Life in the big smoke

A couple of things on a January morning


– London is frosty and sunny and this morning was the coldest we’ve had this year so far. The sky was pale blue and a chilly pink that reminds me of home. Last night when we drove home the sun set over the city and the top floors of the houses in Dalston were glowing orange. The Smiths played on the stereo and all those thoughts that had been buzzing around in my head stopped. I landed right in the moment, listening to Johnny Marr playing the guitar, thinking this is all so nice. Those things you thought were cool when you were fifteen stay with you.

– I’ve started a new job. I’m freelancing for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. It’s exciting. After about a year of not doing much journalism I’m back into the swing of things, booking interviews, reading papers, writing long lists of stories I’d like to do.

– I’m also trying to finish a project I’ve been working on since the autumn. At the moment I can’t say much more about it, but what I can say is that I’m slightly behind. I should be writing around 2000 words per day to stay on target. That is quite a lot. But I’ve been writing and writing during every spare minute I have and I’m finding that staying with a story this way is really quite good. All the characters are clear in my head, I know what I’m doing and where I’m going… most of the time at least.

– I’ve been writing a lot in Swedish lately.

– I keep coming up with strange new project ideas (for that one day when I have some down time) like writing short pieces based on London’s many ghost stories, that could also double up as a guide to the city. This does make sense in my head.

Image by Rebecca Johnston.

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.


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.

Two things on a grey Saturday in January


Anais Nin writing from Paris in 1939.

Monday war was not certain, but anguish was in the air like a poisonous fog. The calm too, the calm before the catastrophe. yesterday in the street I saw the headlines: Warsaw bombed. Now it means war. We can no longer hope for a revolution in Germany which would put an end to the war. One cannot read the signs on restaurants and movies or cafés. Rain. People colliding in the darkness. The punishment. Selfishness grown too big. The personal and historical problems insoluble because of selfishness. The world problems insoluble because of selfishness. Duality and schizophrenia everywhere. The death instinct stronger than the life instinct. Panic. A million people turned criminal because of their weakness, capable only of hatred. A million people knowing only hatred, envy and fear. War was certain. A war of horror and blackness. The drama for years enclosed within human beings, now enacted wholesale, open nightmares, secret obsessions with power, cruelty, corruption. So much corruption can only end in bloodshed. I see all this as I walk the streets, and i do not feel a part of the crime, but I will have to share in the punishment.

Hari Kunzru writing yesterday in The Guardian.

Today I feel tired. I feel depressed and afraid. Above all I feel old. Somehow this attack, with its mix of the grotesquely familiar and the unforeseen, has brought home to me in a way other recent atrocities have not, how much of my life has now been lived inside this war trapped in its logic of permanent emergency. I never want to see another man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit. I never want to stand in another security line wondering if today will be the day. I am hollowed out by disgust. I am worn down by outrage. I want to get off the damn bus.

Of course I can’t. None of us can. The war will go on until it doesn’t, until it runs out of fuel and the historians take over, arguing about who or what won. I no longer expect to see an end in my lifetime. It will take a generation, and many enormous geopolitical shifts, before the wheels of this juggernaut shudder to a halt. Until there are no more self-dramatising young men who prefer the abstraction of death to living a meaningful life, until there are no more wealthy pious bigots to fund them, until there are no more disenfranchised migrants pressed against the border fence and no more hard-faced “realists” eager to turn the war dial up to 11, this will go on and we will have to live through it.

Those of us who want to short-circuit the logic of confrontation have our work cut out. Even if the French keep their nerve, even if the state and people do not succumb to this bloody provocation, we still have to distinguish our position from compromise. Mumblings about “respect” and “avoiding giving offence” seem cowardly and dishonourable. And compromise with the jihadi position is meaningless: the jihadi is absolute because otherwise he is nothing. Without the childish simplicity of binary logic, all his power and glamour leak away, and he becomes just another lost boy, picking up a gun in the hope that it will have the answer written on the barrel.

But refusing to compromise with the jihadi does not mean becoming his mirror. When I’m stupid enough to switch on cable news here in New York, the optics are different but I hear much that is familiar. Big hair and bright teeth instead of black flags and balaclavas, but the same parochialism, the same arrogance, the same atavistic lust for violence, the same pathetic need for good guys and bad guys, to be on the winning team.

So much changes and yet so little changes. I feel sad and I feel tired too.

New Year… cough, splutter, cough… resolutions?

driving at night

I had a cold over Christmas and New Year and it was strangely enjoyable. It allowed me to turn off my head in a way I’ve not been able to do since I was a child. We stayed with Gerry’s parents which helped a lot as there was always someone else to take care of things, which I’m very grateful for. Over the last two weeks I’ve read a lot of detective fiction, watched many hours of Storage Hunters, eaten plenty of cheese and gone for short walks. That’s it.

We’re back in London and the sky is hidden behind thick clouds that remind me of past Januaries in Helsinki when it seemed like there would be no end to the winter. The white skies lasted for weeks, draining the city of colour.

We drove back yesterday, coughing, tired, trying to stay focused on the road. It was misty, the sort of fog I’m still only getting used to because it’s such a rare thing where I’m from. Along the motorway signs were flashing yellow warnings at us and the other drivers. Fog, fog, fog they blinked. And it was hard going, the light faded and the lights from the other cars were diffused by the mist so there was a strange orange and red glow hovering over the M40. It was difficult to make out distances, cars disappearing into a soft white blanket. Occasionally the fog lifted and the world was crisp again, but then there was a dip in the road and we were plunged back into it.

Image via tumblr.

Gerry did the driving and when we stopped at a service station he had a cappuccino the size of a small child’s head. As we got closer to London the fog lifted. I tried and succeeded in navigating us back past suburbs I’d never heard of before. Dollis Hill. Brent Park. Towards the parts of the city we know well.

I want to learn how to drive this year. We have a car. I have a driver’s license. But I haven’t driven since I was in my early twenties and I’ve only ever driven on the roads in my small home town where there are just a couple of traffic lights and hardly ever more than two lanes. Driving in Jakobstad and driving in London will be two very different things.

I’m going to take driving lessons, but even that scares me a bit. Driving well in London has turned into an almost unattainable thing in my mind, it’s something clever people do, people with skill, who by magic and hard work have attained the super power of being able to drive well. To me driving in London is like playing a guitar so well people will beg you to become a professional musician. Or tight rope walking across an abyss. Or solving really hard maths problems. It’s something I can’t see myself doing. It’s a skill I admire in other people. So that’s one of my goals this year, a new years resolution even, by the end of this year I hope driving will be as easy as walking, that I won’t think twice about getting behind the steering wheel, that I’ll feel comfortable and competent. Let’s see how it goes. Just writing about it makes me slightly nervous.

Image by Thomas Hawk.

I have other goals as well. I want to write, write and write even more. I have a long list of the things I want to write about, but more about that later.

Do you have any new years resolutions? Oh and if anyone feels like giving me a bit of a pep talk when it comes to driving please do (like, seriously)! I need encouragement!

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


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.

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.

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.

Images via Barbara Baldi.