I have moved. I am no longer living in France, though I miss it with all my heart and do earnestly hope to return and gain citizenship one day.
I am now located in London, and I have been here for eleven days.
I moved here, primarily, because it seems like it is the sort of place a young writer ought to be. On past visits to the city, I’ve always found myself impressed by the people I met in bars and parties: journalists and filmmakers and actors and fashion designers and caterers to royalty. In my mind it stood to reason that if I met these people on throwaway party weekends in the city, I would meet a hell of a lot more if I lived here. I’m hoping to send my first book to publishers this year—and as everybody is very fond of saying, it’s all about who you know.
I also moved here because I thought it would be good for my social life. I’ve been quite profoundly lonely for some time now, and after several years of not having a real social circle—the price you pay for moving around a lot—I thought London would be a good place to meet people and slowly nurture a healthy little ring of friends.
It remains to be seen whether my hopes for this city were nothing more than romantic idealism. Everybody I’ve spoken to here so far has had their own take on the state of the city.
It’s very hard to meet people here, I’ve been told. People don’t want to add you into their friendship groups; they’ve got their own circles and they want to keep it that way.
Why are you moving to London? It’s a shithole.
It took me two years of living here to find friends and feel comfortable.
It’s hard to form relationships in London. There’s always somebody better than you, and everybody knows it.
You’ll go out with people on Friday night and have a great time, then on Saturday you’ll find out they all went out again, but this time they didn’t invite you. It sucks, but it’s just life here. You need to develop thick skin.
You’re so naïve.
You’ve got so much to learn.
After collecting all of this wisdom I was left feeling about as low as a badger, I shan’t lie. I don’t want to develop thick skin; I quite like my thin skin, thank you very much.
I found myself spending a lot of my first week standing in the kitchen cradling steaming coffee mugs, staring out of the window at the blossom tree that crowns my new estate. I watched the petals fall and imagined myself in one, two years: a Londoner, with the Tube map carved into my brain, unfazed by rabble and clamour, clad in oversized sportswear and using slang that wouldn’t make its way up to the North for another half decade. I pictured myself with thick skin, brushing off friends and ditching plans, posing stoically as I collated impressive images for my social media pages. Always on trend, always unmoved.
I felt upset.
I considered running away briefly; heading back to Leeds, or France, or—fuck it—Fiji, Sri Lanka or Colombia. Anywhere they wouldn’t ask me to grow a thicker skin.
But running wouldn’t solve anything. When you’ve been moving so often for so long—nine homes across four countries in seven years—the hardest thing to do is stop. When I first moved to Newcastle for university in 2011, I worked hard to establish myself; furnishing my bedroom, getting to know the area, finding jobs, making friends. That took three years. In Sheffield in 2014 I did the same, with similar vigour. That took a year and a half.
Then in Leeds I did the same again. Then in Berlin. Then on the blueberry farm. Then in Melbourne. Then Bristol, then Strasbourg. Now London.
I’m finding that each time I have a little less patience: I know what I want —friends, an active social life, career stability, a creative environment—and if it isn’t immediately apparent I up sticks once again. Then the cycle begins anew, only the next time it’s quicker.
I remind myself of a serial dater who’s so desperate to find ‘the one’ that they end up writing off prospective lovers for the smallest indiscretions. It’s a powerful cognitive dissonance: the longer the search and the greater the desperation, the higher the standard expected. Eventually nothing but perfection will do—the immaculate vision of the idiot romantic—and you baulk at anything less… which is everything.
That, in a nutshell, is why I was very upset and cross with myself last week. I’ve been hard at work rearranging my head since then.
It’s funny how much the opinions of others can shape the world. Because in my first week I received some less than stellar feedback on the city, my first week has been spent giving groups of people in the park suspicious, bitter glances. I know you’re all bastards, I’ve been whispering internally, sauntering between clusters of people eating scotch eggs on Tooting Common. I know your games and tricks.
When I’ve sat myself down to dust the cobwebs off, however, I’ve realised that my time in the city so far has been objectively… well, nice. People are chatty and full of smiles. Shopkeepers laugh at my weird jokes when I pop in to buy Freddos. A man on the Tube last night knocked my foot and spun around to apologise. A van stopped in the road two days ago to wave me across with a benevolent nod. The local barber giggled to me as he complained about all the weight he’d put on during the lockdown, patting his belly in the mirror. If there’s any coldness here, I’ve not seen it yet.
The truth I need to focus on is that a city of nine million people isn’t going to be any one thing. Hell, a single human being is never just one thing. There’s infinite capacity for life to surprise you, whether that’s on a micro or macro scale.
I figure it’s clear enough what I need to do now. I’m going stop overthinking it, settle into this new life, give it my best, and wait to see what surprises are just around the corner. Because a lot can change in a day, and there are plenty of those still to come.