London, England’s capital city and the heart of the United Kingdom. It’s this place and its inhabitants that keep the life pumping off into all the counties, towns, constituencies and districts that make up the rest of the Great Britain and it is one of the most important cities in Europe.
With all of this being said it is no wonder it is a magnet for the brightest, hungriest and most entrepreneurial minds in the country. It breeds success and wealth and opportunity and London is the most exciting place to be when you’re young, commitment free and eager to explore. But it isn’t all Hollywood glitz and glam like the Love Actually film would have you believe. It is a city that, in order to survive, you need to keep your wits about you and your purse even closer.
Before making the move down to London I lived in the regimented roundabout of Milton Keynes. A relatively metropolitan placed is boasted no less than 4 ‘nightclubs’, although the word is more loosely used in a town where the best DJ can be found in the Lloyds Wetherspoons. It has a massive shopping centre and even an indoor ski slope! To me Milton Keynes was more than just home, it was a great hubbub of festivals, concerts, shops and night time escapades. There was nothing more I could want for and I was content in my organised little town with its grid roads. Until, that was, I got a job down in London.
London had always been to me a day trip vacation, a destination that I only visited once or twice a year and on a special occasion. It may have sat right on my doorstep just a 30 minute train journey away but it felt like a different country, continent, planet to the world of Milton Keynes that I knew and loved.
And yet I found myself down there, working in the very busiest area I could have thought to move to – the West End. Suddenly my evening dinner with my parents turned into after work drinks with colleagues, my drive home became a battle to find a train seat and my ‘going-out-only-on-the-weekend’ policy became ‘as-long-as-I-catch the-last-train-home-I’ll-join-you-for-one’. I was like a country bumpkin seduced by upper class gentleman London. It was amazing, all these new cocktail bars, boutique restaurants, star studded clubs were ready and waiting for us if we chose to visit every single night and I quickly became another addict on the list at Costa Coffee.
I felt so alive, like I was stepping out of the dark into the light and I went from no candle to suddenly burning it at both ends. But it wasn’t sustainable. After 6 months of long working days, late party nights and the gruelling commute from home to London both my health and my purse could feel the strain. Every common cold that passed seemed to stop at my door and I constantly had a tissue packet in my hand, my purse felt lighter than it had when I was earning almost £10k less in Milton Keynes and the bags under my eyes didn’t seem to want to go. The London life was still so very new and alluring but I knew something had to change so I made the best decision of my life and moved down to London.
It’s amazing how by making my commute just 20 minutes shorter in the morning and by being a taxi ride away from home at all times made such a monumental difference to my life. It took me 10 months of commuting before I actually made the move, because I wanted to find the right place to live so I took my time picking a flat, and I have not looked back since I’ve been down here.
Suddenly having everything on my doorstep took away the burning desire to do everything, right here, right now and I eased into a more relaxed and mature Londoner. The youthful impatience I had felt when I was still trapped in Milton Keynes faded and I found I enjoyed my one or two drinks a week far more when I wasn’t trying to tick all the bars on some list all at once.
Most surprising of all I actually saved money by moving to London (probably not many people get to say that but it’s true!) because all that money I paid out on my train ticket, my car, my insurance and my excessive nightly outings more than outweighed the cost of living a more sedate life in London. It’s true what they say, that you can only really appreciate a place when you live there and it was the same for me. In the 10 weeks after I moved down to London I found out more about the city than I did in the 10 months I commuted in because there is only so much you can be a part of when you always have to leave in time for the last train home.
On the weekends I discovered cafes that sold the most amazing pastries, proper nightclubs that had such an eclectic mix of people that I spent more time to talking to people than I did dancing, I bought a Frisbee and for the first time in years my friends and I played in the park with a box of beer and some wine on the side as refreshments. You may be thinking it sounds too good to be true and don’t get me wrong there are sides of London that aren’t so rosy but I really did fall in love with the place, once I learnt to enjoy the city the healthy way – in moderation.
That is the best tip I can give you about surviving your first year in London – enjoy it slowly and properly, take it one sip at a time. Don’t try and gulp it all down at once like I did because you’ll end up ruining the experience and you’ll be left with a bitter taste in your mouth. London isn’t going anywhere and it seems to only be getting better as more cultures fuse together, more festivals pop up all over and more areas come up for regeneration.
I may have had my phone stolen, nearly broken the bank, had more colds and coughs than a pre-school nursery gets in a year and hear more police sirens in a week than I would have done in a year in Milton Keynes but London is a city I have made my home and that I plan to call home for a long time yet. It is a place where you can make your fortune, meet lifelong friends, drink varieties of beer I still can’t pronounce, go to a cinema that sells wasabi beans rather than popcorn and all in all be whoever you want to be and find like minded people within a stone’s throw away.