Ok, let’s not leap as far as allowing me to dub myself as a ‘bona fied Londoner’, because I’m still very much the here-and-there-and-not-quite-anywhere-mess that I am (aka, I’m frequently described as ‘too city girl to be country, but too country to be city’, born and raised in the Midlands but constantly presumed to be a Southerner, the ‘posh middle class’ one from the working class neighbourhood, etc etc etc), but as I have mastered the use of the Oyster card, most tube lines (bar the ones that I need never – hardly ever – frequent, such as the Metropolitan line, Northern any further south than London Bridge, or any line beyond zone 3… 4 at an absolute push), standing to the right of… pretty much everything that is either mobile or a path for my own mobility, and the art of balancing out of reach of any railings, on one foot, on the tube, at rush hour, without losing track of my book… or worse, without so much as touching another commuter. I’m particularly proud of that one.
So in exactly sixty seconds time I’ll be ringing in my first New Year since moving to this wonderful, smelly, overcrowded, noisy, polluted, but oh-so-addictive city. To clarity, no, I am not spending my New Year sat alone at my computer typing this out (or I really hope not)… this is a fine time for scheduled posts if ever I saw one. As someone who has now lived here for 198… soon to be 199 (I’m sorry, but I can’t help but wish I’d planned my moving day just slightly better now… if only I’d known) days, I feel I can confidently post a little something about the weird and wonderful things that I’ve learnt.
My number one survival tip for London:
1. Accept in advance that 90% of what you will witness here will be completely and utterly insane, and few people outside of the city will even believe your far-fetched tales.
I have witnessed a man trying to convince a cat to act as a hat, a man in a Savile Row suit and bowler hat scooting up and down for hours on end in front of a department store on a child’s scooter for unknown reasons, pot-bellied, bearded ballerina’s practicing their pirouettes in the middle of their weekly shop, and then there was the strange incident of the Northern line carriage containing nobody but (me and) about four dozen bald men dressed all in white. Not to mention, that this guy is our Mayor:
Image at Barcroft Media
The eccentricities and, frankly, utterly bizarre sightings of London are best shrugged off as funny pub-time anecdotes, otherwise I fear that anyone who frets on them or tries to use logic to gain sense and reason, will only find themselves too.. quite insane.
Maybe that’s the great circle of life in London…
2. I have to always be one step ahead financially.
London is tough. Only two boroughs feature an average rent for a two bed apartment of below £1000 per month. And if that’s not scary enough, my ‘below’, I mean marginally… you may have about £60 in change, and my ‘borough’, well, I had to Google both of them, and they both, in my opinion, fall into zone ‘bugger off are we still in London’.
From personal experience, I found a double in a nice (aka, no mold, rats, or flea-infested housemates), house-share, or a studio/minuscule one bed apartment to be priced at around the same, and so I had to swear to myself from day one that I would not be spending the rest of my London life crying myself to sleep as I fret about how I am going to pay my month’s extortionate rent.
I’m lucky in that I’ve already spent a few years testing trial-and-error methods of earning through my creativity, covering photography, writing, styling and art, from good-old freelancing to Etsy. No doubt I’d be living in a cardboard box on Hampstead Heath (the classiest cardboard box in London, of course), without the experience that I already have under my belt, but even so, I’ve had to expand further.
I spent my first few months here hopping from one short-term let to another, practically house sitting for people, so that I could pay minimal rent, usually no bills, no council tax, and if a deposit at all, a tiny one (for London standards), while I tested the water, made sure that I actually wanted to commit myself to this city, saving more money, calculating exactly what I could afford and how much I would require each month. I always think ahead one month in terms of my rent and bills, rather than immediately seeing that week’s earnings disappear straight into my Landlord’s pocket. Yes, that’s where it goes anyway, but at least it gets to sit in my savings account for a few weeks first. That makes it slightly less painful.
3. Whatever I put aside for a deposit… I end up having to triple it.
Apparently the average required deposit is six weeks worth of rent, but I’ve seen spare rooms and apartments which require as much as twelve weeks worth of rent as a deposit. Crazy.
4. Estate Agents will charge a small fortune for anything and everything.
There is a fee for slight contract alterations.
There is a fee simply for their involvement.
5. I have accepted that I will most likely never buy a house here, and that’s fine.
As far as I see it, unless I win the lottery or become super rich and successful, the only realistic way that I will be buying a home here (with the current climate), is if I were to meet a man and settle down with him. And as someone as stubborn, independent, introvert and private as myself, I really don’t think that would ever be a good idea. So instead I have accepted that I shall spend my life ‘throwing my money away’ to landlords.. or at least, until I’m about 50… if I’m very vigilant about it as a goal.
6. London is the most social and the loneliest city I have ever known.
I could be stood, on a wet and miserable winter day, on a rush hour sardine-can tube, my book saving my face from a rotund banker’s armpit, stuffed in that characteristically British social norm of no eye contact and no communication but for the occasional ‘can you move down, please’ or ‘excuse me’ – and lots of mumbled ‘sorry’s (because while we may be rude enough to ignore your existence, we rarely forget our manners), and never feel lonely, but every time I walk past a cheerfully crowded pub on a sunny weekend and see groups of friends swapping anecdotes about Savile Row scooter-ers and pot bellied ballerinas, I’ve never felt more alone in my entire life.
It’s an introvert’s curse, I suppose, though one that I would never change for the world. I never feel that way in Paris or Rome or Budapest, I suppose because there, there is the obvious language barrier between I and them, and of course the fact that I am simply a traveller, not an ex-pat or a native, but here, on my own turf, every extrovert gathering only rubs in my face just how socially-inept I can be, and just how extreme of an introvert I am. Seriously, I can go a week without saying a word to a soul without even noticing.
Nevertheless, however, there is always something going on in London – gigs, parties, events, gatherings, social clubs, opening events, book signings, world record attempts, celebrity charity events… for all of our characteristic grumpiness and hostility towards pretty much anyone (particularly tourists, cyclists, politicians, estate agents, bankers, anyone who lives south of the river, anyone who lives beyond zone four, anyone who lives North of London and therefore ‘in the North’,
the Scottish, the Welsh, the Irish, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Italians… 99% of foreigners), this is when I consider this to be the best, most exciting, cultured and fabulous place to live.
7. It’s a place where I can really make the most of living.
Yes, London is expensive, hours are long, and therefore everyone is perpetually poor, exhausted and awfully grouchy, but while I would never support the idea of remaining solely in one city for the remains of my life, burning my passport and retiring from my travels, I have once or twice found my pro-travel arguments falling quite flat against someone who has never ventured further than Wimbledon. This is a beautifully dense, vibrant, diverse and cultured place to live, a place where I can try a new thing everyday for years on end, and easily complete a bucket list a year.
8. It’s important to find the time to live.
Another promise that I made to myself on arriving here… too many people here simply exist. Their lives revolve around their 80+ hour a week jobs, which they need to pay the rent of their matchbox apartment with its spiraling rent, and then, but for the legal requirement of at least one evening in a pub per week (the penalty for which is the revoking of one’s British citizenship, you know), very little else.
No wonder so many Londoners are so depressed!
It could be so easy – especially for a chronic worrier such as myself – to allow financial stress to stop me from living my life (I was about to say ‘especially being self-employed, with its feast-or-famine nature, but frankly, I think even with a ‘regular’ job, I’d still have as much a tendency to fret), and tempting to fill every second of my days with work, because i enjoy my work and therefore it’s really no trouble to do so, but I’ve learnt that it’s easy for me to get lost in my photo shoots and my writing and my various other creative ventures rather than getting out there.
Image by Dave Pearce for TimeOut London.
I’ve become a bit addicted to comedy clubs, for example, not to mention London’s various free museums and galleries. I try to always walk at least five miles every evening, and I keep a weather eye for the most unusual events taking place. I already have Trafalgar Square’s annual pillow fight earmarked for 5th April 2015, for example.
9. English gentleman are definitely my type.
This isn’t exactly a new discovery of mine. With my celebrity crushes being Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and various other velvet-voiced English actors, and having spent my childhood re-winding the lake scene of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice to watch Colin Firth in awe, I was definitely born and raised in the right country.
Since moving here, however, I have come to the conclusion that gorgeous men across the country congregate here by their mid-twenties… it’s almost like a bylaw. And suits! Speaking of bylaws, there should definitely be one made that forces men to wear suits at all times. Nothing beats a man in a suit, and London… oh, you make me so happy to be here ♥
10. All that aside, I simply fit in here.
While, as I said at the start, I’m not exactly ‘London’, this is definitely the first time in my life where I genuinely feel as though I blend in. I’m not the oddball, the weirdly shy introvert, the socially awkward one who tries to hide my shy introvert-ness to stop people from prying, the posh one, or the ‘I think the stork dropped her at the wrong house’ one. I’m still the ‘sorry, I can’t quite place your accent’ one (it’s a peculiar blend that even I can’t quite dissect), but here I can simply spend time with my friends and not feel judged, or as if I’m always slightly outside the rest of the group, or trying too hard to blend in. That’s lovely, I must say.