Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living Abroad Matters One - London Flat

Contrast Unleashes Gratitude

When hunting for a city flat it is essential to view an array of abysmal slums to fully appreciate the blessing when you finally find a decent abode fit for human habitation. You need to experience that sick, sinking feeling in your gut that drags you down to the depths of despair where you are groaning to yourself such anguished questions as ‘What have I done, why am I here and can I go home now?’ In retrospect this experience is indeed edifying.

We saw one bare and barren dog box. I only needed to throw a rug on the floor next to a bowl of fresh water and doggy munchies. And we were privy to viewing three “furnished” rat holes, which had me conjuring images of morphing into a scurrying, snuffling rodent curled in the corner of a flea-infested mattress.

We had left a spacious new home on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, rented to a sea-changing Sydney family, for this grand adventure of living six months in the UK. My husband Andrew woke up in a hotel room on his 50th birthday to find himself homeless and displaced in a strange city. But by early afternoon we were euphoric when we found a tiny loft in Acton. It had just been refurbished with a spanking new kitchen, new appliances and cheerful new furniture. “We’ll take it,” we shrieked in unison, as we dodged the low ceiling. After what we had seen, this little residence was delightful and we were chuffed to the back teeth. Couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces, with several selfies to prove it!

When comparing flat hunting stories with other newcomers, we realized just how lucky we were. In fact we had set some kind of record (which really pissed off our fellow Aussies!) We lobbed on Saturday morning, hired a car and headed for Hertfordshire, drawn by dreams of a quaint country cottage; dreams which were quickly dispelled. Instant change of strategy. “Let’s live in London,” I chirped! Why the heck not. We could be the hippest oldies in town!

After a night sleeping off the lag in a cosy B&B and waking to a magical display of unseasonal spring snow, followed by the most delicious Ultimate English Breakfast, we headed for Fulham to visit Daniel. What a blast to see our son and his friends living a cosmopolitan lifestyle. The guys and gals had all scored great apartments after embarking on the ritual search when they arrived the previous year. They put me onto Gum Tree, an on-line service set up by innovative ex-pats.

The next day I focused on the flat hunting expedition like a ferocious warrior slashing through jungle or more aptly, a demented woman in a bargain sale. I scribbled and highlighted my way through every rental listing in Hot Property and Gum Tree, terrorising real estate agents and property owners as I explored every option: dropping our standards, paying more, sharing accommodation or living on the outskirts. It was a process of elimination; the exhilarating decision-making game I relish! However Andrew’s head was spinning, his stomach was churning and his heart was set on the empty dog box as a way to end the pain! I wouldn’t let him!

And so the day dawned. It was Tuesday, just four days after landing on English soil, and Andrew could celebrate his half century birthday knowing we had secured a temporary home. But the triumph didn’t end there! Daniel had arranged a Big Night Out for his dad’s Big Five-Oh! A group of eight of us set off in cabs, then jumped the Tube to arrive at a stunningly elegant Asian-Cuban fusion restaurant. I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase and I was dressed like a prize dag, but hey, the young guys at our table weren’t looking at me anyway; they only had eyes for the gorgeous little waitress with the captivating accent. The food was sublime. Well-sated, we made our way to the West End to experience the joyous foot-stomping, hand-clapping, dance-in-your-seat musical, We Will Rock You, followed by supper back at the elegant restaurant. If this is London, give me more!

The next day, after signing off on the deal, we headed for Marks and Spencer and I went on another rampage, buying everything we needed to set up our love nest and then I hit the food section to stock the fridge. What bliss! I am already loving London. There has always been a repressed City Girl in me screaming to get out! I am enraptured by the bustling streets of diverse humanity, the historic buildings, pubs, restaurants, funky shops at every turn. I am buzzing with the constant stimulus. And I adore rugging up. My taste for natty jackets, scarves and solid footwear, so out of place in the tropics, can now find a place to belong. In fact two bohemian Baby Boomers have found a place to belong…in a loft in London, embracing a whole new lease on life.

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