Friday 23rd June 2017. I graduated from Oxford Brookes University at 3pm in the afternoon. I took photos, stole a bunch of mini scones and headed into town with my family. I then boarded a coach to London in my nice graduation dress, switching my new heels for my favourite beat-up trainers.
A lot of people move to bigger cities after uni – some by accident, some with sincere intent to live a big city life. I didn’t plan on it and wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. Five or six months prior, I had gone for an interview for an internship that was successful and so I was heading to London for at least two months to try that out. I arrived in London on a Friday night and got straight to work on Monday. Even as I moved into London, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay forever but knew that now was the time to try.
It’s been a year since I moved to London – yes I’m still here – and I have a full-time job working on a different team at the company I started interning for last June. I live in a flat share, I have a cinema loyalty card that I don’t use as much as I should (the sign of a true grown up), and I’m staying here. I’m staying in London and I’m staying at my job. I have a set of great friends that also happen to be my colleagues, and have access to so many cool events and things going on in London.
I wanted to write this piece for two reasons – firstly to celebrate my first year in London, and secondly to share some of the things I’ve learned since being here. So let’s get to it!
Being a grownup is exhausting.
The thing about London is that this all sounds really glorious, partly because I’ve written it that way and partly because I’ve totally omitted the countless times I’ve wanted to go home and all the stressed-out evenings and weekends spent fretting over work or social events. London is hella tiring. Very few people live close to where they work and if they do they don’t live near their friends and if they do they don’t live near their family or favourite market or museum etc. London is praised for having everything but if you thought about it logically, you’d realise how much space you’d need to have everything you loved. Everything is spread out and not everything is accessible when you want or need it. It’s very easy to glamourise London and say ‘well it has the best doughnuts and pizza’ which it probably does but you have to actually have the energy to go and get those doughnuts and pizza.
I moved to London and thought to pretty much everything I faced ‘it will get easier’, but I don’t know if it does. It’s not that you’re not used to it, it’s that it’s freaking hard. Travelling with hundreds of other sweaty bodies for hours a day, lugging bags around, working, exercising, enjoying a social life. It’s ridiculous. I had resigned myself to long periods of coming home, showering, cooking and watching a film before going to bed until my laptop broke. Now I watch TV on my Kindle.
The thing is that everyone is the same. I thought my London friends were London people and let me tell you, I think that’s a myth. London isn’t a fictional place where everyone is either a businessman or really super unbelievably cool. First of all, my London friends are all equally shattered and tell me how hard London is, and secondly, it’s a city goddamn it, not a club. Anyone is welcome.
There’s room for everybody.
Everyone is welcome in the Big Gherkin (is that right?). It’s a funny double-edged sword because nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (drags old merch clothing out the wardrobe) but also nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (sits in pile of Gryffindor t-shirts with a sad, hopeless face). I work in an office that deals with a lot of film and television. As expected, my office is filled with merch; we probably keep Funko in business and that’s cool. I had been to an all-girls school which although relatively progressive still separated out the nerds from the rest, and then a university where I didn’t make many friends. I didn’t proudly support things I loved in my possessions and clothing anymore, but I hadn’t realised until I started this job.
My desk has only just started gathering stuff but it’s great. My birthday presents were all cat or feminist related and what more could you want? I frequently wear a Bart Simpson printed shirt to work or jumpers printed with slogans about equality and quotes from Pride and Prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you’re a ‘nerd’ about, it’s all good. Nobody gives a fudge. It’s grand.
I went to a Comic-con for the first time in May and was taken aback at how little people cared that anime girls and Jon Snows were boarding the DLR. Princess Belle in a giant yellow dress? Didn’t notice. It was so nice that I actually got a bit emotional. These people were doing what they wanted and nobody was making fun or questioning them for it. I actually cried when I went to Pride last year too. I’d only been in London for a short while at this point, but here were all these people celebrating and mourning simultaneously with thousands of allies just happy to be around. Everyone was friendly and talking to one another and there was music and glitter and colour and people were allowed to be themselves. What a dream.
I can be myself, whoever that is.
For the first time in years, I haven’t even considered dieting or getting fit to lose weight. Why you ask? Because I don’t care. Because nobody else cares. I had to stop wearing makeup earlier this year because my skin went to pot and although I started my internship wearing a full face of makeup every day, I have not worn makeup to work in at least a month or two. Nobody cares. It’s a great thing to embrace. Share what you love, talk about your passions.
*I know I should’ve started this article with the disclaimer that I know I’ve been pretty lucky getting a job where I work and very occasionally being able to afford some of the fun things London has to offer (like DOUGHNUTS) but it’s too late now, the disclaimer is going here.*
I actually got to help on a friend of a friend’s short film as a runner this summer which was amazing. Suddenly I felt like filmmaking wasn’t off the table again (although realistically I don’t have time so it’s back off the table but still!). I’ve made friends who would gladly support or help my writing if I wanted feedback because they write too. Most of the time I can find someone to take advantage of cheap theatre tickets with me, and most excitingly I’ve discovered karaoke. Karaoke is fun damn it.
Then you have the fact that I can discuss feminism with my boss or Wonder Woman or Pusheen the cat or some obscure animation on Netflix with someone at work. It is no longer a secret that I’ve watched pretty much every Christmas movie available on Netflix, and not necessarily in December either. I like stuff and people know, and nobody thinks any different for knowing. Maybe it’s a growing up thing and not a London thing, but I feel like I belong at my current job.
Difference will help you grow.
This last one is less something I have learned and more something I’ve always believed that’s confirmed on a daily basis. I know a lot of people that are quite old fashioned and think it would be better if we could just get rid of or stop dealing with certain people. The thing is, we cannot get rid of people we disagree with. I’m a proud feminist and if I got rid of people who disagreed with me, then there probably wouldn’t be a population crisis anymore. You will never ever learn or grow or change if you only spend time with people like you. I genuinely believe that you will learn way more from people you dislike and disagree with than you will from similar people.
Learning to get on with people you don’t like is one of the most valuable social skills you can learn. Learning and changing to not be like people you dislike or learning how to defend yourself and your argument against people who disagree with your beliefs is equally valuable. The thing about everyone in London being different is that you learn to be friendly with dozens of people for different reasons. Being able to talk to people and discover something in common is brilliant, and learning to deal with people you don’t like is only going to help you. Living somewhere where every single person you pass is different is an amazing confirmation of how much you’re going to learn and grow and become accepting of so many different people. So remember that.
That’s it really. I just can’t get over how solid that message of acceptance has been since I’ve been here. I know it’s not the same for everyone but this is my personal account of London. People are either going to like you or they’re not, and there’s actually not so much you can do about that. You can be the most pleasant person in the world and someone’s still going to think you’re too pleasant. London is so busy and there’s so much happening all the time that it kind of forces you to just get on with it.
People who are very different end up being friends and that is so good for you. It is so unbelievably good for you to make friends with people who have different interests and backgrounds and lives. If you can support your friends and their super niche hobbies and interests then they will support you in yours. It’s a win-win.
It’s been a tough year but an interesting one. I’m confident in my job and my personality in a way I haven’t been before. I’ve learned to take the bad with the good. If nothing else, I’ve learned to say “it’s swings and roundabouts” at least once a day. Welcome to London, I guess.
Words and Images by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.