Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The green, green grass of home

A week ago I made the impulsive decision to go back home for a few days. I had originally planned on going home mid-September, for my Dad's birthday, and I was a little apprehensive about going back so soon. It had, after all, only been a little over two weeks and it felt like I hadn't given myself enough time to settle in. But with my housemates all gone, the prospect of being alone in the flat for two whole weeks seeming rather daunting and no interviews lined up for that week, I impetuously bought a bus ticket and by late Tuesday morning I was back in Gloucestershire.

I felt like I'd been in London a lot longer that two weeks - more like two months - but when the bus pulled into Gloucester station, a rush of nostalgia and familiarity washed over me and it just felt - right. It felt like I'd never been away. It felt like home.

I was lucky enough to come back on a day that Mum babysits my niece Indie, so I spent a good chunk of the day playing with her. I love being an auntie! It was a little strange to be home at first. My bedroom had been redecorated, re-arranged and christened the 'spare room' - that was a wake up call that I no longer lived there! It was a beautiful sunny day so I kicked off my shoes and headed out to the garden which was bursting with colour and foliage. Living in a flat means lack of a garden and while there are parks, there's nothing quite like eating lunch outside in your own space. My eldest brother Pete and his girlfriend were around too so we all had an impromptu barbecue the first night.

Our apple tree was laden and the bushes were starting to produce blackberries and even though it is still summer all I could think about was baking, country walks and cosy autumn evenings. The Great British Bake Off started on Wednesday too, which fueled my desire to make cakes and all sorts of seasonal goodies.

The best thing about being at home is the little luxuries you don't get when you're a broke twenty-something living as frugally as possible. A well stocked fridge. A hot bath. Sky tv. Sofas that are somehow that little bit more comfortable. I haven't been sleeping too well in my new bed so I slept like a baby back in my old one, single bed though it was.

I spent the next day hanging out with my friend Michelle which was a complete joy. I'd started feeling a little bit doubtful and apprehensive about my move to London and Michelle gave me some wise, much-needed perspective on the matter. I unfortunately didn't get to hang out with too many other friends because it was such a last-minute and quick visit but I did get to see my friend Beth on the last evening. Much of my time was just spent hanging out with family (and my cat).

It's funny how your hometown goes from dull to interesting when you miss it. Something in me just needed to go and take a picture of the beautiful cathedral and have tea and cake in the adorable Comfy Pew tearoom.

Going home felt so safe, so comfortable but it also made me realise that I came out to London for a reason. It would have been easy to continue my life back in Gloucester which was, admittedly, pretty good. But I needed a change of scenery, I needed to experience the big city for a while. Things generally don't happen in life unless you want them to. Whether that means physically moving away or just being ready for different opportunities that come your way, you have to be open to change or you'll stay stuck where you are.

So while job hunting is tough and constant rejection is even tougher, I came back to London with a fresh perspective. This is right, this is good and I will make it.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Wandering London

Yesterday I had the pleasure of having my sister come up for the day, but we were faced with a problem. Neither of us are tourists so didn't particularly care about seeing the sites, but it was such a lovely day that we didn't really want to be inside either. So what did we do? Why, we wandered!

We met at Leicester Square to see if we could get any cheap matinee tickets. That proved unsuccessful so we caffeinated up at Starbucks for a while, just chatting and catching up on life. We were near Covent Garden so we headed up there, stopping into Foyles on the way, and into the beautiful Neal's Yard. Neal's Yard is a quirky, colourful little street - well, a yard really! - just off Seven Dials. It's exactly the kind of place I'd like to hang out or live in, if there was such an area in London.

We wandered around Covent Garden a bit more, listening to a very casual (hands in pockets casual) opera singer busking and then realised we were getting a bit peckish. We stumbled upon a burger joint called MEATmarket which was going for the distressed, grungy vibe. My burger was called the 'Dead Hippie' which I ordered mostly for the name, I'll be honest, and came laden with jalepenos. No, I do mean laden. So loaded I had to scrape some of them off lest steam came out of my mouth.

Full up, we took to walking again and headed over the Thames toward Southbank. You get a pretty darn good view of London on the bridge, the city with the Gherkin, St Paul's etc to the left and Westminster to the right. Southbank was heaving and the Southbank Festival Hall centre was having a 'Big Wedding Weekend'. People were actually having their wedding receptions inside! Outside was a wedding themed disco/dance open to the general public. People were getting the Cha-Cha Slide terribly wrong but they all seemed to know the YMCA. It was getting warm by then so we walked along to Festival Gardens and stretched out in the sun for a bit.

We ended up near Trafalgar Square, after stopping in Waterstones, and we debated what to do for a while. Since we couldn't make up our minds we walked down the Mall and into St James' Park. The ducks and geese were out in full force, enjoying the last of the summer weather and the view you get of Whitehall Court and Horse Guards Parade with the lake in the foreground was stunning. We kept on walking, past Buckingham Palace and into Green Park where we sat and talked until it was time for Laura to get her train at Victoria.  

If you have been to London countless times, or if you live there, it's often easy to dismiss the tourist places. They are crowded and there are surely only so many times that the views can be exciting. But as I wandered around this great city, I realised how truly beautiful it is. It is so historically varied, with medieval buildings next to skyscrapers and classical-style architecture adjacent to warehouses, It is an urban jungle with green, pleasant gardens; a meandering maze of a city with gems tucked down alleyways. It is a city made for exploring, for putting on comfortable shoes, closing the guidebook and just going - with eyes open and expectations high.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The unexpected lure of Zone 9

I have now called London home for a grand total of two weeks, which is basically just a holiday to most people. However, it somehow feels like I've been living here far, far longer than that. It's amazing how things like the tube and walking everywhere quickly become routine.

Since the weather has been so nice recently, my housemate Becca and I declared that we were going to take advantage of this by going to a lido. London has a good number of them dotted all over the place but we calculated that the quickest one to get to wasn't in London at all, but out in the far reaches of Zone 9. I didn't even know there was a Zone 9! Harrow is in Zone 5 on the Metropolitan line so instead of taking the usual tube east into the city, we ventured the other way - all the way out of London. The urban sprawl soon thinned out and within fifteen minutes we had views of beautiful countryside. Trees! Fields! Rolling hills! Seeing these on a tube train of all places! My little country girl soul breathed a huge sigh of relief of seeing all the green and open space.

It took about half an hour to get out to Chesham, which is a small market town in Buckinghamshire, near High Wycombe and only cost £1.80. And though it may be on a tube line, Toto, we were not in Kansas anymore. Being a Thursday afternoon, it was quiet and peaceful and hardly anyone was around. It was a pleasant fifteen minute walk from the tube station to the outdoor pool and the sun had started to shine. The lido was just a small outdoor pool, a gym full of guys lifting weights and a changing room. I managed to sneakily get a student price ticket (£2.80) because Becca had her student card. There were a number of families with kids at the pool but it wasn't crowded by any means. The pool was heated - not bath warm but nice enough on the vaguely-warm-but-not-actually-that-warm day (I should be a weather lady). It was so lovely and relaxing to be in an outdoor pool on in the late afternoon while it's still summer. We ate our late lunch by the side of the pool and swam a little more but second time round the pool felt quite a bit colder, so we decided to head home.

The tube weaved through woodland and past winding country lanes. The fields that stretched as far as the eye could see became buildings and the hush of the town became the buzz of the city once again. Even though I haven't been in the city very long, part of me still craves the open space and I feel refreshed when I'm out there. The other part, however, is glad to have shops and amenities within a 5 minute radius. Country girl, city girl indeed. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

A Greenwich love affair

Sunday took me all the way to south-east London, to the beautiful area of Greenwich. Although famed for inventing time (well, kind of!), I discovered there's a lot more to Greenwich than just the Royal Observatory.

The town itself is quirky and quaint, with a number of pubs, restauraunts (both chain and individual) and boutiques. I had fun perusing the small vintage market selling bric-a-brac and then the larger Greenwich market which has stalls ranging from jewellery to pictures to world food.

It's pretty difficult not to find the main attractions in Greenwich, that is to say the Cutty Sark, the Royal Naval College and the Observatory, as everything in the town leads to them. The enormous Cutty Sark is centred in a large square, the bottom of the boat encased in glass and the top a paid excursion. Adjacent to it is the stunning Old Royal Naval College, now part museum and part University of Greenwich.

Since it was a sunny day I mostly wandered around outside the college, taking in the Georgian architecture. I had a peek inside the chapel which had painted ceiling and a large fresco. Everything about this place felt very cultured.

If there is one word for Greenwich (at least, the Greenwich I saw) it is beautiful. Everything was beautiful, from the park leading up the observatory to the classical-style buildings (now various museums and art galleries) littered around the place. 

Because the Observatory costs, but mostly because it was a long walk up a steep hill, I didn't actually make it up there -  just another thing to add to my bucket list. The park below it has a wild, untamed feel even though it is fairly open and manicured.

Greenwich has the peculiar luxury of feeling like its own little town but also very much part of London. If you face north to the Thames, you get a spectacular view of the Canary Warf area, reminding you that you are in the city. If you look down the river to your left (west) you can glimpse the London Eye and to the right (north east), the O2 arena, only ten minutes away.

Because it was a warm and sunny day - and because I could - I decided not to take the DLR (space train!) or the overground back to central, but to treat myself to a riverbus. You can pay by Oyster card for this and the one I chose took me all the way to embankment. While it did cost me £6.50, I do not regret spending the money at all. I sat in the back of the boat and got the most wonderful views of London and we sailed down the river. You pass almost all of historic London - all the cool warehouses of the old wharves, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London, you go UNDER Tower Bridge...I felt like a delighted tourist seeing it all for the first time.

While I know I only saw 'tourist' Greenwich, I fell a little bit in love with it. I like anything pretty and anything quirky, so the combination of both PLUS the green spaces and the river made it a neighbourhood match made in heaven for me.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The two Harrows

I have lived in Harrow for not quite a week and until yesterday had only seen the town centre and tube station - only five minutes from my house. I thought it was high time that I explored the area a bit further so I decided to venture outside my five minute radius.

Harrow town centre is very busy and multicultural, teeming with people from all walks of life. It's a standard suburban town centre, filled with all the high street shops you need but is not that pretty, interesting or unique. If you didn't know any better, you would think that this was all Harrow has to offer.

But there is another Harrow, a 'hidden' Harrow if you will. About twenty minutes walk away from town up a steep hill is Harrow School, the fancy public school for fancy boys. And just past that is Harrow on the Hill, the old village. As I puffed my way up the hill, I suddenly stepped into another world.Gone were the 60s buildings, the bustling roads and constant traffic and there was...quiet.

There was something about it that felt so familiar to me. It was like so many pretty villages that I grew up around. I could have been in Gloucestershire, or Kent or Yorkshire. All I knew is that I definitely did not feel like I was in London anymore. And it calmed me, I must admit. The country girl is still strong in me! The village is only really one main street, with beautiful Georgian (and possibly earlier) architecture. There is an adorable tea room and various other types of shops, including an 'outfitters' for the school which sold what I hope were ironic boater hats (but I fear that Harrow does not do irony). What struck me was the quietness of the whole place. I didn't have to dodge people on the pavement and I could just stroll and take it all in, rather than rush, rush, rush.It was hard to believe that this was technically the same town as the one just down the hill.

The disparity of wealth in the two Harrows did make me feel somewhat uncomfortable, though. It's easy to see how the boys who go to the school would never even see the working class/middle class people of the town below and believe that this pretty, English village is all there is to Harrow. The top Harrow is quaint tea shops and the Harrow below is chain coffee shops (and suspicious-looking pound shops) and never the twain shall meet. One A road and a small hill separates these worlds and it is so strange to me just how different they are.

I do know that if I ever get tired of the hustle and bustle of London, I'll escape up to Harrow on the Hill for an afternoon of peace and quiet.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Weekend wanderings

Samuel Johnson famously once said that 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.' While I don't entirely agree with this quote, the sentiment that there are so many things to entertain in London rings true. Too many, if that is possible. There is so much choice I don't know where to begin! 

Somehow all my friends that live in London seem to all be away a the same time, so any plans to hang out with familiar faces this weekend were scuppered. This was probably a blessing in disguise as it forced me to step out on my own. I don't have any fear or anxiety about going places alone, I mean, I travelled across America on my own at 20 so I can be pretty independent when I want to be, but I prefer having company. Life is just more enjoyable with friends. Doing things alone can teach you valuable things about yourself and even if this weekend wasn't a journey of self discovery, I got to see some new places I might not have seen for a while if I'd been too afraid to go alone. 

When I woke up on Saturday I must admit that I almost put my head back under the duvet to watch Netflix all day. But - no. There was a whole city to explore and I was determined to make the most of it. Like a nerd, I love art galleries and museums and in London most of the best ones are free. I'd never been to the Science Museum so I braved Central London on a Saturday in the summer holidays. That was a bit of a mistake, let me tell you. The tube was boiling and crammed full of tourists but it was all worth it when I stepped into the airy atrium of scientific wonder. Part of the museum was closed for refurbishment but I had a good look around the space section, the clocks, the aviation bit and the transport 'modern world' area. I really enjoyed it, but it was a bit of information overload. 

I tried a small church in Notting Hill on Sunday morning. They were very friendly and had a coffee bar (score!) but it did make me miss my home church quite a lot. I was going to peruse Portobello market but it doesn't open on a Sunday so I decided to go to Westfield shopping mall instead. It's very shiny and has a ton of great shops and food places. I'm not allowing myself to spend unnecessary money so OF COURSE I found loads of clothes I wanted. The sparkly skirts in Zara, the cool tops in Pull & Bear, basically everything in Uniqlo...it was tough walking away.  

Now, before you think that I'm living the life of Riley and having the best life, it hasn't been the easiest transition (is moving ever easy?). I don't feel settled yet but I keep telling myself that it's only the first weekend and that I can't expect to feel at home straight away. I'll need to remind myself of this - probably daily - over the next few weeks. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

The first day

Life in London has officially started and I still can't quite believe it. I had a lovely 'moving day' evening with my two new housemates who cooked me a delicious dinner but it still felt like I was a visitor to London and that I'd be going home tomorrow. When my body woke me up at 7 am this morning (thanks body) it hit me - this is no holiday. This is real life. And it's time for some action.

Of course, my next action was going back to sleep until 9. Well, it IS the first day! I spent the morning looking and applying for jobs, updating my cv and generally browsing the internet for things to do in London. 
I had a meeting with a job agency scheduled at 3pm, so I pootled off the tube about an hour before, getting some time in to look around Harrow. My flat is about 2 minutes from a Tesco and 5 minutes from the Tube stop and town. Town has everything you need, from the standard high street shops (Primark, H&M, Nandos) to the little more exciting (Tiger! A juice bar!). Even though Harrow is zone 5, the Metropolitan line is so quick it only takes 15 minutes to get to Baker Street. It skips a whole zone (who needs zone 3 anyway?). 

Before my meeting, I wandered the streets around Baker Street, taking a left or right turn whenever I felt like it and seeing what I came across. Mostly fancy restaurants, fancier boutiques and multi-million pound town houses. There were also plentiful affordable food places - Chipotle, sushi, Dunkin' Donuts - which I sadly did not eat at. I stopped in for a few minutes at the Koppel Project art gallery which seemed very cool, but I unfortunately didn't have time to browse. That's a place on my list to go back to. 

Since I was around Baker Street, I decided I couldn't go home without at least going to see where Sherlock Holmes was based. The crowd outside the museum was crazy, so I harrumphed to myself about tourists, crossed the road and took a sneaky picture. 

Deciding to continue the exploration, I crossed the road into Regent's Park. Because it was so sunny, people were out in full force. I walked by the lake, admiring the geese and ducks and the general buzz of the park. As a country girl, being back in nature (as far as central London can do nature) feels homely. As I sat on a bench and took it all in, I felt so much more comfortable with my decision to move. I know London isn't all sitting in pretty parks on a sunny day, or walking around beautiful historic streets but just being able to cross the street and experience all that whenever you feel like it...well, it's exactly what I want from life right now. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The complicated matter of leaving

I long for adventure. My worst fear is living a beige life, a life without fun or meaning or unexpected delights. But when adventure comes, I find change is not as easy as I hope it will be. 

I live in my imagination. And often, sadly, I live in my (idealised) vision of the future. The places I will go, the people I will meet, the adventures I will have. One of my dreams has always been to live in London. Now I'm here...

...and I'm a little bit scared.

I'm not scared of London. Not at all! I adore the city - the buzz, the business, the culture, the wealth of opportunities. I think I am a bit scared of failing. Of not finding a job or good friends. Of finding that my dream of London doesn't match up to what I've envisioned. I'm scared that I might hate it. 

I know this is right. I know, I know, I know. But it doesn't mean that I'm not going to miss what I've left behind. For so many years I just wanted to flee my hometown and get busy living in London. Yet I've made a life for myself in Gloucester. I have friends I love, a great church, my family is there and I've had the joy of seeing my niece regularly. I have a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out, for those unaccustomed to internet acronyms) to be honest. Seeing all the pictures of my friends having fun and feeling I'm missing out, feeling like I'm drifting away from them. 

But on the other hand, a whole world of 'what if' awaits. I don't know where this journey is going to take me, but it's exciting. The unknown is scary but my overriding feeling about all this is anticipation - the possibility that my life might change wonderfully (how? That is just one more unanswered question). 

I am ready for the new, it's just a bittersweet goodbye to the old. 

P.S. Let me say this once and for all: I am not going to become a 'Londoner'. Once a county bumpkin from the Shire, always one!