Words & images Catherine McMaster
NO city’s image is more at odds with the reality than London. So many Aussies flock to the capital with raised expectations only to encounter disappointment.
I relocated from Sydney to London to study my masters and I underestimated how demanding the degree would be.
London’s not very nice to its people and the locals by default are permanently petulant and irritated.
Each morning I stand on the icy, marbled floor of my bathroom and hope for some lukewarm water to come out of the tap.
I need it to water down my MAC Studio Fix foundation. My mascara gets the same treatment. Why? Because if you’re too skint to buy makeup, you’re left with only one viable option — add water.
Additionally, my mascara is doubling as eyeliner and I am now forcibly pinching my cheeks. The result? Kate Moss, circa 2014, stumbling out of a Mayfair club with smeared red lips, perspired foundation and smudged mascara.
Regardless, I know this diluted makeup is better than nothing.
Fortified with coffee and digestive biscuits, I’m ready to head out. I’m currently selling ovens for six pounds (about $A9.85) an hour at a design expo across town.
It’s a 35-minute tube ride or a 6.4km walk. I set off an hour and a half early to try and make it on time. I can’t afford the tube fare.
I’m tired. I’ve been up all night writing a piece on the abortion debate in Northern Ireland. I’m a fulltime masters student in journalism and peddling built-in furnaces is a part time gig. I need the money.
The walk is long, but the scenery pretty. And today I get lucky in West London. Someone has tossed out a tatty, but not entirely useless, pair of denim jeans, a woollen beret and green Nikes.
Pride is something I bid adieu long ago and I open my satchel and stuff the roadside remnants inside.
I haven’t been able to afford new jeans in more than six months and I don’t have a pair of joggers.
At work I’m reprimanded for tying my red silk scarf in a “too sexy” way. Why someone who sells ovens needs to wear a silk scarf, I can’t fathom, but according to my supervisor it “lends a dignified air”. I notice that she’s tied hers so severely that her chin folds over it.
I’ve been given the dreaded oven and microwave combo section and I’m trying to entice passers-by with a friendly smile and my luring opening line. “These ovens feature moisture plus,” I say.
I have no idea what “moisture plus” means, but I suspect it has something to do with the nozzle on the inside.
By the time the clock strikes six, I’ve sold — unsurprisingly — zero ovens. No bonus for me, and I receive a stern warning from the supervisor that it’s “simply not good enough”.
I can’t face the 6.4km walk home and decide on a more illicit journey: the London Underground.
A young ticket master stands at the entrance to the Tube. He’s casually greeting passers-by and smiles with sincere pleasure. A happy London man: you don’t find many.
“Excuse me, I am so sorry but I don’t have a ticket,” I say. “My partner took my wallet this
morning and I have no way of getting home. Would you please allow me, just this once, to go through.”
He agrees to let me in. For the first time in weeks I’m able to travel in the underground labyrinth, and even manage to get a seat. It feels marvellous.
So is it worth it? Yes. Struggling in London and living day-by-day on a diet of digestive biscuits and 99 pence ($A1.64) pasta is arduous.
But London is vibrant and intoxicating, and I’ve come to appreciate that it offers something far more intrinsic and unique.
This article first appeared on News.com.au on 29/4/2017. Read it here: goo.gl/1tQP1J