The Letter Home: Sue In London
‘Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight. The people all work here by day and by night…’
I’m one of those apparently artistic types. You know the ones – those who think they are artists but realistically only have an artistic temperament, as Mad Men so lovingly pointed out to us recently.
Initially, I considered myself a teacher and off I went to college with the notion of becoming the cool Ms. Murphy. However, I fell in love with Classics and completed a Masters in Classical Civilizations (I can translate Ancient Greek, very useful on a daily basis). Then decided I wanted to be a Sound Engineer (I possess a Diploma in Sound Engineering and Music Technology) but my real love was always film. I’m obsessed with film.
I’ve been in cinema theatres as far afield as Times Square and have felt right at home. My poor father was dragged to various cinemas over the years and my mother tasked him with watching every film I ever wanted to see to make sure it was okay for my viewing. If the video tape was left out, it was okay to watch; if it had been taped over, it was unsuitable for my viewing pleasure (for some reason Goodfellas was perfectly alright, but I was not allowed to watch Outbreak). I completed a Masters in Film from Trinity College in 2009 and went on review for Spin 1038’s We Love Movies thanks to my mentor Gordon Hayden. As Mark Kermode would say, I knew I wanted to watch films and talk about them; I wasn’t too keen on making them.
I was writing for a few websites in Ireland (writing, ranting - tomato, tomato) and was lucky enough to be working on national radio stations like Newstalk with the fabulous Moncrieff Show. Unfortunately, there is little or no media industry in Ireland; you will get some work but the pool is so small it is difficult to get a permanent job. Most of those I know in the industry write out of love of film, outside their paying work schedule. Considering London is a huge arts capital, I decided to move to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time film critic.
My first day in London was typical of an Irish person’s moving abroad; I flew into Gatwick at 2.30pm and by 6pm I was in Camden with two fellow immigrants and a pint in my hand. At 9am, I woke on the other side of London with absolutely no recollection of how I managed to get there. My best friend Louise was passed out at the bottom of the bed and when I went to the window I had no better idea of where we were or how we got there. Turned out my friend Emmet had persuaded us to go to a house party but when we got there decided I should go to bed and practically tucked me in. The walk to the nearest Tube station was long, another exercise I have little recollection of, and the worst part was when we got there, one of the Tube workers looked at us, laughed and commented, ‘So far so good!’
Considering my amazing first day (I lived here for a year in 2008; this was not new to me), I thought London and I would get on just fine. What I was not expecting was how difficult it would be to get a job. Louise left that weekend to work on a TV programme and I stayed in her London accommodation, looking for work and wandering around museums in my spare time. I must have applied for a hundred jobs. It could have been more; I was spending most of my days sitting in front of a computer, constantly applying for work. As you can imagine, most of the applications were for film work and social media roles that I considered myself capable of, but I soon became desperate and began applying for any job I had experience in: retail, hotel, anything I came across. What surprised me was that even though I had walked into these jobs in the past, I was finding it difficult to find any sort of work. I became quite bitter, more so because I had worked so hard. I haven’t had a holiday in about three years; most of my holidays have been spent writing, working or attending film festivals.
I know there are many who are in a worse position than me and for the experiences I have had over the years, I am entirely grateful. However, over the last few months I have developed a weird relationship with Ireland.
Part of me is bitter that the economic recession meant I had to leave my home and friends; I have been told on many an occasion that if the financial situation was different, I would have easily found a job in media. And yet the other half of me misses home so terribly that when my Dad sent me an email with a YouTube link to the ‘Mountains O’Mourne’, I burst into tears on the bus.
London is not a friendly city. People will practically walk over you and not even think of apologising, but there are so many Irish in the city now that it is not really an exclusive community anymore. Irish friends are invaluable. They will feed you, they will introduce you to others, they will lend you money when you need it. I can’t stress how important it has been to have a base here. On the last occasion I only had Louise.
There are parts of London I adore. When I want to remember how much I like the city I walk to Westminster and look at the political leaders and soak in the history, or I take a walk across Green Park and wander around any of the hundreds of museums that are here. I go to Irish bars for football and occasionally throw a bit of Irish into sentences with my Irish work colleagues (we work at one of the most quintessentially British hotels, yet at least half of the front of house is Irish).
But there is no car outside my door to jump into so I can turn up at friends’ houses for tea. People don’t understand the importance of the differentiation between Mighty Munch and Monster Munch (Monster Munch are IMPOSTERS). I miss my dog. Support networks are more difficult to maintain here; London takes about an hour to navigate in any direction.
London is buzzing at the moment; the Jubilee has just ended and the Olympics are on the way. Yes, all amazing but the transport system is already screwed from the Jubilee and the Olympics haven’t even kicked off yet! There was a suggestion in work that we should wear Union Jack hats; there was a flat out no from three Irish members of staff which I found absolutely hilarious.
And there is always, ALWAYS something going on. People tend to make more of an effort here; they will book you in for diary dates weeks in advance and it may be for something like a pop-up cinema party or some kind of weird karaoke. I also like that the cafes open quite late here, and there is nothing like a good-old fashioned fry up.
Will I live in London for the rest of my life? Unlikely. Even Londoners eventually want to get out of London. I’m always shocked at the amount of people I encounter who are ridiculously homesick too; I work with two South African girls, one of which admitted that she can barely sleep at night with the light and that she would go home in the morning. The amount of people who tolerate London is astonishing, but it’s still a split camp. Some love it here, love the life, love the buzz, love the anonymity. I always thought I was that kind of person; now I would give anything to walk down Shop Street in Galway and bump into all the random people I know. Should I give up on my dream? I often wonder what the trade off would be: love your job or be at home? We Irish are strange creatures. All we do is complain and then as soon as we get on the boat we sing rebel songs.
Mad Men has played on my mind often.
‘Not every little girl gets to do what she wants. The world could not support that many ballerinas.’
Anyway, hope you’re all well. Send us over a Superquinn rock bun, will ya?
Sue Murphy is a radio producer and film critic from Galway. We miss her loads.