I remember the first time I came to London. It was 1998 and I just turned 18. I can't say I was overwhelmed with the place. To be honest, I hated it. I was here for a week and in that week it rained the whole time, I had to catch a bus for an hour to get into Trafalgar Square, and there were neither animals nor clowns at Piccadilly Circus. I left thinking " I will never go there again!"
However repeated trips to Continent over the past 10 years have changed my mind. I mean - once you've spent 26 hours on a plane to get to Heathrow for your onwards journey to Paris or Prague, you'd have to be an idiot not to brave the customs line and spend a few days wandering around what I will now refer to as "the greatest city on earth" - and I knew that one day, somehow, someway I wanted to move there.
As it turns out in late 2009, I would get my opportunity. I was traveling here on a holiday and a job opportunity arose which would mean returning home to my apartment in Sydney, packing up everything I own, and moving across the other side of the planet within six weeks.
My life took off quite suddenly in London, as that is the way London works. It is fast, It is crazy, It is impulsive. It is a city that a living organism. I was working within one week of living here, I was attuning my body to the new time zone it was to call home, and I was healing the empty space in my heart left by cat by caring for an epileptic dog. I was buying new jackets like they were going out of fashion.
It's not like I had never been in freezing cold weather before, but it is very different to being in a snow field to actually living and working in freezing cold conditions. Needless to say all the clothes I brought were stupid and worthless and I needed to buy all new clothes and shoes unless I wanted to turn into an ice cube. I quite enjoyed this aspect.
The first time it snowed I was carrying groceries home. I was walking along the road when a snowflake landed on my glove.. then another.. then I looked up and the whole sky was filled with flurries of snowflakes drifting down to the street like a magical Christmas tale. Needless to say I went nuts.
I threw all my bags to the ground and ran around jumping up and down "it's snowing! It's snowing!!" A lady came outside her house and looked at me jumping up and down with pumpkins and canned tomatoes strewn all over the footpath "its snowing?" I asked her? Like I needed the reassurance that all the jumping up and down was the sane way to react to the first snow of the season. "Yes, it's snowing!" she didn't have a childish fit of glee like me, but she did smile and I could see that it had made her day just as it had made mine.
It felt as though I was Lucy stepping through the magical wardrobe into a strange and snowy new land. London was my Narnia! All my life I had been climbing into wardrobes hoping to find the mystical wonderland of snow behind the fur coats, and here it was on my front step. I was jubilant with glee!
When I went home I texted everyone to let them know it was snowing. In case they hadn't realized by some virtue of being outside and going momentarily blind. SNOW! There can be no bad decisions about moving to a city that snows. It removes all the dirt and mess and makes the place seem like a fairytale wonderland. It is peaceful and calm and fills you with happiness. You can keep your beaches Sydney! I have snow to play with now!
Needless to say - the thrill of snow outside the apartment never wears off. I would take to standing around outside just to be in it. I would spend hours just staring out the window. Staring at roofs and footpaths and Christmas decorations. I could stare out the window all day if I had snow to look at.
If London was my Narnia enchantment playground, then I was the White Witch, trying to enchant everyone with my Turkish Delight (mulled wine), my cat would watch the snowdrifts from the windowsill like Aslan watching over his enormous kingdom. I never wanted the winter to end, I didn't understand why everyone was so down on London over the winter months?
My first London white Christmas rolled around. I cooked a pumpkin pie and went to the park and was mauled by a rogue squirrel. It was everything I had hoped my Christmas would be (minus the mauling).
It has now been one year since I turned my life upside down - leaving behind all that is safe and known, and mine. And whilst I did learn why people over time grow to despise the seemingly never ending winter of the Northern Hemisphere, I think I still a few many years to go before I am completely jaded by the experience
I spend many days walking around London just to visit the places that I have read about, to stand outside the door of a place where someone wrote a masterpiece can only add to the experience of reading or watching it later.
I made a pilgrimage to Sylvia Plath's house in the Autumn, to stand over the green park that is outside her doorway and remember the words of her prose:
And to understand exactly what she meant when she wrote those words:
"I am flushed and warm.
I think I may be enormous,
I am so stupidly happy,
Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red."
I have strolled down Abbey Road and crossed the infamous crossing twenty times in a row, with reckless disregard for the drivers who merely wanted to get to their workday destinations. I wanted to feel something real whilst I walked those 6 white zebra crossing stripes. I wanted to feel the genius of John Lennon inside me, where I would have gone into the studio and penned a smash hit for fans to be inspired by for decades to come.
Just like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I had truly fallen through the looking glass.
I could walk down the street and spend my time spotting Witches, just like Roald Dahl taught me to in my childhood. of course there are no witches in Australia - for one it is too far to fly on a broomstick, it is hard enough in premium economy for 26 hours, let alone one a splintery piece of wood. Not that we really need Witches back home to kill off the child population, one could conceivably die just from leaving the safety of one's house to for supposed leisure activities - eaten by a crocodile, eaten by a giant spider, stung by a jelly fish, heck I bet there are some parts of Australia where just breathing the oxygen could kill you. London Witches have nothing on the Australian Outback. However that doesn't stop me meticulously checking out women who look they might be wearing wigs, women who walk a tad crippled as though they have square toes (which is how 99% of shoes are made these days anyway - torture devices!) but alas, I haven't spotted one yet.
I felt like Charlie Bucket - winning the opportunity of a lifetime, coming to a new city with endless opportunity, an endless supply of culture and nightlife and new friends and travel destinations.
'Cause I've got a golden ticket
I've got a golden twinkle in my eye
I never had a chance to shine
Never a happy song to sing
But suddenly half the world is mine
What an amazing thing
'Cause I've got a golden ticket'