Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Starting Out: Lessons from Bridget Jones

    So I knew this would all be hard, but I don’t think I realised how much or in what ways. Pretty good day at the office trundles along and is punctuated by a freak-out and then growing realisation that I am spending my evening doing precisely zilch, with precisely no one. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, but when I try to think back to the last time I purposefully spent an evening on my own, I begin to wonder if it was when I was in the womb. (Even then I was as close to my mum as physically possible). As I moved down to the city I jokingly compared myself to Bridget Jones (not the first time the connection’s been made... concerning). And as I look into my fridge which will soon be empty, my mind wanders to the part of the film where Bridget contemplates her future being found by a neighbour two weeks later, half-eaten by Alsatians. Well, I guess that’s one possibility. Although not sure how the Alsatians would get in.

 I could resort to Bridget’s other coping techniques- joining a gym and starting an intense exercise regime (yeah, right); eating my weight in Ben and Jerry’s (pretty tempting right now); or drinking a lot of vodka (less tempting).

New coping strategies include:
-          Taking extended commutes home and subsequently exploring the wider South East London area. I’m already getting quite good at this as I’ve managed to get on the wrong train twice, despite many year’s experience of getting on and off trains (let’s face it, it’s not exactly difficult). Note to self: check departure boards more closely. Or, choose more interesting places to accidentally go to.

-          Blaring music very loudly through my flat and dancing. If I close my eyes, it will almost be like being in a club. Almost.

-          Picking up a new hobby. Actually, I have borrowed a short CD Course in speaking Greek from my local library. (Oh gosh, could I sound any more like a middle-aged man?) So I guess I’ll scrub up my language skills. Ka-ta-la-ven-eh-day.

-          Making friends with strangers on the tube. Just today, I stood on at least two people’s feet on my way to work. That’s gotta count for something, surely. All I need to do is get names, numbers, email addresses and I could make friends with all sorts of randoms across the city.

Or I could just come to terms with the fact that moving somewhere you don’t know many people and effectively living on my own for the next month whilst flatmate is away is going to be a bit tough at times, especially for an Extreme Extrovert and Needy Person like myself.

To be fair, if I’m following in the footsteps of Bridget Jones, it’s not long before Colin Firth’s about to invite himself over and then fight with Hugh Grant in a Greek restaurant (see, told you the language lessons would come in handy). I doubt it’ll be quiet for long.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

"Just a small-town girl..."

Today is two weeks and five days since I moved to the big smoke. Everything is still very fresh, new, sometimes overwhelming and often alien. 

Yet my eyes are also very slowly adjusting to my new surroundings and new patterns of life. Wake at 6:30am, join the other billion people commuting into our capital, rushing and pushing for the tube. Running down the tube station escalators. I no longer have the time to stand on the right and wait to be taken to my destination. There is not enough time.

There is plenty of time to work, though, and this isn’t a bad thing. In just two weeks, I know so much more than before. I’m also blissfully ignorant of all the things I don’t know, and that’s comfortable. 

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the commute. Mornings are reasonably peaceful; it’s too early to make too much noise or fuss, so the commuter rush happens with a minimum of talk as people let the cobwebs clear from their heads. But the afternoon commute- it’s mad. Around 5:15pm each day I laugh at myself, for choosing to move to the busiest city in the country at the busiest time of the year and doubly busy due to the Olympics. I have a little conversation in my head as I join the jam of bodies escaping Enbankment tube station- “it’s a good thing I don’t get anxious in big crowds, or this would be really stressful....”. 

I thought I liked the buzz of cities, but I can see why people want to escape. There are just so many people. And relatively little space. Maybe deep at the root of me is a girl who secretly liked the peaceful countryside. Or maybe I’m just experiencing the normal grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side feelings. I actually miss the city of Birmingham, instead of just the people.

Will this become home?

On the train between Waterloo East and Charing Cross, I try to disguise my excitement and wonder at travelling over the Thames with perfect views of the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. These are just normal everyday occurrences, apparently. But I don’t want them to be everyday or mundane. These things are amazing, whether you’ve been in London for 20 minutes or 20 years. I don’t want to lose the wonder over them. This is exciting.

It took about half a day, however, for the novelty of travelling on the Underground to wear off. Commuter crowds at the end of the day plus unusual heats and insufferable stuffyness soon take the thrill out of it.

Evenings in the new flat have been spent cooking up good meals, sitting out on the balcony in the warm nights and spying on our neighbours. Judging their lifestyles and watching their habits. Our new neighbours have been easily identified. There’s the guy opposite who seems to spend a lot of time blaring reggae music from his flat whilst sunbathing topless on the balcony; the woman in the adjacent flat who smokes and whose TV we can watch from our window. There’s a multitude of kids who seem to have overtaken the area and spend the long summer holidays rollerskating, cycling, and shouting to each other. We watch them from our balcony and do some pop psychology, analysing the group dynamics.

As a teenager, I always loved London. So busy, so diverse and vibrant, so different to the small town I spent my adolescent years in. Then, I made plans. I’ll go to uni, then move to London and get a job there. The closer the future came, the more vague and blurry it became, and my dreams of moving to the city were left behind and replaced by more realistic and potentially far ‘safer’ options of staying put in a place I knew. Then a few months ago, from out of nowhere I was accepting a job in the capital and making plans to move there. It was no longer some big plan I’d made up myself. This was all happening to me. I was being carried along by plans and structures and proposals that seemed to happen around me, allowing myself to be swept along by them.
London and all that came with it happened to me.
Even now, having ‘settled’, everything ahead seems incredibly blurred and fuzzy. Who knows what happens next? Where will I be in six months, a year, two year’s time? For the first time in my life, I have no way of knowing or predicting where or how I will be in the time to come. I could be living in a mansion on Mayfair, or back at my parent’s home in Wales, or (hopefully) some nice comfortable middle in between.

For a self-confessed Control Freak, this is a bizarre sensation.

I guess I’ve ‘known’ I wasn’t in control of my own life for as long as I’ve known the one who is; but I think we all do a pretty good job of pretending like we do. And yes, I can maintain a few of these ‘grips’: I can choose to go to work each day and stay there and travel home. But in terms of anything more long-term than that, I’m discovering how not in control I am. I could lose my job or have to leave it. I could end up happy or wracked with fear. I could settle down or ‘find myself’, become a ukulele virtuoso or a party girl or discover a love for Nietzsche (although that’s unlikely). 

And somehow, at the moment, I’m okay with not knowing. For the first time I understand what all those people who said, “oooh, isn’t exciting not knowing what’ll happen next- what an adventure!” were on about. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still rather know. But not knowing right now is okay. I can bask in the freshness and newness of it all, the naivety and ignorance and wonder of it all, for a little longer. There’ll always be the 6:30 alarm to shake me out of it.