Snakes and Ladders

I write this while alone in my hostel bedroom. My Italian roommate moved out this morning, into a single room (because I am the one who is annoying!) and now I am awaiting whatever new horrors/wonders are in store with my next roommate. I’m thirty-five years old and I have a PhD, and I’m currently speculating about the identity of the 22-year-old whose snores I’ll hear and whose socks I’ll smell for the next week.

I left you last, still excited about London but in a financial crisis. I can report that I continue to be excited and I continue to be in a financial crisis.

I have only gone to bed without dinner three times, which is good going. I was invited for dinner by an old friend from college who now lives in London on Sunday night. I had planned on not visiting anyone I knew in London until I could at least afford to bring a bottle of wine with me, because I still have some aspirations of adulthood, but it was not to be. I needed dinner and he was offering dinner.

I had spent my first two London weekends getting the Tube to St. Paul’s and sitting downstairs in Caffè Nero there, writing and feeling that this was the life I’d dreamed of. Last weekend, I couldn’t afford the Tube and I couldn’t afford to go to cafes. I spent a pleasant Saturday, exploring Notting Hill and browsing in bookshops. Sunday was a different story. I was tired. Being without transport meant that I had been walking a lot more than I was used to. And I knew I’d have a long walk to my friend’s house. So I took it easy in my room for most of the day. I like lazy Sundays. But I don’t like them that much when my roommate is there too. He was hungover and grumpy. In the morning, his alarm rang for 28 minutes before he woke up and turned it off. The alarm ringing was annoying, but nothing as annoying as listening to him boring on about economics. He eventually woke and spent the day vaping lots and watching Donald Trump speeches on his laptop. (He told me he would have voted for Trump, but then so did my mother so I can’t be too outraged.) It wouldn’t even occur to me to watch TV on my laptop without using headphones if there was someone else in the room. Not this guy.

I spent some time in the toilet, just so I could be alone.

I left home to walk to my friend’s place on Sunday evening, which took me a fair while. I really am very slow at walking. But if you’re going to walk somewhere, walk in London. Every day here feels like you’re on TV and there’s always something to look at. I know you’re not meant to think this, but I’m happier wandering around the streets of London than I was the hills of Northern Spain. I walked through posh parks where I saw, among other things, a man literally running while pushing a pram, presumably with a baby in it. I pictured him hitting a stone and the baby going flying and was worried I might have to perform some kind of emergency medical care, à la Brian Blessed. I also saw a man trying to affix a Syrian flag to the wall of the Russian embassy, but he didn’t have any nails or thumb tacks, or even blu-tac, so in the end he gave up. I love London.

This was a friend who I hadn’t met in at least 8 years. It was great. He may be younger than me, but he has a lovely flat and a good job and a charming fiancée and he doesn’t have to share his cutlery with a thousand other people and he’s doing all the things my mother wishes I was doing. In fact, my mother and his mother are friends and my parents were the first people to ever give his parents a stir fry. I come from a long line of trendsetters.

I had a lovely dinner, and we talked about London and how awesome it is, even if you’re broke. They told me that my London blogs reflected what everyone feels when they arrive in London because it’s the same for everyone, which I have to admit made me laugh because I’ve mainly been blogging about letting perverted men do nasty, nasty things to me and I don’t think that reflects either of their experience.

They took pity on me and I didn’t have to walk home in the middle of the night and called an Uber for me and it was my first time in a car since I arrived in London.

On Monday evening I met another friend from college for a coffee in King’s Cross Station, where I discovered that the Harry Potter shop at Platform 9 3/4 has a whole Slytherin section. Who buys Slytherin shirts? They’re literally modelled on the Nazis.

Anyway, my friend and I had tea and set the world to rights and I went home to my Italian roommate who managed to endear himself to me by lending me enough money to do my laundry. I had already worn the same shirt to work twice without washing it, and was nearing the point where re-using underpants was also on the agenda. It was probably for his own good as much as mine that I washed my clothes. He also kindly gave me £6 for the Tube. Excellent. I could get to work on time and I could get to the hotel to meet my next man the following night.

“My next man” – what have I become?

Tuesday was a long day at work, but at least my clothes were clean. I’m getting more and more hours now and once I really start getting paid things will be fine. They will. On Tuesday, they weren’t. Somehow, the machine didn’t register my Oyster card when I tagged off on arrival at work and I found myself with a minus credit on my card. No more Tube rides for me. Uh-oh!

After work, I had an appointment at a Job Centre to get a National Insurance number. My man had already arrived from Birmingham and was already showering in the hotel while I queued there. He had What’s Apped me a bajillion times to check if I was really coming and to make sure I wasn’t just going to disappear. I guess he had driven over a hundred miles to see me.

It took me a long time to get seen at the Job Centre. Eventually, I was interviewed by a middle-aged man who looked like he had given up on life. I imagine at one stage in his life he used to laugh, but not any more. He questioned me about my intentions – was I going to claim benefits? Was I going to find a job? I already had found a job, and had told him this, but he ploughed on with his list of suspicious questions nevertheless.

I was very late to meet my man by the time I got out of the Job Centre. Google Maps said I was a two-hour walk from him. In Connor time, that meant at least three hours. I was also over two hours from home.

However, I had a crafty plan. Every time I checked directions anywhere, Google told me that my first Uber ride would be free once I downloaded the app. It was time to download. Except I couldn’t. I can’t download free apps, because iTunes knows that my debit card is useless because there’s now minus four hundred and six euros in my account. That’s right. Minus four hundred and six, so iTunes is useless to me. No new apps. No free Uber.

I do have the Hailo taxi app. I decided to try that, but it refused me because my card was once again rejected. OK. I could fix this. I texted my sister and asked for her card number. Yay! I could get a taxi on her card! I wasn’t stranded at the Job Centre after all.

I got the ridiculously expensive taxi to the hotel, where my man was pleasantly surprised to see me. I’m getting better with men. I’m way more confident. I’ve been on a bit of a journey since I got here, each successive man has offered something better than the last. There was the Italian who had invited me for Netflix and a cuddle on my first weekend in London, a gentle introduction. This was followed by my passionate older Argentinian who taken me back to his and his boyfriend’s bed and had then wetly and dramatically kissed me on the platform of the train station and who still won’t stop texting me. Then there was the sweet young musician in a hotel who had turned my heart all toasty and my brain all mushy. And now, here I was about to have my best night yet in London with a man from somewhere  outside Birmingham.

As I said to my friend in a message the next day, it’s as if I’m on a “sex ladder” (Trademark pending).

He was yet another man in an open relationship. It’s way more common than I thought. At one stage, his wedding ring got caught on one of my nipple piercings, which is something I would be willing to bet has never happened to any of you, dear readers.

I won’t say much, as it was a very smutty, perverted night, but if you get me drunk, I’ll happily recount all the dirty details. Suffice it to say that he found a button in my brain that I didn’t know was there. I felt things I’ve never felt before, in places I’ve never felt them.

We spent the whole night together, sleeping in the same bed, the first time I’ve done that since my man of 2007. I know how weird that is. But progress is progress.

I left the hotel the next morning, my head still full of the night before. I felt sexy all day long, occasionally giving my nipples a quick tweak when no one was looking. I don’t usually get this excited.

On the downside, I still didn’t have money and I was a two-hour walk from work that morning. I really need to make my men book hotels for me that are in Zone 1. I had figured out how to register and top up my Oyster card online and I used my sister’s credit card again to do this. Tragically, the system doesn’t update automatically. I had to wait 24 hours to activate the top-up. I threw myself on the mercy of the Tube station staff. They didn’t care.

I couldn’t get another expensive taxi on my sister’s card. I messaged another friend (telling her about my sex ladder) and asked her for her card details. I now have three people’s cards stored on my Hailo app. I’m a terrible person.

I made it to work on time. Just.

That afternoon, I had my appointment to open a bank account. The bank is across the road from the school where I work. The nice woman in the bank asked me forty-six thousand questions and tapped them all into the computer. She then announced that I’d been approved for £1650 of credit. I hadn’t even asked for an overdraft and here was Jesus Himself, disguised as a nice HSBC woman, offering me credit. We were seconds from setting it all up when we hit a snag. The address on their system was in a different format from the address on the proof of address my employers had given me. She said that legally she couldn’t accept it and I’d have to get a new one before we could sign anything. Hope is a bitch.

She sent me back to work, and told me if I could bring her a new letter before 3:30 pm (i.e. in seven minutes) that we could sign off on everything and open the account immediately. I have never moved as fast. The entire managerial and administrative staff at school were pressed into service. I have discovered that being Irish in an English workplace is great, because being Irish is in itself considered a personality trait here. I smile and someone will say “Irish eyes are smiling”, I ask about a class register and they all attempt their Irish/pirate accent to say registerrrrr, and tell me how merry I am and how soothing my gentle accent is, and how beautiful Ireland is and how they once went there on holidays and they get misty-eyed and happy. I literally don’t have to do anything to be liked.

One colleague went to get official headed paper for the printer, while another ran to get the school stamp. I dictated a new letter to my boss, who bravely tried to spell my surname without help. I ran back across the street, waving the letter to dry it, getting to the bank at 3:31. The nice HSBC lady said there was no way she could see me and we’d have to make an appointment for next week. I protested, but it was to no avail. It was just too late.

I will get my hands on that juicy credit late next week.

At least I had my Tube top-up so I wouldn’t have to walk to work. Or at least I thought I did. To activate the top-up, I had to go to the station I had requested it for i.e. Gunnersbury, which was the nearest one to where I had stayed in a hotel. I spent Thursday travelling out there with money I had borrowed from a new colleague, in order to activate the card and get the £15 of my sister’s that I had put on my Oyster card. The journey would cost £7, but that was still a profit of £8.

Because Connor’s life is ridiculous, the scanning machine wasn’t working on the way back at Gunnersbury, so I was fined £7 for not tagging in, so the £15 top-up, less the travel to activate it (£7) and the fine (£7)  worked out at £1. I’m sure I’ll get a refund. Probably.

Anyway, I got a friend to Western Union money to me so I could afford my rent and Tube this week until my lovely credit arrives. And I’ve promised myself I’ll be famous by summer 2017. I’ll have broken London by then. I’m sure of it.



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