My first photo of London

My first photo of London

It’s been weird, these past couple of weeks, watching my ‘On This Day’ feed in Facebook. Day after day:

Today it is one year since I announced I was moving to the UK.

Today it is one year since my visa came through (yes, I took a risk there).

Today it is one year since I moved out of my apartment.

Today it is one year since I finished up at work.

Today is Sunday, and that means it is a year since I finished packing my last suitcase, had breakfast with my siblings and sister-in-law, watched my sister-in-law’s comedy science competition, and then had dinner with my lovely friend Sue. It’s one year since I hopped in a cab to an airport hotel, having said goodbye to everyone I knew. After hugging Sue goodbye, I was on my own, ready to fly to a new country where – on the whole – I knew almost no one, with no job and no real plan.

When I look back, I half wonder if I was crazy.

It was a spectacular leap of faith on my part. I’m not known for being impulsive, and I am definitely not known for doing things that haven’t been meticulously planned. I don’t quit jobs without other jobs to go to. I just don’t.

But here I am, one year later. I started a new job four weeks to the day of arriving in London, and moved into a flat less than week after that. I was lucky enough to win a promotion within two months of starting that job, and even though I regularly feel like an imposter and a fraud, the truth is that I’m fairly confident that I’m good at that job, that it wasn’t a mistake to promote me.

That first place I moved to may not have been ideal – may not have been my best decision – but it served its purpose: it gave me someplace to call for six months, and time to find better people to live with, a better home.

Today, I had brunch with some friends whom I met at one of the first meetup groups I joined, 11 months ago. I no longer attend the bookclub we met up, but it served its purpose, and that quiet, insecure voice at the back of my head marvels at being chosen to continue a friendship with (12 months has not destroyed those insecurities, despite my best efforts).

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though I will say I have had less homesickness than I expected – or than I was told to expect. People warned me about the six-month mark, where the newness had worn off and the reality set in. Six months hit in December for me, just before Christmas, and I expected it to be hard… but it wasn’t. I was homeless, half a world from home, and it was the depths of winter, but I was ok.

Actually, my first day of homesickness and despair was the day I interviewed from my first London job. I left the interview feeling that it had gone incredibly poorly – and I was normally so good in interviews! – and had to force myself not to cry as I walked blindly down the Strand. I had lunch in one of the dumb tourist restaurants along there, and blinked back misery; then, I washed my face, dried my eyes, and took myself to the National Gallery (and then the National Portrait Gallery), where I took solace in water lilies… and tried not to cry over paintings of Sirius Cove and Coogee beach, both places I know well, by Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. The art helped, but I think I still cried myself to sleep that night.

(And then, of course, I actually got the job, and it worked out to be such an amazing opportunity to for me. Go figure.)

I am wistful for those first four weeks in London. How often does one get the opportunity to be a tourist in a city for so long? I did so much, but surely I could have done more. Twelve months on, there are still so many things I haven’t seen, and places I haven’t been. London is amazing like that.

I’ve been to the theatre more than thirty times(!), in the past twelve months. I’ve been to Rome, to Reims, to Cyprus, to Spain, to Paris. I’ve been to countless museums, and enjoyed countless amazing meals.

There are things – and people – I miss a lot. In retrospect, I might have been ok, staying in Sydney. I was rediscovering friends, and myself. The thing is, of course, that I think I’m more than ok, in London. I’m amplifying the process; in twelve months, I think I have rediscovered more than I would have in so much longer. In many ways, I feel like a different person.

I’m not, of course: I’m still me. Perhaps I’ve moved in a different direction; perhaps I’m exploring new facets. Still, I’m not a different person.

I am, I think, a better person. Happier. Healthier (who would’ve imagined the me of twelve months ago cycling to work!?). More comfortable in my own skin.

I’m tentatively planning a week in Switzerland, later this year. I’m going to buy a rail pass and travel around the country on my own steam. There’s something absolutely liberating in doing that: with a rail pass, most of the time you don’t buy tickets in advance. You just… catch the train. This adds variables, and variables are not – traditionally – something I’m all that good with. What if I miss a train? What if I can’t get a seat?

My most recent photo of London.

I’ll be fine. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, these past twelve months, it’s that I can look after myself.

I arrived in London at about 9pm on a Monday night – the 20th. I expect I’ll be conscious of that, tomorrow, on Monday night the 19th, one year later. On Tuesday, I’m taking myself to dinner and then to the theatre– when I first arrived I awarded myself (for interviews, for finding a place to live, for getting a job) with theatre trips, and it makes sense to do so again now.

I promised myself, twelve months ago, that I would give London at least a year. Well, no. I promised myself that if I didn’t have a job within a couple of months I was free to go home, but as long as I did, I would stay at least a year.

Clearly, I’m not going home after one year. I doubt I’ll go back after two.

Beyond that… actually, it’s kind of nice not to have a plan.

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes

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.

I’m homeless, but I’m okay.

Festive feels

It's a 3D reindeer!

I’ve never had occasion to wear a jumper like this before.

This will be my first Christmas away from my family (and alone), and that’s sinking in a little more now.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not bothered about being single, and I don’t mind being here alone, without someone always at my side. I’ve been travelling alone, and joining groups alone, and it’s fine. It’s just…

We had a Christmas crafting afternoon at work today– wearing our ugly (or at least, tacky) Christmas jumpers– and of course, people talked about what they would be doing for Christmas, which is, after all, only a few weeks away now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about going to Cyprus, but at the same time, there was a loneliness to it: everyone else is talking about family and traditions and all the rest, and I don’t get any of that this year. It feels like everyone is going home for Christmas, and if they’re not, it’s because they’re going somewhere else with their husband/wife/partner/whomever.

This is not me wanting people to feel sorry for me, either, mind: I chose this, and I’m okay with it, and it’s not like I’ve always been the most Christmasy of Christmasy people (rather the opposite, much of the time). But I think it is easier to feel lonely at this time of year than at other times, and the impact of that is hard. I am a long, long way from home, and this is going to be a Christmas unlike any I’ve ever had before.

Still, it’s something I need to get used to if I intend to stay here long term (and at the moment, I do expect to be here for most if not all of my five year visa); I will go home next year, probably, but I won’t go every year, not given the expense involved (and the time and distance). There will be other years like this, most likely – and while there will be friends to visit, and perhaps even eventually partners to spend it with, I’m going to have to get used to it not being my family.

But I’m ok. I’m being festive. I’ve written Christmas cards, and I’ve worn my stupid jumper. I’ve been to see lights, and I’m going ice skating tomorrow. I’ve booked to see a matinee of Rent on the 22nd, my last day of work, so I’ll take a half day for that, and wander through the lights and the bustle afterwards, and it’ll be lovely. Now that I’m not moving until January (most likely), I may even buy some decorations for my room.

And I have champagne. This is also important.

In another three weeks, I’ll have been here six months, and that anniversary seems to have come up out of nowhere. Six months? No way. And yet. And yet. I can look back, too, to where I was twelve months ago, and things are so different in every possible way that I can barely grasp it.

Twelve months ago, my relationship was in its death throes and I knew it, but wasn’t willing to acknowledge it – not even to myself. Things were awful. I was beating myself up, trying to be someone I wasn’t; I was miserable. And I was terrified, because I didn’t know who I was outside of my relationship. We celebrated (loose term, that) our eleventh anniversary that Christmas, and I had forgotten what I was like on my own.

That fear, and my fear of being judged by people who didn’t know the gory details, kept me hanging on for longer than I should have. And that fear? It was groundless. I’m actually a much better person, on my own. A happier person, more willing to take risks and try new things. I moved to the other side of the world and aside from this bout of lonely homesickness, I’m doing fine: I’m doing more than fine.

I beat myself up a little, sometimes, for not doing more – for giving in to the desire to just sit at home instead of going to do things I know I would enjoy, or for not cycling to work even though there’s no reason for me not to. I have to remind myself that it’s ok; that I don’t have to be perfect. That I deserve even just a little slack. That, particularly at this time of year, I should be looking after myself.

But I am only getting better.

Four weeks

Tomorrow night will mark four weeks since I arrived in London, but as I will be at dinner, following my first day of work, it seemed appropriate I write something now. My inner librarian, orderly and delighted in synchronicity, is especially pleased with this: that phase two of my new life begins four weeks after stage one. And although I am going to miss the relatively unstructured life I’ve been living – the one where I have been able to wander out and do things at a moment’s notice – I am also looking forward to actually settling down in earnest.

In a way, I’ve spent the past four weeks living outside the world. I’ve had moments of connection, but 95% of my time has been spent alone (happily so), and in my own head. It’s been wonderful to have the space to do that, but it can’t go on forever; it’s time, now, to actually start living in London, not just existing here.

It’s a pretty special thing, though, to get to have that much time to explore one’s new home before getting bogged down in the mundanity of life. Or, really, to have that much time to explore any city. I’m pleased with how much I’ve managed to achieve in my four weeks, though I’m aware, too, that there’s so much more I want to say. Part of me regrets the days of downtime I took; part of me is well aware that I needed them, just as much as I needed to get out and see things. And it’s not like the explorations need to stop, either – I will still have time after work, and on weekends, and eventually, I will have leave to take as well.

So how much have I seen?

That orderly side of me is going to take over again, I think. Here goes:

  • I have walked an average of 12,813 steps per day (though that includes, at this stage, the day I spent in transit, so it’s probably over 13K in actuality)
  • I have visited nine museums/historical houses (that I can think of at this moment):
    • The British Museum
    • The Imperial War Museum
    • The Museum of London
    • The Tower of London
    • Kensington Palace
    • Hampton Court Palace
    • The National Science Museum
    • The Victoria and Albert Museum
    • Dover Castle
  • I’ve been to five markets:
    • Borough Market
    • Brick Lane Market
    • Camden Lock Market
    • Portobello Road Market
    • Petticoat Lane Market
  • I’ve applied for countless jobs, and been offered five interviews (actual interviews, not just recruitment agency interviews), of which I ended up attending two.
  • I’ve been on three trains outside of London:
    • To Dover
    • To Arundel
    • To High Wycombe
  • I’ve joined countless MeetUp groups, and attended five events with four different groups… all of which involved a pub (or a wine tasting).
  • I’ve joined my local library, and borrowed several (actual, physical) books. And read them, too!
  • I’ve watched basically no television.
  • I’ve been to the theatre three times:
    • In the Heights
    • The Phantom of the Opera
    • The Book of Mormon
  • I’ve inspected exactly one room in a flatshare… and signed a rental agreement for it.
  • I’ve done about 20 hours of contract work.
  • I’ve cried two or three times, but never for long. I’m aware that there will be lonely and difficult times ahead, but for the moment, I’m feeling positive about my future.
  • I’ve listened to the digital mix-tape my sister-in-law Josien made for me probably a dozen times, and especially this song, which is really speaking to me at the moment.
  • I’ve planned one holiday for later in the year (I’m joining a group for Champagne tasting in France in November), and am working on a second (Christmas!).
  • I’ve religiously tracked down good coffee using my London Coffee Guide app in four places; for the most part, I’ve actually been going without coffee most days.
  • … and without alcohol, too, except with those meetups (and, all right, on my daytrip to Dover, and then I had an individual serve bottle of Prosecco this evening).

So… I’ve done a lot. I feel good about it. I have more planned: a dinner with my wine meetup group tomorrow, and a ticket to Tim Minchin’s ‘Groundhog Day’ on Friday. A walk on Saturday, and the Proms on Sunday.

And a full-time job. A new life.

I’m going to be fine.

The pointy end

Sydney International Airport

It even finally stopped raining!

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.

Let’s go.

Turbulence on Reentry

We’ve been home now for two weeks, and it’s been… hard.

Getting back into the swing of the real world after spending so long in pretendy-world land is always difficult, but I think I’ve had some added complications which have only made things more difficult. Part of that is because of work, which has been stressful in an abstract, emotional way rather than an overwork kind of way. I don’t deal well with uncertainty, and since getting back I’ve had a lot of that to deal with. Politics, man; they’re only fun when there’s a disconnect between you and them.

Another part of it is my increasing frustration with where we live. We’ve been in the same apartment for four years, now; in another six weeks we’ll sign the lease for a fifth. Half of our relationship (holy shit, I guess we really are coming up towards eight years) has been spent in this place, and that’s not inconsiderable.

It’s a nice apartment. It’s big, and it has a spectacular view out over the city. But the kitchen is tiny and the oven is awful, and I am increasingly tired of having to ask permission to hang pictures on the walls, deal with six monthly inspections where we get told off for not dusting the cistern of the toilet, and – well, the list goes on.

I think we’re increasingly in that point in our lives where we want to start, bit by bit, putting together rooms that are exactly the way we want them, with exactly the right furniture and decor and arrangement. We could start doing that, in some ways, but it’s hard to plan a room if you don’t know whether you’ll be using the same room in twelve months time. We can’t hang our own curtains, or put up different blinds, or replace the oven.

I’ve wanted to buy a place for a while now, and I think Rohan is finally on the same page as me. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to run out and redecorate and buy new furniture instantly, if we manage to buy, but it’d be a long-term project with achievable goals. I suspect both pairs of itchy feet would be soothed.

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. The property market in Sydney is well overpriced, and the area we want to live in is not exactly on the cheap end of that. I earn good money, and Rohan is well-paid for what he does despite averaging a lot less billable hours, but neither of us really wants to spend half our net income on a mortgage. The real trick, then, is to manage to do this without having to lose too much of our lifestyle in the process. It’s a tricky balance, but I think we can do it.

A lot of the really nice places in this area are out of our price range – but there’s a lot that I think is potentially doable. Whatever we end up with won’t be a forever-house, but it’ll be stable. It’ll most likely be a two bedroom unit, probably in the Gore Hill/Greenwich area which is just slightly cheaper than Wollstonecraft/Crows Nest. It will have an internal laundry (that’s non-negotiable in our book), and gas (it would take a lot for us to give up on that). And for the rest… we’ll see.

So that’s what the next twelve months will be focused on. In August next year, we’ll take a really close look at our finances and see if it really is feasible (unless prices go up excessively between now and then, I’m pretty sure the answer will be yes), and then… well. Take the plunge, I guess.

I feel better, resigning our lease, feeling (relatively) confident that it will be our last one. And in the meantime – every time I reach for my credit card to buy that new pair of shoes, or that cute dress, or whatever it is, I’ll hopefully be able to give it a bit more thought. Do I really need it? Is that money better off sitting in my savings account until it can be used as a deposit? Hopefully, having more concrete plans will make that easier to stick to. It’s not that I can’t spend money on more frivolous things; I just need to think seriously about it first.

Because a place that is ours, with all the attendant headaches, will definitely be worth it.

In the meantime, I will stare at real estate advertisements, and, in particular, at floorplans. What is it about floorplans that are so much fun? They make me happy.