Lately I have developed a physical and/or mental deficiency wherein I am unable to pass the barriers at a London station without being impaled.
The first time, running to catch an 8.32am train from Waterloo, I was naturally carrying a newly-purchased cappuccino. The steaming hot contents (okay, luke warm… I won’t insult the perpetually polite Caffe Ritazza staff for the sake of dramatic embellishment) proceeded to spill all over my hands and, more tragically, favourite handbag, which remained wedged between the shut barrier doors. Moments later, a young TFL chap rescued me from the clutches of the devilish device and I went on my merry but slightly coffee-stained way.
Admittedly, on my way home that very day, I similarly became trapped. While I strongly maintain that blame lies with these evil examples of modern technology, I may or may not have been scoffing down a Pret granola yoghurt because 7.30pm and hunger.
My enthusiasm for dairy aside, there was one prominent difference between these two incidents.
The second left me close to tears.
‘Please, can you help me,’ I called out to the nearest station staff member who, among huffs and puffs and rays of pure death being emitted from his eyes, acted as though me asking to be released from a rather uncomfortable situation was the most outrageous thing he’d heard all day (come on, this is the London Underground).
As a sweet-talking, floral-wearing Aussie girl, I was honestly taken aback. “There is no need to be so rude,” I instinctively and probably a little rashly said, just wanting to make my way home after another evening of unpaid overtime.
His response was colder than London in the midst of January. “I’m not rude – there is no need to be so ignorant!” Growl. Growl. Huff. Puff.
It’s a big, bad, proper city after all
Look, I understand I am an idiot – the process of tapping in one’s Oyster Card isn’t that hard. Maybe this guy’s day at work had been particularly tedious. I by no means intend to attack Transport for London or anyone working in the customer service industry. I’ve certainly been there.
However, as I made the final leg of my commute home, I couldn’t get the iciness of this man’s manner out of my mind. Like so many Londoners I encounter daily, he was just so…mean, angry. I myself probably fit into this category much of the time (hello tourist on the LEFT-hand side of the escalator).
The bottom line is – we are all products of our environment and London is turning us into massive jerks. It’s a big, bad, proper city after all.
As a former inhabitant of the land of sunshine and rainbows (Australia), I feel as though the UK capital’s sad collective mood affects me more than the average Brit. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve struggled with extreme homesickness and even bouts of clinical depression. Still, I stay. Why?
The main consideration, for me, is the idea that, if I can make it in London, I can make it anywhere. While I’m not entirely sure what ‘making it’ even means, this illusionary goal keeps me going. I’ve been in London almost two years now. A live-in hostel, two AirBnB stays, three share flats, one psychotic housemate (death threats included) and several bouts of ‘homelessness’ later, I am still yet to create a proper ‘home’ or indeed life for myself. It’s quite possible the rats in my 200-year-old living room will eat me alive before I ever do. But, hey, where’s the fun in being comfortable?
I am growing, day by day
While I certainly shouldn’t compare my struggles to those of an Arctic adventurer, I am going to anyway. There is an inspiring TED talk by explorer (yep, it’s a profession) Ben Saunders that really strikes a chord with me:
“Our lives today are safer and more comfortable than they’ve ever been, there certainly isn’t much call for explorers nowadays… and yet, if I’ve learnt anything… it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge, from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. ….I think, metaphorically speaking at least, we could all benefit from getting outside the house, if only we could sum up the courage. I certainly would implore you to open the door just a little bit and take a look at what’s outside.”
I do contemplate how my life would’ve panned out if I’d stayed in Australia after graduating uni. By now, I’m sure my job prospects would be flourishing, my bank account healthy, and life in general pretty easy. I could probably afford to hop over to Asia or Europe whenever I fancied a getaway. Nice things, even a house or children, would be plausible options. All achieved without metaphorically ‘leaving the house’.
This type of packaged life, right now, horrifies me.
Moving abroad hasn’t been the key to happiness I thought it would be, not yet. There is work I must put into myself, my situation. But I am growing, day by day, in a way I don’t believe is possible in your comfort zone.
As hard as it may be, ditching your friends, mummy and daddy, your childhood pets, the places you know, could be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.
There is a whole big, bad, mean, scary, amazing world out there to be explored.
So, please, leave the house – while you are still free to do so.
Just try not to turn into too much of a London jerk while you’re at it.
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Also see by Lee Tobin: Being poor in London is one of life’s richest experiences
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