Please don't misunderstand me - it's not that I don't like London. This is a beautiful city that has so much to offer its residents and tourists alike. I would recommend that everybody visit here because for architecture and tourist treats alone, London is an absolute winner. The museums and galleries are incredible. The transport links are great, even when the carriages are overcrowded and their ventilation a little sporadic. The shopping is fantastic too - wonderful and cheap choices for groceries and market foods, but also amazing boutiques and high street stores for the fashion-conscious too. The public parks and gardens are relaxing and well-used spaces that are gorgeous in summer and awesomely spooky winter wonderlands. And that's saying nothing about Europe being right on the doorstep.
But let's face it, being in London on your own is a bit of a fizzer. Hey, being in any foreign city on your own probably is too, to be honest. Spending the last six months on my own here has been a real learning experience. While I'm not sad to be leaving here, I think for my own future recollections I should probably remind myself why.
For starters (and at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious), London is a really expensive city. To live well but also within my means (as I was really desperate to do), I knew I would have to share a house and I found that really hard. Not conceptually - I was happy about the idea of sharing, but I was just continually disheartened by constant rejections and the ridiculous competition for fleabag s**thole apartments that I identified within my budget. I was just looking for somewhere warm, comfortable and affordable, close enough to the city that I could still stay out late at nights and not be stranded in the city if I missed the last train home. I wanted a house I could come home to after a night at a funky restaurant, or going to the theatre - a place where friends and family could stay when they came to visit me. I think those are fairly simple things but I struggled to make them happen for myself. Too many other people seemed to want exactly those same things. Typical!
From my experience, London has not been the friendliest city in the world either. Many of the Aussies I've met seem so settled here and breaking into their established friendship groups is really tiring. Maybe you get too old to keep trying? Being an Aussie is nothing special here either and I confess that was a bit of a surprise to me. As I have often said to people when talking about the Aussie invasion here, the guy next to you at the pub is an Aussie, but the guy pouring your beer is too. We're just everywhere - the city is crawling with Aussies. At first I thought that would be kinda cool - an easy familiarity and a friendly, welcoming environment. It just hasn't been that way....for me, I mean. I know lots of other Aussies for whom this whole posting will be weird and the polar opposite of their London experience but I can only comment on what I know.
My immediate workmates were really supportive and in that family atmosphere, their encouragement really helped. I was even fortunate enough to stay with a couple of them during the horrible transition times and that was so generous. I maintain that so much of my enjoyment of London is a direct result of my love for my job and my workmates. Then again, I know people outside of my immediate office (but still within my building) had made snide remarks about what a snob I was being and how if I just looked further out of the city and settled for a longer commute my accommodation problems would surely be over. Fair enough perhaps, but what about my quality of life and the things I wanted to do here (theatre, restaurants, entertainment)? Long commutes be hanged. Did they think that comments like theirs wouldn't get back to me?! Discouraging attitudes like that I will definitely not miss.
In answering my friend the other day, I know I'm not sad to leave London because I don't regret coming here. If I hadn't have come to London, I know I wouldn't have been as qualified for my new role in New York. The challenges I've faced here have made me curse, cry and generally be a complete grouch at times, but I am glad I dealt with them. For six months I have done a job that I've loved, and worked with an amazing bunch of people. I'll certainly be sad to leave them - but for now I feel ready to skip back across the pond and see what the Big Apple has in store for me.
Let's start with a well-ventilated public transport system, and go baby steps from there.