Tag Archives: ex-pats

I hear the pitter patter

Today I saw the city cloaked. The Shard wore a veil to shyly hide its heights while the Gherkin shrugged its shroud about its hunched shoulders in mourning for the Summer passed now beneath the ground. Ben tolled away, concealed as usual, but his mask was sheathed from the rest of us, the spires shooting blindly towards oblivion. Those circling the eye graduated briefly to those hidden heavens, only to return to earth, triumphant or disappointed, depending on the make of them.

Oh wait.

After complaining to you endlessly about first the cold and then the heat, I want to do anything but complain about the sudden onset of constant rain and creeping mist in London.

Therefore I offer up to you instead my equal-top-3-fave-poem EVA…

HONE TUWHARE – RAIN

I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
rain

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind

the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you

you would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me
rain.

Small joys of London

I am a ranter. It is a well-acknowledged fact, evidenced both by my oeuvre of diatribes, and ability to talk about almost any topic at great length if provided with a willing conversational partner. Discussing last night the drunk-traits of my friend group, I chirped up (before anyone else could say it) “I talk more!” and was answered, “yes, and you talk a lot already.”

Somehow, a bunch of you still read every blog, and even to the end (thanks guys!), but to give y’all a break, and challenge myself a little, I’m gonna mix it up a bit. Don’t worry, the diatribe will never die, but I’m gonna try out some short pieces, or breaking up longer pieces, and we’ll see how it goes!

To take it away, here is a quickie on a few small joys I find in London.

Foxes and Squirrels
The internet seems really confused about whether these furry friends are considered pests, but unlike the NZ equivalent – evil, scary, hissing Possums – foxes and squirrels are cute and funny and I WANT ONE! Although their lives are much-shortened by living on McDonalds instead of berries (McDs is bad for all of us – who knew?), foxes seem to carve out a living from garbage, and find just enough hideyholes in the green spaces around the burbs, including the cemetery near my house, where I see them skittering to at night. The Squirrels are much braver (and tourist-savvy), leaping up the walls like a ninja and stopping at the top to stare at me in triumph, or eating out of hand from track-suited Yanks in the Royal Parks. Having these pastoral creatures in the city makes me feel like I’m glimpsing ‘The Country’ of yesteryear, but there’s no mistaking it – these are very 21st Century woodland creatures:

Just casually…

Service that defies expectations
It shouldn’t be news by now that customer service in London is APPALLING. But, while this is generally true, it’s not exclusively so, and this means that even just nice, plain, decent pleasantness stands out a country mile. So when the dude at the local supermarket looks me in the eye, says polite things, and (for reasons unknown to me) talks to me about the football, it really, truly brightens my day.

A murder of crows
This may seem a strange positive, but the crows here are HUUUUUGE. They are also beaky and beady-eyed, and clearly plotting things. No wonder their collective noun is ‘a murder’. When I see them stalking about (crows don’t ‘fly’ or ‘flit’, they ‘stalk’ and ‘plot’), I can’t help but picture the final scenes of The Birds. These oversized menacers give me the same thrill of excitement and burst of inappropriate giggles as a ridiculous downpour or OTT thunderstorm. Delightful!

Unexpected variety
The UK definitely lacks the ‘cafe culture’ of NZ, where you can’t get a burger before 10am, but you can get an eggs bene at 7pm if you choose. But, where access might be a problem, variety is certainly not! Yesterday I had an ‘Old Bombay’ brunch at Dishoom, and with local prices even in the rather swish Covent Garden restaurant, my Egg Naan Roll and Chocolate Chai were a steal, delicious, and a new experience in one.

Really enormous coffees
Sometimes it’s a bit ridiculous what counts for a coffee over here, but even funnier when you’re handed a bucket for a vessel. That’s a soup, not a drink, surely! I think perhaps the coffee culture here was inherited from the yanks, and therefore along with it the Starbucks style of bigger is better and more complicated is cooler. While I do miss the simplicity of ordering a ‘tall, trim flat white, please’ and knowing what I was getting, hungover Shapelle appreciates the option of a caffeine-injection the size of my face.

Okay, even a short piece is 600-something words – this is going to take practice, I can see!

 

An actual email I received while job-hunting

The end of Funemployment

‘Funemployment’ has to be one of the more self-deceiving euphemisms ever bandied about. Most of the definitions centre around what Kiwis would call ‘dole-bludgers‘, but my particular, recent brand is better characterised as:

The state of being corporately displaced … while managing to maintain a positive attitude. Also known as ‘Jobbus Interruptus’.

Before London, I had been unemployed exactly once since I was 16. This period of idleness was the Summer of 09, when I had a two month period between my part-time student job finishing and my full-time job beginning. So, even ‘unemployed’, I had work lined up, I had savings, and I had very little interest in the stultifying job market in Dunedin, getting up to speed (i.e. learning to make burritos), and having to lie to any prospective employer about my ongoing availability.

So I moved back to my mother’s to save on rent, I cooked, I cleaned, I drove her crazy sorting out cupboards (not something you should do without warning to a quasi-hoarder, sorry Ma!). I was bored, and most of my friends had left town, and I wanted to follow, and some days I didn’t really leave the house, but at least I had company for some of every day, and I had a plan, I knew when the next paycheck was coming, and I knew this was just the in-between phase of the move-to-Wellington goal.

Being unemployed in London is a bit of a different beast. I’ve done it twice now, and each had a different flavour. Each of these flavours was of the shit variety.

When I first arrived, I knew that I would be sans-job and sans-flat at the same time for a little while, and that it was gonna suck arse for a bit. I was prepared for this – I had savings, I’d just had a great trip around Europe/Russia/Baltics, and I had friends in the same boat at the same time. So we whined about it together, we met up virtually every day, we got out in the sunshine when it wasn’t raining, we saw what we could of London on the cheap, and spent the rest of the time in the pub.

It was rubbish being at home alone in a horrid estate where everything was broken, and the landlord was a veritable nutcase. It was scary paying huge amounts in bond and rent and having to buy all the basics like bedding and toiletries and food all in one go, not knowing when the bank balance would next head upwards.

It was daunting, also, to scour the city for jobs and flats, constantly being mildly lost, never knowing what you’d see when you exited the station. How do you know where to look for a flat when you don’t know what the different areas are like? Which should you get first? You can’t choose what line to live on before you know where you’ll be working. But do you really want to start a job when you’re living on a couch?

In the end, I was very lucky. The day I started looking for a job, I got an interview lined up for two weeks later. I didn’t try very hard for anything else because I had a feeling I’d get it, and I did, and started the next day. Just as the flat situation got desperate I got a sublet, on the same line as work, and 5 mins on foot from friends.

I certainly can’t complain about two weeks’ unemployment, but what’s trying is having to do it all again. My job finished before Christmas and so, after a very cheap sojourn in Morocco, I was back in London and back in limbo.

It was more scary this time, because like before I have rent, and bills, and travel costs, but unlike before, the savings are gone. It’s not like I’m going to starve, but I need money for my student loan to stay in my NZ accounts, and have quite a sum tied up in bond, and can’t max out the credit card in case I ever need an emergency flight home.

There is no surplus, no fiscal blubber, and that is fucking scary. I grew up on the constant verge of going under, and so, from the second I could earn my own money, I put it in the bank, and I watched it accrue with a pleasure that was more to me than any item I could buy with it. Kate Moss infamously said that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but I think she may have confused ‘skinny’ with ‘millions in the bank’, since being skinny is her fortune. Security is not something I could ever inherit, and security is what I worked so hard to carve out of my meagre paychecks.

And so I’ve found this last few weeks absolutely terrifying. I had an idea in my head that I’d write a bit of a series on ‘funemployment’ as I like to write about the experiences that are common to all Kiwis/newbies in London, and show the shit side, offer some advice, seek some advice, and then show what it’s like on the other side and why it’s worth it.

Obviously this hasn’t happened, and I instead went into my bat cave, which is what I tend to do when I’m left to my own devices: activate hibernation mode. Seriously, I should not be left alone for too long. The result is always the same: my sleeping patterns move by several hours towards night-owl proclivities, I catch up on every show I’ve never cared about, I ignore my to-do list, I eat £2 oven pizza daily (seriously, I found a really good one), and I squint into the light out the window and hastily draw the shades again.

I have my excuses of course. It seriously is freaking cold in London in January. The other day I saw that the high was going to be -4C. The HIGH! How can a negative be a high?!?! I grew up in what is considered a miserable cold place in NZ, and a temp like that would be newsworthy as a LOW! So, since I can’t afford proper warm things, it’s natural that I stay indoors right? And the warmest place in my house is my bed, as it’s in an enclosed space that can actually warm up, and has blankets (aka one cheap Argos duvet and a crappy sleeping bag draped on top), and my computer is there.

I have to be at my compy to do most things job-related. And near the phone, so I can’t go out and go underground, or I might miss an opportunity. And where would I go? All my friends are working and I have no money!

So, what this all results in, is me being a total slacker hibernater. The weird thing is I’m super motivated when I’m at work – I’m the super organised, everything before deadline, clear desk, tidy drawers, logical email folders sort of person, who gets things DONE! But when unemployed I didn’t even do things I wanted to do, like read, or sell stuff on ebay, or go for walks, or write postcards.

This reminded me of despairing to a high school teacher that my best friend was planning to drop out because she couldn’t handle the pressure of her three subjects (5-6 was a normal load). Mrs Martin told me that the less people do, the less they feel able to do, and busy people always fit more in because they’re used to being on the go and getting things done.

I think this is absolutely true of me, and I know that I’ll get more done this week than I did in the last three, because…

I HAVE A JOB!!!

I start tomorrow, and it’s more money (well, more than sweet fark all) and an easy commute, so cross your fingers for rad workmates and social occasions, good work and plenty of it (throw some overtime at me baby!), great smart awesome bosses, and a nice long stay in the one place!

Since I didn’t provide my planned series on the great tribulations of unemployment in London, look out for an upcoming post on No Dole to Bludge: a guide to being an unemployed Kiwi in London.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanstanton/8123514260/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Trip

My gaze lolls downward,
Drawn by the inherent danger of the pavers laid

And layers paved;
Of time on history on settlement on nature.
The levels are uneven,
With hints of former ages peeking through –
Sometimes a patch of yesteryear,
Here a glimpse of Roman ruin.
But almost never the crack and burst of grass,
Which is relegated to handsome and well-bounded regions,
Property of Her Majesty.

I wish to drag eyes upward,
To see the things that brought me here –
The new-to-me, in-person history that lives beneath my feet and over my head.
I want to adopt the insufferable tourist gaze for a moment,
But it clashes so with my Chancery Lane uniform,
And with the mood of the tide that waits for no human. 

The ground colludes with the robotic crowd,
Threatens with no subtlety so that you know the risk
Of dalliance, daydream, ambivalent wandering.
The primary menace is to ankles; the secondary to pride. At home,If tripped,One would stare accusingly backward for the culprit,

Hoping to regain some dignity through indignation,
Blame squared upon a crack that stubbed at toe
Or gap that seized at foot –
The intention was clear, the fault apparent,
And most certainly not one’s own.
A troll beneath the otherwise smooth bridge and calm waters,
An outlier, a dissident. 

Here
If fallen
There is no looking back for restitution,
The blunder settled directly on your own wind-up shoulders.

If I mis-stepped and slipped-up,
I would be a stunted island,
And as the Jetstream slipped past me,
I would debate whether to abruptly rise into the way that I would get in,
Or remain crouched, then foetal, then slowly rolling skywards.
Here I could watch life flash by rather than flash by my life.
Here I could be still and look up,
And wonder, and watch, and marvel…
Until trampled.  

Welcome to London

I’m a Kiwi who lives in London. So does EVERYONE else. Sometimes this makes life interesting.

London is a mad dichotomy of experiences.

I can imagine feeling lonely here in the impersonal rush of the commute, where I’ve had more than one person describe eye-contact on the tube as a mortal sin in danger of a stabbing, and shop assistants haven’t yet mastered the art of speech. Yet I find the possibility of all-manner of chance encounters exhilarating, relish the fact that I never have to run into ex-boyfriends, and the folks at the local sandwich shop know my name and coffee order.

People are horrible and inconsiderate and DON’T KNOW HOW TO WALK PROPERLY, don’t care where you’re from, and won’t apologies for smashing into you. And yet I’ve seen small kindnesses every day – helping up stairs with prams and suitcases, offering up seats, running after someone with a dropped jacket – and somehow made friends with people that I now adore who kindly pretended to be my pals one day to shake an overly-enthusiastic madman.

It is a sprawling mess of city, difficult to comprehend as a whole picture, and it is often astounding how many hours in a day you can manage to spend underground. But the impressive (if temperamental) tube and bus network connects so much of the city relatively directly, so even if it takes some time, everywhere is accessible and so anything is doable. As an added bonus, the commute offers the chance to catch up on listening pleasures, flaunt a pretentious book, pretend to be asleep, or just zone out in the exam-like time warp as stops from the Monopoly board flash past.

In fact, London is a hydra-headed monster – every time something becomes clear and easy, a new weirdness and richness emerges. That’s why I started trying to write things down when they were still new and weird and noticeable, because I realised I was turning into this eclectic concept of a ‘Londoner’, and that meant my eyes were dulled to the extremes and the details.

And so this is here to remind me, as a pseudo journal, a chance to play with words and websites, and as a poor substitute for all the emails I haven’t been writing to New Zealand. I also hope to at least occasionally write or link to things that are helpful for other ex-pats making the massive leap across the world… even if it’s just to show that everything will, very quickly, become normal and London will become home.