly how long I’ve been in London probably says something about my present state of settlement; I’m no longer really counting. Roughly, though, it’s been a little over two months, and honestly, things are going well. I’m at the point where people have started to caution me about emotional swings– that this is when things start to get difficult. In a way, I’m sure that’s true: August is nearly over, and that means autumn is impending, and that means it is soon going to get colder, damper, and darker. All of those things are going to have an adverse impact on me, I have no doubt.
Having said that, I’m prepared for that– as much as I can be– and mostly, feeling positive about the change. I’ve been buying winter clothes (which is fun! Scarves and gloves and wooly jumpers and all kinds of cozy things), and working my way up to cycling to work (which should keep me exercising, which I think will be important).
Additionally, I have plenty of things to look forward to: visits from several different friends, a trip to Rome, another to France, and Christmas (somewhere; I’m still making final decisions on that). Once I hit January, it’s really only a couple of months before my parents visit (in April; we’re going to Spain together), and then it will be spring again. (Just like that, I’m counting off nearly a full year!)
Beyond that, though, I am feeling settled. I’m settled at work, where I’m beginning to make friends, and where I’m feeling very positive about the work I’m doing, and how it is being received. I’m settled outside of work, too, with an active life (including a social life!) and lots of things to look forward to. I’m even making plans to combine the two, with some weekend plans with a friend from work. All good things!
Home is a little more difficult, as matters continue to be a little complicated with my flatmate. I’ve never been good at flatsharing; I hated it when I was in my early 20s, and I definitely hate it now. It’s difficult because I’m sure some of my gripes are personal to me: things that don’t really matter in the scheme of things, but matter to me because of how I prefer to live. Some of them, however, are not. I’ve definitely had moments of staring at rooms for rent, and considering moving again, but I’m forcing myself to stick it out for now– there’s no point rushing out into a different place until I’ve really tried to make this one work. If things still suck in a few months time, well, that will be different.
This evening, a handful of minor things piled together to the point where I refused to cook in that kitchen (it would mean cleaning up after her, and no, I was not in the mood for that), and couldn’t stand being in the same flat as her (I am over-dramatic sometimes, yes), so I took myself out for dinner. Which also bothered me, because I’d just bought food to cook for dinner (and the leftovers were supposed to be for lunch tomorrow, sigh), but it helped, so that’s something. I’m calmer, now, though I haven’t dared to check the kitchen to see if she read my note/did anything about it.
I miss living alone. At the same time, faced with living alone and not being able to afford to do anything, or living with someone else and having disposable income for travel, fancy food, theatre and so on… well, I’ve made my decision on that one. There’s no point being in London if I don’t have the money to make the most of it! So I will make it work, the best I can.
And in the meantime, I will enjoy the rest of what life has on offer for me. I’m on a day trip to Glastonbury on Saturday, and a chocolate tasting the following Wednesday. I’m seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in No Man’s Land, and Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer, and then there are my visitors and then Rome and… September and October are filling up. Life is good.
Oof. It’s been an interesting few days – ups and downs all over. That’s inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It’s basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I’m doing pretty well: I have moments of… not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don’t really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don’t expect to. I’ve not even been here three weeks, and I’m still largely in tourist mode; that will change.
I went to a wine tasting on Monday night – all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that’s never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I’d gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their ‘Rubicon’ – highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I’ve not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff – I’ll be doing more things with him (in fact, I’m going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to – yes – Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).
I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).
Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.
On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I’ve actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces – there’s another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I’m quite sure I’ll squeeze them in over the next year.
To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I’ve gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you’re basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It’s going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That… isn’t so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.
The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn’t realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it’s an interesting collection of time periods. There’s lots to explore – and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)’s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford – alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).
Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn’t in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren’t a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me – plenty of room to spread out – but unfortunately the commentary I’d read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip – there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn’t go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway – the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died – disaster!
Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it’s a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It’s still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.
The flat was the first I’d inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don’t have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don’t necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It’s just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don’t particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.
So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and ‘applied’ is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that’s because I don’t have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it’s just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.
Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London’s long summer days, at least, was that it wasn’t dark yet, despite now being close to 9– you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.
Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would… I don’t know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I’ve been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn’t buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I’m trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and… well, I don’t know if they’ll fit.
On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which… reminded me that I wasn’t that far from Leicester Square, and didn’t I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn’t a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.
Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don’t think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn’t have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane – it should just be a normal option – to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)
In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We’d only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July – 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical – it’s one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It’s hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I’ve been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.
(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn’t. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you’re really better off not trying. Seriously.)
Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.
That’s not quite true, I suppose, but it’s almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.
So, uh, that was a surprise?
So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I’m on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I’m pleased: as much as I’ve enjoyed being a tourist, I think I’m just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I’ll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.
In a couple of hours, it will have been a full week since I arrived in London – and I’ve survived (hurray)! It seems like a good time to catch up on what I’ve been doing; it’s been quite a busy, intense week!
According to the pedometer on my phone, I’ve averaged 19,358 steps a day over the past seven days – 14.3km. It’s true that I had two particularly lengthy days, walking-wise, but even my most sedentary day still had me above 10,000 steps. Given I used to find 10,000 difficult, I’m feeling pretty pleased about that! A lot of that has, of course, been spent walking through the city. On Sunday, however, I joined a walking group and headed out to High Wycombe, which is about a 30 minute train ride out from Marylebone, and that ended up being a very, very long walking day indeed. It was worth it, though: the scenery was spectacular (so green!) and it was really lovely to meet some people, talk, and (of course) share a drink at the end.
I’ve now invested in some proper walking boots, as it has become quite plain to me that I really do need the extra support and comfort. My next step will be to change the insoles, as I’m getting quite a lot of arch pain – they need even more support. Amazon UK should deliver me those in the next couple of days, and hopefully that will help. In the short term, one of my little toes is almost more blister than skin (it was quite painful walking on heels earlier today for my first job interview).
Job interview, yes! I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased by the responses I’ve been getting to my applications since arriving – I had an interview this morning, and I have a few others scheduled throughout the week as well. I’m not in a huge rush to get a job– I do have savings to get me through a reasonable amount of time– but I’m pleased to be making an effort towards it all the same. Interestingly, I’ve found that a lot of organisations here assign additional tasks after offering you an interview: I had to give a 10 minute presentation for the one this morning, and for others I’ve been notified of various tests, additional questionnaires, and so on. It’s not a bad thing, and I can see how it can be useful, but it’s interesting; different.
Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of sightseeing. I’ve seen (by accident) the changing of the guard. I’ve been to the British Museum, and the Imperial War Museum. I’ve shopped (oops). I’ve walked through Hyde Park, and through Regent’s Park. I’ve found good coffee (and not so good coffee).
I’m liking the place I’m staying. The room is comfortable, and every day they come around and make the bed, carpet the floor, and so on. Every day, wherever my companion bear has ended up, I come home and find her sitting on my pillows again (I could choose to believe she puts herself back there, of course, but…). Breakfast involves cereal, yoghurt, fruit, toast, eggs, bacon, cold meats and cheeses, stewed tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns, orange juice, and sometimes croissants. I’m getting very used to having a proper cooked breakfast every morning. Dinner involves a soup course, a choice of three mains, various side dishes, and then a choice of desserts and cheeses. None of the food is fancy, but I’ve been enjoying it: I’ve had salmon, steak, pork ribs, lamb… and with three options, there’s always something I’m interested in.
I’ve not really made any friends or connections in the house, but I’m ok with that. It takes time, and I’m generally quite enjoying being on my own. I did really enjoy going out on that walk on Sunday, and getting to know a few people there – and then today, I had lunch with Kristen, whom I’ve known since my early days at University. For the moment, I’m feeling very comfortable with my own company. No doubt there will be lower points, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good.
I’m happy, here. I’m loving London, and all of the possibilities that are here for me. I’ve joined a dozen meetup groups, and am looking forward to going on more adventures with them; I’ve already booked to go on a weekend to Reims for champagne tasting and Christmas markets in November.
For now, I’m going to take it easy. I have a ticket to see ‘In The Heights’ tomorrow afternoon, and otherwise I’m going to try and rest my feet a little; I’m allowed.
Honestly, I feel pretty damn lucky at the moment. I wish I could go back in time six months and reassure my past self that things would get better; that amazing things were coming.
After I blogged yesterday, I ventured out again: I needed a sim card for my phone, and to vote at Australia House, and anything else was a bonus. Sticking to my ‘walk as much as you can’ plan, I decided that the 45-odd minute walk to Australia House was perfectly reasonable, and off I went. My meandering path eventually took me through a different bit of Hyde Park (and, okay, down Park Lane because Monopoly demanded it of me)… and eventually past Buckingham Palace where, quite by chance, I was just in time for the Changing of the Guard. I hadn’t intended to go that way– I saw the Guard twenty-five years ago– and I didn’t actually see much (the throngs of people! It was insane), but still. I was there.
I then made my way through St James’ Park, up towards Trafalgar Square, and then down the Embankment for a ways. By this time, my feet hurt. A lot. I am not… how shall I put it? In my previous life, I was not terribly active. I had a five minute walk to work; at most, I walked a couple of kms into the city, and that was it. I struggled to get 10,000 steps per day when I was doing Steptember last year: I literally only managed because I went out of my way to try and catch up. So. This walking? This is new. This is intense.
Nonetheless, I was undaunted. Catching the tube would be for wimps! I am trying to explore and get to know this city, and I am going to do that on foot (damn it).
I did, however, eventually make it to Australia House, where I dutifully performed my democratic obligation, and cast my vote (no, you don’t get to ask how I voted). It was actually pretty cool, and definitely the prettiest polling place I’ve ever been in, all ornate floors and walls and arches and… well, you know. Old building stuff. I’m not homesick or anything (yet), but there is something comforting about being around one’s own countrymen, however briefly. Having said that, I very much did regret the lack of democracy sausage sizzle or cake stall, though I guess I can understand why one would not have either in an official diplomatic building (sigh).
I intended to catch the tube back. I even got on one! But… but. I got off again. My feet were hurting less, and it seemed like a bright idea.
It was not a bright idea.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed my walk back. I saw interesting buildings, and did not take any photos because I was distracted, but still. By the time I arrived back at my hotel, my feet really hurt, and so did my legs.
Not that I was done yet, oh no. I took a rest for a while, but then I went back out, because the one thing I hadn’t done yet was open a bank account, and as I had received on my way back an offer of a job interview, and that interview required me to provide proof of address, this seemed important. Unfortunately, that venture was a bust: the woman at the bank insisted that that bank would close my account if I listed a residential address that was not an actual flat or house, and so could not help me. ‘List a friend’s address’ she suggested, which… meh. It was frustrating, and I was tired enough and feeling alone enough that I shed a few tears, even; I did not agree with her assessment, and this bank was the only one I could find that would let me open an account without proof of address, and… frustrating. (I report back, now, that today I visited a different branch of the same bank and opened an account without incident.)
After that, I was just done. Done with the day, done with everything. I had an early dinner and was in bed before 8pm, which turns out not to have been a good idea, because I woke up at 12:30 convinced it must be morning. It was not morning. It was not even a little bit morning.
Happily, I did eventually go back to sleep, but it was restless and intermittent and not ideal. Still, it was enough to get me started today, when I promptly failed to learn my lesson from yesterday, and decided it was perfectly okay for me to walk from Paddington to the British Museum. Which… well, sure, the walk over was fine, but clearly I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I would want to, you know, walk around the museum as well. I am not always the brightest of people. I say this, because I then ended up walking back to Paddington. Oh, self.
But: the museum. I love the British museum. I only explored little bits of it (see previous paragraph re sore feet), but I know I’ll be back. There’s time!
The walk back was hard. By the end, I was not filling too great, and… well. My next step? I had to get my two suitcases from Paddington to Notting Hill. ‘Relatively easy!’ I thought, on the basis that I was not far from a tube station, and Notting Hill Gate was only two stops away. What I had failed to consider– and this is something I am going to have to remember in future– was that not all platforms have lifts, and sometimes there are multiple staircases to ascend and descend in order to reach the correct platform.
Twice, some very well-meaning and kind people offered to carry one of the suitcases for me as I descended or ascended a flight of stairs. Which was lovely of them, and very helpful. The rest of the time (and there were several times), I had to manage it myself, while people around me stared at the stupid tourist with too many belongings. Which was frustrating, because I am normally an incredibly light packer– if I can get away with carry-on baggage, I absolutely will. I’ve never had multiple suitcases for anything in my life, until now, and now… well. Those suitcases contain almost everything I own. Oh well. (Next time I move, here, I am going to suck it up and get a cab.)
I was, needless to say, exhausted and hot and sweaty and feeling gross by the time I arrived at my new home. I had a moment of horror when told my room was on the fourth floor, fearing I would have to lug my bags up the stairs; you can imagine, I think, my relief and glee, when I discovered that there was, in fact, a lift. My room here is small but comfortable: I have a private bathroom, a single bed, a desk, a bookcase, a TV, and a wardrobe. The room overlooks a little private garden in the back, and it’s all lovely. Having showered, and collapsed on the bed for an hour, I even unpacked: I have a home again!
A quick trip to the bank (to open my account), and to Tesco (to buy some necessities), and I’m basically all set up. This place has about 150 rooms, with people staying anywhere from a couple of weeks to upwards of a year, so I’m hoping it will be a good place to meet some people – perhaps even at dinner tonight (dinner being part of the room rate). For now, though, I am resting my aching feet and legs. I have blisters (not surprising), and my muscles are cramping, but it probably was worth it. I managed 20km on foot yesterday, and another 15 today, and that feels pretty good. Tomorrow? Tomorrow, I think I’ll take it a little easier.
I’m really glad to be in my medium-term accommodation now. I now have five weeks (more, if I need it) to get a job, and then find somewhere else to live. Being here, rather than in a hotel, makes me feel just that little bit more settled and ready to build a life. I’m feeling pretty positive about things (knowing I have an interview, and potentially more than one, next week helps – I’m not desperately rushing to get a job, but I like to see progress).
And just like that it’s over, we tend to our… wait, no.
And just like that, all of my farewells are finished with (at least the kind that happen in person). I’m now sitting on the (very comfy) king sized bed in the hotel room I’m in for the night, just a few hundred metres from the international terminal at Sydney airport– this is it. It’s a relief to be finished with all of that; it’s been a long, emotionally draining week. A wonderful week, in as much as I’ve seen so many people I care about, and felt so loved, so appreciated, so incredibly special. But I’m also not good at saying goodbye, even temporarily, and so of course that’s been difficult.
So here we are. I’m on my own now (I mean, as much as anyone ever is; let’s not be over-dramatic). I’ve written before about how this feels like a fresh start, and it absolutely is. I’ve spent the last couple of months preparing myself; now I’m ready to begin. Right now, at this moment, I feel more excited and exhilarated than nervous or lonely and upset, though I retain the right to change my mind at any moment as my mood suits. I’ve shed a few tears today, but not too many. I’m ok with that.
Yesterday was spent packing (and repacking, and then repacking again). I’ve had to abandon a few more pairs of shoes, but it was absolutely worth it to make sure that my beloved teddy bear, made for me by my Oma, fit into the suitcase. I can always buy more shoes, but Jackie Bear is irreplaceable… and we all need something to cuddle sometimes. I have two suitcases (one big and one small) and I’m 99% sure their combined weight fits within my luggage allocation, though they’re not exactly going to be easy to wheel around in the short term. Still: workable. It was a quiet day, and I needed it.
Today was busier, unsurprisingly. I spoke on the phone to my Oma and aunt Helen, I had brunch with my sister, brother, and sister-in-law. I watched my sister-in-law come very close to winning her science debate at the Powerhouse Museum. I had dinner with my lovely friend Sue. I managed not to drown in the torrential rain. All good things!
Shortly, I will try and wind down and get some sleep. My alarm will be set for about 3:30am, so I’m not anticipating a full night’s rest, but a few hours would be nice if I can manage it. I’m not presently feeling anxious (something that often plagues me), and hopefully I can keep it that way, but otherwise? Well, I’ll manage.
I can’t believe tomorrow is the big day. I can’t believe this is really happening.
I moved out of my apartment today; I’m now staying in my parents’ house (though they themselves are not here – they’re off in Europe), and will for the next week or so. I know I’m not actually homeless, but this is the first time since 1996 that I’ve not really lived somewhere (that time it was because we were moving back to Sydney from Atlanta, and spent a couple of weeks staying with my grandparents in New Zealand). So it’s weird: I don’t have a place that I call home. Nothing is mine. I’m… camping out, more than living here.
More than that, too, it’s the saying goodbye to an apartment that I chose with someone; lived in, with someone. It doesn’t matter that it was also the place where our relationship ended– the point, for me, is that it was a place that had those memories, for better and for worse. I’ve largely ceased contact, and now I’m letting go of this, too. Fresh, clean slate. New beginnings. A life that is mine: paths chosen by me, all successes and failures owned by me, too.
In the meantime, I’m going to be sleeping in a bedroom that was once mine, in a house that was once mine. It’s a big house for one person; I’m used to being on my own, now, and I’m not lonely, but it feels strange to have this much space. It makes me much more aware of noises – and houses are full of noises.
It’s a relief, though, being out of the apartment. I feel so much more free, knowing I don’t have to worry about furniture or belongings anymore. Everything I need fits into two suitcases (er, mostly); everything else is just extra stuff, whether I’m storing it or not. I’ll be even happier once I’ve handed the keys to the apartment back in (hopefully Tuesday lunchtime, after the cleaners have been through)– one less thing to worry about.
In another week, I’ll also be unemployed, and that’s another new experience. The last time I was without a job I was nineteen, and had been let go from my part-time reception gig because I came down with glandular fever and wasn’t going to be able to work for a month or two. Back then, of course, I lived at home; it wasn’t a big deal. Now… well, it’s not a big deal either, in that I have money to support myself for a while, and some contract work to tide me over, and some leads on work and plenty of opportunities to generate more. But. But.
It’s not surprising, of course, that I’m feeling sentimental. I’m about to leave so much behind, and the farewells have already begun. It all feels right, but there’s still that fear of… what if it isn’t? What if instead of being the next positive step, it actually takes me out of this really good, happy place I’ve been in? Inevitable, I’m sure, to have doubts. And yet… not as many doubts as I thought I would. Which is good, right? If nothing else, I’m so glad to have made a decision, and now be in the process of turning that decision into reality. Whatever happens, I’ll have that knowledge: I did this.
For now, I am going to enjoy what is likely my last few days in this house that was once my home. After I leave it, next weekend, I’m unlikely to ever come back. Weird feeling.