Five days ago, I moved to London. In five days, I have learned five things:
1. London is full of weirdos.
Genuinely, I have never encountered so many strange human beings before in my life. In these five days alone I have watched a guy in waders stand in the Thames and play electric guitar, been barked at by a jogger and been kissed by a homeless Italian man in Leicester Square. I’m actually quite concerned about what I might have to encounter tomorrow. On the plus side, the sheer volume of people behaving bizarrely meant that nobody batted an eyelid when I laughed out loud to myself so hard that I fell on my backside yesterday afternoon. Pros and cons…
2. I am terrible at being British under pressure.
As a post-grad living in student halls, most of my new contemporaries so far are from abroad. I decided that a good way to make some new friends was to be the useful local who knows things. Spending time with them has taught me quite how little I know of exportable British culture when I’m put on the spot. It turns out that I am not your go-to girl if you are an American looking for good British TV, a German looking for a good British shop to work in, a French girl wanting to know which mobile network to join, or a group of Austrian teenagers in the street who wants to know where the nearest branch of a clothing shop is.* Right now, sat alone in my room, I am full of recommendations and suggestions, but I’m just not used to thinking about these things, let alone having to explain them in casual conversation.
*I have no remorse about the last one. If you honestly think I look like the sort of person who shops at Hollister, let alone knows where the nearest branch is, then you deserve my vague directions towards what I think was probably more likely to be the Old Bailey.
3. The problem with Londoners is London.
As a northerner, I’ve always been baffled by the lack of cheer amongst Londoners; if you talk to anyone you don’t know here people look at you as if you have three heads, which, frankly, is a bit rich from the city which introduced barking joggers and Boris Johnson to my life. But as I sat scowling in city traffic the other day, being humiliatingly overtaken by ambling pensioners, I realised the problem – London. All of the constant busyness, and the traffic, and the tourists and the fumes, and the overly-amorous homeless people must wear them all down; I’d only been there five minutes and I looked like I was chewing a wasp. My London born and bred friend is the only person who has ever visited me at home in Liverpool and felt compelled to sing along with Gerry Marsden as we ferried across the Mersey. At the time I wondered what the hell was wrong with her – now I understand that all Londoners are probably like that away from London.
4. Fumes are an actual, real thing.
I have lived in a city my whole life. For the first 11 years of said existence I lived on a main road. I should not be surprised by fumes, but I have never noticed fumes like London fumes. I cannot go outside without my eyes streaming like they are attempting to compete with the Thames, I am coughing like a chain smoker, and just now I blew my nose and it was a bit black.* I am also really warm all of the time because the smog seems to work like a permanent blanket – a really, really gross blanket. I have spent most of the last five days wandering around looking like a hungover panda, wearing sunglasses to shield my poor, bloodshot eyes and to cover my tear-spread eye makeup.
*I am aware this is disgusting; that’s sort of my point.
5. London is pretty cool.
I didn’t want to move to London. It is big and faceless and people on the tube don’t talk to one another (it’s not that I have a particular penchant for talking to strangers on public transport, it’s more about what the determined silence represents). I might be changing my mind. Everywhere I go there are interesting things to see and do, and I’ve discovered that, if you’re prepared to risk a few funny looks in the process, most people actually quite like it if you smile at them and say a quick hello. And even though two days after I got here they took away the giant astroturf sofas from the South Bank, I’m willing to overlook that massive error in judgement for now. I think the Olympics might have changed London a little bit forever, and I’ve been taken in by the new spirit of optimism that has stuck around in the creases and crevices even though the greatest show on earth has left town. In spite of everything else, I’m beginning to think I’m going to like it here.