Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Life I Lead

So I'm sitting in my bedroom, listening to Summer by Calvin Harris, mourning my time in Italy. Yes, I was only there for three weeks, yes I always knew it was more like a holiday than anything else, and yes, I'm lucky that it ever happened at all. But, despite plenty of experience, I'm not very good at leaving things. Never have been, never will be. (I cried when I left The Lion King. I was only ever going for 3 weeks. I am ridiculous, I know.) 

I look around my room, feeling desperately sorry for myself, when my eyes land on the Good Luck card that Simba gave me the day I left. They move along to the birthday card that I've still got on display from the Lion King team. I look down at the Princess Belle mug that I'm holding- bought for me by one of the most thoughtful people I have ever been lucky enough to work with (also from The Lion King.) I realise with a jolt that if weren't for my Fairy Godmother, I wouldn't even have a room to look around (I am aware that I now have two friends with the alias Fairy Godmother, but Sleeping Beauty had three, right?). I'd either still be sleeping on sofas full time, or be in a mental institution, having finally gone crazy from the ridiculous travelling I was having to do between Covent Garden and South East Essex. 

But thanks to my second Fairy Godmother, I have a beautiful room in a gorgeous flat and can quite happily compare my life to a number of sitcoms including, but not limited to, Sex and the City, Friends, Miranda and Not Going Out, depending on the day. When I'm having a particularly magical day I like to pretend I'm simply a member of the cast of Mary Poppins. 

Suddenly my concerns at not being in Italy anymore are replaced by a rush of joy. A rush of gratitude at being here. That I live in this flat, that I work with these amazing people who have brought wonderful things into my life. (Not just cards and mugs, obviously.) 

To my absolute dismay, Simba is only staying in London for a couple of months, and with only two weeks left has begun to evaluate his time here. At breakfast a few days ago he explained to me that he feels like he has learnt something from every single person that he works with at The Lyceum Theatre. I feel exactly the same. 

So now I've started thinking about my latest adventure, about what it's done for me, and about what I'm liking most so far....

1. The friends I've made. Obviously.

 The people I work with, my Fairy Godmother, my flatmate, the Father-Christmas-type man that works in my local Boots, the Tesco Security Guard who laughs every time I set the alarm off (every time. I don't know why.) rather than using his power to embarrass me, the unreasonably good-looking staff at the Surbiton Train Station Caffe Nero...they've all played a part in this adventure and I will be taking a little piece of all of them with me whenever my next adventure begins. 

2. The friends I already had.

Living and working in London is a huge adventure for me, and I'm absolutely loving every second. But one of the best things about it is that I'm a stone's throw away from my own front door. All five of my best friends work in London and can meet me after work/run into me at the train station/pop outside of the office to say hello. We don't use this often enough but the knowledge that we can if we want is a surprising comfort. 

It also means that I can go home whenever I want. I'm no longer missing the big things like weddings, engagements and babies. I can see my brothers and the dog when I'm missing them, pop to see my parents and keep in touch with my grandparents without it costing me a plane trip or a fortune in phone bills. 

I recently helped my mum move into her new house- something that probably doesn't appeal to many of you but that for me was totally magical. I soaked up every second, from my Grandad being shamelessly excited for lunch to my little brother's ridiculous jokes and my mum's brilliant excitement. (I feel that we should all take a moment to appreciate just how excited my mum was on moving day as well. Have you ever met anyone who's totally excited on moving day, and not even remotely stressed? That's my mum, ladies and gents. No idea how she produced the outrageous worrier that is me.) 

Not only that, but London is the centre of everything, which means that people who aren't even from the South, or necessarily from England will always visit. I'm seeing friends that I haven't seen for ages who aren't even from near here. I've managed to spend more time with Disney friends than I ever could have predicted- we've practically created a new UK pavilion here in the UK. 

3. Nothing's Strange. 

When I first arrived in London I went to see my favourite comedian and actress of all time- Miranda. She suggested doing little things to amuse yourself and brighten up your day. So I tried it, just for the laugh, really. To see if it made me happy, and see what reactions I got from other people. 

I ordered Starbucks under ridiculous names (Pocahontas was my favourite), I galloped towards my train- on one occasion Tigger and I galloped all the way from the Natural History Museum to the Science Museum. My friend took a selfie with a stranger on the tube. My mum and her boyfriend lifted their arms and let a stranger go underneath them rather than let go of hands.

Guess what?

Nobody reacted. Nobody took a blind bit of notice. There's such an eclectic mix of people in London that everything is strange. Which means nothing is strange.

So I've started running again. I can run around London- run like Phoebe from Friends if I want- and nobody will even notice. I've stopped worrying about the fact that I always spill my coffee. I've stopped trying to remember not to say thank you to the ticket machine. I've stopped attempting not to laugh or cry out loud at my book or a text. On one occasion I even burped out loud. (Actually I'm mortified about that but if anyone noticed they didn't react.) 

4. Living in a tourist destination.

Those of you that know me well or have followed my blog for some time will know that I love nothing more than living in a tourist destination. I've lived in a holiday resort in France, in a hotel in Rhodes, in various destinations around Italy, in the more scenic parts of Ireland (and by that I just mean Ireland. Everywhere is scenic in Ireland.) and in Walt Disney World, Florida.

Now I live in London. The third best destination in the world. (According to Trip Advisor. Fix-It Felix once told me never to trust a website that involved a review of the Thames. Still, on this occasion I chose to ignore his advice.)

I've always loved the idea of living in a normal life in an extraordinary place. In Greece I loved that I would spend my morning off on an idyllic beach with a magnum and the afternoon at work. In France I loved that I would have breakfast in my own bed then go and put on a (somewhat dodgy) Donald Duck costume and be accosted by screaming children. In Florida I loved that I would do a food shop and clean the house then pop to meet Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty.

Now I'm in London. Doing a shift at work then walking along the Thames and going to see a show. Spending my days off nipping to a museum or Harry Potter Studios (okay, I haven't done that yet but it's booked!). Wandering Covent Garden on my break. Meeting friends for dinner in Leicester Square. Lazing in Green Park in the London sunshine before my shift. Bumping into Bradley Cooper on the way home from work. (Only happened once, but still.)

When I was in Italy, one of the other tutors had put together a presentation about the UK. One of the slides had a stunning picture that he had taken from Google. The picture had been taken from the bridge that I walk across twice a day to get to and from work. I will never stop being grateful that that view- other people's dream, other people's special holiday memory- is just a daily occurrence for me.

Another reason that I love living in a tourist destination is, of course, my total fascination with language. I loved walking through Disney and working out where people are from, seeing how much of their conversation I can understand. That is just as possible, and just as much fun in London.

5. Free entertainment, inspiration and magic.

Another reason tourist destinations are perfect for a person like me is that they are filled with permanent inspiration for characters, scenes and settings to write about. They're not always necessarily hugely exciting, entertaining or magical, but sometimes they are....

*Charming Frenchman.

A few weeks ago I was on the tube when a very old, frail woman stepped on. A man immediately stood up to offer his seat to the lady- but because she moved so slowly, a standing man whipped into the seat before she could reach it. Just as everyone began tutting in British outrage, the man's face broke into a huge grin, he pointed at the lady and said- in a beautiful French accent- "just kidding!", before helping her into the seat.

The entire carriage shook with laughter. Even the scary looking man in his sixties with the moustache and the briefcase cracked a smile.

*Entertaining train driver.

(Are they called train drivers? The people who make the underground trains move? Am I the only person who doesn't know this?)

Everyone was in a hurry. Everybody always is, in London.

The train was moving at a painfully slow pace, people were checking their watches, tutting, and raising their eyes to the heavens.

An announcement came over. Here we go. What now? Signalling failure? Earlier Person On The Track?

"This announcement is for the person who keeps pressing the Open Door button. We're all very sorry that you weren't given enough trains to play with as a child, but everybody else here has somewhere to be. So if you could kindly stop pressing it so that we can get to the next stop at a normal speed, the entire train would be grateful. Thanks."

Cue my second experience of the whole carriage shaking with laughter.

*Singing on the Train.

One evening a few months ago I was sitting on the train waiting for it to leave London Liverpool Street for Wickford, when two men got on. They sat down, and shortly afterwards, two girls sat opposite them. They began talking to the girls, and gradually began talking to everyone around them. To my absolute delight, they started telling everyone which Disney character they thought they could be. (They called me Belle. Just saying.) As luck would have it, everyone sitting in the carriage at that time was up for discussing all things Disney, and there was soon a gorgeous atmosphere (rare, on an Abellio Greater Anglia train, let me tell you.). When somebody new came into the carriage, one of the men announced:

"Just to warn you before you get comfortable, sitting in this carriage is going to involve singing Disney songs all the way back to Wickford."

"That's absolutely fine. Should we start with Circle of Life?", the absolute hero that had just climbed on responded.

And so we did. We started with Circle of Life (this is when I really came into my own- there was an argument about the lyrics that was only settled when I chimed in and whipped out my Lion King name tag.) and continued with Under the Sea, A Whole New World and Be Our Guest- to name a few.


6. Everything You Could Ever Need.

There's a (heartbreaking) moment in Friends when Monica and Chandler announce that they are leaving New York to live in the suburbs. Phoebe's response is:

What if you want Chinese food at 5am? Or a fake Rolex that breaks as soon as it rains? Or an Asian Hooker sent right to your door?

Okay I don't necessarily have experience of needing any of these things but the theory is there- and that's exactly why I love living in London.

Here's exactly why I don't love living in London....

1. You do spend your days surrounded by unreasonably angry people.

How dare you walk slowly when they are in a hurry? How dare you walk round them when you are in a hurry? How dare you be in the queue already when they want their coffee/money/train ticket right now? How dare you be looking at Facebook on your phone when there are other people on the train? (That seriously happened to me the other day.) How dare you be reading that book with such a ridiculous cover? (Also genuinely happened to me.) How dare you charge that much for Simba Plush Toys when my child wants one? (Okay, maybe it's just me that experiences that one).

2. You become an unreasonably angry person.

Why are they walking so slowly? I'm in a hurry. Don't you march around me like that, I'm walking slowly because I've had a bad day and I'm tired, okay? Oh for goodness sake, why is there a queue? I need my coffee/money/train ticket right now or I'll be late. Get off of your phone. I do not need to hear about what happened to you last night, thank you. They are charging how much for a cup of coffee?!

3. Tourists.

I love living in a tourist area, really I do. But the things that annoyed me about tourists in Florida annoy me just as much about tourists in London. DON'T just stop right in front of me when we're walking at the same pace because you've realised you read your map wrong. DON'T allow your whole party to saunter along taking up the whole of the pathway and the edge of the road- I don't want to have to make the decision of whether to be on time or risk getting hit by a few cars. DON'T bring a tour group of 30 French children into the small Starbucks on the corner of Covent Garden EVER. But especially not just before I start a 10 hour shift. DON'T push your way onto the tube- you let people off first. That's the rule. DON'T say excuse me in your own language then push me out of the way and stand right in front of me. In fact, DON'T push in ANYWHERE, EVER. You are in Britain. We queue.

4. The Tube.

You feel guilty if you have a seat. You feel unreasonably disappointed if you don't. You get outrageously competitive for a seat then have to pretend to be all nonchalant as soon one becomes available. You get pressed up against super smelly people and you get paranoid about the way you, yourself smell. You're terrified of annoying anyone that might shout at you. You randomly fall in love with people so easily on the tube then are mortified when you realise that you weren't being that discreet with your staring. You want to offer her your seat, but you're not sure whether she's actually pregnant. You're being pushed from behind into the person in front of you and now your bodies are touching in the most awkward way and you have to just keep apologising and avoiding eye contact.


5. The general smell of London.

Sometimes I can feel myself breathing in bad health. 

6. Not knowing who you can trust.

Like in all cities, I guess. Some people are wonderful. Some people will go so far out of their way to help you, you don't know what you did to deserve it. When I was in Milan I had several men go out of their way to carry my case for me out of the kindness of their hearts before I met the one who helped me out then stood over me demanding money.

London is the same.

Some people are so amazing I can't believe my own good luck that I met them.

Last week I met a middle aged man in Pret who commented on my accent. We got talking about where I had lived and what I had done, and he asked me whether I would be interested in joining a luxury brand to work. I wasn't interested, but I was excited by the idea that I could wander in for coffee and wander out with a career, so I gave him my number and he promised to call when something came up.

I left delighted. I called both my parents and my boyfriend to tell them what wonderful luck I had.

"Only you, Rebecca. Things like this always happen to you."

Fast forward two hours and I received a totally inappropriate text from this kind middle aged man.


Luckily, my day continued. I met Dale for lunch, walked along the Thames, booked our tickets for a Theatre Royal Drury Lane behind-the-scenes tour, and I had a lovely evening at work with the gorgeous Lion King team.

And so it goes on.

I will continue to meet dodgy middle aged men, continue to complain about tourists and continue to spend my entire wage on coffee and theatre.

But I will also continue to witness magic, to marvel at the views, spend magical days with Simba, beautiful evenings with Disney friends, celebrate milestones with my nearest and dearest, experience far too much live entertainment, and eat out too much with Dale. I will continue to be grateful for the Fairy Godmother who made all this happen. I will continue to be thankful for the wonderful people who are slowly building my character into what it's supposed to be.

And I will continue to pretend that I'm simply a member of the cast of Mary Poppins.

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