What Helped Me Survive My First Four Weeks In London
I have been staring at my computer for the last four hours, completely unsure whether I should even bother writing about our challenging move from the "coolest little capital of the world" to er, "smokey" London, or just forget all about it and move on to writing about my New Zealand experience instead. But here I am now. I somehow managed to write that long opening sentence so I might as well continue.
Time has surely gone by pretty quickly. It's now more than a month since we arrived back in London. Everything is good now but seriously, it has been quite a stressful four weeks. I was already uptight even before we left Wellington, but my anxiety only grew deeper as days went by. As I watched stress unfold before me, I became more and more distant. I consciously blocked every positive thought about this place that I once called home. I just didn't want to be here. I wasn't ready. It didn't help that I was constantly being reminded of the reasons why I never wanted to come back.
Personally, I've had numerous bad encounters with people in London. First of all, my soaring (Bristol) confidence was knocked down to zero by a Type A Londoner. This may just be one thing, but it is a big thing for me because I never got my confidence back since. And then, as months and years went by, I met Londoners who made me feel like sh*t. It's not even about the rudeness or the arrogance of Londoners anymore because you find these kind of people anywhere you go. It's those little acts of un-kindness (and unfair judgement) that always gets me.
So when I overheard someone at the hotel cafe reacting to the staff with something like, "oh, they've been hanging out there all day?... I would be really annoyed if I didn't get a seat", I was deeply offended. Yes, we have been hanging out in that little corner all day, after a 26-hour flight, looking for a place to live. While she just arrived at the cafe after what it seemed like a shopping spree (based on the designer bags she was carrying) in time for the free cheese and wine. I could imagine how stressful her day has been, so perhaps she just needed a drink.
And then in the lift at the hospital, after an awkward chit-chat with someone who I don't even believe genuinely likes me, I was told off by a stranger for carrying a bag bigger than myself. Basically, I accidentally hit her with my bag when I turned around to speak to a colleague. Of course I apologised, but sorry wasn't enough. She had to say something.
Whether you are in a car or on foot, there's a painfully suffocating traffic everywhere. Add to that the endless road works and road diversions. Not to mention closed pavements.
And then the tourists apparently. To be honest, I can understand why tourists walk very slow, why they congregate and get in the way, why they don't read the signs and stay on the left side of the escalator and so on. It's the know-it-all Londoners that are hard to understand. They have the audacity to complain about the tourists when they can't even walk with a purpose. And even when they do, they do so carelessly. And then they flock on pavements smoking cigarettes and/or drinking alcohol. Hayyy.
To be fair the weather has been really good the past few days, but when we arrived in London, it was gloomy, cold and raining. I was hoping for a dry and mild autumn weather because I already had really bad weather experiences in Wellington for the last five months, but I guess I was a fool to even wish for a good British weather. I just have to accept that I will still be layering up for the next four months at least. That's nine months of cold weather for me. Yuck.
I can't honestly remember having inhaled so much smoke in Wellington as I have in London in the last four weeks. And I only mean cigarettes. God, imagine walking on the streets of London in a zigzag because you're trying to avoid smokers. Most of them are inconsiderate too. They won't even stop blowing smoke even if they already saw you coming. Grrr.
Shortly after we arrived in London, we immediately searched for flats. We basically didn't have time to entertain our jet lag. It didn't matter if I was falling asleep at 3pm and wide awake at 1am. We had to find somewhere to live. Sure, moving home is undoubtedly a very stressful experience, but moving home after living abroad is definitely far more distressing.
After five grueling days, we decided to take the first flat that we saw. The process went on smoothly initially until the referencing palaver. I couldn't understand why they had to do everything twice. And when this was finally sorted , the worst thing happened.
We were already on our way to J's parents when the agent phoned J telling him that because he was on "probationary period" at his job, we needed to pay 6-months rent upfront. I wanted to throw up. I never heard of such thing before. As J's mom said, we're not in our 20's. We're adult professionals who have decent jobs and excellent references. But apparently, it's the rule. I was afraid we were going to lose the flat. I just didn't want to go through the tedious process of ringing agents, viewing properties and filling endless forms again. I just wanted to rest. At this point, I was already very tired and ready to give up. But J wasn't.
We eventually got the keys for the flat after careful consideration, active negotiation and incessant nagging. Of course, the unfurnished flat came with a price too. But that's flat-hunting in London for you.
Although I had a stressful time, and immediately found reasons that made me ambivalent about coming back to London, I know that it will take a lot more for me to turn my back completely on something that made me who I am today. So, instead of entertaining those negative thoughts for longer, I focused on the blessings that really helped me survive this transition without having a breakdown.
1. An Amazing Partner
- People say that it is during these hard times that couples tend to fight. We didn't even snap at each other. Promise. I guess what I am trying to say is that moving home becomes easier when you have a partner who treats you like a partner. That person who works with you in every step of the way. That person who manages to keep calm, even if he has reasons not to. That person who will not raise his voice at you, even if things become terribly frustrating and you have the nerve to be annoying. That person who prioritises your comfort as much as his. That imperfect person who will take you under his wing - unconditionally.
Ah, I can go on but I'd rather not. I'm just thankful that J is such a calm, rational and organised person.
2. A nice-ish place to stay while flat-hunting
- One of the most important things that we did after we decided to look for a flat straight away was to find a nice temporary base in London. We booked a room at this boutique hotel in Soho which to us was more like a pod, but actually really convenient. It also helped that we knew which areas in London we would like to live, so this hotel was a good base for us. They also had free cheese and wine every evening, and their breakfast buffet was delicious.
3. Supportive and helpful parents
- J's parents made me appreciate the things that I DON'T have. I mean, I have parents but I don't think they can provide me the support that J's parents are giving him. Not even emotionally. I believe that my parents have stopped supporting me in any way when I started earning my own money. But let's not get into that drama.
Seriously, we wouldn't have done this international move twice without J's parents' help. All I can say is that they're really amazing, and I will forever be grateful for everything that they have done (and still continue to do) for us. J is one of the luckiest sons I know.
4. A friend or two who can listen
- There is nothing more therapeutic than to be able to share your challenging times with a friend. Having not moved on from Wellington, I needed that friend who could understand why I was anxious about coming back to London and why I was being anti-social.
5. John Lewis in Oxford Street
- Ha. I never realised how convenient John Lewis is until we spent an average of four hours a day in the store when we just moved in. They have almost everything that we needed to furnish our flat. Definitely one thing to bear in mind when buying furniture or bits and bobs for the flat. Their customer service is also fantastic.
6. A beautiful flat
- In the end, all the stress was really worth it. We are now happily settled in a flat that we truly love.
Apart from my personal issues with London and the few glitches along the way, we definitely enjoyed the whole process of moving.
I know life will never be perfect but right now, all I need is to go back to work ....... and a baby. :)