a girl's guide to london
Don't buy food from anywhere within a 40-foot radius of Tottenham Court Road and always smell the bus seat before you sit down on it.
I've only ever lived in London, which means that while I don't have much to compare it to, I probably know it quite well. Because of a steadfast refusal to relocate anywhere else, I have learned much of London's secret language. Don't buy food from anywhere within a 40-foot radius of Tottenham Court Road (yes that includes Chipotle). Two night buses will cost the same as an Uber. Don't casually try and get dinner in Soho at 8:30pm on a Friday and always smell the bus seat before you sit down on it. I like London, a lot. I was born in the Royal Free and if all goes to plan, I'll probably die there too -- sitting proudly on a futuristic hotel trolley for three, moments from both Hampstead Heath and a Marks and Spencer's booth selling discounted egg rolls to the terminally ill. It's a comforting thought.
London has lots of great secrets. For example, most posh girls are named after roads in W10 and the ever-sparring four corners of the city are virtually interchangeable once you get to zone 3. While you could write about London forever and still find yourself peddling the same superficial Hampstead novel, in this case I intend to guide you through it in under 2000 words. Please expect nothing profound. Equally, as I always say with these pieces, this is no more a girl's guide than a guide written by a woman with the emotional maturity of a girl, but the title works so we'll stick with it. Expect heteronormative bullshit galore -- but I do try, I promise.
True Londoners do not re-beep their Oyster cards when changing between over and underground. True Londoners take more trains for fewer stops. True Londoners will barge furiously past a stroller in order to make a tube even though there's another one in two minutes. If you are standing directly in the way of the doors, make sure you wait until the very last moment to duck your head inside the carriage, swooping it in with the calm air of someone who was not momentarily in threat of mechanical beheading. Obviously don't speak to anyone unless they're really, really old. Do drink on the tube but only out of soft drink bottles. If someone gets too close to you (read: rubs up against you) fucking shout them down. But also don't worry if you really don't want to do that because you feel frightened or ashamed or confused. Fuck TFL for making you feel like it's your own fault if you don't.
I eat out six nights a week and so does my boyfriend. Kidding, I'm single! London is still far from New York in that you can definitely eat at home for cheaper than taking yourself out for dinner but when the prospect of more plasticine Tesco microwave broccoli becomes too depressing, you will start to search out places where you can get a meal for under $10. Lahmacuns may have rocketed out of fashion in favor of $25 chopped steak salads in places my dad would describe as a "funky canteen" but you can't argue with them for heft, flavor and price value. If you forfeit meat for morality and health, you can also get a highly decent vegetable curry selection for well under a tenner that will last you at least another lunch. Except you will eat all of your future lunches at Pret. That's not a sensationalist comment from someone who once used to work by Silicone Roundabout (three walkable Pret's) that's just 100 percent true. You want to be employed in London? Pick your sandwich and expect to eat it roughly 10,000 times.
Which brings us nicely on to the world of work. Getting a job in London is hard and I reckon it's even harder if you haven't grown up locally and can't exploit every school friend and nepotistic link you've got in the search for an income. That said, there are a lot of bullshit jobs here and hopefully you'll find one soon enough. Work is meant to be boring so let's talk about it as little as possible -- if you're one of those people who loves their job then un-match me on Tinder and leave me alone. Oh, you will learn to drink coffee at 7pm and not get a (noticeable) migraine, which is an OK skill to have.
Getting that $350 a month zone 2 rent is actually still possible but you need to be cool with sleeping in an unheated horsebox. Ditto, you could live in a Live In Guardians scheme but you need to be really chill with drinking lukewarm water from a push-down office bathroom tap and getting kicked out at any point with two days notice. Alternatively, pay a small fortune aka 80 percent of your income to sleep in the living room of a passably nice flat a short bus ride away from an overground stop, and wait with fear for the artisan coffee truck to appear outside the station, signaling a six month window for you to find a new home before your crooked landlord hoicks the rent up another $300 per month. Prepare to fetishize mid-range candles because you can't risk buying furniture and you'll never save up enough for a deposit. Fuck candles. Fuck candle culture. Tories out! Etc.
Once you're settled with your sofa and all your stuff, you'll probably want someone to come in and mess it up so you don't feel so alone with your unhappiness. Dating is basically like Christmas! You know you shouldn't get excited but as it draws nearer you get really very excited and then when it's rubbish you are eternally surprised at how disappointed and sad-drunk and broke you suddenly are. Regardless, you have to date because otherwise you'll have no-one to eat brunch with in Stoke Newington on Sundays and all your friends will get annoyed with you for ruining their couples New Years Eve dinner party. Sorry am I projecting.
RE: the above. I hope you like poached eggs because they will become your only source of pleasure. Yep, even hate-sex gets boring.
Partying is cool but you know what's also cool? Pubs. Yes I know you spent your teens and early-twenties whinging to all your pretty-girl friends that you just don't "get" pubs. Find one you like, find a few friends you like, stick with it for 20 years and hey presto you've lived a life. Wetherspoons are great, especially the ones with the really long chairs in the ladies. If you want to go out somewhere cool to impress your out of town cousins then why not try the hip Central St Martins bar where drinks are $5 and the live music is just loud enough to thrill you. Joking I obviously love going out all the time to see really cool bands. For real though there's a crisis of London nightlife and all the late licenses are being taken away and to be honest with you it's fucking bullshit. Pub then house party is basically your only good option.
I've never been to Winter Wonderland because I don't agree with outdoor activities in December but I hear it's absolutely brilliant. Really magical. Brilliant, magical fun.
Text Bertie Brandes
Photography Chris JL