I’m still not used to living in London. I know I’ll actually fit in when I know which one is Walford and which one is Watford. One is a real place in the London commuter belt and the other is the fictional London borough where Eastenders is set. And I’m buggered if I can remember which is which.
I am starting to feel more of a Londoner now. I have now three times successfully given directions to lost tourists (to the British Museum, to Kensington Station and to McDonalds) and only once sent a tourist the wrong way (they’re probably still wandering around Hyde Park looking for Portobello Market). I’m also feeling like a local because I (usually) know how to behave on the Tube. I saw someone I half-knew on a train the other day, and averted my eyes and pretended not to see him, as is the custom in these parts.
I’m getting to be a pro at commuting on the Central Line. And I’m kind of surprised at myself. As I’ve written before, I’m a total scaredy cat who is completely preoccupied with death. I imagine myself dying at least eight times a day. And more than that when I’m in unfamiliar situations. I can’t walk down a set of stairs without imagining falling down them and breaking my neck and/or crushing my skull. I stupidly once read a statistic that most deaths on stairs happen when the stairs have no bannister and now I don’t walk down or up stairs unless I can reach a bannister. As a commuter, an unwillingness to walk in the middle of stairs doesn’t make for the quickest time getting into or out of crowded underground stations. Then there’s my fear of trains. My mother instilled a fear of falling onto the tracks in me at a young age when we were waiting in Kent Station waiting for my grandad to visit from Dundalk. I haven’t forgotten it. And bloody Kevin Spacey didn’t help when he pushed that poor girl-reporter in front of a train in House of Cards. I’ve been here for well over a month now and I cannot stand on a platform with imagining either falling or being pushed onto the tracks. Sometimes I imagine falling and trying to get back up onto the platform and being just too late. Other times I imagine falling onto the tracks just as the train approaches. In all the scenarios, I die. Horribly. I keep remembering the weekend I visited my friend in Paris when I got a dead leg and fell over beside the Seine and was luckily facing away from the river, so just fell on the ground. If I’d fallen into the river my poor friend would have been fishing my body out of the Seine and shipping my sodden remains back to Ballincollig. And I don’t just imagine falling in front of a train. There’s always the possibility of getting your arm or your foot or your backpack caught in the train door and being dragged alongside the train and my body has been ripped to shreds by the time we pull up in Queensway. Similarly, what if I don’t mind the gap enough and get my foot caught between the train and the platform? And that’s before we even start thinking about the terrorists. It’s exhausting living in my brain. I blame Kevin Spacey and my mother.
Anyway, I behave differently from other commuters. Some of them just step out of a train and turn left or right. I get out of a train, walk straight ahead until I’m as far away from the train as possible and then I turn left or right. I also don’t run for a train that I see standing there. I’m happy to miss it. Every time I see someone running towards a train standing on a platform, I ask myself if they would run towards a lion or a tiger as fast. A train is a much more effective killing machine than most animals and running at it is just nuts.
As I said earlier, I am getting better at commuting in spite of all this. I need to be at Holburn station by about 8:40 am most mornings. This means I need to be on a train from Notting Hill by about 8:25ish. The central line at 8:25ish is as crowded as trains get. It’s an intimate experience. Though of course, it’s England, so you don’t acknowledge the fact that you’re nestled in a nice lady’s armpit and you pretend you’re not even touching. I don’t quite have the etiquette of total silence down. I still say “sorry” every time I bump into someone. It’s genetic. I can’t not say it. I listen to podcasts as I travel around London and I made the mistake of listening to My Brother, My Brother and Me one busy Tuesday morning and breaking down and laughing in the face of a business woman with quite severe eyes. There was nowhere else to laugh and I couldn’t help it.
And one morning there were truly unusual crowds. I misjudged the space left in the carriage and I got my foot in but as I put my second foot on the train, the crowd on the train repulsed me and I felt myself falling backwards. All my fears realised. Luckily, I managed to get one foot down onto the platform and another commuter put out a hand and I didn’t fall into the dreaded gap to be crushed to death. When you google “Connor O’Donoghue” (which I only do about twice or three times a week), you find a 2013 story about a dead London teenager called Conor O’Donoghue. I don’t want to be the second dead London Con(n)or O’Donoghue.
It is a nice short commute though. I kind of dread finding a place of my own, though it’s also all I ever think about too. Hostel life has its ups and downs. I am turning institutionalised. I get one meal a day at work and two in the hostel. In the work canteen they have a large water fountain and another one with diluted orange and one with diluted blackcurrant. I’m developing a Ribena addiction as a result.
To lighten the bleakness of hostel life, I frequently go to the toilet in a hotel near work called The Hoxton. It has truly lovely regularly-cleaned toilets, with nice soft toilet paper and a relaxing aura. Much better than having a grim, industrial poo in my hostel.
As soon as my bank account was opened and I had access to that juicy overdraft, I moved into a single room in the hostel. It’s only a little more expensive and it has added a lot to my quality of life. My final roommate in my twin room, after the grumpy and chatty vaping Italian moved out, was a shy, short, muscular Uzbek film editor who wore long-johns day and night. He was thoroughly charming.
But now I have a room of my own and I decide when the light gets turned on and off. It’s good.
The coming of the overdraft was very welcome, though my bank cards got lost in the post, so I’m in the bank basically every day.
I’ve been buying small things for myself. I still can’t afford very much. Everything is on credit and I’m so, so, so behind on my Irish finances. I might actually be barred from leaving the country when I go home at Christmas.
But I did buy a selfie stick and a London guidebook. I’ve still basically seen nothing. Like I can’t be in London for six weeks and not have seen Big Ben. I sometimes tell people I’ve been there, because, like how haven’t I? So I’m going to see everything soon, honest.
I also went to buy jeans. Buying jeans in Ireland is a production. If you remember, the last time I attempted to buy jeans in Ireland, in July, both of the big men’s shops in Dublin had run out of jeans in my size and I had to buy slacks. They cost eighty euros. It’s such a different story here. I walked into a shop on Edgware Road (or possibly “on the Edgware Road” – I don’t know yet. I’m still foreign.) and the man just handed me a pair of 58-inch jeans and told me they were available in four different colours. This is a different world. They fit me well and wait for it: they only cost £28. I mean, that’s thin people prices. The shop itself was hilarious. The fat men’s shops in Dublin are full of middle-aged and elderly obese farmers, up from the country for the day, with wives deciding what they’ll buy. In London, the same shops have big confident black and middle Eastern men and not a grumpy farmer in evidence.
I love London. I love it because everything is available. Like jeans in my size and men who want to do filthy things to me, but also for small things. It’s a city full of references. I went to Mile End Tube Station once, not because I needed to go to Mile End, but because there’s a Pulp song from the 90s called Mile End, and teenage Connor was absolutely obsessed with Pulp. So I went to Mile End. Because 16-year-old me would have wanted me to.
And I find myself delighted by the smallest things, like seeing men in suits that fit them. They just look so good. And I’m sure that any Londoner who can afford specially-tailored suits is probably a dick, but they just look so good. I don’t want to generalise about my native land, but Irish men’s suits just don’t fit them.
And then there was the day I went into Lush on Oxford Street and I realised that it wasn’t like the Lush shops I knew from Ireland. This Lush was 3 storeys high. Three storeys. I started crying while browsing the face masks. I’m not a hundred percent sure why. But I was just so happy. I’ve always liked Lush. I guess it comes down to clothes. When you have to spend all day in fat people’s clothes, dull and baggy and ill-fitting and horrid, looking so heterosexual that it hurts, at least you can comfort yourself with a little sparkle in your shower gel and your deodorant and your lip balm. At least you can put that much gay on. Even if you then have to shroud it in ugly. And in the last year or two, I haven’t been able to afford Lush products, but Lush always represented possibility to me. I know, I’m the ultimate victim of capitalism, marrying a brand like that, but I believe in the sparkle and the colour of Lush and the idea that I was now living somewhere where there was a three-storey Lush, with an actual Lush spa just made me so happy.
And the happiness is paying off. I screwed up my courage and sent my Camino book off. And I sent the first two chapters of my young adult novel to a friend and actually let someone read them. Because this is real. I’m doing this. I’m actually writing.
And sometimes I can’t contain the excitement. One Monday night, I found myself just so contented deep inside that I danced along the streets of Notting Hill. I don’t dance in public, but I couldn’t help myself.
Work has been tough for the last week or two. I’ve been doing too many hours and I got lumbered with teenage students again. I’m cutting back my hours and I’m looking for freelance work again. The school has been very nice to me, but I’ve moved too far beyond teaching. Some days in the last two weeks, I’ve just got up, gone to school, come home and gone straight to bed. It’s not been pretty. And when everything else is going so well, I’m not going to let the job hold me back.
I’m still working online with two different companies and I’ll be starting teaching on weekend courses again soon, and hopefully I’ll find a way of making a living more creatively soon. I’m actively looking for writing jobs, and I have about a million different projects of my own in mind. I won’t tell you about the various projects I’m cooking up, because if I do, then they definitely won’t happen.
One of my Chinese teenagers asked me the week before last if I thought Harrod’s would be having a Black Friday sale. Every single one of my students is richer than me. I couldn’t afford to go to Harrod’s even on Black Friday. Anyway, I’m not complaining. I can go to Harrod’s when I’m forty. I’m going to make my name soon.
In the mean time, I’ve set up a Patreon account. If you enjoy Project Connor and you’d just like to click on this link, you can make a contribution to my blogging. One dollar a month will make a world of a difference! (Sorry if this is cheeky! No hard feelings if you don’t :))