The Awkward Guide

In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself

Six months at Pirie Close, London

Leaving university is a strange thing. It’s also quite a difficult thing.

A decidedly un-difficult thing in the context of war and persecution and actual suffering. But difficult, undoubtedly, in the context of a life thus far lived within the education system.

It’s difficult because suddenly, and for the first time, there is no next step. The current we have been dutifully following since the age of four – of school, GCSEs, A levels, university – cuts us adrift with only our own scary decisions and the expectation that we must now swim off and make a success of ourselves.

It’s difficult because for a lot of us, leaving university means going from the pinnacle of everything we’ve achieved in our lives so far, to getting rejected from part-time jobs that barely pay minimum wage.

It is a grounding, ego-crushing, anxiety-inducing experience that has, no doubt, often led school friends to remark: “Remember when they told us that having the Duke of Edinburgh Award on our CV would make us super employable… and we believed them? Hahahahahaha!”

It’s difficult because we go from lives that were busy and full – full of friends and activities, of purpose and accomplishments – to lives where there are only applications to fill out and the only people we see are our parents and occasionally the postman (but that means getting up before 11 and that is frankly rather a lot to ask).

But here I must add that all the things that are difficult about leaving university are simply signs that our lives so far have been incredibly fortunate.

If we feel a bit lost, it’s because up till now we’ve had people to keep us on the right track for reaching this point. If the only people we’ve seen this week have been our parents, it’s because we have parents who are willing and able to support us in moments when we can’t support ourselves. And if it’s hard to say goodbye to places and people that mean a lot to us, it’s because there are now more parts of the world that feel like home and more people in it that we care about.

Although knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it any less frightening.

It’s one of those things that will just sort of suck until it doesn’t. But you’ll be alright. You’ll find something else to do next. You might not get it right first time, but you will discover there are more adventures to be had.

As my mum once said – we all rattle around the sieve for a while but eventually we all seem to come out the right hole. I find that a very reassuring thought, not least because it makes me think of baking, which makes me think of cake. Mmm, cake.

Anyway, I, like a lot of people, ended up in London for a bit. Nine months to be precise.

Now, the more astute amongst you may notice that I titled this “Six months at Pirie Close, London” – that’s because for the first three months I was able to move in with a friend and I thought I’d be home by Christmas. Not for the first time, that sentiment was proved to be inaccurate.

For the next six months I moved to an area I’d never been to before, in a city I didn’t know, in a tiny house with seven complete strangers.

So that’s when the full weight of the terrifying, confusing, ohgodwhathaveIdone-ness that is moving to London really kicked in.

Big Ben from Ruskin Park

Given how that situation could have turned out, I feel I was, on the whole, very lucky on the housemate front. None of them tried to kill me in my sleep and not once did I discover that any of them had used up the last of the milk when I was in need of a cup of tea – the two most important qualities in a housemate, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now, because there’s an overwhelming chance that I will never see them again, they will never read this, and because I sort of feel like the last nine months didn’t really actually happen, I wanted to document something about the people I co-habited with before I forget it all.

Pirie Close was a fairly transitory place. It was well equipped to be convenient for short-term lets and, as such, none of us lived there for very long. While living there we were all, I think, existing in a state of perpetual temporariness.

People would disappear and new people would arrive without any warning and we got used to that. For all of us, Pirie Close was where we stayed while we waited to see what was going to happen next, or until we found somewhere better.

There was Dagmara. She worked in the kitchen at the hospital over the road but she had once been a fairly professional volleyball player. For some years before she moved to the UK she had played for the Polish national volleyball team.

She was only there for a few months before she was unceremoniously booted out by the landlords for smoking in her room, but throughout our interactions during that time she really only talked about four things: cooking everything from scratch, volleyball, heavy metal, and her two year-old daughter who would stay with us at weekends.

We once spent a memorable hour in the kitchen with her attempting to teach me the nuanced intricacies of the perfect volleyball serve. Even though it was well after bedtime and I had really only been asking to be polite.

She drank a lot and got into several strange arguments with other flatmates, mainly about rice. She was a bit nutty, but she was only ever kind to me.

There was the woman whose name I can’t for the life of me remember but she did move out not long after I moved in (I didn’t take it personally).

She was a fully qualified doctor in Ukraine but that didn’t qualify her to practice in the UK so she was back to being a student doctor at the hospital so that she could get experience in the obstetrics and gyneacology department, which is apparently one of the best.

She once offered that if I wanted to have a baby, she’d take care of me – to which I replied that I wasn’t actually planning on it but thanks all the same.

Then there was Kenneth. Kenneth was perhaps my favourite, not just because he had a really cool job.

He was an incredibly cheerful and friendly Danish guy and we often ended up in the kitchen at the same times, usually talking about work. Which was great, because he worked in special effects and animation for films, so most of the time he’d tell me about how he’d spent his day creating lighting effects on an animated raccoon.

But also not great, because he’d definitely got the wrong end of the stick about my job and thought I was a sports journalist, which is not at all what I do. But by the time I realised the confusion it had gone way too far to actually correct him so I just sort of went along with it.

Which means he probably now thinks I’m a really awful sports journalist because I never had any juicy insider info. Because that’s not actually what my job was.

There was also, very briefly, Ian. Ian was a builder and I initially had high hopes on finding out he was from Manchester, like me.

However, after several conversations which – to this day – I’m still pretty sure made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and once finding him in the kitchen in the middle of the night, asleep in a bowl of baked beans, I decided he was probably a bit odd. Fortunately he didn’t stay for very long.

There was Marta, from Barcelona. She had upped sticks and moved on her own to London to improve her English. She worked the 5am-1pm shift at Pizza Hut. She was really sweet, but she never believed me when I said the weather was nice.

There were Steph and Jamie. They lived there for quite a while but they mainly kept to themselves. Jamie worked surveying building sites and Steph was a teaching assistant.

They had an unfortunate habit of playing shit music loudly on Saturday mornings and taking over the kitchen at prime tea-making times, but other than that they were perfectly amiable.

More recently there was Will. Will was sadly somewhat lacking in the personality department and one of the least smiley and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met.

Also he was a whistler, and called his friends things like “Colonel”. I was not Will’s biggest fan.

And finally there were Ben and Grace and/or Rose. Ben and his girlfriend lived in the room next to mine and were really very nice. They were the only two who were at Pirie Close for pretty much the whole time I was there, moving out just a few days before I did.

Her name was either Grace or Rose, I never actually figured out which, but in my defense she had a very strong French accent and it was difficult to tell.

So when we first introduced ourselves, I of course said “sorry, didn’t quite catch that, what’s your name?” and definitely not just “oh hi, nice to meet you!” whilst hoping I would never have cause to actually use her name.

Ben was at college, had a motorbike he used to chain up outside the kitchen, and was incredibly quiet. Grace and/or Rose was from Paris and juggled her time between being a French tutor, getting an English qualification, and working as a care worker for the elderly.

She was excellent for providing some perspective after an iffy day at work, because after hearing about her day of getting shouted at by the man suffering from Alzheimer’s that she was trying to help, I would quickly realise that my day hadn’t been that bad at all.

So there we have them, the people who were a crucial part of my life for nine months, and at the same time curiously not really part of it at all. There were, of course, other people who were my company – friends and colleagues and people at the gym – but I’ll leave it there, before this turns worryingly into some sort of memoir.

London skyline

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This entry was posted on 15/07/2014 by in Everything Else and tagged , , , , .

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