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Life in the big smoke

Where can you afford to live in London?

Thrillist has put together a helpful guide to rents in London. The map shows the average monthly rent for a one bedroom flat within a kilometer of each tube station.

Where along the tube can you afford to live?

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You can see full size version of the map here.

What to do if you only have one day in London

This weekend a couple of friends came over to London from Finland. Some of them had been in London before, one of them hadn’t. It got me thinking. What would be the best way to spend a day in London if you’ve never seen the city before? Here is what I would do.

Morning

Start at London Bridge. Check if Borough Market is open and grab breakfast and a coffee somewhere in the bustling food market. It’s worth going early as it can get busy in the afternoon. If it’s closed go to one of the chain cafés around Hay’s Galleria.

When fed and caffeinated start strolling west, follow the Thames along the southbank. Along the way pass The Globe, Tate Modern and the London Eye.

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Eventually the Houses of Parliament will appear on the other side of the river. Cross Westminster Bridge and explore the area. If the queue isn’t too long and you have money in your pocket have a look at Westminster Abbey.

Afternoon

Walk up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square, passing 10 Downing Street on the way. Have a look at Trafalgar Square and keep heading north on to Charing Cross road. On the way there’ll be a chance to see Leicester Square and its theatres.

At Shaftesbury Avenue turn right and head towards the Seven Dials near Covent Garden. There will plenty of nice places to have lunch around there. I would go to one of the vegetarian places in or around Neal’s Yard.

There are lots of shops around the Seven Dials and Covent Garden. Many of these shops will be the same ones you’ll find on Oxford Street, but they’ll be less busy.

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Spend the afternoon exploring Covent Garden and Soho. Stop for a tea at Maison Bertaux on Greek Street in Soho. They have amazing pastries. If you fancy coffee instead go to Monmouth Coffee on Monmouth Street in the Seven Dials.

Evening

Take the 24 bus from Charing Cross Road to its final stop (The Royal Free Hospital in Kentish Town). From there it’s a really short walk to Hampstead Heath. The bus will go past Camden, which is great to see from a bus window, but less interesting to walk around (unless you’re a 14-year-old with stripy tights).

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Walk up to Parliament Hill at Hampstead Heath, admire the skyline, take a couple of photographs. Stroll around the park and then walk back down to Camden. If the feet feel tired stop and have a green smoothie at Inspiral or a pint at The Lock Tavern.

Take the overground from Camden Junction to Dalston, grab something to eat at The White Rabbit and then go for a drink in the nearby pub Farr’s School of Dancing. On an adventurous night take a bus to Shoreditch and sampel a few cocktails at Callooh Callay.

Top image by Alessia Clauderio all other pictures are mine.

The why not to move to London post

About two years ago I wrote a post about how to move to London. I wrote it because a friend of my mother had a daughter who was moving to London and I thought I’d share what I knew about this on the blog. Back then I had no idea how popular the post would become, that people from all over the internet would find their way to this site, ask questions and offer their own advice. I love what that blog post has become, because everyone who interacts with it remind me of why I moved here in the first place, many share the same passion and love for the city that I have. I didn’t just move to London, I fell in love with the city.

But over the last six months or so doubts have crept in. I look around me and I question if London really is such a good place to move to now. The city has change and my perspective has changed as well. If you’re seriously considering moving to London now there are a couple of things you need to know.

1. This city is becoming very expensive, people spend more than half of their salaries on rent and transport. House prices are going up, rents are going up, one bedroom flats can cost you £2000/per month and that’s before you pay any bills. Affordable areas are being pushed further and further away from the centre.

2. If you move to London to start a well paid job then you will probably enjoy the city. If you’re independently wealthy then you’ll also get a lot out of living here. If you move to London because you’re following a dream, because you want to live freely and creatively, then you’re in for a bit of a let down. See point 1… it’s becoming very, very expensive to live here and that is pushing creative people out.

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3. Why London? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. Why break your back so you can afford to live here when that often means you’re working so hard you can’t really ever enjoy your life in the city. You could have a better work-life balance somewhere else. There are plenty of other great UK cities. Look at Glasgow, Manchester, Brighton, York, Birmingham and Cardiff. If you feel drawn to the UK you don’t have to live in London. If you’re British and you want to move to a big city, London isn’t the be all and end all anymore. According to The Guardian lots of people are moving to Birmingham. If you want to live really cheaply there is the Kent coast, Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs, cities that are now attracting creatives pushed out of London. This is a poor part of the UK and rents are low, like they were in London’s east end in the early 90s, when all the creatives moved in.

4. Why move to the UK at all? There are so many great European capitals to look at, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, places that can offer you the same things London had a few years back (which is not crazy expensive rents, a creative scene and likeminded people from all over the world).

Maybe I’m writing this because I’m older, because my love affair with London is coming to an end. I still enjoy living here, I still love many things about the city and I still occasionally want to hug myself when I cross the Thames on a bus and whisper “I actually live here”. But mostly the rosy coloured infatuation has faded and I see the city for what it is, expensive and unforgiving. And sometimes I think, wouldn’t life be a lot easier somewhere else.

For more about this
Cool London is dead and the rich kids are to blame
Living in London on a low income – a great break down of living costs in London by the Londonist

Images by Luis Llerena.

A little post about culture shock and what it’s actually like to move to a new country

About two years ago I found myself sitting on the floor in the flat, crying because a pipe was leaking underneath a sink. There had been builders in the house for several days, sorting things out in our new home, the home Gerry and I would settle in for a few years.

There was a trickle of water running along the floor and I couldn’t keep the tears away. I felt helpless and I realised that this was it. This was my home. This country was now my home. There would be no more moving for a while, no more wide-eyed fascination. The third stage of culture shock was setting in, but I didn’t realise that back then.

Let us rewind a bit further. It’s 2009, I’ve just arrived in London. I breathe in the air at Heathrow and it fills me with a bubbly joy, the sweet, polluted air of London. I rush past the yellow signs to collect my suitcase and I move into my first flat in the city. I spend a year happily riding buses for hours, walking everywhere, even enjoying the tube – because I am finally in London.

For two years my biggest fear is that something will happen and that I will have to move home. I hold on to every little thing that keeps me in London with an iron grip. I count my months in the city. I am totally and utterly in love with the place. I worry that I’ll get ill or that I won’t be able to support myself. I work hard because that means I’ll be able to stay.

Then I meet Gerry, then my life slowly winds itself around this town, then I get married, we move into the flat, the flat becomes a home, Finland feels very far away. And suddenly I find myself longing for home. Not the real country I left behind, but small things like the forest, the clean air, the cold winters and the long summer nights. I miss my family because I realise this isn’t a temporary thing anymore. I have rooted myself in this country. And that’s when the problems start.

It’s said that there are four stages of culture shock.

1. The honeymoon phase

  • Everything about your new home is lovely, amazing, fascinating. It’s the best place ever. You get offended if someone says anything negative about your new home. You have lots of energy, you want to see everything, do everything, talk to everyone. You wake up happy every day because you’ve moved to such a wonderful place. You’re totally in love

2. The negotiation phase

  • Homesickness starts to creep in. Suddenly you notice things about your new home, things you don’t really like. You pick up on cultural differences and they annoy you. You realise that perhaps this isn’t such a great place after all. It’s just another place, with problems and annoying people just like anywhere else. You start missing home and people who really get you.

3. The adjustment phase

  • This is when depression hits you. What’s the point, you think. The love is gone. You feel a bit lost, wondering why you moved in the first place. The magic is gone. You’re floating between two cultures. Going back home isn’t an option, staying feels difficult. You’re numb. Nothing makes you happy.

4. Acceptance

  • You’ve come out on the other side. You know this country now, you know this culture and you’re starting to figure out where you fit in. You will always be different, have a different cultural background, but you have found some kind of middle ground. And suddenly you’re ready to fall in love with the country again, this time accepting its flaws, problems and realness.

I struggled with the adjustment phase. A lot of things in the UK started to annoy me. Why were the politicians so useless? Why did I have to move to country where the majority of people in power have gone to the same private schools? Why do you hardly see any female, black or asian faces in Westminster? Why does the post never arrive? Where is my place in this society? Will I ever be able to settle in the UK? Why does everyone around me only seem to care about money?

For a while my life turned into a dull grey. I wasn’t sure where I was going, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be going anywhere. This new country, my home, had lost its sparkle. I wasn’t in love anymore, but I couldn’t ever see myself leaving.

In this confusion I managed to write a book. I poured my frustration and confusion into Det finns inga britter. I started researching what it meant to be British. I read up on the history of this country, learning there is a long tradition of immigration. I got even angrier realising how some of these immigrants had been treated throughout the centuries. I read about the reality black and asian immigrants were faced with in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, being refused housing and medical care. But even though there were many things that made me angry, I also earned that British culture has been shaped by immigration, going all the way back to Roman times. This country is an amalgamation of different cultures and people, but sometimes the Brits find it easy to forget this.

As I read another Britain started appearing before me. A real country, with real problems. It wasn’t the same country I had moved to back in 2009, but I didn’t mind so much anymore because the ground I was standing on felt solid again. I was starting to see this country like some its citizens was seeing it.

There is a fifth stage of culture shock, the independence stage.

You are yourself again! You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new, yet realistic light. You feel comfortable, confident, able to make decisions based on your own preferences. You no longer feel alone and isolated. You appreciate both the differences and similarities of your new culture. You start to feel at home.

And that’s where I’ve come out. I live here now. In some ways the UK is the country where I’ve become a grown up, I know more about how to run a business here than in Finland, in theory I know how to buy a house here. This is where I pay my taxes. And when I go home there are things I forget, like weighing my vegetables when I go grocery shopping. Small things, but things that root me in one place. Even my annoyance and frustration with this country connects me to it. After all it’s pretty British to complain.

I didn’t think culture shock would affect me. But moving to a new country is a big thing, no matter how well you think you understand that culture. If you find these sort of feelings affecting you, remind yourself that everyone goes through it and that you will come out on the other side, hopefully a little bit wiser.

Image by Luis Llerena.

Why the English invented football? To stop their men from touching themselves

Hello World Cup 2014, everyone is talking about you. As I was researching my book “Det finns inga britter“, I stumbled across an interesting theory about why football became such a popular sport in England and then in the rest of the British empire.

David Winner writes in his book Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football that playing football was encouraged as a way to stop British men from, er, there’s no easy way of saying this… from masturbating.

Winner writes.

Revd Edward Thring, was headmaster of Uppingham School and one of the giants of Victorian education, equalled in importance only by Thomas Arnold of Rugby. In the mid-nineteenth century Thring was a key figure in shaping Victorian ideas about manliness. He was also a pioneer of two of its key motors: organised sport and sexual repression.

His younger brother J. C. Thring helped found one of the significant vehicles for this new manliness: the game of football. Edward was a muscular Christian who turned “weaklings into men”. He also preached a holistic, egalitarian educational doctrine which he called true life … He was obsessed with stamping out the heinous sin of masturbation, which (he was certain) led to early and dishonoured graves.

Apparently Uppingham school wasn’t a very nice place to be a young man, at least not by today’s standards.

Any boy at Uppingham who was found to have committed “self-abuse” was instantly expelled. To maintain an atmosphere of “purity”. Thring encouraged boys to spy on each other. And used sport as a tool in the war against vice.

“Self-pollution” was not only intrinsically vile; it also posed a danger to race and Empire because it was the crucial first step on the road to all other kinds of effeminate and dangerous sensuality. If only boys and young men could be taught not to masturbate, they would grow up chaste and pure and all other sexual evils would disappear.

The Victorians had a strange obsession with masturbation. Interestingly the campaign against so called self-pollution was started by a man who wanted to get more costumers for his brothels, Winner writes.

The idea had first surfaced in a quack French pamphlet in 1710 called Onania. The author believed to have been a brothel-owner trying to drum up business by using scare tactics against a rival form of entertainment. He claimed that masturbation wasted essential bodily fluids and “destroys conjugal affection, perverts natural inclination, and tends to extinguish the hope of posterity”.

The pamphlet was widely translated and for nearly 200 years underpinned a quietly burgeoning medical and quasi-medical literature on the subject. Only in Britain did a full-scale moral panic erupt. Doctors were partly to blame.

It was widely believed that masturbation had the following “side effects” – pale complexion, emaciated form, slouching gait, clammy palms, glassy or laden eyes, averted gaze, or worse insanity and death!

So what does all of this have to do with football? Well it was used to turn these British weaklings into real men.

Thring and other schoolmasters started a radical new ideology – athleticism – a motor for the muscular new imperialism, for militarism and conformism. Suppression of sexuality, individuality – an even thought itself – were essential elements of this process, and were encoded in the games themselves.

What I find interesting is that this fear of masturbation seem to have stemmed from a deeper, almost subconscious fear that the British empire was failing because British men were no longer “real men.” It’s all pretty Freudian.

One key fear at the time was that British power was faltering. Ironic because the late nineteenth century appears now as the zenith of British power, wealth and social stability, but that’s not how it felt at the time. The Victorians were gripped by a sense of dread, seeing not stability, but decay; they felt their world crumbling. Some of this anxiety reflected geostrategic changes … from the 1870s America and Germany started catching up – industrially, economically and as imperial rivals, but the British problems went deeper still.

In almost every cultural register of the time there is a sense of Britain under attack or threat … there were massive problems with the British economy in the 1870s, and it’s linked to anxiety about the Empire. There were new anxieties about sexuality too, shifting boundaries between men and women and emergence of the “new woman” phenomenon: women living alone, wearing bloomers, riding around on bicycles and reading “suspect” novels. It was an awful lot for the British to come to terms with psychologically says gender historian John Tosh. And since it’s men who are supposed to defend the Empire and run the show, it was clearly all to their discredit. In some sense it was seen as their weakness.

Winner also writes about the English way of playing football and perhaps offers up a theory of why the English aren’t normally World Cup winners.

The game is and has always been “a man’s game”. English footballers are expected to display Lionheart qualities: strength, power, energy, fortitude, loyalty, courage. As for delicacy, cleverness, sleight-of-foot, imagination and cushion-slicing … well that’s the sort of thing we prefer to leave to foreigners.

The idea is rooted in what the Victorian’s called “manliness” and it lies at the heart of all that’s best and worst in English football. It accounts for the energy and power which make the English league exciting. It helps explain why English football rarely produces creative artists (and usually treats badly the ones who do emerge). And it provides an insight into the root cause of England’s forty years of hurt in the World Cup.

Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football is a fascinating book, it’s filled with interesting stories about sexual repression and sport in Victorian Britain. I don’t want to show you all of my research as it feels a bit wrong to share so much of the author’s own work. But if you find this kind of stuff interesting I recommend you check out the book.