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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the reasons I try to walk as much as possible, rather than catch the tube, is that it makes it easier to work on my mental map. As I explore this city, I’m constantly filling in more pieces of that map: this connects with that. I am here. When you travel by tube, or even by bus, you’re getting disconnected pieces of things– and I find it hard to pull those together.
On my second full day in London, six weeks ago today, I walked from Paddington to the British Museum. I was trying to do it without constantly looking at the map on my phone, and in the end, well, I got a little turned around and ended up having to stop and regroup. I did so over a (terrible) coffee and a pain au chocolate at a chain cafe that I found down some road; I wasn’t sure that the road was, but at least, in the safety of that cafe, I was able to figure out roughly which direction I was supposed to be travelling in.
Today, when I went out for lunch, I ended up deciding to stop and get a baguette at Paul, which is a ‘French’ bakery cafe chain – there’s one just a block up the road from work. It was only when I was inside the shop that I suddenly realised I’d been in here before: it was the same cafe I’d stopped in six weeks earlier, but this time I knew where I was. That piece of my mental map has now been filled in, and that foreign, unknown street now has a name – and more than that, it’s part of my life.
Of course, this doesn’t just happen with my own experiences. I’m reading a book at the moment about a young woman working for the BBC in the very early days of radio, back when the BBC was located at Savoy Hill. Curious about the location, naturally I looked it up: my bus goes right past there, every day. Two of the pubs mentioned in the book still exist. Marconi House, where the first BBC radio transmissions were managed from, is also on my route. Thus, now, as I read, I’m picturing places I know, and that’s another kind of map building.
Of course, I did that back in Sydney, too: there was a great thrill, always, in reading something and knowing where it was. “I’ve been there!” Ridiculous, really, because yes, I may have been there, but so have millions of others (including, presumably, the author), but there you go.
And since I’m talking maps, have a look at the new scarf I bought. New York subways! Maps! They had a London one, too, but it seemed a little too touristy to buy a scarf of the city one lives in… maybe eventually.
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
Hampton Court Palace
The National Science Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum
I’ve been to five markets:
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 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.
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.