So, I’ve arrived. I am in the belly of the beast, in the Great Babylon, Europe’s Gomorrah. I have made it to London.
My flight to London was via Copenhagen, and as I boarded, I was greeted by the sight of Danes, redheaded and sincere, eating dry crackers. It made me happy. In another life, I’d be moving to Denmark, but not in this life. I squeezed into my seat. I’m now heavier than I was before the Camino and I’m really very close to needing to book a second seat on planes. My body was oozing and rolling into the seat next to mine and I had to twist my arms to the front to stop my elbows brushing the nipples of the passengers on either side of me. Please God let me lose weight in London.
I like flying. I like daydreaming on a flight. I love the feeling of being disconnected from the planet. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.
So as I flew, I imagined my life in London. And my imagination truly took flight. What if I didn’t go to my hostel? What if I didn’t look for a job in a school? I imagined meeting a young man online as soon as I arrived in the city. We’d spend a night of passion together. He’d ask me about my plans and I’d tell him that I didn’t have any. That I didn’t have a job and that I’d moved to London to be a writer and to make my name. And then the man would turn out to be massively wealthy. He’d offer to pay me to live in his house and be his sex slave. He’d go off to work every day and I’d stay at home writing. I might do some light cleaning in the nude for him. And he’d have a band of perverted friends and I’d get a bonus for “serving” them too. His big swanky job would turn out to be in publishing and he’d make me famous and my thrilling past as a sexworker would be revealed in the Daily Mail a year or so later.
I presume all of you more or less think of the same stuff when you’re flying.
My second flight was late and I arrived in Gatwick at 7:00 pm. It was already dark and I had something to eat at the airport, a bit nervous to face the city yet.
The woman at the airport information desk was remarkably unhelpful, but I managed to squeeze the information out of her that a train to London would be cheaper than a bus. I bought my train ticket. The maps were all confusing and London has a lot of stations. I couldn’t figure out which one to go to. I know that grown-up travellers would figure out where in London they were going to go and calculate which station was best and how they’d get from the station to your final destination. I didn’t bother. There was a train to London Bridge and I was 90% sure that London Bridge was in London, so I got onto that. Everything else could work itself out.
My phone started hopping on the train. London is FULL of perverts. It’s wonderful. I started chatting to three men on Growlr and two on Grindr and they kept me entertained all the way to London. They’d start each conversation with “How are you?” and I answered each with “I’m so excited. This is my first night in London. I’ve just moved here!”I charmed them with my naïveté. They offered advice and said filthy things to me and told me what I’d need to do to get the underground from London Bridge to my hostel. Pervs are so useful.
I bought an Oyster Card and got the Tube to Notting Hill. I couldn’t stop smiling for the entire Tube journey. I was smiling for four reasons:
- I’d done it! I’d made a ridiculous plan and actually followed through on it. I’d come to London.
- Men wanted me. My phone was still buzzing with compliments.
- People were wearing weird clothes. I’ve loved weird clothes for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I love university campuses. I was fascinated (and terrified) by punks with multicoloured mohicans that you would very occasionally see in 1980s Ireland when I was a child. And I’m still drawn to earth mothers in giant flowing robes, to extravagantly-sparkly homosexuals, to drag queens and transvestites, to punks and goths, to monks and hen parties. London is full of all of these. There were men with funny hats on the Tube, people with unnecessary braces and lots of other idiosyncratic dressers, including a man in neon-turquoise shorts and a white trench coat and nothing else.
- I love the anonymity a big city provides. In my village in Longford, I used to regularly get a flyer for Slimming World stuck under the windscreen wiper of my car, when none of the other cars in the village would. Because there is no anonymity in a village and the woman from Slimming World knew which cars to target. In London, no one knows who owns which car.
I was smiling so hard on the Tube that a girl caught my eyes and smiled back. And they say London is an unfriendly place!
My long-term hostel didn’t have a bed till Thursday, so I was spending my first night in a regular hostel nearby. The hostel was very rundown. It felt dirty. I went into the toilet and turned around and came straight back out and decided to just hold it in until the following day. That’s how dirty it was. Too dirty to pee in.
I didn’t sleep a wink. I continued to get messages from men throughout the night, including one from a man who was very excited that I was only 600 metres away and wanted me to call over “right now”. The hostel may have been dirty, but I was already in bed at this stage, and I’d climbed four flights of stairs with my suitcase. I wasn’t going on any booty calls.
I left the hostel the next morning and found my actual hostel. My room wasn’t ready, so I left my suitcase there and went to find something to eat.
Before I left for London, I’d sent out seven or eight CVs to schools I had vague connections to. I had an interview at 2:45 that day. The school is super-super swanky.
The interview took ages, but I walked out with a job and I was starting the following day. They’ve already given me a company email address and a two-hour induction, so they clearly expect me to hang around for a while. I did a full day on Friday and am doing half-days every day next week, which is pretty much exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t have landed more on my feet. Who moves to a city and gets a job the next day?
I went back to the hostel. It’s hard to describe. It’s a cross between a regular youth hostel and an old-fashioned student residence. It feels very solid. And it’s cleaned regularly. The toilets and showers are very cramped, and were clearly put in sometime in the 1970s, so they are broken in parts, but they’re clean.
I went to bed early as I hadn’t slept the previous night, but was still too excited to sleep. I’m like a child at Christmas. Who gets too excited for sleep two nights in a row? I’m sharing my room with another guy. He came in at 2:00 am but I pretended to be asleep. When I got up to iron my shirt before work at 6:30 am in the building’s laundry room, he was fast asleep.
I went to work. For the last two years I’ve only done teacher training and no actual teaching. The only English classes I’ve actually taught are demo lessons for trainee teachers to watch. I’d forgotten what it’s like to teach a class and not be observed by trainees. I got an evil thrill as I closed the door. It was just me and the students. Teaching is tough, but it’s a lot easier when you’re not on display.
And the school gives free cooked lunches to teachers. So now I get breakfast and dinner as part of the deal with the hostel and lunch at school. I don’t need to ever spend money on food again. Which is lucky, given that I’ve already run out of money.
I arrived back to the hostel exhausted. Two nights without sleep had drained me. I had taught from 9:00 to 2:00 and been at induction from 3:00 to 5:00. I fell onto my bed. I was semi-comatose when I finally actually met my roommate. I can’t remember if we told each other our names, but I know we didn’t talk for very long. I know he shaved his face, neck and shoulders before he went out for the night though.
I’m now sitting in a cafe where I’ve been all day, catching up on my online work and doing some writing (at last!) and now I’ve set aside some time to answer at least some of the nearly a hundred (LITERALLY NEARLY A HUNDRED) strange men who’ve messaged since I arrived in London. And tomorrow I’m going to do some free toursit-y stuff, if I haven’t got swept away in another adventure in the meantime.
It’s all good.