Going Underground: Thoughts on life in London, one year on – 6/9/17

I’m writing this as paint slathered on my newly-assembled IKEA bed slowly gets its fumes up in my respiratory system. After what feels like an eternity of frantic Facebook messages, unread voicemails, and offers falling through, a group of very desperate (but very wonderful) girls finally found a house to move in to in Peckham. Go us!

The move marked the end of my first year in London, and it’s been quite the 12 months. Being a serial journal keeper, looking back on things year by year is something I tend to do quite habitually. I used to do this weird thing as a teenager where I’d track my progress each year – say the date was 13 August, I might take a look back at last year’s journal to see what I was up to on or around that date, and see how I fared up. For example: ‘Since 13 August 2013, I’ve kissed four more boys and got a fringe!’ So this post is kind of like that, but with more boys and no fringe.

If you overlook the fact that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never have enough money to go out (from filing copy in the 10 seconds you get Wi-Fi at Underground stops, to never getting a lie-in at weekends to get to the bottom of a to-do list), life in London is a rewarding hustle. It took a while though.

It’s strange to think just how much has changed since I moved away from home, but now, as I sit here, totally exhausted (perpetual state) and in need of a beer (more-than-occasional state), I feel quite grateful for the risk that I took.

Living in the city can be hard, but it pays off. I grew up in a village, where the nearest place you could get a pint of milk was a 10 minute drive away. Growing up in a place with fewer than 100 people in the mid-’00s was a weird one – it didn’t feel very rural, in fact – I spent most of my time inside the house trying to perfect my Tumblr profile.

Yet living in London is different to what I expected. Some thoughts on how to do it:

You are allowed to stay in bed all day sometimes and not feel guilty about it

In Hugo Macdonald’s beautifully written book How to Live in the City, he says it’s totally OK to to pencil in days to lounge around in bed all day – and to do this guilt-free. Because city life is a strain physically, mentally and emotionally, you shouldn’t torment yourself about it, either. (I suppose, in this frazzled digital world we live, the same could be said for those residing in hamlets).

There’s an idea that you should constantly be going at the same rate as the city, but try to remember all those evenings spent working overtime, or the times you had to cancel something hobby-based to do something work-related, and collect all your zzzzzzs guilt-free as you drift in and out of consciousness (unless you’re at your desk, obviously).

Don’t shy away from building small relationships with people you see every day

There are thousands and thousands of people bobbing around a city at any one time. It’s an impossible feat to attempt conversation with everyone you pass on the street, but why does it feel much easier to queue for the self-checkout machines at a supermarket rather than conjure up the effort to talk to someone? Your day-to-day existence can feel more connected when you say hi to the guy who makes your coffee, the woman struggling with her buggy on the bus, or the teenager at the corner shop where you top up your gas. This might seem so horribly self-help preachy but it’s bound to make you feel better, and it requires less effort than you’d think. Even saying hello and – the biggest small change you can incorporate into your city lifestyle – making eye contact, will help you feel more connected to those around you.

Be a tourist in your own city

Exploring parts of the city you don’t usually kick around in is so important to do when you can. There is so much to learn from being a tourist in the place you call home.

Macdonald says: “It’s shocking how many of us have not ‘seen the sights’ in our own cities. Whether it’s the palace, the parliament, the natural history museum, the observatory, the boat trips… these are dots on a map, chapters in a guidebook and stops on a tour for good reason. They represent the history and the culture of the place in which we live. They form the lens through which others see and experience our city – and the more ways we can look at our city, the more interesting it becomes.”

So get your sneaks on and get walking (selfie sticks optional).

Making the most of your commute

The dreaded commute can sometimes feel like one of the worst things about having a nine-to-five in the city (I have to admit, I feel quite blessed when I work from home and don’t have to step outside until everyone’s tucked away in offices). But, if you flip and reverse your commuting habits, it doesn’t need to feel quite so chore-like and time-consuming.

Imagine if you lived above your office, or just across the road from it. It’d be weird! Like those kids who used to live right near school and never knew the struggle of a rotting packed lunches and near-bullying banter on the bus home.

If you can find a way to enjoy certain aspects of your commute, it can become a way to prepare yourself for a day’s work, and likewise, leave it behind at the office as you ride home on your hour-long commute. I lost my headphones for a few weeks recently, and eavesdropped hard on the funniest conversations, the sort of things you read in Time Out’s hilarious feature Word On The Street. If listening to anyone spout bullshit before 9am is your idea of hell, listening to music on your commute is an obvious way to deal, and if you curate your playlist specifically to last as long as your journey (a bit smug about this one), you are DEFINITELY bossing your commute.

If I had 100 words in which to sum up what I’ve learned in 374 days here, they would be these words:

  • Be sensible with money, but try to curb in talking about it ALL THE TIME, as everyone’s broke as shit and no-one needs constantly reminding of that fact. Instead, revel in the solidarity shared with the three other people squatting next to you near the reduced section of the fridge in Tesco. (Except for when they take the last £0.87 sushi you were eyeing up.)
  • Be kind. Kindness is so underrated, and we’re in dire need of it. Thank the bus driver; don’t cancel on your friends twice in a row; hug your flatmates often.

Over and out, and ready for a nap! Zzzzzzzzzzz

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