Along with seemingly everyone else in the world, I recently moved to London. Picture me, a young ingenue fresh off the M1 with an iPhone in my hand and ambitions of getting a free Masters degree in my heart (the government is paying my fees because they were all like "SRRY WE SPRUNG THE WHOLE $13K-A-YEAR THING ON U MERE MONTHS BEFORE U STARTED UR UNDERGRAD BABE :( FRIENDS?", and I was like "k").
When you move to London from elsewhere, it's fair to say that living here is usually not as you imagined. What you expect experiencing brunch and London culture to be is actually just paying quite a lot to eat something called "smashed avocado" and getting rammed repeatedly by a rightfully angry lady on a mobility scooter outside Hackney Central Primark because you were reading something about RuPaul's Drag Race on your phone instead of looking where you were going.
So far in my experience, London is strange, and surprising, and sometimes very sad, and I am not really properly used to it yet. And so, from this odd position of being neither inside nor out, I have some observations about my first two months here that I would like to share. Ahem.
RUSH HOUR IS A CIRCLE OF HELL (BUT, ALSO, IT'S NOT)
Some aspects of living in London are unavoidable. You will never have any money. You will be tired all the time. You will develop a rampant, consuming hatred of Oxford Circus. And, as inevitable as Earth's eventual consumption by the Sun, rush hour will always, always be horrendous. This, really, is less of an observation and more of a fundamental truth that is probably carved in stone somewhere deep inside the TfL headquarters. On my first commute across London, I got trapped in the Tube doors and a kindly stranger had to pull me free by my backpack. On my second one, I fell up the escalator in Holborn station, but I continued running for two reasons: a) because I was going to be late for my 9AM and I am a goody-two-shoes, and b) because the sense of Hunger Games dog-eat-dog survival that rush hour tends to endow had utterly taken over my body, as if I were a sort of rabid commuter werewolf. It was quite a baptism of fire.
Rush hour, however, is also sort of cool in a terrifying way. When I am milling around a busy tube station on an evening, I feel really tiny, and other people seem really tiny too, as the sprawling spectrum of human possibility reveals itself in our individual journeys towards our various destinations. As we sigh and push past slow walkers and breathe on each other, we're in a sort of weird communion as we all converge in the underground tunnels, in order to get back to our homes, our lives, our loved ones. Rush hour, then, while being necessarily terrible, is also probably the most rudimentarily human thing about London, and for that reason I have a bit of a soft spot for it (although I probably would rather not get pushed against the doors by large men with no understanding of personal space for those under 5'10").
HOUSE-SHARES ARE INEVITABLE AND USUALLY REALLY FUCKING WEIRD
Due to a combination of factors—including but not limited to "incorrect representations on reputable house-share website spareroom.com," "my own extreme naivety," and "desperately needing a place to move into"—I used to live with a woman who:
- Made me tell her before I had a shower so she could do a wee, and then I would have to shower thinking about the fact that she had just weed. I once forgot to ask her if she needed a wee and she made me get out of the shower so she could wee.
- Regularly woke me up in the mornings because a) she was speaking at length to the cat, or b) she was shouting down the phone at someone from a call center.
- Was horribly racist.
SEEING FAMOUS PEOPLE IS SHIT NOW
The thing about there being loads of famous people in London is true, but when you do see one, it's sort of anti-climactic. This is because it's either a situation where a) they're just doing average person things (like the time I saw rapper JME in a shop and had a fairly comprehensive discussion about the merits of various kinds of fake chicken nuggets with him) (if you are interested, he really likes them and his favorite brand is Fry's, which is an opinion I fully back), or b) you're working for them (my friend once bought Cheryl Cole some knickers FOR HER JOB).
In London, famous people become a bit normal in a way that they aren't really normal anywhere else, and as someone who absolutely loves celebrities of any stature, this has been a difficult realization for me. In a city where Preston out of the Ordinary Boys lives down the road from my boyfriend and Alexa Chung is literally fucking everywhere, famous people become tangible. They lose their shiny TV luster, and that, my friends, is heartbreaking. For what is modern living when you see someone you vaguely recognize from a BBC sitcom on the Tube and instead of texting your mom about it you just think, Yeah, probably was her, and then carry on about your day? It is no kind of living at all.
THERE ARE MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO BE AWFUL
Let's just say, if you asked me what the last actual supermarket I went in was and I didn't say Whole Foods, I would be a liar.
YOU SORT OF REALIzE YOU'RE THE REASON LONDON IS DOOMED
There is quite a big elephant in the room with any piece of writing about a young white woman moving to London after her degree. Maybe we could call the elephant "gentrification" and we could call people like me "the dickhead zookeepers who didn't lock the elephant up so he has now escaped to follow his dream of establishing a small chain of artisanal boulangeries with locations in Peckham and Shoreditch."
There are two important things to note about people who move to London: 1) they have usually got the money to do so from somewhere, seeing as this shit ain't cheap, and 2) they bring with them their tastes and preferences as consumers of all kinds of things, from housing to super yummy locally-produced almond milk. Combined, these two factors often end up meaning that people who have lived here all their lives end up getting slowly edged out financially and culturally. Obviously, if this is allowed to continue at the current rate we're going to end up living in a dystopia where Square Mile Coffee runs from taps and laws are passed in the form of those "hilarious" blackboards you see outside cafés all the time.
While I don't have any concrete solutions, maybe it's an idea for those of us who have bowled into various communities for college or work or whatever to stop being knobs and support some independent or local shops/initiatives/anythings from time to time, lest the city which excited us so much becomes a soulless graveyard of art-galleries-cum-cocktail-bars-cum-bespoke-sock-design-studios. Catch ya girl joining a local vegetable growing co-op and know that she is trying
TRYING TO GO OUT ANYWHERE IS POINTLESS
Last weekend marked the second one in a row when I planned to go to what sounded like a fun club night and ended up sitting in a Wetherspoons defeatedly nursing a pitcher of Cheeky V. Going out in London requires military level organization: If you want to go out, you have to dedicate your mind, body, and soul to the cause of going out. Tickets must be bought weeks in advance, and if there aren't any tickets, your arrival time at the venue of choice must be planned with mathematical precision—not so early that the place is empty, but not so late that you spend an hour in line behind a guy from the Home Counties who won't stop talking about legal highs. And, not being funny, but who wants to be watching the clock and trying to persuade a room of drunk people to "oh my god please turn 'Tubthumping' off now, we need to leave" when they are nicely on their way to being sad drunk due to ill-advisedly using Smirnoff Ice as a mixer for gin? I can firmly state: not me.
Going out—and by this I mean properly going out, like going-to-the-club-and-drinking-$4-vodka-Red-Bulls-until-walking-is-properly-difficult going out—is really where London could learn a lesson or two from the UK's other cities. Alright, so you might have Fabric, but like, it's £20 [$30] to get in and there is no scenario on Earth where I wouldn't rather strawpedo bottles of blue VK at Snobs in Birmingham (a place where you always get in, they always play The Libertines, and the entire population of your year at school is always in attendance, for better or worse) than pretend to like house music and have my ass pinched by men who think it's OK to wear blazers with jeans.
EVERYONE IS A BLOODY CREATIVE
Me included. A lot of people I've met in London have a creative side-hustle, even if they don't work in a creative job, and that is a pretty cool thing. Obviously, some of these are more hilarious than others (I once saw someone on the Hackney Wick Spaces Facebook group describe himself as an actor, musician, and nanny), and there's always an ounce of self-awareness required when explaining to someone that you're "writing, like, a book about, like, pop culture," because of course you are. Mostly, though, it's kind of inspiring to live in a place where everyone is just doing their thing and working together to do more things.
And irritatingly, despite everything I've said to the contrary, that's what makes London so special. There's a vastness and a potentiality here that I haven't felt anywhere else I've lived; a sense that, ever so slowly, you're moving towards where you want to be. If you want my expert opinion based on my two whole months of experience of the place, I think that whatever's in the air here—opportunity, possibility, bus exhaust fumes—is why most people, even begrudgingly, end up sticking it out (well, that and the fact that if we moved elsewhere, we wouldn't have half as much to moan about). As they say in London: "Oi, cunt! Move out of my way, cunt, if you're going to stop in the middle of the fucking road like that! Cunt!"
Follow Lauren on Twitter.