Saturday, 6 November 2010

I was much further out than you thought... (warning: explicit content)

"London calling... "

That's right, the night on impossible has actually happened: I'm employed. And not just anywhere, no - these days I am mainly to be found at a successful London publishing house in King's Cross. Every aspect of my life has done an about-face, a roly-poly, a great jump into the dark unknown.

What the experts don't tell you is that these dramatic life changes aren't actually empowering or exciting, even if on paper it looks like your dreams are coming true. I don't want to sound ungrateful because I know that in a year or so I'll know how bloody lucky I've been and that this was my Big Break. But at the moment, I feel like everything in my life has never been so wrong. I'm inside out, upside down, I'm too cold, too hot, too alone, too surrounded. I'm homesick. I hate this place and I don't understand how anyone could want to live here. But the strange thing is that every so often I get sudden flashes of excitement, and I know that one day I'll love it. It makes the whole thing even harder: I know I've got to persevere, stick with it, fight on through the first few months (or however long it takes), and not submit to the urge get on a train straight back home when I emerge from the underground at King's Cross every morning, because this is What I Wanted.

So much has happened in the last month or so that I quite honestly haven't had time to keep this thing up to date. I'd been starting to get used to the pleasing, cathartic experience of writing about things that were on my mind - even if they were totally inconsequential, as they usually were. But I've been bombarded by life's pivotal moments so heavily in the last few weeks that I've been too tired to start thinking about writing. I've been bottling things up, and I fear it's going to take a wee while to siphon off all the negative energy. Perhaps what follows is the best way of trying to explain how I feel about living in London (bearing in mind that I used to live in a village with a total of somewhere between 50 and 100 inhabitants, and the largest city I've lived in before is Edinburgh - the capital city, but not the largest city, of a country which has half the number of people in it than London). I wrote this today, in a cafe, in a notebook I bought for 70p across the road because I had to Get It All Out and Write It All Down (and this is the edited version):

I bought this horrid cheap thing for a number of reasons... what a negative start... but mainly because earlier on I thought that writing about things today might help me loosen this tight, awful feeling of general malaise that's been brewing over these past few weeks... Now I'm sitting here in what I know I'll recognise in the future as a fabulous coffee shop, possibly my new local, drinking the most medicinal cup of chai I've ever drunk, and that's because tea hits the spot wherever you need it.

I also bought a cake, God knows why because I hate cake. It's chocolate chilli cake though, which is soul-warming, and also it reminds me of my indulgent winter days wandering through the cobbled streets in Germany with a Hanseatica chilli hot chocolate in hand, warming me up on the way home.

I need the familiar at the moment like it's oxygen; without it it feels like I'm (Not Waving But) Drowning. Every part of this strange situation that used to be my life has done a U-turn. Even a foreign country where the people are rude and you have to pay for every efficient kindness is more familiar to me than this place, this vast, hectic and fully crammed right up to the skirting boards rabbit warren of streets and buildings and people people people. Yes, there's lots to do, but it's too much - you can only ever do one thing at one time, so why would you ever need a trillion things to do? It's overwhelming.

And I feel so weird - I'm the new girl, the weird girl, no friends - enemies already though - when did people get so mean? Always some sort of agenda, you can't be nice just for being nice's sake.

I'm itching to get writing again, to share bits of my life like I've been getting used to doing, I feel like I've been too silent. But also I feel like I can't yet, because all that will emerge are toxic thoughts.

In retrospect, this is quite personal. I wrote this only for me, to see if it would help. I don't write a diary, and usually I write firmly with an audience in mind, like a mask, a thin sheet of silk between my psyche and my words. But this is all raw emotion, and if you don't like it, I don't blame you. I don't like it either.

That's all for now, I'm afraid, because I get the feeling I could go on forever. No books this time, but there will be - I've read some really great stuff recently and I'm excited that I might feel positive about it soon.


  1. When in a big place, pick a corner, any corner and burrow down. Try to find its softer bits, its warm bits, its smile. Pick a place - Euston Road with the stunning British Library and the odd Wellcome Collection, or the South Bank, or Highgate Cemetery, or a quirky pub theatre, and see what makes the place tick. Try out coffee in Soho near Berwick Street market, walk round the City on a Sunday and peer into Wren's churches, see what make it tick. Go to the Ragged School Museum or book at trip to the Bell Foundry in Whitechapel (one I've never done but must). Watch early morning rowers on the river. Walk up the canal from King's Cross to London Zoo, climb up Primrose Hill for an amazing view, and stop off at Camden Market. Find places to read - the bombed church in the City, the foyer of the Festival Hall, the Algerian Coffee Shop, the garden of Kensington Palace. I know what you mean about the business but I miss it SO much still after all these years and I promise you it will feel like home eventually. Sx

  2. You do not hate cake.


  3. Having an anonymous commenter is quite exciting. Reveal yourself, mysterious one! (Although I think I know who you are, secretly. But if you're not that person and are actually a total stranger, you're going to think I'm stalking you now). But seriously, I could count the kinds of cake I like on one hand, and sponge (generally thought to be the most popular kind) isn't on there.

    Sarah, this has given me a warm, fuzzy glow and inspired me a little. You've unwittingly kicked off my List of Things to do in London - thank you. I think it's testimony to how long I've been living in Germany that my first thought on reading your suggestion about the foyer of the Festival Hall was, "but won't they kick me out for loitering?!"

  4. I've just revisited this, Sarah - when you first posted, I typically saw your suggestions as a project and was a bit overwhelmed at having so much to accomplish in terms of 'seeing London' over the next couple of years. But of course it doesn't work like that and anyway I find I'm too exhausted most of the time to do much more than flop after work with a book or a film, let alone tackle weekends full of cultural events. But I've just cast my eye back over your wee list and realised that without even having tried, I've done half of them already. I went to the British Library today to get my reader's card. I love strolling along the South Bank and often go there with non-Londoners to show them my favourite city spots. And I had a lovely canal walk with Mum to the zoo a few weeks ago (and I would add to that list that one should go and see the giraffes up on the giraffe-head-height platform to watch them eating branches with their bizarre, foot-long black tongues... weirdly fascinating!) It's still not "home home"... but getting there faster than I thought.