'Twas a few nights before Christmas...

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Thursday, December 21, 2006

The seasons have turned long since I last posted a missive on my travelogue. Summer roared through the skies here, hot and fierce, with the warmest autumn on record riding pillion. Indeed, 2006 has been the hottest year in Britain since records began in the sixteenth century, and boy it's felt like it here. London, for all its joys, is not really a city built for summer. It's not until winter when this city comes into its own, and becomes the London of imagination - warm crowded pubs, cold streets shrouded in fog, and long dark nights. In keeping with the theme of previous months, November belied its wintry reputation to give us warm sun and blue skies, but it all had to end at some stage and boy, has it turned bitter now! Winter's cold jaws have descended upon London in the last couple of weeks and the weather has become, at long last, what I had been led to expect from this city. There was frost on the ground this week, and while there is no snow here as yet, I'm still hopeful of a white New Year's, if not a white Christmas. To be honest, though, there's hardly any bloody snow in Europe at the moment...and if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the gnashing of teeth from the ski fields. Global warming, I fear, has a lot to answer for.

But while it might be achingly cold here at the moment, the pubs are hot, the beer is warm (at last I can see why), and there are friends and revels to be found wherever you may look. And trust me, you need all of those things to get through the day right now...

I know it's been a long time since my last post, and if any of you have been sitting with bated breath at your computer for the last six months waiting for the latest installment of my aimless ramblings and exuberant adventures, I apologise to you...and, please, get some help!

The truth is, once I hit Europe in June and was reunited with my friends from New Zealand, it seemed difficult to justify spending my time typing on a computer instead of hitting the streets of Florence and catching up on the news and gossip of those dearest to me over bottles of Chianti and impossibly strong espressos. This blog-malaise was not helped by a hedonistic week at the World Cup in Germany, and by the time I finally arrived here in London, I was consumed with the tasks of sorting out my life, as I tried to transform from windswept vagabond back into a functional member of society - complete with postal address, NI number and a bank account. Needless to say, this proved somewhat difficult, as any of you who have spent any time in London with no doubt recall....most likely with an involuntary shudder or two. The hardest thing though was finding a job - a challenging enough task at the best of times, but in London over summer, having just stepped off the boat? I needed to be lucky.

As it turned out, I was, but it took me three months of searching (okay, so maybe not that lucky). A torrent of CVs flowed from my hands to various agencies and employers, with very little success. It got to be a little frustrating, not the least for my straining credit card, but eventually I got to strut my stuff at the NHS - yep, as a medical secretary. The NHS, I was pleased to see, was as efficiently run and functional as a civil service should be, so much that that I was pleasantly surprised each day to find that the building was actually still standing. Still, it was a job, and an easy one at that.

Now, thankfully, I have moved on and can be found at the Institute of Neurology, part of University College of London (strangely enough, just across the square from where I was temping). Despite having vowed to never work with proteins again, I'm working with the prion research team on a project in collaboration with GSK to discover therapeutic drug to treat CJD (mad cow disease in humans). It's pretty exciting really (well, in a scientician's kinda way), and there is something quite comforting in the thought that I leave at the end of the day knowing that one day people's lives will be improved beyond belief by what my team and I are doing here. I like that.

And as for London itself? Well, despite my initial reluctance to settle here as merely one more Antipodean migrant, I've found myself greatly warming to this city. It's a funny place, though. There's a remarkable dichotomy about London. On the surface, it feels very impersonal, almost overwhelming. A veneer of antisocial apathy is what strikes you when you first begin to immerse yourself in the thronging streets of London. Here, a stranger is not someone to look at or even make eye contact with, lest you be mistaken for caring, even just for a fraction of time, about another person's life outside of your own. There is no open hostility in it, more just an aversion of gaze, conveying an innate disinterest in anything beyond your own purpose. And woe betide the unlearned soul who attempts to spark up a conversation on the tube!

Give it a bit of time though, and gradually you scratch the surface and find the warmth beneath. London is really just a collection of little villages, each with their own personality and identity, and once you get to know your own little part of London a little better, the city itself feels a lot more welcoming. The sheer scale of culture and activity here is a definite part of its charm, and there is also a palpable majesty about this city - plus a real Majesty, if that's your thing. At times almost aloof from the world, London knows full well that, more than any other metropolis, it is the centre of the universe. New York is without doubt the most outward-looking and cosmopolitan of the American mega-cities, but its relative New World youth and, let's face it, "geographical location" serve to exclude it from primacy. I've waxed long and lyrical about the sensory melting-pot that is Istanbul, with its long history as the crossroads of the world; about the hive-city of Cairo - over-ripe and overwhelming, full of decay and decline; or Mumbai's vast untapped potential, where two worlds of wealth and abject poverty intersect. However, all these lack the commercial and culture power of London. Singapore may have the money, but it feels like a mere extension of Changi - the world's largest airport waiting lounge.

No, it is London, and London alone, that can claim the title of the World's City. And that is why I'm enjoying it - you never want for something to do here, and when you need to escape (which, can be fairly often), a multitude of destinations are on your doorstep. In fact, one of the best things about London is that there are so many places you can go to get away from it...if you can only get past the M25, of course!

I get a sense of duality whenever I talk about home, these days. While New Zealand will always be where I return to, London is starting to feel more and more like a second home. To be fair, for a large part of the 15 months, "home" was wherever my backpack was, so it's no wonder that somewhere I now have a bed (and a room of my own to put it in!) should feel like home to me! I don't think I'll ever settle here permanently - New Zealand has so much more to offer - but London, I think, will do for now (although it's going to be great to be back in NZ next year). The last 6 months have been fantastic really. As well as everything I have done (and am still to do) in London,  I have discovered a little corner of Kiwi-esque paradise in Wales, which sings to my soul whenever I am there - remote and beautiful, and replete with wonderful people (thank you Sam!). What's more, I have a lot of friends living in London these days, and while some sadly are have returned or are returning to New Zealand shortly, more will be making their way to the UK next year which only encourages me to stay here longer. And there's love in the air, as well...but more on that later, hopefully. Fingers crossed, people.... :-)

Anyway, I'm coming home for 10 days in March before flying to Melbourne for my brother's wedding, so I'll be looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible when I'm back. And for those of you a little further (closer??) afield than Auckland, hopefully it won't be too much longer before our paths cross again.

But until then, for you all, a very Merry Christmas and an even Happier New Year! If you get to have only half as much fun in 2007 as I have had this year, you will feel very lucky...and I wish you a lot more than that. It's been the most extraordinary year for me, and as I've wandered the world, I have seen and done things beyond my dreams. The travel lust is still there, just bubbling below the surface, so hopefully it won't be too long before I can hit the road again. Stay tuned!

Well my friends, once more Merry Christmas to all, and lots of love from London!!

El Condor xoxo
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zento on

A London wassail to you...
Reading this entry reminds me of everything we´ve been through in the past month and a half here in London. I must agree with you in every single statement you say about this city. We are still struggling to get settled in, but the encumbrance makes it all the more enlightening. For some reason, we can't get away! comforting to know there's someone else who's 'been there' and 'done that'. All the best for 2007.

Lu and Ed

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