On Guy Fawkes Evening I stood in a green space with flashy apartment blocks mixed with shabby estates standing all around me, thousands of people on the small park and hundreds more streaming belatedly toward the action, all looking up at the flashing, cracking skies, and I had two thoughts:
1) If this was the zombiepocalypse this would be a great way to lure them all together with bright lights and thunderous booms and then open fire from the secure apartment blocks.
2) There’s so much free stuff in London!
Okay, so I have a problem. I see zombies in everyday life. In fact, fellow griper LD and I realised the other day that we haven’t actually hung out and not at least casually mentioned zombies since I came to London. Tube zombies, mall zombies, office zombies, tourist zombies… yes I know… I have issues.
But back to my (main) point… I have been reduced to poverty by my sky-high rent (in NZ terms, definitely NOT in London terms), travel costs of about NZ$7.50 every day (at the cheapest I can get it, compared to $0-2 per week day back home), and the need to restock my wardrobe and other belongings after moving here with just a single suitcase.
Then there’s the terrible burden of shows and plays and Tuesday pub quiz and drinks and weekends in Wales and day trips to Bruges and drinks in Soho and – ’tis a hard life isn’t it?
But, as a result, I have sought out and been pleasantly surprised by the abundance of free stuff to do and watch and see in London!
The magic begins with the free mags on the Tube, which is where I get most of my intel on living large on little. You may have heard of the Evening Standard – this is NOT what I am talking about. I do appreciate having free news handed to me conveniently as I enter the tube, ready to assuage my commuter rage by taking me out of my own boxed-in horror and into the more removed horror of the wider world. But I do not so much enjoy either the astoundingly low standard of journalism or the cheap ink staining my hands and shirt and anything else I carelessly swipe. A stranger rubbed the ink from my cheek once. It was… intimate.
However, I do LOVE the other free mags of the week. Wednesday’s ‘Stylist‘ and Thursday’s ‘Shortlist‘ are two extremely gender-oriented but, well, free rags that have the odd interesting column and lots of stuff to do in them. But best of all is the infamous ‘Timeout London‘. This newly-free tome is chocka with eating, drinking, watching, shopping, listening, walking, and learning, and lucky for me, there’s always a highlighted red FREE on a number of suggestions.
For example, this week I could:
- Get festive at Winter Wonderland – the Christmas extravaganza in Hyde Park, which has paid rides, but free entry, with lots to eat and drink and wish for.
- Check out the Christmas markets on the South Bank of the Thames, or closer to my hood in Stepney, which has carols, storytelling and making tree decorations.
- Make a card/gift in a workshop at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
- Watch a French Christmas slasher film (yup, that’s a thing).
- Listen to the Senegalese-US fusion music of a West African Blues show or the ‘sensitive sunsent music’ of some Brooklyn-based headliners I’ve not heard of.
- Be fabulous at an LGBT mixer like Ruby Tuesdays or the Beartrap (should I ask what this is? I’m intrigued… but guessing I don’t fit the criteria…).
- Admire the Christmas and Winter themed selections on at the National Gallery.
- Covet things I can’t afford in any number of pop-up shops around town, such as Tom’s give shop, which hosts artistic workshops and card-making, but more importantly, matches every sale for a child in need.
This is why I came to London rather than some ‘nicer’ place in the UK, like beloved Edinburgh – because there’s always something happening, somewhere to go, someone breaking new ground and wanting to share it with you.
The sheer volume and diversity of people means that anything you can dream up is probably already here, and if not, there’s a market for it. There’s salsa, pole-dancing, and taxidermy lessons. There’s Turkish baths, a Polish mart on every corner, and German Christmas markets. There’s a film festival from every continent, food of every nation at any market, and always other languages around you. People from my side of the world come to London to travel from here, but it sometimes seems that you can go around the world in a few tube stops.
And lucky for my shriveled wallet, so many people will share what they bring here or found here… for free!