I write to you from the confines of a window seat on the train from Edinburgh back to London – the train ‘Home’. I was lucky enough to have an empty seat beside me from Waverly Station to York and thought that I might be left in peace to enjoy Baywatch with my shoes off and my legs and entire life in bags slung across the other seat for the remainder of the trip. But that was greedy of me, and, to my dismay, a man dressed eerily similarly to me but with a face more akin to Ralph Fiennes has perched himself down next to me and filled up our remaining leg space with two large briefcases. I spent a little while wondering what he has got in them, and then briskly realised I don’t care, unless it’s a batch of muffins to share with me. I hope he’s not reading this. If you are, Ralph, be a gent and give a girl a muffin out of your briefcase.
So, as I said, I’m on my way back to London, my New Home. It is coming up to a month now that I’ve been living in my New Home, which, specifically, is a charming freshly-painted apartment in the south west of the city which looks out onto nothing in particular and has a little overgrown garden that I intend to fill with pot plants in the spring. My room is small but cosy and bright and a nice sanctuary to return to at the end of a bustling London day, though I have a perpetually growing list of things that still need to be done in order for it to be Perfect. Some things are what I’d consider to be objectively Nice Things. Redundant throw pillows for the bed that get shoved to the side any time the bed is in use. A plant to sit atop my bookshelf beside the few books I’ve gathered since arriving, leaves draping and spiralling like they do in the Scandinavian décor books. A shelf of astonishingly expensive-looking and beguiling shoes that I don’t actually wear but which sit proudly in waiting, giving the impression that I’m a Carrie Bradshaw kind of writer and not one that shuffles around in the same backless loafers, day in, day out.
Some things are quite particular to me and which many New Housers possibly wouldn’t bother with – among them, I’m unashamed to say, is a life-sized silver-coloured whippet statue. “Bit kitsch, don’t you think?” said my mother, when I sent her a photograph of the dog in question. I replied that sometimes I think that’s exactly the point.
It’s funny, moving house. It’s even funnier moving country. You go through a sort of cycle of emotions and behaviours that seem to change like clockwork from week to week. At first, everything is a blur of organisational mishaps and eating badly, because you don’t know where the proper supermarkets are to buy all the things you usually buy. I ate four packets of instant noodles during my first week, having not had one packet in over six years.
Things are not helped by an endless list of Important Official Document Things that people love to remind you to do. In themselves they are not hard things to do – opening a bank account, getting an insurance number, setting up internet and standing orders and so forth in your New House. The issue is that, in order to do any one of them, you have to have done at least one of the others. Cue many frustrating phone conversations with apathetic customer service people who drag you round a verbal roundabout without ever turning off down the correct route and instead remind you that you don’t have anything you need to continue to the journey. “Don’t you have a bill we can use to confirm your address?” “No, because I don’t have a bank account to pay any of those bills. That’s why I’m here with you, trying to open a bank account.” “Oh, well we need a bill to confirm where you live, so just set up a standing order and then…oh.” You get the drift.
Luckily, the first term in a new country is also thickly painted with a coat of optimism that makes everything seem dandy and doable. On the second half of your lunch break, having wasted the first half on the phone to customer service, you hop around from shop to shop and marvel at the cafes near your work place. “I definitely need to come here for coffee some lunchtime!” you whisper to yourself. You pass vintage stores with racks of clothes outside that you’d never wear, and grin as you rummage through them, naively thinking “I know where I’m coming on my first payday!” You don’t consider for a moment that by Week Three, the Costa around the corner will do for coffee – you’ve got a members card by now, anyway – and you’d rather spend the money you’d have spent on those steel-toed cowboy boots on cocktails called things like The Littlest Hobo and The Dog’s Bollocks instead.
The other thing that is notable about moving somewhere new is that any inkling of tourist behaviour that you might have displayed before is firmly quashed – killed dead. Have you ever stood languidly on the left side of the escalator in London? One morning into life here and you realise what a massive, massive mistake that is. Furthermore, you join in the heckling of people who do try and lazily enjoy their ascent out of the underground. I used to welcome an entire afternoon meandering through Camden Market from start to finish mulled wine in hand. Now, I go specifically to visit one shop or to meet a visiting friend, and then get ready to barrel through the crowds back to the safety of the tube. Whether you like it or not, you are forced into being a Local almost immediately.
When I get back to London I am going for dinner in Covent Garden, one of the only typically tourist areas that I think will never lose its charm for me. I’m a sucker for its profusion of twinkling lights, and there is something so enlivening about the crowds of friends who filter out of various work places to assemble amid the shower of cocktail bars and one-off eateries dotted between the different floors. I’m more than happy to be part of that buzz for as long as I can, even after a non-stop weekend in Edinburgh. What can I say? The city never sleeps, and neither, it seems, do I.
Watch out for the next post. Things are happening with Bam Bam Madame soon – new life, new website, as they say. I think you’ll like it.
See you soon and thanks for reading,