What choices have led me here? Seriously, I mean, I’m loving life, but it really is deeply, profoundly ridiculous.
Last Friday, I finally snapped and booked into a new hostel. I had literally met one of my hostelmates from the last hostel begging on the streets. I had seen one of my roommates walk into a shower cubicle and pissing in it without closing the door and then rinsing the shower tray off quickly before leaving for work unapologetically. The whole place smelled. The toilets were vile. I’d been there for over a week and other than changing the sheets for new guests, no one had cleaned our room. There were crusty old toenail clippings on the carpet, mysterious stains on the wall and a feeling of doom in the air.
I booked a hostel with my UK credit card. My December pay had run out at this stage. I now have four bank accounts, and all of them had minus in front of them. My Irish current account had about minus ten euros, my Irish loan account about minus twelve thousand, my UK current account has minus seven hundred and fifty nine pounds (with an overdraft limit of 750) and my UK credit card had minus 860 (with a limit of 900).
But it would be fine. I was getting paid “early” this week. I had 40 pounds left on my credit card. What could possibly go wrong?
I arrived at the hostel and my card didn’t work. The transaction kept getting declined. The hostel worker was so embarrassed. I know I’m the one who’s meant to be embarrassed, but having a card declined is something I’m so used to that I just smiled at him as he blushed and squirmed. I gathered my things. It was already night time. I tried the card in a few ATM machines. I had 40 pounds of credit available, but the bank just wouldn’t give it to me. I messaged a friend and asked for a loan. This poor friend has the misfortune to have an account at the same bank as me and so she can make pretty much instant transfers to me. She should really change bank.
I returned victorious to the hostel, cash in hand and secured a bottom bunk. This hostel is so nice. The beds are solid, the rooms are spotlessly clean, the toilets are all new and very frequently cleaned. Other than a hostel I once stayed in in Helsinki, when I was 21 and convinced that all I needed to do to get a job in Finland was turn up there, this is by far the nicest hostel I have ever been in.
It even has a comfortable workspace so I don’t have to keep finding cafes to get my online work done. It’s perfect. In spite of the fact that there is an elderly German man who wakes me at about 4:00 am every morning by grabbing my leg to stop me snoring. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being woken by a stranger’s touch.
All was well and good, except being paid “early” in the week turned out to be today, Wednesday. And except for the fact that my laptop cable stopped working and I had to buy an off-brand “Apple” charger. So, my friend’s loan didn’t last as long as I expected. I got my payslip yesterday, so I knew the money had been transferred into my account, but it wasn’t there yet. I didn’t have the money to stay last night, so I checked out of the hostel. I left my suitcase in the store room, telling them I’d be back “later” to collect it. The money would be in my account by midnight and I could check back in then. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be like Connor. Don’t.
It was a chilly evening and once the cafes had closed, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I still couldn’t pay for my hostel. I got the Tube to the school where I work. I have a set of keys because I work there in the evenings and so I often have to lock up. I could hang out there. I sat in the office and did some online work and then watched a little TV online. I wasn’t in a great mood. I’m juggling money all the time and I had been counting on starting a full-time job next week. It was a job I was very qualified for and the CEO had recommended me to the interview team. But yesterday afternoon, as I was sitting in school, reflecting on my homelessness, I got an email to tell me that I didn’t have the job. It was a double blow, because I’d also been depending on the job for a place to live, as I’d asked about being housed in their student accommodation and they’d been very open to the idea. A full-time job and decent accommodation in a bedroom all of my own! The email told me that the interview panel felt I was overqualified for the job and that it didn’t fit in with my career goals. I replied “Hi _______, Thanks for letting me know. It was great to meet you. Keep your fingers crossed for me! Regards, Connor.” By “Keep your fingers crossed for me!” I actually meant “Why have you ruined my life?” I always forget how passive aggressive I can be until something like that happens.
I know that when I’m paid a salary in Ireland, it hits my bank account between fourteen and seventeen minutes past midnight. I googled to see what time it would happen here. According to various different sites, HSBC releases salary payments between midnight and 1:00 am, or between 1:00 and 2:00 am, or, according to one website, between 6:00 and 9:00 am. (It is a comfort to see how many other people have checked this and written on message boards about it. I am not actually the most disastrous person in the world.) I crossed my fingers and hoped the first time written was correct.
Once eleven o’clock came, I started to worry. I really had to set the alarm in school. The school is one of those workplaces with lots of systems and I’m sure my boss would get a text if the alarm wasn’t set. I had images of the whole management of the school bursting in to find me curled up on the office floor watching teen dramas on my phone in the middle of the night.
I set the alarm, locked up and set off.
I didn’t have enough money for the Tube, but I didn’t really have anywhere to go anyway. Google Maps told me that it would take me an hour and a half to walk to Earl’s Court, where my hostel is. Perfect! My money was bound to have landed by then.
As I walked, all my problems flew away. Google Maps was taking me to bits of London I’d never been to before. (I know. I have lived here three months. When I tell you about these places I’ve never seen, you won’t really be able to believe it.) I was taken along Shaftesbury Avenue. I loved it! Besides its pleasingly coital name, it’s a stunning street. There were a few late night partiers out and about, but it was quiet and everywhere was clearly winding down for the night. The street has some of the biggest West End theatres and I stopped and gazed up at every theatre in excitement, thinking about all the shows Future Connor will see. There were also fancy cinemas and theme restaurants and extravagant shopfronts and expensive hotels. I felt like Kevin in Home Alone 2 exploring New York. Everything here is so big and so bright and so thrilling. The street also has lots of Chinese restaurants decked out with lanterns and decorations to celebrate Chinese New Year, which Koreans and Vietnamese people are always appalled to hear is what we call it here.
I continued on to broad streets, alongside massive marble war monuments and exuberant symbols of the colonial past, passing Hyde Park. At this stage, I wasn’t so much in Home Alone, as I was Katniss in the Capital in the Hunger Games. This is an extraordinary and, in many ways, cruel place. I went under the road through scary pedestrian underpasses, where the homeless were getting their sleeping bags ready and I thought about what it would be like to be one of them. I walked on.
In the last two weeks, I have discovered that I might be a My Chemical Romance fan, which is a bizarre thing for a 35-year-old in 2017 to discover. I’ve been listening to Welcome to the Black Parade on repeat every day since Christmas. If you’ve never walked down Knightsbridge, past the phenomenal Victoria and Albert Museum building, while singing about joining the Black Parade at 1:00 am on a Tuesday night, then you haven’t lived. I was electric. I was on a high. I presume it was just adrenaline, from stress. I’d been checking my bank account obsessively on my phone as I walked and it was still stuck at minus seven hundred and fifty nine pounds. But I genuinely didn’t care. I was King of the World. I owned London. I really did feel extraordinarily happy.
What would happen if the internet’s prediction that HSBC wouldn’t release my pay until 6:00 am was correct? Would the hostel let me take a bed at that hour? Or would I have to wait until 2:00 pm when new guests are allowed to move in? Would I get enough sleep? I’m working today from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm. I couldn’t work until 9:30 pm without any sleep.
I got on Growlr and Grindr and started chatting to a few men, but no one seemed to be enthusiastic and awake and within walking distance for me to use sex as an excuse for somewhere to stay the night.
At about 1:35 am, when I was 0.8 miles from my hostel according to Google Maps, the pay hit my account. Hurrah! It wasn’t anything as much as I expected, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t homeless!
I walked to my hostel and checked in, paying up until the weekend. It was late and the receptionist was suspicious of me, especially when I said that my suitcase was already there. I got a room where I was the only one there. Someone else moved in this morning, but it was amazing to have it for a night just for me. I’ve never been so grateful for a bed.
I’ve spent today writing to various people looking for work. I think it will be OK. I have leads. I have work in the pipeline. I just wish it was all sorted. Another month of precariousness follows. By March, everything will be normal.
Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me!