Falling In and Out of Love with My City


London. Blighty. The Big Smoke. And the place I will always call home.

As much as I whine and moan (comes with the territory) about the horrendous weather, traffic, doom, gloom and to top it all off, the extortionate cost of living we have to endure, I will always love my city. It can be grey, gritty and at times not the friendliest of places, but it has that certain special something that no other city has; there is just none other quite like it.

Living in the ‘burbs for most of my life meant that the illusion of going ‘up-town’ was still very much a thing – we were a 25 minute train-ride away, so it was close, but we still reaped the benefits of town tranquility that comes with bordering the Kentish countryside.

Coming home for Easter and Christmas during my university days was always fun, and going into the city for the day (or boozy night-out) was always a thrill.

Working in London left me with mixed feelings.

Underground
For the love of God please DO NOT STAND ON THE LEFT

As mentioned in my previous post, the daily commute had gotten me down a tad, and going out for a couple of post-work drinkies was becoming less and less enjoyable because of this rat-race lifestyle.

The trudge from Southeast London to East London everyday (put into perspective is no matter of distance at all), added at least a couple of extra hours onto my working day, and as a result, I took to looking for distractions, so the week would go by quicker, as sad as it sounds.

Again, I wasn’t the only one.

“I’m off to Pompey this weekend for a flat reunion, then next weekend I’m going out-out with the lot from home, then the week after we have team drinks, so I think I’m all good for this month. And of course in between that we have our lovely weekly catch-ups (booze-ups).”

Porgeous and I were always trying to make the most of our weekends (and general space outside of working hours), because:

  1. It gave us something to look forward to, and
  2. Frankly if we didn’t, my life would have just been spreadsheets and staring at the back of a stranger’s head on the train.

We were are young, we finally had a bit of extra dosh to enjoy, and we were determined to find the time to do so. So we did. And what fun we had.

 

 

As we were welcomed into the week with Mojito Mondays, Tequila Fridays ushered us into the weekend with a not so gentle push, and lots of chat of Italian days in the sun and the trifles of London-living so far. A few Fridays of the month, we’d meet up with our fabulous Clare after work, another Modena darling, who had a flair for languages and the unbelievable skill of making a chilled cocktail or two turn into tequila debauchery and an unintentional Zoo Bar fiesta.  I couldn’t (still can’t) say no to the girl.

The working week was long, but Chiquitos opened its doors to us (almost) every Friday, with it’s ridiculously tasty garlic bread, latino vibes and strong (the best kind) mixers. It provided as a welcoming refuge from the reality of the adult lives we were now living. A couple of drinks in and we’d already be talking about the places we used to go, the people we’d met on the way and how much we were in love with the continental way of doing things. Oh, how we wished for sunshine and longed for Europop-trash blaring on our radios once more!

A few colourful beverages later and we were falling over ourselves laughing, it was just like our pre-drinks back in the day, only we’d swapped our backdrop for Friday night Leicester Square, which was now AT FULL BUZZ. It was around this time that I’d check my phone and realise how close to 12 it was, which normally meant me having to hastily leave then and there to catch the very last train home.

“You can stay at mine Sam, my Grandma’s house is like a twenty minute walk from here”

She said this every time, and every time I’d find myself waking up in Baker St the next morning, gossiping with Clare over a sugary cuppa and chuckling over laughs we’d all had in Chiquitos the night before. And I loved it. London can be so fun when you don’t have to make like Cinderella and flee the bar before midnight.

 

 

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As surprising as it might sound, I also enjoyed London in the daytime! Weekends are gold-dust. I don’t think this is just applicable to my working life at the time, but in general. Whatever the job, wherever you are – Free time is ME time. For myself, it was a good opportunity to spend some time with the family, who I only saw during the week when I was crabby/stuffing my face with a cereal bar as I hurried to get out the door. It was also a good excuse to enjoy the city outside of the rush hour. And when it wasn’t raining, it was a rather pleasant place to be.

For instance, one of my favourite spots in the city, despite being an obvious choice for tourists, is Covent Garden. Lined with street performers and crowds giving it the old OOOOH AHHHH, it may come as a surprise that this busy patch of London is actually right up my street – and it stands for everything I love. In the spring/summer at least. Windy streets leading up to the open piazza, a beautifully restored market, and a multitude of delightful (some extremely fancy) restaurants and bars, that on a sunny day, extend their invitation further by placing alluring seats outside. Just irresistible. Anything al fresco on a half-decent day and I’m sold.

And that was just one of many pretty places in the city I liked to frequent. Exploring eateries mainly; that was my weekends covered. During the week, in between reading my books on the train and drinking umpteen cups of tea at the office (not a complaint, remember, there’s no team without tea), I set my Wednesdays aside for a midweek Italian meal with the Tripod. Georgina and Lacy are my two oldest and best friends, and even though all three of us have taken very different vocational paths in life, (animals, hospitals, banks), it has made our friendship all the more interesting.

Neal's Yard
Welcome to Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, adding a splash of colour to the often monochromatic London.

I would arrive at our favourite local eatery, La Cantina, umbrella normally in hand, to find Georgina sat at our table (we were regulars), ready for confirmation to order the bottle of Rose. A nod from the door indicated YES. Lacy also worked in the city, and we would normally arrive around the same time, ready to update Georgina on the state of the rail service that day. She in turn would share with us an outlandish but one hundred percent true story about her working day, involving angry kittens, scratches, and on one particularly crazy day, snakes.

We would update each other on our weeks, how it was all going, but not just that; we’d discuss our aspirations, our long and short-term goals, and how, or rather what we were doing in terms of reaching them. We would build each other up, celebrate each others successes, those achievements big and small, and provide the laughs and pick me ups (and obviously tea too) when things weren’t going so well.

I do remember one Wednesday in particular, and we’d all had just about enough. This tripod meeting was essential. Tomaso, the manager at the time, made sure we had our table, and at this point, he didn’t even have to ask. Either he knew us too well, or our faces said it all. Two minutes after we’d taken our seats, the Rosé found her place at the table too.

The first sip helped release stress which had accumulated throughout the day, and after taking our turns to rant it out, we shared our concerns, offered suggestions, and munched over what could be done to make things better. The food was fantastic, and came second only to the company, which was always first-class.  We usually chatted for going on twenty minutes, all the while holding onto our menus, pretending we were going to order something other than our usual choice. Mussels to start, followed by a deceiving serving of spaghetti ai gamberetti , another bottle of rosé, and of course, a helpful portion of homemade tiramisu.

 

 

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Dinner down the local Italian every week with a couple of old friends may sound tediously conventional to some – on the contrary, these evenings were anything but. There were cackles, insanely descriptive and animated storytelling and the odd cheeky reference to days of Yore (aka primary school). These nights gave me such pleasure, especially when the working week made it more difficult to fit in gym nights, and quick pints, let alone a meaningful dinner out with friends.

We’d gotten onto the topic of my life’s purpose.

“What do you want to do then Sammy?”

“I really miss living abroad.”

“Are you thinking of leaving the UK again?”

“Yes.”

Every time I said it out aloud, the possibility became more real, and the girls only spurred me on to try and turn the idea into an actual plan. My problem was that I was more theory than practice.

Fed up with London, I had previously booked a ticket to visit Ali, my girl from Galicia, who was currently studying for a Masters in Barcelona. Since I’d started my Canary Wharf career I’d not had a holiday, save for a sweet weekend away in Pompey, and I felt like it was needed. A break – from work, the grey surroundings, and my own ranting; and also an opportunity to see what life might be like should I choose to go ahead with my **dream**.

Carry-on case packed, out-of-office email set, off I went to Barca.

When I came back, it had been decided. The job search had actively begun, and Spain was the destination once more.

I’d found my motivation.

And to think, four days in the sunshine was all it took.

The Decision-maker. Barcelona, 2015.

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