One year in London
I’m writing this hours before the party I’m hosting to celebrate living in London for a year is due to start. The invite list for the party is slightly dubious as I invited every single person I’ve ever encountered in the past year and managed to lock down through the exchange of phone numbers, Instagram accounts and Facebook friend requests. The flaw in this plan became clear when one friend reported that our mutual friend questioned why she had been invited as we’d only met once on a blurry night out in Shoreditch - clearly I’m moving past the age where one drunk deep and meaningful conversation equals bezzies for life.
Anyway, I remain optimistic - hoping that the frequent posts on the Facebook event page and the obsessive, verging on hysterical, inquiries of ‘you’re coming to my party, right?!’ both in person and over WhatsApp will hopefully mean that more than 5 people show up.
Hopeful optimism - the key ingredient to surviving my first year in London. I say ‘surviving’ as if I was met with adversity at every turn. I wasn’t. I moved into a beautiful house (a 5 minute walk from the Northern line, can I get a hallelujah) with 3 beautiful flat mates. I landed a temporary job for 6 weeks to tide me over then almost immediately started my permanent job at the Civil Service. I knew people in London, I made friends, I went out, I went on holiday. I had fun. But to say that I arrived in London with any knowledge of how unforgiving, isolating, and at times lonely this wonderful city is, would be wholly untrue.
This time last year, visions of my new life in London swirled around my mind in a romantic haze - automatically landing my dream (high-paying, obvs) job at my favourite fashion magazine, the subsequent glamorous parties, the culture I would consume, the people I would meet, the life I would lead! Very high and lofty - very unattainable. Which I knew, but there was also the less lofty vision of being happy, of slipping right into a city that I hadn’t lived in before, landing on my feet, and continuing to run at full pelt.
It’s only as I’ve reached the milestone of one year here that I’ve given myself space to stop and reflect on what was a turbulent year. Not one to overly indulge in self-reflection, I’ve found that thinking back on the past year has helped me to identify one of the benefits of optimism - resilience. Even though having unreachable expectations can often lead to crushing disappointment, my unfounded and impossibly high hopes for London were what kept me going.
From June to September last year I spiraled into a bleak, black pit. I would wake with a heaviness on my chest that only crying released. Crying at what? At nothing, at everything. There was no rhyme or reason for it. I was just sad. Maybe it was homesickness, maybe it was the demands of my job, maybe it was feeling unknown in this vast city. Whatever it was, it was thoroughly and regularly medicated with all weekend benders, never giving myself any time alone, succumbing to the illusion of love with strangers on nights out, painting a false veneer of togetherness on every morning, and hoping, praying, somehow knowing, that it would get better.
During that period I never considered leaving. I entertained the thought of course. How easy it would have been to pack my bags and fly back to sunny, safe New Zealand where I could see my friends and family, save money and go to the beach. But how could I have gone home and not had immediate regrets? How could I have abandoned the potential of my fledgling London life for one that is safe and easy? There was always hope that it would get better and the faint knowledge that how I felt was only temporary.
Well reader, I stayed and my fledgling London life is now one year old. And what a difference a year can make. While my life in London is not the glossy, edited, or glamorous life I had romanticised, I wouldn’t change it, or the journey it took to get here, for the world. Granted, it is expensive, far away from my family, it takes at least an hour to get anywhere, the water is gross, and I have to get on a plane to find a decent beach, yet I remain optimistic; there’s a little delicacy here called Basset’s jelly babies, there are so many people to meet who are different from me (even though most of my friends here are from NZ), Europe is literally next door (let’s not bring up Brexit pls), there’s a social scene for anything you’re interested in, the pubs are primo, there are opportunities upon opportunities for everything, Lidl (enough said), and it’s the place where your convictions will be tested and where you can become who you’re meant to be.
London is, to be super cringe and cliché, where I think I’m meant to be. My hopes are higher than ever and while ‘nothing is certain in London but expense’ - the expense of your finances, health, family life, sanity, your time - it pays dividends in life. Rich, swirling, kaleidoscopic, unabating life.
NB. Author’s note on morning after aforementioned party - more than 5 people turned up, everyone had fun (despite the shite speakers) and the party ended with the sure fire signifier that it was a success - the host crying (I’m putting it down to the gin).