I am 29. I was 23 years old when I moved to London. I had spent the decade leading up to this driving my friends and family crazy with my incessant obsession with moving down just as soon as the opportunity arose to escape Yorkshire, which even having greedily attending two universities (Sheffield Hallam & Leeds Met) I hadn’t so far succeeded in doing. Don’t mistake me; I Iove love love Yorkshire. In fact I appreciate all its quirks and beauty so much more now I’ve created a home elsewhere, but I had reached an age where I was haunted by childhood and teenage ghosts and places steeped in nostalgia around every corner. The appeal of living somewhere anonymous, somewhere fast paced and somewhere I could be a “new” me had me craving the moment I could purchase that one-way ticket to Kings Cross and not look back. By this stage I’d regularly spent summers interning in London and was absolutely enamoured by the crackle of excitement and opportunity, the hot air bursts that flick your hair before the tube rushes in and the sense that this was where I needed to be to get on and actually grow up.
The big moving day eventually came around. I remember I had been to a Summer BBQ at my friend Jo and Sean’s house the night before and some evil genius had served up endless shots of strawberry vodka jelly. As a result my stomach churned every time I leant down to fetch another box and pack my life away. My seasickness was fitting, as the heavens opened and that hard, hot rain drenched me (and all my electrical goods which never worked again) as I staggered around packing up the man & van I’d hired. The van and I raced, as I got the train down the country and he tackled the motorway. Outside rain drooled down the windows and inside tears drooled down my face, and it was all very fittingly filmic! I was moving into a house share in Streatham with two friends from Leeds. None of us had the first clue about London housing, or commuting, so had picked Streatham as my sister lived there and it seemed freakishly cheap. Little did we know we’d all pay the price with a killer hour+ commute every day and the fact that no one could ever be bothered to come and visit as it wasn’t “on the tube map”! These two things made making friends a challenge, and I remember my first year in London as a haze of swooping highs and lows but mostly the bleak moments. It wasn’t just London that was testing my spirit to the maximum, as my mum was having chemotherapy and I missed her and worried about her desperately. I had also taken my first media job, but was earning £12k a year (no London waiting here) at a prestigious television channel so whilst the company was dreamy, I slumped further and further into debt to afford to stay in my position.
I think the phrase that London “chews you up and spits you out” is very accurate for your first year in the big smoke. I was suffering from just as intense culture shock as I experience when visiting foreign countries! It was so different to the Yorkshire way of life and I can remember numerous times politely waiting for everyone to get on the tube in front of me, only for the doors to slam in my face. I’d strike up conversations on the bus or in a shop and be met with suspicious side eye and a stony silence. I was told numerous times at work to “tone down” my accent or to just not talk in client facing meetings (ikr?). But I battled through, and amongst the tough stuff I made new friends, I discovered secret spots for just-me and thrifty ways to survive with zero disposable income; a typical nights entertainment would be to head to Borders (RIP dear friend) on Oxford Street. I would grab a stack of artsy magazines which I would merely borrow, not buy, then take them to sit in the in-store Starbucks next to an empty cup so it looked like I’d spent money… and read solemnly until it closed at 10pm.
When I think back to that new-girl in London I can barely recognise myself to the one that has such a full, fast, feisty life here now. These days I have the whole underground map committed to memory, I’m like rain-man with plan b’s for if there are engineering works. I have lived South, East and North and in FIVE different houses/flats. London has well and truly become my home and at some point the balance tipped. I was no longer being tested by London, I was testing it! I eventually started to earn more, I had friends, relationships, parties and moments forever engrained on my memory that I’d never have thought possible. Working in the heart of London for the duration of the 2012 Olympics was one of those! But last year I got ill, and I started to get a creeping doubt for the first time that perhaps London was losing my heart. It’s such an unforgiving place when you aren’t top of your game. The nature of being constantly surrounded by thousands of people means you can’t falter, can’t show weakness… and when recovering from surgery getting to work seemed an impossible task with rush hour and no seats and the fact it was 6 miles from where I lived. I also had met Nick, and priorities were changing. We want a menagerie of animals, we want space, we want to be near beautiful outdoor excursions and who knows what other family additions in the (far far) future. Now obviously this can be done in London, but it’s certainly harder and both of us had to face-up to the realisation that it wasn’t where either saw ourselves living in five years time or making our home.
Obviously first we are going to have no home, as we hobo around South & Central America on hammocks. But when we come back…we are moving to Brighton! Big news! I’m not saying that this will be our home anymore than London but we are going to give it a good shot. I’ve actually only been three times in my whole life so I’m jumping into the situation pretty blind, but Nick has heaps of friends there and has spent big portions of his life staying there and I trust his judgement. My main priority is that I would like to live by the sea and somewhere that still has access to lots to keep me entertained but a slower pace of life (oh dear, 23-year-old-me would be mortified at this!). The benefit is that we are still close enough if I need to work in London, but there are also plenty of opportunities in Brighton. Most of my friends are still in London (and Yorkshire actually) so I will still be flitting around and seeing everyone, but hopefully we can tempt them all back for a fish supper and a potter around the pier.
Apologies for this very navel gaze-y post but it’s probably one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made, so I just had to record it in some way. I hope that if you read this blog for the London tips you won’t abandon me! I’m really excited to share the reality of relocating and my life as I explore Sussex (the fact I just had to Google to check that Brighton is in Sussex possibly isn’t a great start) and try to get cosy and homely there.
I’ll never fully leave London, as London has made me who I am today. More so than anything else, living in the big metropolis city has shaped my character, taught me endless lessons and altered me for the better and maybe a tiny bit worse. But it’s time to say goodbye.