Recently I had a very good friend come to London and stay with me on two separate occasions. It’s always interesting to see your environs through someone else’s perceptions as they get their bearings, even (and especially) if they shake up and call into question some things you’ve taken for granted.
Although the transportation here is excellent, particularly in comparison to the near-nonexistent public transport system in Orlando, it can be very expensive. And yes, it can take quite a long time to get from point A to point B with TFL, especially when you’re starting your travels in Hackney. Case in point, it takes just as long to get to Oxford from Paddington Station as it does to get to Paddington Station from The Cock Tavern on Mare Street. Still, having someone new to simultaneously induct into as well as have a moan with regarding TFL and other fine London institutions is really refreshing.
Sometimes you need a shake-up to see things a little bit differently.
Visitors from abroad who come to London often have perceptions of the city based on their own country’s relationship with Britain, pop culture influences such as TV shows and films, perhaps literature still (I hope) and anecdotal accounts from the travels of family and friends. From working in pubs, I know that travellers from Spain are after “a pint of bitter” or “a pint of ale.” Americans will scroll through Yelp recommendations to find the best fish and chip place and look for pubs similar to the “English” pubs back home. Or the Irish pubs. Sometimes these two terms are conflated in Yankee Doodle Dandy Land.
I shall take this opportunity to tell any of my fellow countryfolk to never, ever refer to anything Irish as “British.”
(I’ll also be quick to add that I haven’t done this myself… but 12 years ago when I lived in Thailand I make the mistake of referring to someone Welsh as English.)
(I never made that mistake again.)
My own perceptions and expectations of what London would be like when I first got here in 2009 were fairly open, but they were solidly soundtracked by The Clientele, particularly the Suburban Light album which has recently been rereleased. I lived on Holloway Road all because it was mentioned in a song from The Clientele and it was additionally vetted by the only friend I had in all of London at the time. Truly, I think he may have said something along the lines of, “‘It’s alright,” which really is all one can say about Holloway, other than “it’s a bit grim!” which I heard after I moved there. I was reasonably happy there, myself, until my money ran out and I found myself sharing a bedsit flat with an endless parade of roaches. Though this really should not besmirch the fine reputation of Holloway. Christina Hendricks lived in Holloway, which in my opinion says everything.
Now, with over four years of London living under my belt, what are my expectations now? With a job and the usual things people occupy themselves in order to get by, I am settled, but restless. What am I looking to get out of London? And what, if anything, can I offer in return? Am I happy here? Is this for me? Where do I want to wind up, and how will I accomplish that? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?
Earlier this year, I did 7 weekly-ish sessions with a therapist who worked me through cognitive behavioural therapy to help me control the automatic negative thoughts that tend to spring in my head that often lead me feeling depressed and anxious. Depression is something I battle with on and off since I was very young–it’s like a periodic tide that floods my mind and heart with a despairing melancholy. Sometimes the tide lingers for months, and it’s often triggered by anxiety, frustration and regret. It can be very difficult to swim out of that sea of hopelessness, and I’m very grateful for the therapy I received to help me manage that tide, as well as the concerns and kindness of friends who, whether they realised it or not, really helped me get back a sense of self.
CBT has helped me recognise and monitor myself, my days, my thoughts, my feelings and my impulses. It’s not a cure–all those self-attacking, critical, destroying thoughts are very near. But it’s helped me take stock of those thoughts and question them. Why am I feeling this way? What happened that has triggered this emotion? How should I react for the best outcome? Is the situation I am perceiving really what is going on, or could I be mistaken? How can I look after myself and make more time to do so?
I’ve been going back to these thoughts a lot recently, as it was my birthday around a month ago, and having a birthday always tends to put me in a pensive mode*, looking back at that year and thinking about what I haven’t managed to do or, often, what I haven’t saved up any money to do. But rather than feel glum, I’m trying to be more proactive, and if I have a setback, I’m trying not to dwell on it too much, though that’s easier said than done. Still, although my life right now isn’t bad, I need to think about the next step, whenever that step will be taken.
Funny about my earlier analogy about tides, because I’m giving serious thought to living on a narrowboat, after yet another visit to Kingsland Basin for Open House London. I won’t be able to be in a position for seriously considering it anytime soon, but it’s a thought, especially considering the housing bubble we’re dealing with in Hackney and in the rest of London (and in other major cities throughout the world).
One of the things that appeals about narrowboat living is this ability to move and change your scenery when you like. Although I’ve moved quite a lot in my life, once I get settled into a place, I tend to be really settled into a place–not travelling outside of my normal areas within a city and overall getting a bit too comfortable. I often feel ashamed when my friends who visit ask me if I’ve been to certain places, or people from the UK ask me if I’ve been near their hometown, and I haven’t. Although I do get to visit some of the major cities here in England, my own personal travel has been quite limited. I’ve never been to Scotland or Wales, for example, nor Oxford or Cambridge, Bristol or Belfast. Stonehenge has yet to bee seen, Scottish distilleries yet to visited, Dover cliffs yet to behold, Blarney stones not yet kissed. Yes, I know that last one is in Ireland, but I had two friends do this over the summer.
I’ve also only journeyed twice into Europe, or the rest of Europe, depending on your point of view. One of those trips only lasted around 36 hours–and it was work related. I’d really like to go to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and it would be fun to explore Paris again.
So why do I go to the same pubs, the same cafés, and have the same non-plans frequently on the weekends? It’ll only take me around two hours to get to Oxford, after all. Although I continue to be committed to a life here in London, particularly in (North)East London, it’s all right to get a break every now and then.
We all need these pauses for us to think about where we are, where we’re going, where we’ve been. Hopefully these breaks give us a new perspective on what we’ve left behind. Perhaps a renewed appreciation for what we have or, maybe, a change in direction, a pull elsewhere.
On that note, if you had three days to get out of London, where would you go? Slight preference for stations that won’t take an hour to get to (Paddington, I’m looking at you), but I’m willing to brave the Circle Line for a good adventure–particularly if there is delicious food and lovely beer along the way.
* I should note that I am generally in a pensive mood. I suppose birthdays may make me hyperpensive…?
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