Moving to London: How to make friends

Image via pinterest.

It’s almost six years since I moved to London. Time flies in this city. Six years ago I stared at the empty walls in my new room and worried about how to fill the space with a life. My new room had a bed and a worn brown carpet. It was cold, abandoned by its previous occupiers, waiting for things, furniture, clothes, postcards, photos, dirty laundry, memories, dust under the bed, duvet covers that need to be changed, a computer whirring away in the corner. I had none of those things. I didn’t even have any friends in the city.

That first night I fought against loneliness and fear. The thoughts and worries followed me around for my first months in London; would I ever make friends, would I ever find my place, would I ever settle, would I make this place my home?

If I could go back in time I would tell myself not to worry, because things have a way of working themselves out if you know what you want and work to get it. But sometimes I wonder if there wasn’t also a bit of luck involved in it all. Was it not luck and fate that pushed me in the direction of people who became good friends? Was it luck and fate that put me and Gerry in the same pub on a warm August night? Life is filled with randomness, but whatever happens we can always act, the more people we speak to, the more likely we are to make friends after all.

Some of you have expressed your worry about making friends after moving to London. Here are a couple of things that worked for me.

Image via pinterest.

Let your fears drive your forward

I had moments of fear and loneliness after I first moved to the city, but these feelings pushed me out there, they helped me out of my comfort zone and forced me to make friends. During my first six months in London I was more socially active than I have ever before been in my life. Being in a new city gave me energy and getting to know new people gave me even more energy. I went to different networking events (mainly in the technology industry) several times a week and met people who would become friends and people who would employ me.

The energy I got from being new in the city and having to put myself out there was unexpected, because normally I’m a bit of an introvert, I prefer a night at home to going out. But somehow the knowledge that I had to make friends and had to create a life for myself in the city if I wanted to stay made it easy and enjoyable to go out and meet lots of strangers.

Find good flatmates

I was lucky to move into a friendly and interesting flat share when I first arrived in the city. My flatmates were helpful and welcoming, they invited me to parties and I got to know their friends (which is how I met Gerry).

Since I moved here to work as a freelance journalist I wasn’t able to make friends through work or by studying so my flatmates became very important for my social life. If you live with people you get on with and if you like their group of friends that can be a great way to start settling into life in the city. Take your time (if you can) to find a flat and flatmates you really like.

Take short courses

I’ve made a some of my closest friends through a few writing courses I’ve taken in the city. There are so many different short courses on offer in London. If you’re not studying already, a good way to meet people is to go on a short course in a subject you’re interested in. You’ll meet likeminded people and sometimes those people might become friends. Good places to start to browse for courses are sites like Hotcourses and Citylit.

Social media and the internet

I used to think I was the sort of person who couldn’t really make friends on the internet, there is something about witty conversations in only 140 characters that make me feel strangely tongue tied. But I have made a few friends thanks to the internet since I moved to the UK. Although most of those either contacted me or were contacted by me through email. Never underestimate the power of a short and friendly email to someone you’ve found online.

These are my thoughts on the subject. What do you think? How did you make friends after you moved to the city (or a new place)?

If you’re curious about how to move to London I’ve put together most of my posts on this in one place – the moving to London collection.

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A couple of things I’ve learned over the years or why turning thirty is pretty awesome

Image via Barbara Baldi.

1. I’m tired, I’ve been working too much, sleeping too little and drinking too many cocktails. It feels like someone’s taken a vacuum cleaner and sucked out some of my grey cells through my ears. Excuse this post. It might not be super-coherent.

2. A week ago I turned thirty. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal – I’m just a year older. But turning thirty has actually been a bit of a relief, it’s almost as if I’ve been waiting to leave my twenties behind – I can now be a grown-up without feeling bad about it. I can be old. Responsible. I can become my own version of what I think it means to be an adult. I’m not sure how turning thirty made me realise all of these things, perhaps it’s given me some kind of subconscious license to use what I learned in my twenties. I’ve probably always been a bit middle aged. I like solving crosswords, reading quietly on the sofa, wearing woolly jumpers and drinking tea. Perhaps I’ll now start doing other grown up things like learning how to drive a car in London, gardening and getting super organised when it comes to accounting. Actually, that gardening thing will probably never happen.

3. It’s OK not to be perfect. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realise it. We’re all human, we all make mistakes and it’s pretty pointless to strive for perfection. Which leads me on to my second point…

4. It takes a long time to become good at something. Building up a new skill takes years. You might not even see much progress during the first months, or even the first few years of working on something new. After a couple of years of writing fiction I’m still a beginner, growing and making mistakes. I used to think that if I didn’t pick up a new skill immediately I clearly wasn’t talented/clever/good enough to keep going. But demanding perfection leaves no room for growth.

Image via Barbara Baldi.

5. You have no control over how other people perceive you (unless you’re some kind of clever PR-guru) so stop worrying so much. You can have the best intentions and still be misunderstood. No one can see into your head and vice versa. You have no idea what bagage a person brings with them and they have no clue about all your hang-ups and emotional issues, so you might say one thing and the person you’re talking to might hear something else. It’s really fucking hard to have an honest conversation, which is why it’s worth trying to be honest, to see the other person’s perspective, to sometimes eat some humble pie and at the same time not care so much, because all of this is outside of your control. I’m trying to do this.

6. It’s impossible to control much of anything. Life is random, it’s chaotic, positive thoughts won’t bring you more money, love or stability, but hard work might pay off, not giving up works, challenging yourself is a good thing and so is spending time with people you love.

Image via Barbara Baldi.

7. Nothing is more important than family and friends.

8. Making sure you see enough sunlight and blue sky in the winter is a really, really good thing.

9. So is eating excellent cheese (and not just in the winter).

10. If you can’t believe in yourself no one else will. Sometimes you might be able to do this, sometimes you won’t. Every life has ups and downs, so have some understanding and empathy for yourself and for others.

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Writing, rhythm and birthdays

Image via Tom Kondrat

I’m reading Ursula Le Guins excellent book on writing, Steering the craft, and stumbled across this quote by Virginia Woolf.

“Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than any words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

And that’s it, that’s what writing is about. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, but I’ve been too busy to do much writing. Tomorrow I turn thirty. I’ve been thinking a bit about that as well.

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Support small and local businesses this Christmas

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We’re coming up to that time of the year when people start buying a lot of stuff. Being a small business now is awesome and it’s stressful and a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Every order is important, every customer is seen, every customer matters.

I’m pretty heavily invested in one small business. I’ve seen five small business christmases up close and I now roll up my shirt sleeves and help out during this period. I also buy almost all of my clothes from other indie businesses and most of our Christmas presents from small and local businesses.

If you buy from a small business this Christmas you’re not only making the hard working owner happy, you also get a hand-crafted and unique present, it won’t be something that’s been thrown together on a conveyor belt and shipped all over the world, you’re helping to reward and encourage someone’s time, effort and creativity.

Blogger Door 16 is doing a great campaign supporting small businesses for Christmas. In the comment section on her post there are lots of links to small indie businesses, I will add a few of my own UK based favourites in this post (it will be a totally biased selection based on brands and people I like). If you have any companies to add please do so in the comments!

Plane Clothing

Gerry’s brand Plane Clothing. Hand printed, fairly traded and organic t-shirts and sweatshirts and limited edition screen prints.

Pssst… You can get 10% off any order with the code LONDONLOTTA

Vicious Boutique

Handmade dresses and womenswear. I love (and wear many of) the screen printed dresses and tops by Vicious Boutique run by our friends Jo and Si. They have their most recent pieces up at their stall at Spitalfield’s Traders Market on Sundays.

Gosia Weber

Quirky and colourful hand made leather bags and wallets by Gosia Weber who’s based in the Midlands.

Linotte

Anke Weckmann draws lovely things, I have one of her prints in the bedroom and am thinking about getting some more. I’ve known Anke online since both of us were blogging on livejournal and it’s been great to follow her journey as an illustrator.

Klasik

If you’re looking for vintage eyewear, Klasik, is the place to go. I got my current pair of specs from Adam at Spitalfields and am now constantly afraid of accidentally sitting on my frames because I love them so much. Glasses aren’t perhaps the easiest present to buy, but if you’re looking for a present for yourself…

Mia Illuzia

I recently found this Finnish artisan based in Cambridgeshire and have been coveting her necklaces ever since. The necklaces and stones all have a story and she drips them out one at a time. Gorgeous work and a great business idea.

Lemonstone Art

Charlotte Kessler creates magical paintings as Lemonstone Art. I love her series of long ladies and can’t help thinking she should do a book of children’s stories.

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Dreaming of property and the slipperiness of time

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It’s already the twentieth. I can’t believe this month is escaping me as well. The to-do-list are never completely crossed over, new tasks appear every day. Life at the moment feels like a slope of sand rushing towards Christmas.

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We spent last weekend in Margate. Thanks to one of Gerry’s customers we got to stay in Arlington House, in an apartment on the 14th floor overlooking the harbour and the city. It was a bit like living in a slightly run down version of 60s utopia, which is lovely if you like that sort of thing (and I do). There were North Korean blue communal hallways with lonely plants lurking in the corners, an empty car park for five hundred cars that never appeared, grey concrete with grass and moss growing through the cracks, marble in the entrance, lifts that haven’t changed since the sixties, broken lightbulbs as you sweep past unannounced floors, the lift coming to halt with a shudder.

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Margate is a fascinating place. This is a good article if anyone is interested in finding out more about it. Living there seems impossibly cheap compared to London. Property websites tell me you can get a three bedroom flat with views across the sea for 60 000 pounds, a fraction of what a similar property would go for in London.

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And having just come back from the seaside I can’t help but dreaming of property. A recent Brainpickings article on writer Rebecca Solnit made me think about it some more. Solnit writes “the dream of a house can be the eternally postponed preliminary step to taking up the lives we wish we were living.” So what is this idealised life I’m dreaming of? The life I will lead when we have a house of our own? It’s like thinking about time and the lack of time. One day, when I have a lot of time, I will … But what is it I would do? What would I achieve with all this time and personal space that I’m not achieving now? Or change achieve to be, because life’s not and shouldn’t just be all about achieving, it’s about being, about resting in the moment.

I’m not very good at that. There are mad, stressful travelling times in my life when I’ve been able to live for the moment, forgetting about my fear of things ending. And maybe that’s why I also sometimes dream of having and owning my own home. To quote Solnit again “Maybe a house is a machine to slow down time, a barrier against history, a hope that nothing will happen, though something always does.”

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What is it this ideal house could give me? My dreams never stretch further than to a kitchen with yellow morning light, always this light streaming in as I’m drinking coffee and reading or writing. Perhaps this longing for a house is also a longing for newness and for change. But I will never get there, or anywhere, unless I work with and on what I have now.

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As Solnit writes.

Maybe we all dream of being God, the god who breaches dams, moves houses suddenly, erects bridges, decides where forests will be and who will die; and we graduate from the dollhouse to our own house if we are lucky, where we assume a role somewhere between God the Creator and the chambermaid, choosing but carrying out more painfully the clean floor, the dinner for six, the potted plants, the framed prints. The execution is difficult. The dreaming is easy and unending.

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