Seven Months in London
A plane lands first thing in the morning, and a tube is caught accross town. A hug from a friend, before 3 days asleep on a couch, sometimes the floor. The room is the loungeroom and residents of the house step around and over me to access the kitchen. I do not notice. Neccesary chores happen in a daze, a bank account opened, a National Insurance number applied for. A room in a sharehouse is found on Facebook.
My first home is a sharehouse in the west London suburb of Acton; the defacto location of new Australians in town. I found it on the facebook group Kiwis in London, New Zealanders and Australians helping each other out. A cheap if somewhat rundown 5 bedroom. I'm in the smallest room upstairs, a slightly damp room mostly occupied by an uncomfortable double bed and temporarily vacated by an Australian couple returning home for a summer Christmas. A decidedly smarter plan than my arrive in a dark and cold December London. A large, often crashed in loungeroom and a deceptively small and pokey kitchen (the eight burner stove and two separate sinks conspire to rob the space of useable benchspace) complete the picture.
I don't really like sleeping in their bed, so I start experimenting with different options. I try the floor for a while before I settle on a hammock. It hangsbetween the door and a chin up bar bought off ebay, wedged into the concrete window frame. I never quite got the right balance with my warmth or comfort, but it was a fun time.
A whole bunch of easy excuses led to two months of not working. I could tell mysef that I'd arrived too late to get a December Christmas Job and I still didn't have my National Insurance Number.1 But the biggest one was that I would be able to easily set myself up for freelance work building and designing websites. Something that I could do from road on my expected many journeys.
So I spent the months remembering how to program in Python, refreshing my knowledge of HTML and CSS. But at the end of two months, a domain was bought but no company was created, no new apps were built. My website had moved from Wordpress to Pelican and I had officially contributed to an open source project. But the savings were beginning to run low. I was Productive but note Profitable
There was no social life at this point. The amount of times I caught up with friends over these two months can be counted on one hand. I was trying to live cheaply in an expensive city. I didn't bond strongly with my new housemates. I was a shut in, jogging occaisonally and tapping away on my computer. The only new person I met was the owner of the new vegetarian restaurant around the corner, the food was very cheap. I did spend Christmas with Cecilia and James, as they stopped by on their European holiday. And spent New Years with my friend Chevy.
The time at Acton is drawing to a close. The rooms real owners are returning. I've started to venture from my cave. I've discovered the Barclay's Cycle Hire and am riding it around town. I've discovered Improv. It exists in london. Not only that I've made my first real London friends, all on my own. On one of my now more frequent Journeys out of Zone 3 into the city I'm inspired by the cyclists riding cargo cycles. I could do that.
Accepting the realiy that the web stuff wasn't going to get picked up anytime soon I started looking for an actual job. I was inspired by the cargo cycles some googling led me to email a company called Gnewt Cargo. And they wanted to have a chat with me.
The website was a little out of date. They had traded up most of their tricycle cargo rickshaws for electric vans. But they seemed like nice people and I needed the job. And then fortune smiled brightly on me. The day of my training trial, normally a two day affair, one of their drivers quit/was fired. And he was on a TNT document route. A route currently being done on electric scooter, but one that would be suited to one of their Bullit Bikes. Pure pedal power. Training fast-forwarded due to need and the fact that I wasn't an idiot and had done similar work in Australia and I was starting work the next day.
A winter with no snow meant that February and March were actually the wettest there have been in recent memory. To the North East of London, the country was flooding. And I was out riding in it everyday and having a ball. Quickly learning my patch of the city, the EC2 postcode, I was soon covering EC3 or EC4 on the quiet days when drivers were sick or on holiday. I was finally living in London. My favourite moment was after a very wet moment. The sun peeked out behind a cloud, seeing if it was time for spring yet, just as I was riding past the Tower of london. A gorgeous sight and uniquely London, I could not have had this experience back in Sydney. There's no Tower of London there.
Not all things can last though. As the months ended the document route added parcels and collections. Not wanting to be in a van full time, I trained up a replacement and was moved to a Hermes route. Delivering online shopping parcels, running back and fourth from the depot five or six times a day to my new, much smaller delivery zone of the few blocks immediately surrounding the depot.
My Second home in London was my friend Chevy's apartment. A new development in the stylish Central London Suburb of Shoreditch. She doesn't like it, she thinks it was cheaply constructed and is annoyed by the design decsicions, or lack of them, that were made. But she had a spare bed in her lounge room; The place had come furnished but she had her own bed she liked so moved the owners to the large loungeroom. But I think it's great.
I'm broke and wouldn't get paid for a long time 2. My first month was rent free. And as it's only a bed in a loungeroom it's cheap even when I do start paying. Unfortunately I can be quite a bad houseguest. And this situation was very much still like I was a guest in someone else's house. While rent was always paid, it was not always prompt. And with my tendency to treat home as just somewhere to sleep and the tiring nature of the physical work I wasn't the best company even when I was home. I think Chevy was starting to think her hospitality was being taken advantage of.
However this is the time when my social life exploded in London. I found the improv scene. I started making friends. Hoopla, then C3467X and Duck Duck Goose. Shem and Carleen became my first real London friends that I made all on my own. Then Carleen put me together with Will, Corey and James and we formed the soon to be named King Me troupe, although we played our first gig, the improv 5-a-side, as "Mumma's Boys" named by the proud Carleen.
I was living with a good friend. I had a bunch of new improv friends. I was seeing Anne fairly regularly as she also worked in the city, and slowly being introduced to her circle of London friends. I even started to take advatange of the London bits of London; I saw the Book of Mormon, Let the Right One in and Warhorse. Theatre is still expensive but some is better than none. It was a good time. Mostly.
Growing frustrations start to bubble to the surface. Work is leading to an escalating cycle of tiredness and frustration. London is an expensive city to live in. Despite a full time job and the cheapest possible rent, I feel very poor. In two weeks a new contract means we're moving depots and I will probably be back in a van full time. I'm training new drivers right now anyway so most days are in the van already. I didn't quit my job in Australia to travel halfway accross the globe to spend my days driving a van again.
An escape is needed. Vic and Nevine are in France. "Come spend a few days in Dieppe with us and some French friends". So after 5 months in London, my first adventure into Europe is back to France. A train to Brighton. A ferry to Dieppe. And three days spent on beach made up of smooth pebbles the size of tennis balls. It is glorious.
London is returned to with much trepidation.
London starts to collapse after this. My trip to Chicago to study improv for 5 weeks is less than 2 months away. My preliminary budget leaves me with exactly no money on arrival in America.
While in Dieppe, Chevy told me that she needs me out of the apartment so that Katie can move in in a few weeks. I knew it was coming, but it was an awkward end, the earlier tensions making it more stressful than it needed to be. I went straight to a hostel on returning to London. I had an ambitious plan to work during the week then travel to somewhere new in England each weekend. I went to Nottingham and that's it before this plan ended.
My third home in London arrived as an offer from a work friend when he heard I was living in Hostels full time. It was a room in an apartment in Muswell Hill. One of London's "highest" points (London is rather flat) and a nice suburb. But an hours bus ride from work and central london. Way outside the Borris Bike zone. I hesitated before moving in, but it was 30 pounds cheaper a week than a hostel, and my budget needed the help.
Work lasts 3 more weeks before the combination of early starts and little sleep due to the now much longer commute both ways and the frustration at full time van driving in a small pocket of central london build up to the point of me quitting the job 3 weeks earlier than planned. So much for the budget.
Meanwhile I'm doing improv fairly regularly but I'm not entirely happy with the way I'm playing. I'm frustrated with myself, I'm not performing as much as I want and I'm not travelling Europe. These were the two reasons I moved to the UK. I'm starting to get homesick. I miss my friends in Sydney but most of all I'm missing my sister Lily, who is now seven years old and growing up fast.
I borrow a bicycle from a friend of a friend. The three times I ride it are wonderful. It really is a great way to get around town. It's stolen, despite being locked up, the third time I ride it. I sit where the bike was stolen, almost cry and vow that I'm done with this city. It's hard to remember the good parts at this point; berry picking in two different parts of the English countryside, picnics with friends in the green English summer.
I catch the plane back to America, filled with excitement of what's to come, frustration at the city I'm leaving and a significant lack of accomodation booked for a trip I've been planning for months.
Ah British Beauracracy, my first real pang of homesickness. I will try never to complain about things taking a long time in Australia ever again. ↩
Everyone in London is paid monthly, something I've not had to deal with before. Also I'm still having issues with my National Insurance Number, the number required for paying tax. After 3 and a half months. See footnote 1. ↩
- Older: Wrapping up America