The first report from London

Friday, August 6, 2010

Life in London is… good, I think. My tiny short-let flat has turned out to be reasonable, though it’s smaller than it looked in the pictures (All in a chorus now: “I really thought it would be bigger!”). It’s also more run down and grubbier than would be ideal, but it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen. After a few trips to the Poundstretcher/Dollar Store I was able to supplement the supplied amenities to a point where the place is now functional. (Still, could they not give me more than one bowl? Or a toilet seat that’s actually attached to the toilet bowl?). I was amazed at how much better I felt after I was able to convince the Russian cleaning lady in the stairwell outside my door to allow me five minutes of quality time with her vacuum cleaner. At least now I know that the layer of grunge that’s accumulated since then is all mine. And really, how can you complain too much about a place where leaving the bathroom door open allows you to watch TV while showering?

The view from my window… Ahh, Willesden Junction, thy charms are uncountable.

I’ve been here a week now and have settled in fairly well. The job hunt – my main focus – has been up and down. The first few days were great, mostly because I had several meetings set up before I arrived, the first one on Friday afternoon when I was fresh off the plane and still befuddled with jetlag. Everyone has been polite, friendly, helpful and encouraging; they seem to think that my resumé is good, and agree that I’m approaching this the right way and meeting the right people. And they gave me more names of people to reach out to, and ideas of how to proceed. But it’s also become clear that I’ll really need to pay some dues here – meet the right people and learn the ropes – before I can really be functional and therefore attractive to an employer. I think my best bet is to try and connect with some overworked freelancers who might be looking for assistance, but there’s been nothing on that front so far.

So now I’m in a bit of a lull. I’ve made it through all the meetings I arranged before I arrived, and am now in the process of making contact with the people and companies I learned about in those meetings. That’s been a predictable mixture of unreturned emails, impenetrable voicemail systems and friendly people who would be happy to meet with me but are about to leave on three weeks of holidays. After the initial rush of arriving and getting all that positive feedback things have slowed down a lot, and that’s making it hard to stay positive. I know it’s still early, but it’s hard not to want it all to happen instantly.

In the mean time I’ve been running, wandering around a few areas to try and find where I might want to live, and spending a bit of time being a tourist. What can I say? Old habits die hard, and that’s why I’ve been on three different walking tours since I arrived. I mentioned them back when I hit London last June, but they’re so good I’m mentioning them again: London Walks are fantastic. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable, fun, and friendly and I always come away feeling that was two hours well spent. Also, the selection of walks is incredible – about ten different ones on offer each day. And they all start and end at a tube station, and are utterly reliable – I’ve never shown up and been disappointed. All that for just £8. (Or £6 if you invest £2 in a discount card, which I did.)

Part of Regent's Canal, which I saw on the “Little Venice” walk on Wednesday. The canal also runs through my neighbourhood. It’s much less picturesque there – more backsides of industrial yards and graffiti and fewer million pound flats - but there’s still an even, open towpath alongside the canal which is an excellent place for a run, and only five minutes from my door.

But back to the work situation, or lack thereof, which is what this whole business is mostly about. Here’s a quote from an episode of the original UK version of “The Office”, which I watched last night on the computer. These words resounded in my head like a gong when I heard them:

“It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, than half way up one you don’t.”

Or is it? That’s the question these days. I knew when I decided to leave my job and travel that I’d be starting over when the trip was finished. But what I pictured at the time was fetching up in some large, convivial Canadian city - maybe Montréal or Vancouver - with a new, exciting, well-paying job and a cache of money to set myself up in reasonably high style. Instead I’ve landed in a pocket-sized worn out studio in an unloved corner of northwest London with a whole lot of resumés in the “Sent” box of my Gmail, and a cache of money that’s dwindling daily. Sometimes this “I’ll regret it if I don’t give it a try” business wears a bit.

What I’m starting to realize is that I need to figure out how far I’m willing to go to make this work. And I’m not just talking about how much money I can afford to spend supporting myself while I’m looking for work. I’m also talking about quality-of-life kind of things like:
  • How small a flat could I be happy living in? The room I’m in now is about 10’ 6” x 12’, and I’m pretty sure that’s too small. But how big is big enough? (I think that answer might be “Big enough that you don’t have to fold the bed up every day”.)
  • How far outside the centre of the city am I willing to go to live somewhere nice? Conversely, how tiny/grungy/sad a place would I put up with in order to be close?
  • Or, am I willing to share a flat? Is having more space, better amenities and a nicer location more important than having complete privacy? It’s pretty common here, even among actual grown-up people, but it’s been a long long time since I lived with roommates. Is it something I need to consider?
  • And on the work front: How far down the ladder am I willing to go? Would I take work outside theatre to support myself while trying to break in? Actors do this all the time, but I think I’d really struggle with it.
  • Or if I stay I’m able to get work in theatre, how long can I be happy in an entry-level job, and how long will I have to “pay my dues” before I really feel like I’m doing what I came to do?
  • And, fundamentally, is this the right thing for me? For my career? For my life? If I spend a year or two or five here in London, what does that mean for my career when I eventually go back to Canada?

I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but these are the questions I struggle with in between crafting friendly, engaging emails to anyone who might help me get a foot in the door, trawling endless real estate listings, and walking to, waiting for, or sitting on tube trains. (Which is a whole other post. Or possibly a whole other blog.) I’ll try to keep writing about my progress, and to tell you some of the funny, quirky things I’ve already noticed about living in London, because there are a lot. Like why can’t I find any cream for my coffee? There seems to be nothing in between whole milk and pouring cream. And why do I have to flick a switch on the wall behind the stove to power the whole thing up before turning on the individual burners? Should I call a licensed electrician to disconnect the power to the stove when I’m finished, just to be extra cautious?

And now, let me leave you with these profound words, which I’ve already heard so often they now echo in my dreams:

“This is a Bakerloo line train to Elephant & Castle. Please, mind the gap between the train and the platform.”



donnav said...

In my usual late-to-the party-fashion, I discovered your blog after your year-long adventure. I love reading your posts. You have a wonderful way with words. Keep your chin up about the job search. My husband is in the same boat and we have managaed not to despair too much or outright kill each other yet. Set your sights on the fact that this may be a long haul in today's economy and do your best to enjoy the journey. Yes, I know if this hits you at the wrong moment you will reach through the internet and slap me for my smarmy advice. Keep in mind that you have lived the vicarious dream of hundreds and still have the strength to keep going! Yay Pam!

Heather Moore said...

What's pouring cream?

Pam said...

Heather: Pouring Cream, or Single Cream, is about 18% fat, as opposed to Half and Half, which I'm used to , and is about 10%. I suppose the "pouring" bit implies it's meant to be poured into or onto things... like coffee, but I find it a bit much. Cream, and dairy in general, is a bit of a religion over here. It's worth a post all by itself.

Unknown said...

Take a job doing anything, if you can find one (usher?), as soon as you are in, you will move up fast.
Try Stage Tech, they do automation and installation work all over the world. You would love that.
Hold your head up, remember, you are great!

Patty said...

In the meantime (and I have no doubt you WILL find what you're looking for), if your blog were a book I would buy it and read it. Surely I'm not the first one to suggest this....??

Hang in there and KEEP WRITING -- please!!

Scott Miller said...

During our vacation in England Allison was on a constant quest for cream for her coffee. I just embraced having tea instead. They are pretty serious about it over there. We toured a gigantic power plant built to provide an extra burst of electricity for when a million kettles are turned on after a big soccer match or Coronation Street episode. Seriously. Something like 300MW online in 9 seconds.

Tips on finding cream from Allsion:
- Go first thing in the morning... seems to sell out fast and be delivered daily.
- Don't fall for the Elmlea brands. That stuff is buttermilk blended with vegetable oil. Yuck.


Anonymous said...

Just adding a little, "chin up, stiff upper lip" to the mix. I do agree with Mr. Hamilton. Sometimes just getting a job doing anything helps with the aimlessness of waiting. The ladder on the inside of the building is easier to climb than the one on the outside.
Steven G.

Lisa said...

I’ve bestowed upon you the title of “Versatile Blogger Award” ( You can do with it what you wish. Just know that I love reading what you write and have let others know the same - Lisa

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of ideas for when you are feeling down in the dumps from the job search and trolling London by Tube:
(1) If you're not in a hurry to get somewhere, take the bus for (slightly) fresher air & better views.
(2) Ditto, on your bike (2nd-hand or rental).

And keep enjoying London as much as you can right now. When you DO find work, or if you decide to pull up stakes & try elsewhere, you'll wish you'd used this free time for exactly that.

Good luck Pam & remember how many of us homebodies are reading this and rooting for you!

John said...

Thank you very much for valuable information…Your article is helpful !

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post which says lots more about the Flat to let London

UK Removals said...

OMG, thanks to Scott Miller for the tips, because I also love my coffee with cream and this is important!

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