As I sit here on my crisp white sheets, bright hot sunlight pouring in through the window onto the pink peonies my new housemate brought home for me, it’s hard to imagine that the last 6 months have been so grim. I feel like I’ve surfaced from underneath grimy bathwater in a sharehouse tub; the weather having the same affect on my outlook on life as it does on the London streets that in the sunlight look cleaner, longer, wider, and invite you to look up rather than down at your (wet) feet.
This ‘Blah’ period started back in January when Jim and I touched down in London after our 6 week amazeballs holiday to Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Leaving the warmth, love and cuddles with the mini versions of my friends that had sprouted in Perth made the sting of the London chill even harder to handle. Still, Jim and I instagrammed the shit out of our huge jumpers and laughed about what a shock our bodies were going through transitioning from temperatures upwards of 40 degrees (Celsius), to subzero, ear-biting, nipple-hardening conditions (even through layers and layers of clothing – what’s with that?!).We even looked forward to the prospect of snow, since it’s still a novelty for me and really, who doesn’t like snow? I decided to try my hand at reviewing some of the exhibitions, films and theatre productions I have the great privilege to see on a regular basis, and my new goal solidified in my mind – finding a permanent job.
I enjoyed the fact that I had a couple of days off before returning to my contract work. In fact, if I had gone back the day after we returned, I probably would have died when a helicopter crashed into our street after colliding with a crane atop a high-rise building. It hit the ground at 8am, the exact time I would have been walking to the tube and passing the usual people, considering saying ‘Hi’ and not doing it. I heard it happen and at first thought the strange metallic boom was a piece of metal falling off a truck, or even worse, a piece of infrastructure falling off the railway lines that pass overhead near the crash. Then the sirens started, more kept arriving, and the traffic stopped flowing past my window. I dragged myself out of bed in curiosity and looked in amazement at the fireball burning a couple of blocks from my window. In the next couple of days it was announced that two people had died – the pilot and one pedestrian. People told stories about how they had seen the helicopter catapulting towards them and had run for their lives, narrowly avoiding death. The main footage used by the BBC was shot by my friend’s boyfriend who had been knocked off his bike by the impact. I wondered who the victim could have been, and worried in particular that it had been the bin man. On the way home from my first day back at work, I opened the Evening Standard on a busy Hammersmith and City Line train and saw the face of a man I walked past on my early starts. He was notable for his neat beard and for being morbidly obese. As the article explained that everyone who knew him thought he was a fantastic guy, I tried not to cry. I started to wonder what the point of everything was – one minute you’re walking to work, the next you’re burning to death in a pool of aviation fuel. I realised that, like the survivors, he may have seen the helicopter coming but had been unable to run away because of his size.
After the road opened up again I walked to work every day as usual, except this time through the charred remnants of the crash and the photos of the victims pinned to the buildings’ temporary walls. I diligently avoided the mysterious blackened circle on the foothpath. The crane was slowly rebuilt as every day I ducked and weaved my way through commuters into the tube. There’s something about the Underground that can really grind you down if you’re not particularly sure about your decision to be in London. I remember cramming myself into a carriage, feet barely touching the floor, the train trundling forth while everyone desperately tried to block out their surroundings with kindles, phones or bad morning papers. I was face to face with a glum (as in actual upside-down-smile) looking woman in a grey pant suit wearing ill-fitting Apple earphones that loudly blared Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham! The juxtaposition between that catchy 80s party fave and the picture of abject human misery before me made me want to either burst into tears or peals of laughter. I found out that day that my so-called accountants had been acting dodgy and had fucked off back to Australia. This meant that a) I had a massive tax debt, b) my finances were an incomprehensible mess that I had to find another accountant to take on and c) a few of my friends were in the same boat. Great.
A few weeks after the helicopter crash, a 16 year old ex-student of one of the secondary schools I work at was stabbed to death in a street near the school in the middle of the day. I didn’t know him, but the thought of that happening to one of the kids I work with and just the fact that it happened at all made me feel sick. Some of the students put up a poster of the boy in the corridor and I couldn’t help but look into his eyes every time I walked past. There is evidence that youth offenders and people getting excluded from school largely have undiagnosed speech, language and communication needs. Obviously it’s not the only reason that kids have behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, but it’s been established that people with trouble communicating are at a higher risk for those kind of things. For a while I was looking at the young kids I work with and wondering What’s going to happen to you? I felt a bit helpless. To round it all off, Jim came home one day and told me that a lady in his office had gone down to the basement, locked herself in a rarely used disabled toilet and killed herself. My usual resilience and ability to deal with crappy things was on the verge of disappearing. One day I looked out of my kitchen window and thought Fuck this God forsaken place. I flagged with my Doctor that I wasn’t feeling the best.
Obviously some good things must have happened during that period, but misery breeds misery and my frame of mind only allowed me to see the shit. I suppose I went into survival mode, just keeping my head down and focusing on one thing at a time. Which was scarily similar to the state I was in before I left Perth. Our prolonged winter didn’t help at all – icy winds from Russia combining with grey skies sent from on high to irritate and oppress. I wrote a few pieces and waited to become the next famous blogger in London, which would obviously cure my existential funk. I went for a couple of job interviews and despite getting good feedback and gaining enough points to get the jobs, ONE OTHER PERSON would do better than me and get them. Inconceivable! I realised that up until now – all the way through high school, university and my early career (thinking about it, probably back to primary school as well), things have always come easily to me. I achieved academically whilst distracting everyone around me and misbehaving. I did well at Uni without having to try too hard and I had never, ever been turned down for a job. How things had changed since I bragged about how easy London was for me. What a naive, patronising twat.
Slowly the days got longer and the layers of clothing required to step outside grew less and less. Gradually my usual frame of mind crept back – I decided to see the position I was in regarding my career as a lesson to be learnt – instead of avoiding challenges and coasting along at a B+ level, I had to lift my game and learn perseverance and patience. On the surface I had assumed that as soon as I wanted something I would get it…though I guess deep down I had always worried that if I tried for something I really really wanted and didn’t get it that it would break me. I guess that happened on a lesser scale, but despite being rattled I was OK. And what’s more, I realised that everyone else had similar things happen to them after living in London for any period of time, and you just have to suck it up, get over yourself and get on with it. It still hurts not getting something, but it just makes me want it more and makes me try even harder. I want to do anything I can to stop kids in London going down that horrible path to crime and substance abuse, even if sometimes it’s hard. I want to dedicate myself to them and make sure they’re alright. Jim and I have finally moved in together and now instead of Sainsburys and a main arterial road, I open my window to the sounds of birds singing in the garden and kids laughing over the fence (it hasn’t gone all gross and suburban though – we’re still in Zone 2!). I understand tax better and am with some great accountants, and have finally paid off my debts. Importantly (for me) I have been on a couple of holidays, one of which I will be writing about soon. I’m writing again because it’s for me and I love it, rather than wanting to grab the attention of anyone in particular. Instead of taking the sunshine for granted I love and revel in it like other Londoners and keep in mind how different things can look in the grey. I’ll keep applying for permanent supervisory roles and when I get one I’ll appreciate it so much more. Things aren’t perfect but they’re OK and I feel like I’ll be better mentally prepared when winter rolls around again. Phew.