Wednesday, 7 August 2013

One Year On: Things I've learnt.

Today marks one year since Hannah and I arrived at our new home in south-east London to start the next stage of life. I cannot get over how much has changed since then – cue some emotional nostalgia.

We arrived in the middle of the Olympics, the whole city revelling in sun and sporting success. The playlist of those weeks was Emeli Sande and Florence & The Machine. We were introduced to Blackheath and watched Usain Bolt's 100 metre win on a sunny evening on the heath with locals.

A whole year on, I think I’ve learnt a few things about myself, the world, London, and life. I thought I’d fill you in....

1.      People DO (occasionally) smile on the tube. In fact, a man did actually speak to me once. But he was American, so maybe that doesn’t count. Similarly, in the early days I informed a colleague that I relished smiling at strangers on the tube – and that some actually smiled back. I was bluntly informed that “That’s cos they think you’re mental”. Well, at least she was honest. 
      Another thing I’ve learnt is that a morning commute essentially means you will be forced to share a highly un-British and uncomfortably small amount of space with complete strangers. This inevitably results in the unsociability that pervades London transport: the only way you can get through a train ride with your face in someone else’s armpit is to avoid all eye contact.

2.      After a whole year, working near travelling past the London Eye, South Bank and Westminster hasn’t got old yet. But having to shove through huge crowds of tourists all taking the same shot of Big Ben did, really quickly.

3.      I can manage a whole month living alone in a new city, without being found half-eaten by Alsatians (a concern at one point – see here)

4.      One of the most valuable things for getting settled into a new place is good friends and family to show you round – thank you Emily and siblings.

5.      No matter how cold it is outside, when on board a train you will need to remove almost all clothing to avoid sweating profusely.

6.      A good thing about our location is that people often want to stay over for the night. Guests include: Mim, Shepka, Luke, Fran & Miller, Lydia, Hannah, Tingley & Pete, Becky and Colette. Fortunate guests of Chateau Cope-Randerson will have become accustomed to Hannah’s ridiculously loud coffee maker, and my loud singing in the shower (actually, my loud singing full stop).

7.      Don’t dress up in a dragon onesie in front of your boss – unless you decide you care more about having fun than getting a promotion. Ditto, dalek costumes.

8.      The best place to go and think about the Big Things of life during your lunch break is Parliament Square. Even if it’s sleeting and 2° outside. Parliament Square is also a brilliant setting for a motivating walk to work – walking along past statues of Churchill, Abe Lincoln and Nelson Mandela really gears oneself up for a day of e-mails and stapling.

9.      On that note – unless you do a grad-scheme or ‘get lucky’, your first job out of uni will likely be occasionally interesting, but often boring. Once you start, you will realise just how little you know, and how young you feel (although dressing up as a Dalek probably didn’t help my case). The more you learn, the more you’ll realise your ignorance. But God has been showing me this year that it’s not what I do but who I am doing it for.

10.  The only way to walk in central London, is quickly. If you’re not going to walk quickly, get out of our way.

11.  In addition – something about London makes me more impatient. And perhaps, people generally. Maybe it is that Londoners have become so used to accessing whatever so quickly – materials, food, transport, entertainment – that even a brief wait is too long and perceived as an inconvenience.

12.  Google maps, Google maps, Google maps. Forget the London A-Z. This little treasure was the one thing that (usually) stopped me getting completely overwhelminghly lost in London, and the one thing that means I turn up to vaguely the right event venue at vaguely the right time.

13.  Going to church on your own for the first time is really daunting, even if you’re a Full-On Extrovert. Be especially friendly to the people who turn up looking awkward and new-ish. Unless you stay in the same place your entire life, one day it will be you.

14.  If your flatmate comes home excited after a wedding, chances are she got engaged whilst she was away.

15.  Don’t travel through central London, on your own, on New Years’ Eve. You will be forced to traipse up and down the Strand following policemens’ directions and be immersed in a shoving crowd of drunk revellers all trying to get home.

16.  Living with a hyper-organised person will, on the whole, make you more organised. Lists can be useful. Planning can be fun. (Oh gosh, who have I become?) Living with Hannah means making sure the toilet lid is kept down at all times (except, when you’re using it) and the DVDs are alphebetised – Richard, take note.

17.  In a similar vein, the past year of living with Hannah has also taught me that: 1) salad can be a tasty meal (provided it involves meat and the word ‘Epic’ is placed in front);  2) One can apparently never have enough couscous; 3) Made In Chelsea is ridiculous, but also shamefully addictive; 4) if your flatmate rearranges the entire living room furniture, the world does not actually end; 5) Don’t Ever Touch Hannah When She’s Hot; 6) The only way to plan a wedding 18 months in advance is with multiple spreadsheets.

18.  Things I have taught Hannah: 1) Spontaneity CAN be fun; 2) If I go too long without a hug I am prepared to chase her around the living room until she gives in; 3) I will happily shout ‘HANNYBEAR, WAIT FOR ME’ in public if I want to embarrass her at any point; 4) The Guardian is a normal newspaper and not only for hippies; 5) I am remarkably calm in a panic situation, say, when the brakes stop working whilst Hannah is driving.

19.  Working in central London will expose you to people who have a lot more than you and people with a lot less. Trying to remain content in every situation is difficult but valuable.

20.  Trafalgar Square is a fantastic location for a game of Where’s Thea.

21.  The journey between London and Birmingham is not all that long and completely worth it when there are lovely people to see at the other end.

22.  If the landlady tells you that your flat is in a quiet neighbourhood, what she means is that you won’t speak to your neighbours all year (except a fateful evening after the first day of the new job where upstairs’ flood leaks through to your flat). You will, however, be sharing a neighbourhood with people who get arrested under the terrorism act, and a man who enjoys blasting a single reggae song from his penthouse at bizarre times of night.

But I guess more than any of this, the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past year is that God is so incredibly, immensely faithful. He had to ‘throw me out of the nest’ (so to speak) for me to fly. A year ago, I was bewildered, daunted, fearful, and totally doubting what I was doing here (read my blog here). My mum pointed me to Exodus and the Israelites’ doubting God’s purposes for them after Egypt. I was forced to hold on and trust that God had a plan in this. Being dragged (kicking and screaming, as it sometimes felt) to London, by God, was exactly what I needed to get stronger, grow and have loads of exciting adventures. I’ve seen for myself that God can bring us out of the valleys, that he is the one who ‘restores my soul’. It was by being thrown so totally out of my comfort zone that I have flourished and come to really full-on love life again.