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The London Life

"If you think I'll eat your fish and chips, be Jaysus you're mistaken"

Leaving home was the easy bit. Packing my suitcase before heading for Dublin Airport was nothing but exciting. I didn't have a worry in my mind. Truth being told, I couldn't wait to get on the flight to London. Of course, it wasn't like I was heading to the other side of the world. Just a short hop across the water to our nearest and (not so)dearest neighbours. I wanted to see what their 'Big Smoke' had to offer. I was a 22 year old Kerry man with a lightly earned University degree in my back pocket and an ego the size of Big Ben. I wasn't travelling to London with nothing but the shirt on my back. I wasn't destined for a brutal labouring job with the likes McAlpine or Lang. I was heading over with a decent few quid on my AIB debit card and a handy graduate job waiting for me with a well known financial institution. This living abroad thing was going to be easy...

My plan was simple, and by that I mean there was no plan. My £22 Ryanair flight landed into Heathrow at 6pm on a balmy summers evening in 2012. I quickly disembarked and collected my luggage and made my way towards the city centre. I can still remember that feeling of pure freedom as I finally got off the Tube in Clapham. I could do anything I wanted and be anybody I wanted. I was booked into a hostel for the first week of my stay, and I quickly dropped my bags and was on my merry way. A friend of mine from home was waiting for me at a local establishment which sold drink. By the time I finally got there I was a little behind. Jim and his missus were about 6 jars deep and the colour of his pint was curious to me. He wasn't drinking pints of Bud, put it that way. When I heard him make his order for 3 pints of Venom, I knew there was trouble on the horizon. I was in the big city now and if that's what they drink then that's what I drink! Of course, we drank the night away and at around half one in the morning I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of a local lady who said she would give me a grand tour of London's brightest sights, and my goodness, that tour was something I'll never forget!

The following morning I was making my way back to Clapham on the Tube when an elderly man sat down beside me. I could tell by the wry smile on his face that he knew I was doing the 'walk of shame'. He asked me if I'd had a good night, to which I responded, you can say that again. I was living the much vaunted London life, and although my head was sore, I was loving it. There was something so relaxing and liberating about walking down streets where nobody knows who you are, where nobody even looks at you. In many ways, London is a city of nobodies. Millions of people who all go about their life in a totally individual way. It's such an alien concept to people back home who are always stuck in each others business. There is little or no sense of conformity and at the beginning that was something I loved. Although London is only across the water and less than an hours flights it is so totally different. Walking down the street in Tralee or any Irish town or city is like being on a different planet entirely. You'd be lucky to make 50 steps in Tralee before somebody is saluting you out of a car window or giving you the nod as you walk past on the street. London is a whole other world.

I settled into my new life over the next few months. Unfortunately, the daily routine was not as glamorous as I'd expected. I was getting up at the crack of dawn to cram onto the Tube for the best part of an hour before sitting in an office chair for 8 hours straight. I'd imagined a view of Big Ben from my office window, when in reality the only view I was seeing from my desk was that of heroin addicts injecting themselves at the rear of a hotel opposite our office. Leonardo Di Caprio in Wolf of Wallstreet was certainly not my experience of the financial sector. The Tube home in the evenings then was an absolute riot. You would come across any type of odd ball you've ever imagined. I remember one evening in particular, I was totally exhausted and this guy kept trying to convert me to some Religious cult. I'd had enough, I was either going to knock him out or offer him money to do one. In the end I gave him £20 in return for his silence. That is how mentally drained I was from the incessant flow of nonsense coming from his mouth. There was no hesitation on his side, his belief in the Lord our Saviour quickly left him when the £20 note was produced.

That was London in a nutshell, full to the brim with all sorts of weird and wacky folk who would sell their soul for the next quick buck. After 12 months I'd had enough of it all. Being honest, if it wasn't for London GAA I'd of headed home long before that. The Irish community in London is absolutely first class, they really look after each other and make sure that no one is left alone. The GAA is at the heart of that and is the true heart of the Irish community in London. The anonymity of London which I loved at the beginning became too much for me. I found myself feeling lonely most of the time and wondering what life was like back home. I used to just walk down the street and hope for a smile or even a wave from a passer by. The much vaunted London life requires a large amount of capital. Even if you're working a well paid job, which I was, there was no hope of being able to afford a decent flat in a good location or have enough to be out five nights a week. I mean, I was paying the best part of £2000 for a room in a run down building. I just couldn't fathom how little I was getting for my money. I was broke all of the time.

Don't get me wrong, they're are great things about London. It is a truly vibrant city with a world of opportunity for someone who can overcome the initial obstacles. It just wasn't for me, I wanted to go home to my family and my support network. Although Ireland has its own faults, you just cant beat the safety of being amongst your own. It brings a certain comfort that can't be found anywhere else. I'm honest enough to admit that I wasn't cut out for life abroad, but saying that, I'm happy I tried. At least now I will never wonder what it would have been like, and that experience is priceless.

The big city chewed me up and spat me out, but I would still encourage any person who's mind is wondering to far away green hills to go and try them. Maybe they are greener, but for me they were not. I hope you enjoyed reading my story...



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