I love London so why did I leave? (Part eight)
Kaye loves London, so why did she leave? Read the eighth and final part of her story exclusively on CD-Traveller
Continued from last time
Returning to London proved to be tougher than my time in the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean combined. After almost five years abroad, it was Britain that felt like a foreign country and six months down the line, I was still adjusting.
It was an odd feeling for while I had anticipated feeling like an alien abroad, I hadn’t expected to feel like one in my own country. It took a while to realise that it wasn’t the UK that had changed – the Daily Mail still bangs on about immigration, the Metropolitan tube line continues to be suspended for engineering works every other weekend and Jenny et al can invariably be found in the Feathers pub on a Friday night – but me.
And after my international adventures, the comforts of home – clothes that fit, familiar food, faces and surroundings – quickly became monotonous. I began to desire a new challenge and if it hadn’t been for the buzz building around the upcoming London Olympic Games, I’m pretty sure I would have found myself seeking another overseas posting pronto.
Instead I came to the conclusion that if I was to have even a half chance of carving out a life in London, I needed to put down roots. It was time – at 31 – to stop living like a student in shared accommodation and find a flat of my own.
But finding a flat in the capital in January 2012 wasn’t without its own frustrations. I had my heart set on Shepherds Bush – with its multi cultural community, great gastro pubs, gritty market, modern Westfield shopping mall (that’s open until a civilised 10pm) and proximity to central London. Alas it wasn’t to be.
The one bedroom flats I could afford on a meagre journalist’s salary could best be described – arguably much like myself – as unconventional. By this I mean they were invariably situated above shops, in ex local authority blocks and/or had features – for example a back entrance – which rendered them unmortgagable with all the mainstream lenders. Not that the estate agents or mortgage brokers – both desperate for their fees – were ever upfront about this.
And so feeling disheartened after the aforementioned cowboys had chipped away at my deposit and unable to borrow from the Bank of Mum and Dad (I knew they couldn’t afford it), I gave up searching in Shepherds Bush and cast my net further afield to zone five – specifically Harrow.
Why Harrow? To be honest it was a question I asked myself every Saturday I spent house hunting in Harrow. Hammersmith and Fulham it aint. But being only a stone’s throw away from Northwick Park Hospital, where I am a hospital radio volunteer, and a short commute from my Mum’s house, Harrow made sense. Plus – crucially – the properties were within my price bracket. I decided to choose a good apartment without waiting eternally for the perfect one. And so I found a one bedroom ground floor flat that had what I wanted (a two minute walk to the tube station, shops, restaurants and a cinema) and made an offer. Today the flat is filled with my travel books and two wardrobes worthy of Carrie Bradshaw.
As London basked in the Olympic glow and friends and family flocked to my new flat – for the first time in my life I had a place I could invite people over to – I began to feel that while readjustment had been tough, it had been worth it.
Olympic fever transformed the capital – and I fell in love with London all over again. Normal life was put on pause: the grey skies gave way to sunshine and the frowns on the faces of commuters were turned into smiles as everyone pulled together to stage the greatest Olympic Games the world has ever seen. The opening ceremony summed up everything that is great about Britain – our quirkiness and creativity.
But afterwards – as with any great party – the hangover took hold. The good mood did linger for a little while once the Olympic torch had been extinguished but, in my mind, it didn’t last long anywhere near long enough.
During the Olympics, I wondered: How could I ever have left London? A few months down the line, normality had returned ( people were once again pushing for a seat on the tube and had returned to being unenthusiastic about enthusiasm) and I started to feel stuck – a small cog in a big machine.
A couple of work trips to Canada and California respectively kept me going. In her hit song, California, Joni Mitchell famously sings:
I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California I’m coming home.”
These lyrics crept into my consciousness as I glumly fiddled with my in-flight socks on the journey home from LA to London, and mentally braced myself for the biting temperatures that awaited in Blighty. California, I realised, could easily feel like home. I found the food (veggie heaven), weather and enthusiasm of the people utterly irresistible.
Of course California (and by wider association, America) isn’t perfect. As an admirer of the NHS, I find a system which leaves millions of people unable to afford basic healthcare, truly shocking. And yes the US is gutless is about guns. I don’t agree with everything that Piers Morgan (the former British tabloid editor turned CNN host) says and does, but I fully support his crusade against guns in the US.
Nonetheless I am allowing myself to dream of living abroad again – this time in America. Is my path normal? No. Normal, as the American journalist Ellen Goodman, put it “is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it”. But perhaps I had to come back to London and give ‘normal’ a go to learn what truly makes me tick: travelling and exploring new options.
I don’t know how this story is going to end. Maybe I’ll end up emigrating in 2014. Maybe I won’t. But one thing I am now certain of is this: I need to have the courage to live a life which is true to myself instead of the life expected of me, and can’t waste my life living in London chasing others ideas.
The realisation has been a long time in coming but finally, at 32 and three quarters, I have woken up to the fact that I don’t have to experience life the way I was told. No one ever changed the world by toeing the line. Or as a kindred spirit once said: “The future belongs to people who are brave enough to keep pushing, obstinate enough not to settle.”