The Letter Home: Rebecca in London
Rewind back to last week. 7.50am on Monday morning and I am speed-walking to my local Underground station at Clapham Common in London, bruisey banana and Oyster card wallet in one hand, work bag full to the brim with dog-eared copies of briefs from last week’s client event, USBs, and a selection of business cards in t’other. As per my usual rushed morning “routine”, I take a quick gander at the station’s ‘Thought of the Day’ board, grab a copy of the Metro from the always-chirpy gent at the entrance of the station, before dashing down the stairs to catch the Tube. Yes, London has Metro too, folks. Much less of the bikini-clad Georgia, Pippa and Nadine carry-on though. Sorry, lads.
The Tube is usually packed to the gills, so much so that when the doors open, those nearest the door will pop their heads out slightly just to snatch a quick breath of air. Like the majority of commuters, I’m perfectly aware that the next train is in about one minute but I’ll still always attempt to squash my way on board. London (yes, I blame London) has made me that impatient. You know that “Oh come ON!” feeling you get when you’re stuck behind a slow driver? I now get this when I am behind a slow walker. On I hop, cue a big inhale!
The headline on today’s Metro reads ‘Londoners Rejoice as the Mercury is Set to Rise’, or something to that affect. Good weather on the way? I should be thrilled. I look around me, as much as one can when one is wedged within the challenging environment of a stranger’s armpit and scrunched up against a tube door, and my first thought is ‘Feck, why didn’t I buy a bike when I had the chance?’. Now, the DART may not be as impressive and complex a transport infrastructure as the Tube, but not once have I found myself having to become a contortionist just to get home.
After five days of sweaty, sticky commutes the weekend finally arrives. With the excellent weather set to continue for the weekend, it doesn’t take long for a fellow ‘ex-pat’ buddy of mine to offer up her gorgeous back garden for a Saturday BBQ. There follows a day of sprawling and attempted frisbee on the beautiful Clapham Common followed by what can be summed up as a free gaff for adults – Happy times!
And the cherry on top? The Eurovision is on. *cough* It always amuses me how the UK awards Ireland with its “douze pwohhh” every year, yet Ireland, unscathed by any sort of feeling of obligation, never, ever reciprocates. Not that your man Englebert Humperdick deserved our points this year. But did Jedward really deserve theirs?
As most people know, London is a pretty fast-paced spot. If you stop at just about any street corner and observe the people passing you by, you will see that (a) 95% of them are either head-down speed-walkers or lost/dazed tourists, and (b) the former don’t appreciate it when the latter are in their way. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the London rat race, but the in the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve become a huge fan of what it has to offer.
I’ve been to some of the best gigs in my life here and in doing so have had the pleasure of frequenting some of the most amazing venues – from the intimate (Barfly, The Social) to the mahoosive (O2) and everything in between (Brixton Academy, Roundhouse, Hope & Anchor). As far as festivals go, particularly during summer, London and her surrounding areas is hopping. Bestival, Isle of Wight, SW4, LoveBox, Grassroots (for the eco-conscious music fans out there)… the list goes on. You might have to travel a bit for some of these, but that’s all part of the experience.
I love my food and I’d hazard a guess that if London was a person she’d be a mighty foodie. I could live here for the rest of my days and eat out in a different restaurant for every meal, and I’d probably only put a dent in the list. Yes, not every restaurant is as good as the next, and the lack of good customer service can be annoying, but you are always spoiled for choice, whatever cuisine takes your fancy. I love a good food market, and one of the best food markets I have ever been to is Borough Market, located in the old tunnels right beside London Bridge. This heavenly yumyum hub never ceases to amaze me with the all-kinds-of-everything nosh on offer and the über-friendly banter from the stall workers.
Even putting food and music aside, London is bursting with the good stuff. You will simply never have that “there is nothing to do” feeling. If you like to keep fit, you can do it by walking, running or cycling around of the dozens of beautiful public parks around the city, hitting one of the LIDO outdoor swimming pools in summertime, or joining acrobat class. Yes, acrobat class. I saw this going on in Regents Park next to London Zoo last year, and immediately felt uncool for not being an acrobat. If you’d rather lose your breath in a more familiar fashion you can be sure that the nearest GAA/hurling/Irish dancing club isn’t far away. Meeting people is a no-brainer, no matter how long your working day is. Online dating is considered the norm and there is a club for just about everything. Currently, I am technically a member of a running club, a photography club and cake club. Guess which one cancels out another.
For those of you reading this who may be thinking about making the move over, I say do it! The job market is healthy enough and the people whilst inpatient, are friendly and fun. I live in a town with a pretty hefty Irish population, and I’ve read articles in the past about it being compared to the D4 area back home. As someone who actually lives here I can safely say that comparison is a load of… well you know. It’s an understatement to say that London has something for everyone. There is so much going on at any given time, and if you’re smart about it, it won’t necessarily require a lot of money, although it does help.
Fast forward to the time of writing, and I am in the middle of an uncharacteristically long visit home. With Her Maj’s Diamond Jubilee taking place, we’ve been given an extra-long weekend to celebrate, so I decided to take advantage and skip home. The fact that I got to watch the first Euro 2012 Ireland match was a big, fat, juicy bonus. OK, so we lost. That was never going to stop the traditional post-match session. I made it my mission to treat this trip like a holiday and so I’ve been attempting to think and do as a tourist would, for the most part.
There are so many things I miss about home, but spending the time away has made me realise that there is plenty going on that I hadn’t bothered to experience (at least not since the school tour days). In the last week, I have visited Glendalough, the Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, the Museum of Modern Art, Dáil Eireann, Dublin Zoo, and the Botanic Gardens. Funnily enough, my lovely housemates, none of whom are Irish, gave me some inspiration for the To Do list!
Like I said, there are a lot of things I miss about home. I’m not a big crisp eater and I don’t drink tea (I know, I know – freak), so unlike every single Irish person I know in London, Tayto and Barry’s aren’t very high on my list. Superquinn sausages however; that is another story. Nom! Like all the exiles, the usual things immediately spring to mind when I get a pang of homesickness – the mother’s ridiculously delicious cooking, the beach (minus the surge of howrya’s it attracts when the heat goes up), the “where everybody knows your name” buzz of your local pub, proper hearty brown bread, and of course my brilliant friends and family for whom there will never be a replacement. All these things aside, Ireland just has a buzz about it that can’t be found anywhere else, and it’s hard to describe in words but we all know it well.
I try to come home every couple of months and it certainly is true what they say, absence does make the heart grow fonder. If there were an extended version of that quote I reckon it would be “absence makes the heart grow fonder, more appreciative and less nit-pickyish.”
Slán for now, lovely boys and gerrulls,
Rebecca Fennelly is an Entertainment, Media & Technology PR Consultant from Portmarnock, Dublin