Look! I have a new header! What do you think? Let’s admit I am not at all a designer but I like it for now. Also I’m messing with the theme again. I thought WordPress themes were supposed to make designing your blog a breeze, but it was way easier to get what I wanted back in ye olden days of hardcoding HTML. I might actually have to learn how to do this for myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about London and what it was like when I first moved there. It’s only natural, really, considering the similarities to what I’m doing now: the big move to a whole new country, trying to find my feet in a strange place. But the situation, obviously, was quite different. And as I’m unpacking all of our things, I find myself thinking fondly of the flat I lived in, and how clean and uncluttered it was. Then I saw Compass‘s new project Starter Stories, and got all inspired to tell you about it. Compass is a new real estate service (currently in NYC and DC) that helps people find the perfect neighbourhood to call home, based on interest and personality. It’s a great idea, and exactly what you need when making a fresh start in a new place. How else are you to know where you would llke to live? Well actually, in my case my boss chose it for me. Lord knows I would never have had the guts to do it without any help. But if the Mighty Aphrodite isn’t around (truly, her name was Aphrodite) then Compass’s service is the next best thing.
Let’s see. It was May of 2001, almost 14 years (!!!) ago. I was going over to our London office, to help out on a project. The plan was for me to be there for four months, so my UK boss had organised a serviced apartment for me. It was all very exciting and unknown. My husband wasn’t coming, he had his own work, so we were talking about him coming over for a holiday towards the end.
(Actually, I don’t really remember much of my thought process back then. Shouldn’t it have been more of a thing to leave him behind than I’m remembering it? I don’t know. I do know he was acting oddly about it for a few months, and then just before I left he said he didn’t want to be married anymore.)
So I turned up in London, feeling a bit shellshocked, to this flat. I had pictured something tall, and characterful, all white architraves and molded doors, in a converted Georgian house maybe, in Notting Hill. Overlooking the river. (Don’t bother looking at a map. I know.) You know, like you always saw in the movies. My flat was the exact opposite. It was plain and boxy, in a nondescript building surrounded by offices. This was the view I had if I hung out my living room window:
And this is what was directly opposite. When I first walked in I had no fucking idea what I was looking at, because I was jetlagged and the windows opposite were all mirrored and reflected my building back at me.
I don’t mind telling you, I fell apart right then. I thought, oh shit, what have I done? But, I grew to love that flat. It was my hidey hole. I would get up in the morning and walk the 15 minutes to work near London Wall, past Roman ruins and streets with strange names. Cheapside, Poultry, Mansion House. Bread Street was opposite Milk Street. St Paul’s Cathedral was just there. And at the end of the day I would walk back home, stopping at the Tesco Metro at Bank tube station for pasta or a ready meal, and be home by five thirty. I would have dinner on one of my four plates and spend the evening drinking tea out of those strange little cups they always put in serviced apartments. Then I would watch TV, or read, or listen to music. I had no internet connection, no smart phone or Facebook. All I could do was curl up and look after myself, and thaat was what I did.
And the flat, it was perfect for it. It was bland, and plain, but it was exactly what I needed. Going clockwise from the door, it had a bathroom, bedroom, lounge, kitchen. This is the view of the lounge from the window, looking towards the kitchen.
And back the other way. Note the beech laminate, the sturdy blue upholstery. Excuse the poor photography, my camera had 1.6 whole megapixels and not a lot in the way of settings.
I moved stuff around a bit, putting the table near the window so’s I could sit and “enjoy” the “view” while “writing”. I got a friend to help me carry the TV in from the bedroom, otherwise I would never have got off the bed.
The kitchen was tiny, just an alcove really. The fridge is to the left and the cupboard under the kettle is actually the washing machine. Really giving me four of everything (plus two saucepans and a frypan) pretty much filled it up.
Aw, but I loved it. And this is the bathroom.
The bedroom was only just big enough for a double bed and a tallboy dresser, and continued the beech-and-blue decor.
Just looking at these photos now, I am flooded with nostalgia. Everything was plain, basic, cut down. It was exactly what I needed; a blank slate. There was nothing around me of my old life, everything had been left behind. I was unencumbered, truly a whole new start. I had to put my whole life back together again, and there was nothing from the old cluttering it up. No wonder I’m so envious of it right now! I had no bills, as everything was included. The flat wasn’t mine so I didn’t have to worry about maintenance or decorating. It was a complete holiday from being a grownup. All I had to do was feed myself and keep the flat clean (because the “serviced” bit was a misnomer). I had an expense allowance from work, and I bought a few books that caught my eye, a vase, a smelly candle. It was so lovely to be able to do that without feeling guilty or weighed down by something I already owned.
On weekends, I would venture out to explore, museums or art galleries, or Oxford Street or Hyde Park. Remember how dismissive I was at the start about the crappy location surrounded by office buildings? Well, no. It was in Monument Street, which is the site of where the great fire of London started. This was the view when I headed off to work each morning:
Monument Street is right near London Bridge. I mightn’t have had that view over the river but it was right there, and I would walk along on weekends, up to St Paul’s, across the wobbly bridge to the Tate Modern (sometimes going in), down the south side to cross over Tower Bridge and then back past all the history. The City of London is so different on weekends, empty of people and full of tiny windy lanes. You can turn any corner and find something of breathtaking beauty and history and age.
St Dunstan in the East
I ended up living in Monument Street for seven months. My four-month project got extended, then I went back to Melbourne for three months to sell my house and pack up my stuff. Then work transferred me to London for two more years, which actually ended up being five and a half. I lived in a couple of lovely places, but that first flat, the one where I rebuilt my life and found me, that will always be my special place.