London

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What kind of chump writes an entire emotional blog post about leaving London and then err… stays in London? This one! So here I go, embarking on London living the sequel. I think a big part of why we became fixated on moving to Brighton was that we didn’t want to feel like we’d just come back from 7 months of life-altering travel just to return to the same old same old. It felt like London would just suck us back in and somehow dissolve all the perspective we’d gained through seeing so many developing countries and shiny new cultures. Obviously this was quite an extreme reaction, and I think it was mostly due to the fact that as we were counting down to leave London we were at the ends of our tethers with manic jobs, crazy commutes and no money to enjoy any of the sparklier city offerings. Living off crumbs and working all hours is bound to get you glum, wherever you are living, but we started to completely associate that feeling with London specifically. Once we had put a few thousand miles between us and the big smoke, the things we loved and missed started to trickle back in. I explained in my last blog how our flat hunt in Brighton had failed pretty spectacularly, and also at that point how I had been for a first interview at a place I have always dreamt of working. Well, another interview and a gruelling presentation later and I got the job! What a birthday present! I’m now the Digital Marketing Manager at Penguin Books. More about my return to the ratrace later, but once I knew I bagged this role and Nick had also lucked out with a job at a production company he likes, all signs were pointing to a return to London. Both of us commuting to Brighton would have cost £4.5k EACH a year. So heck forget the signs, with a wedding to save for there was no way on earth we could justify that outgoing and both suspected the fresh sea air might not quite be enough to balance out the grate of a 2 hour+ daily commute and having no pennies.

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So, it was time to find a flat. After living out of backpacks and a different bed every night for the best part of a year, just having somewhere to call our own was a glorious concept. We got stuck into the black hole of house hunting, which in London at the moment is a whole new breed of cut throat, and one sunny evening we turned up to view a property in Kentish Town. We weren’t expecting much as we sat swinging our feet on the wall and squinting curiously up at the flat. The only thing in its favour is that it’s about 5 minutes away from Camden Town Brewery Bar aka our favourite London watering hole. We were joking as we walked up the stairs that however dank and dumpy it was, we’d take it anyway, and just spend all our time drinking beer down the road. Then we walked in and… fell in love! It’s a dinky little flat but perfectly formed, with lots of lovely little luxuries such as space in the kitchen for a table & chairs, a bath huge enough to fit the BFG in it and tons of nooks & crannies for storage. We moved in over the bank holiday, with the help of Craig and Phil. It was a soggy affair, and slightly hindered by the fact we kept celebrating and getting accidentally drunk, which doesn’t aid the tedious task of unpacking your whole life. After 3 days of slogging away, it’s now almost finished with just the fun stuff left like what to hang on the walls and how to categorise our book shelf (Nick votes genre, I vote in rainbow colour order).

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It’s been so amazing waking up in my own bed, surrounded by my own stuff and having a base. It helps that I am absolutely ADORING my new job too. My new colleagues are brilliant (their interests include: ukulele, hula hooping, knitting, mac & cheese AND Katy Perry) which makes such a huge difference, as any job can be dreamtime on paper but when you spend so many hours in close proximity to people then it’s massively beneficial if you have shared interests and can be real-life chum too. My role is super exciting, and involves reading books for overtime, which obviously is not an issue. Oh and the canteen does a jacket spud & beans for a quid! Which is almost as exciting and life-changing as everything else. So all in all, London life: Part 2 is feeling really exciting so far. Obviously I will still get disgruntled when I find myself on the tube during signal failure and other London-specials, but mainly I feel like this is a completely different chapter in my life (and I’m 30 now don’t cha know!) and has just as much to offer me as if I had upped sticks to the seaside or decided to stay living on an island in the Caribbean sea forever.

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Although I want to lodge a formal complaint about what has happened to the cats at the Art Deco beaut Carreras Cigarette Factory (/Greater London House) in my absence. Does anyone know why they have been blobbified?

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Gosh I feel like my blog lately is just getting bogged down with life-updates. Hopefully now that I am planning to quit doing anything life-changing for a while, I can get back to talking about cheeseburgers and Yorkshire tea and new frocks. Bear with me! Something I think it’s fitting to quickly shoehorn in, given my new job, is a few of my best recent reads, that I am itching to get more people to read so that I can compare notes:

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan. I can’t actually remember where I first heard about this collection of short stories; I think perhaps it was recommended on Amazon or Goodreads because The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is one of my favourite books. For once, that’s a very fitting comparison and an accurate if you like that you’ll probably like this pick. The twenty stories of lust, longing, fantasy and magic intertwine recognisable elements and characters from traditional fairytales twisted with a refreshing take on the morals, locations and endings. Other stories are entirely new, modern fairytales I suppose, which get under your skin and creep back into your mind as you drift off to sleep; in the same way you might have been haunted by Red Riding hood’s wolf or Hansel and Gretel’s captor. Something I admired most about this book was Kirsty’s approach to gender and sexuality. Relationships between men, women, witches, coin-operated boys, stags… are dealt with depth, intimacy and heart. I’d love to see a shift in mainstream fiction to approaching similar issues in this way. I’d highly recommend this collection of stories, even if you aren’t usually a short story fan. I found myself absolutely captivated from the first line of delicate, descriptive prose and am already looking forward to curling up with it for a re-read.

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Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway. Hawthorn and Child are policemen in the Met, dealing with the daily despair of London’s murky underworld. From the description, I had expected a cookie cutter police thriller, but I was SO wrong. For a start, this book has the most ambitious narrative structure I think I have ever experienced. It can be wildly frustrating, as each chapter is almost a stand alone short story in itself. After starting the book and desperately trying to log details, story archs and characters in my brain, only for each chapter to go off on another tangent, I stopped and started over again treating each chapter as it’s own independent snap shot. In fact the only link to each chapter is that it features Hawthorn or Child, although by the end you have learnt so much about them both throughout these individual scenarios. The book takes commitment and attention, due to the discord method of writing, but as a reader who tires of being spoon-fed obvious information; I really enjoyed the challenge. My only regret is that it’s sat on to-read shelf so long, as it was released to co-incide with the London 2012 Olympics (and with a story thread that ties directly in to them) and I think it would have been fantastic to read it whilst wrapped up in the sporting frenzy at the time.

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The Broken – Tamar Cohen. This up & coming author had somehow passed me by (maybe because I was out of the country!) until I read a brilliant interview over on Steph’s blog The Musings of a Human Magpie. The Broken introduces two couples whose lives are intertwined to the point of regular holidays, their daughters being best friends and doing pretty much everything together. That is until one of the couples, Sasha and Dan, break up. It’s a scenario that most people can relate to, having been friends with a couple and then being forced to take sides or attempt the impossible task of staying neutral. The still-together couple Hannah and Josh find themselves getting far too involved in the increasingly sinister dramatics of the separation, to the point that it starts to drive a wedge into their previously blissful marriage. This is a real can’t-put-down, reading-under-the-duvet-with-a-torch (or kindle light, but that doesn’t sound so exciting!) novel, which I devoured in a single day and night. The dynamics and intricacies of both happy and imploding relationships are written so accurately that you feel like you’ve experienced both during the course of the book. I have immediately downloaded another of Tamar’s back catalogue and am looking forward to working my through the previous 3 releases.

 

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Exactly one month ago today, I smushed my nose up against the window of my Air New Zealand LA > LDN flight and burst into tears, whilst also giddily jumping around in my seat, as the rolling green hills of England peeked up through the marshmallow clouds. I would never have predicted that the sight of a few fields would evoke this reaction in me; but having spent nearly 7 months out of the country and travelling hundreds of thousands of kilometres (whilst getting in all manner of scrapes) it was the feeling of finally being home. I won’t recap the whole trip here, as hopefully you were glued to Twentysomething Burnouts and know all about the time we shared a bed with the world’s most deadly scorpion or accidentally ended up in a teeny tiny 8-seater tin-can aeroplane with a 17 year old pilot, who spent the whole flight rummaging on the floor for a biro. No? No! Then you better head over there instead of reading these slightly melancholy post-travel-trauma ramblings! Those stories are far more fun!

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Despite spending the last 3 weeks of our adventure in California, and therefore slowly returning to civilised behaviour such as showering regularly, the culture-shock I have had since returning to the UK has been mammoth. Absolutely normal things that I’ve grown up my whole life with such as; flushing toilets, hot water, slippers, CHEESE, public transport with loos on them, PJs, tap water you can drink without dying etc. have been denied of me for so long, that it’s like they are shiny and new. It was absolutely surreal to return to Nick’s parents and unpack my handbag that had been left gathering dust in their attic for the duration of our trip. I opened my wallet and it had a vaguely fuzzy de-ja-vu familiarity, but it looked like it belonged to an entirely different person. Why on earth did I have SO many coffee shop loyalty cards?! At what point had I earnt enough salary to justify having a Liberty storecard? There was also a distractedly half read book of short stories, The Returned boxset that we had watched all but 2 episodes of before leaving and a tick-list of chores for our “Last day in the UK”! All my hopes and fears and excitement about the unknown trip of a lifetime were festering in that handbag, and now I was back. And it was totally over.

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Although it was back to earth with a bump, our first week was at least buffered with a dreamy jet-lag haze. We toured the country visiting our parents and immediate family, getting spoilt rotten and being treated like royalty. I enjoyed eating everything I saw; all the food we’d obsessed about being reunited with whilst tucking into South American delicacies such as a broth complete with floating chicken claw, the thing that directly translated as “soup of the beast” or the myriad of mystery meats we consumed. And then… the victory lap was over, and we found ourselves back in London. I was outraged. Where the hell was my hammock? Why wasn’t I drinking a pina colada at 2pm? We were both having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up on an hourly basis, sweaty and bemused in the pitch blackness, my mind buzzing with anxiety over what country was next on the itinerary and where the bus station was… only to slowly realise I was in Golders Green, not Guatemala. Mornings rolled around, and instead of excitedly questioning each other on what rainforest we could scramble through today or where the Rough Guide reckons we could find a decent breakfast for under a dollar… the sinking realisation crept in that we needed jobs, we needed money and we needed to find a home. These things are way less fun.

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I would be lying if I said it was easy. Heck this is my little corner of the internet and why lie? It’s been absolutely horrid. We’ve spent 7 months in some of the most dangerous and pressured situations in the world, and been cool cucumbers. Back in same-old-same-old familiar London, we were fraying at the edges. The fact is, we have seen things and experienced things that have made us different people to the ones that left London last. I guess that means slotting right back in as if nothing happened, isn’t an option! We caught a train to Brighton, in the hope of flat hunting, only for me to be waylaid by a stomach bug, realise I have a phobia of those mutant massive seagulls, and to be messed around something chronic by estate agents. We skulked back to London with our priorities shifted; how about trying to get jobs before we house hunt. Let’s cope with one mega-dega life thing at a time… and let’s try the one that gives us money, rather than takes it away.

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After living out of 35litre backpacks forever, I seem to now have an aversion to stuff. We’ve both only unpacked about two outfits each, which hang forlornly in an empty wardrobe probably thinking hey where are all my dress-pals? Why do they have to live in a bin liner now! As this blog is testament to, I used to dress with obsessive precision in twin-sets and accessories, but now I just can’t face the amount of choice required to dress myself in the morning if there isn’t just a choice of this OR that. Maybe I’ll become one of those freaky aspirational capsule wardrobe types you read about in women’s magazine? (I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t stepped foot into H&M, Zara or Topshop yet. Who am I kidding.) I’m sure anyone who has ever moved house can empathise how rough life is when everything is in storage / boxes. I momentarily forgot this when I went for my first post-travel haircut (there were actual dreadlocks forming) and had a super chic snazzy do that needs daily blow drying and an hour with the straighteners. If only I could find the box that contains my hair dryer… or straighteners!

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Weeks in, and we’re appreciating some parts of being back in the big smoke. Our friends have been incredible, rallying round and doing nice things like cooking us dinner, buying us coffees and letting us watch Game of Thrones at their house. Yknow, the life essentials! We also had a much needed London-tourist day on Wednesday. We both had first interviews for jobs we really want in the morning. I had left before Nick, so when we met up on The Strand later we cracked up upon realising that we had dressed identically for our interviews! We were both wearing his-n-hers beige macs with black shiny brogues.

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In our uniform; we marched over the Thames, stopped for a Wahaca burrito on the South Bank, checked out the skate park demo, saw some nice new street art and then tottered over the bridge to the British Museum for an afternoon of Ancient Egyptians and Medieval British bits. There is something so soothing about the museum. One of the things Nick and I bonded over when we first met, is that when we both moved to London penniless and brand new, we would both come to the museum after work (separately, we were still 5 years off meeting!) and spend hours roaming around in the last hour of the opening, as the gallery staff start to politely shoo you out. I’d come to the museum and sit surrounded by these incredible artefacts and give myself pep talks. Seven years on and it still has that welcoming, everythings-going-to-be-ok… ok? vibe for me when I visit!

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And this weekend I did the thing to make you appreciate London the most… leaving it! Nick was in Berlin on a stag do (a four day one, which I think is a little intense!) so I came to my most precious Norfolk getaway, and timed it to catch my Gran and Mum at the same time. On the Saturday my aunt drove us out to Overstrand, a coastal village about 20 minutes from Cromer. We picked up fresh dressed crab which we devoured for picnic lunch, and then marched out onto the beach. Despite the blistering winds and chilly temperatures, I felt so proudly British to join the families who were stubbornly paddling, sitting in deck chairs or attempting Frisbee regardless. A family favourite tradition of ours is to hunt out balemites amongst the flint and the pebbles. They are rare little fossils, but there is a treasure trove of them to be found if you peek hard enough. We clambered up past the coastal path where, during the bad winter storms, every beach hut between Overstrand and Cromer was whisked into the sea!

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I’m not sure if it was the sea air, the brisk wind or being surrounded by my family, but by the time we got home and I crawled into bed (all toasty because my gran still remembers to put an electric blanket on for me a few hours before bedtime!) I then slept for eleven hours and when I woke up I felt settled for the first time since we got back.

Oh yeah! In other bee-life news you may have missed if you haven’t followed the travel tales, I am now engaged! It happened like this and I am very lucky indeed. On Sunday morning I woke up and my mum had bought me my first Bridal magazine instead of an Easter egg. Does this mean I am officially a grown up?!

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I am not sure what will happen next. Where we’ll live, where I’ll work or what gallivanting I will be blogging about here. But please bear with me, and in the meantime I turn 30 in two weeks (agh!) so I will be sure to be getting up to a few antics to celebrate this most grand of old ages. Over on Twentysomething Burnouts we will also be finishing up the last of our California exploration, and a few other behind the scenes bits, so that blog is far from over!

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I’m going to end the post with some lyrics from a song that has meant a lot to me recently. Whilst travelling I just had an iPod shuffle that had to entertain and occupy me on every 10, 20 and 30 hour bus journey, every sleepless night, every long flight. I kept it permanently on the shuffle function and despite it getting drenched on our dramatic Colombia > Panama boat-mare, it is still going strong. On the penultimate day of our travels, I turned the shuffle function off, and decided to play the ipod from start to finish (we had a long Megabus ride from San Fran to Los Angeles). The first song that came on was one I had NO idea was on there, and that the shuffle function hadn’t played once in the whole seven months! It was like winning the lottery. A whole new song out of 331 that I had heard hundreds of times each! It is by a very talented man who releases under the name Adem, and it’s called Everything You Need. The lyrics really felt appropriate at the time I discovered it, driving through the California dust bowl, and have been really comforting since we got home.

You severed your ties
Left us all behind
You said all your goodbyes
To everything you need

You severed your ties
Re-forge them… make it right
Come back with open eyes
To everything you need

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