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LONDON - I moved to London for very basic, quite unthought-of and not very ambitious reasons. As I’d just gotten separated in Italy, and had two of my best friends living here, the London calling was a clear light at the end of the tunnel. I packed my one bag and boarded the Ryanair flight, not thinking much about what I would do here, or how.
For a week I slept on my friend’s couch, enjoyed endless coffees and muffins while watching reruns of Friends and didn’t see any problem imagining myself in a UK version of a similarly fun setup. Then one day I posted an ad and started calling flat-lets myself, and the joyride was to begin.
I met up with my other London friend on a sunny morning to see a few of the scheduled flats. Both of us coming from American-English backgrounds, we’ve always enjoyed the linguistic differences between the two English-es. So from now on I will try and describe the experience in my newly adapted British tongue.
It was a posh neighborhood with classy white buildings. Not knowing the area well, I only realized we were near Notting Hill afterwards. The house was one of those huge complexes with five or more formal-looking entrances. It looked like a big London deal, but then the door opened and the music in my head stopped. It turned out to be a Uni campus-like flat with many doors leading to many rooms, with many flat mates sharing them in many different ways. The ‘kitchen-living’ room, as advertised, was the half square meter walk-through right after the entrance door. And the bathroom, in which an average size adult male could barely turn around in, was to be shared with six other people. The room itself was no different and giggles about the necessity to exit into the hallway in order to pull your pull-over over you began shortly after we left the ‘fantastic’ premises. All that for £170 plus bills a week!
When we reached the Little Venice my friend’s stories started pouring out. Suddenly remembering her own struggles settling in, she felt compelled to share her horrors with me. There had been a creepy short man with a slimy voice and a peephole in the wall, who’d wanted her to live right next to his bedroom. Then a house-share with nine other people, one staircase, one bathroom and never-ending fights over the only coffee maker. Then buildings in places where you needed the security to press your lift button remotely to make sure there were no break-ins, and finally dodgy areas where people could get stabbed for random reasons, if there ever really is a ‘reason’ to get stabbed.
Accompanied by her ‘fairy tales,’ we reached our next destination in the heart of Notting Hill in a very old and very white building with beautiful tall English windows and a little park up front. Unfortunately the insides were much less white and overused by probably countless tenants over the last decade. The kitchen was a box with no windows, and so many shelves all around that you could only step in to open them and hope not to get hit by a sudden Claustrophobia attack. The room was small and cute and what New Yorkers would call ‘cozy’ – a large window overlooking the garden in the backyard, a comfortable bed and a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe. That’s it, for £165 a week. No other space for the tenant, really. The same get-out-to-get-dressed story. Plus this place seemed popular for the mold makers that nobody obviously cared to clean out.
Still shuddering from the previous disgust seeing the green ceiling in the bathroom, we entered our last estate viewing for that day. This time clean and well-lit, beautifully furnished it looked immediately comfort promising. It was amazing how much everything here resembled an actual living space where real humans could spend more than three minutes not going depressed or mental. And it was only £650 a month. There was only one problem – questions. As it was owned and shared by a fashion designer who was obviously crazy successful running around the world for trade shows and boutique openings, she wanted to know what I was doing with my life and how much at home I was planning to be.
Within seconds I’d popped my mouth open to breath out ‘I’m a Web designer,’ not even thinking about how crazy that might sound. Did I even look like one? But what else was there to say? Hmm, I just got here, have no job, no prospects aside from speaking this beautiful language and adoring your British accent and who the hell knows what I would end up doing with my free time in the next two weeks? Besides, Web designers were well-known for making plenty of dough.
When she never called me back I took off for a new search the next day. This time alone, I wandered into an apartment many so like to call ‘the projects.’ It’s always an experience to enter through metal bars instead of a door and hang out in an apartment where you’re the only person who doesn’t smoke hash, carries no guns, knows nothing about hacking or doesn’t speak Arabic or Egyptian. Still, I would have to pay £140 to live with them.
Without my friend by my side I quickly grew tired and lonely, even considering a last minute ticket to Riga. Suddenly I wanted to crawl under my duvet and shrink to an invisible size so I wouldn’t need to care about these sky-high rents. And then, about five seconds before going into the Underground tunnels and losing my phone reception, somebody sent me a text message asking if I was going to come and see their flat that day. Apparently I had made an appointment and in the midst of seeing all the dreary bunch, had completely forgotten about it.
Funny enough, in only fifteen minutes I got out of the Kilburn Tube station feeling like I’d arrived in Brooklyn. All the one-penny shops, burka women with cuddly toddlers, ‘home-made’ soups in the supermarkets, KFC, one too many mysterious looking phone card shops, crowded bus stops, darkening chewing gum on the sidewalk and that sun that hits the rooftops so subtly making you feel nostalgic and leaving home for the evening shift in a bar (I paid myself through college by bartending in New York’s Soho).
I quickly found the very English-looking row house and a smiley Spaniard greeted me on the front steps. Soon after another one poked his nose around the corner and they showed me the room and the large two-level flat, which somehow instantly felt like a family house. Seeing a decent size kitchen with an actual table, chairs, a stove and counter tops that didn’t require you to bend or lean in to reach them nearly sent butterflies through my belly. Our five minute showing turned into a longish talk, then a heart felt conversation about London and I think it was hours later when we noticed how dark it had become and how many missed calls we all had accumulated. I didn’t go to my next viewing and felt sad going home from my new home.
To think of it, I could’ve missed this place if I hadn’t been texted.
It’s been a wild time with ceilings falling in from bad plumbing, a bathroom that needed emergency re-tiling, one too many parties, fights over who drank the last milk carton, what seemed like a new form of Spanish immigrant inquisition that was hard to get out as they were somebody’s friends, but with all that and my little knowledge about flat-sharing and London, I had somehow found myself my very own Spanish version of Friends from Barcelona, Madrid and Murcia.