What it's like to move back to London: In conversation with Nat

Primrose Hill, one of Nat's favourite places in London. Picture taken in 2014 at Nat's going away picnic before she left for Ghana

Nat is a very good friend of mine and whenever we're together, mishap and disaster are never far away (case in point, I just dropped my laptop halfway through interviewing her after one too many cacha├žas). We met over 8 years ago at uni when I unwittingly recruited her to act in the 2010 King's College London Greek Play, which is put on by students every year in the original Ancient Greek. I directed Aeschylus's Persians and Nat was a member of the chorus. Nat first lived in London from 2009 'til 2012 then moved to York after graduating, then Stoke-On-Trent and Stockport via Ghana to work and to undertake further study (she also worked in Brazil for a while during uni). Nat recently moved back to London for a new job, so I caught up with her to find out more about what it's like to move away and then come back, and what she learned on her travels. She also has some great London foodie tips.

So you're back in London, huh? What's brought you back?

Yup! I wanted a job somewhere that wasn't ridiculously cold or [makes an unprintable comment about people who live in the North]. Also, transport's good, and you get paid more here than you do elsewhere in the UK. House prices are insane though. 

What was it like to move to London the first time in '09? You're from Worcester so it must have been a bit of a culture shock.

Yes! It was crazy, there's such a greater variety of people here. In Worcester, I was the most exotic person for miles [Nat is part European, part South American]. Here, I'm not even the most exotic person on the bus. Also, everything was so much more expensive. I was suddenly at uni, so no parents to tell me not to do anything stupid, in a huge city! Also, I found that the weather was a lot better than the Midlands, a lot less rain.

Greek Play 2010
What was your favourite thing about studying in London?

There's a weird sense of community here you don't get anywhere else. It doesn't matter where you're from or what you do, once you're here you're a Londoner.
I really liked my uni (King's College) and I liked my course. It was also really central so that helped! I liked striking out on my own, and there were cheap(ish!) drinks. Oh, and being in the Greek Play of course.

Any tips for young people thinking about moving to London to study?

Give it a go - I think once you move to London, you'll find out whether London is to your liking quite quickly, and you'll get London Fatigue Syndrome after a while if it's not. So you won't know if you don't try. But be prepared to have no money or have a lot of side jobs, it was very expensive even then and the London that I knew a decade ago has changed a lot. For example, my student halls in Bloomsbury were £500 a month then, and they're at least double that now. Don't expect to live in Zone 1! Just don't go to Ilford [cackles]! I'm joking, Ilford's a nice place! 

Why did you choose to leave London after graduating? What was it like leaving the city and what did you miss the most?

Well, I had no job so I couldn't afford to stay. Plus as a Midlander, London can tire you out after a few years so I fancied a change. I was broke and going back to my parents' house, so it wasn't amazing, but I did appreciate bit of stillness and contemplation time, which you don't get in London. It took about a month for me to get a job in York (I was applying anywhere and everywhere rather than York specifically) so then I moved up there. At first I didn't miss London, but after a while I missed the sheer variety of things to do. And the hustle and bustle of the city - I think it's a cool place to live when you're young. Here I can drop into a play or pop over to France on a whim, which I have done! In London, you can even get an Amazon delivery within 2 hours! Though my bloody bed hasn't turned up today! [Nat's just moved into a studio flat and has been playing cat and mouse with a wayward delivery driver all day.]

You've moved around a bit over the last few years, what was your favourite place to live?

Ghana probably - there's so much to do there, it's really cheap, and there's lots of jobs in my field of work (the charity sector). I did get mugged at machete point once, but hey! There seems to be a joie de vivre there which you don't get in European cities. 

You also lived in Stockport, how does Manchester compare to London? 

Hmm, I'd say it's very different, it's a bit more closed off in Manchester, it's less diverse and the weather's colder. I'd say it's a bit easier to make friends in London because of the curiosity and openness that comes with the diversity. But Manchester's got damn good curries! And much more affordable properties.

You've also travelled quite a bit too, can you see yourself living overseas? If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

Depends on Brexit, to be honest. I'd probably like to live in Palestine for a while, I've always been fascinated by the Middle East and Palestinian culture, and the current social issues are very relevant to my line of work. If I could settle anywhere in the long term, it would be Norway - it would be freezing, but I think they have a much better health and welfare system, and they seem like a much kinder, more generous society. I'd probably live anywhere around the world a short time, but having just dragged all my stuff back to London I wouldn't look forward to moving my stuff overseas.

How does it feel to be back in London now? Has it changed at all?

Enjoying Brick Lane vintage
It's more expensive! Before, you could live in a so called 'dodgy area' like London Bridge or Camden quite affordably, and now I can just about afford to live in Golders Green in Zone 3. Somehow, it also feels a lot more crowded, and people smoke a lot more weed in the streets than I remember! I'm working in Zone 5 now, so I get to see a lot more of London, which is great. When you live and study in Zone 1, you don't get to see that much.

Tell us about flat hunting, lots of Londoners find it a pain...how easy was it for you to find somewhere to live?

Not too bad, it actually turns out that it's easier than you'd expect to find somewhere to live on your own. I took the first non-dodgy place I saw and I got a really good deal [Nat used Zoopla and found a studio flat in Golders Green for about £650 a month], and I have a nice landlady, so not too bad. There's even a fluffy cat! Most of my stuff is still in Manchester though with my very put-upon boyfriend. 

And tell us about being a vegan for a month (Nat was vegan in January and raised £150 for charity). 

Oh it's great! London's probably the best place to do it, you should basically just move to Shoreditch! It was actually much easier than I expected. I discovered soya and almond milk. It's really good for making you examine what you eat too, weird stuff like finding some mash that didn't have milk in it but crisps that did. There are some really good vegan options everywhere now, I even had a vegan pizza in Pizza Express. My favourite place to eat was the F.a.B. bus in Hackney.

What are you looking forward to doing in London over the next few months?

Lots of stuff, we're going to a vegan food festival tomorrow, I'm spending loads of time with my Dungeons & Dragons group, I'm going to a Virginia Woolfe talk, and there's a screening of Mean Girls in Elephant & Castle where you get a free stein of beer, wanna come?! Obviously I'm also going to be focusing a lot at work on growing my career, basically what I came back to London for!

What's your favourite place in the city?

On Primrose Hill in 2014 

I'd probably say Primrose Hill and Regent's Park, and the Regent's Canal, lots of great memories and great views of London. I like St James's Park at night, and the secret garden in Regent's Park. I like the Wellcome Collection too, did you know they have Napoleon's toothbrush there! I also like the British Museum, the Museum of London and the National History Museum, I love all the skeletons. I DO NOT like Granary Square in King's Cross though because I couldn't get Hawker Chan's pop up street food there today [people were queuing up for hours to get his world-famous noodles]. I also like Borough Market and love the llamas at Mudchute City Farm. Oo also, we should go to the cat cafe!

What are the best meals you've eaten in London? 

Every meal at Zedel [in Picadilly]! The food is pretty good and quite cheap, but it's mainly about the amazing ambience. The F.a.B Bus was great a vegan meal. Rodisio Preto in Croydon is also great, you get so much meat! And Kosher Kingdom in Golders Green is great, I love the pretzels and hummus. Cinnabon is the shit! I also went to a great okonomiyaki place in Brixton village called Okan [I've never heard of this before, turns out it's a type of Japanese savoury pancake and it looks delicious]. Do you want to mention the all you can eat sushi? Oh I LOVE that place, but we can't tell anyone about it, it's a secret!

As a Classical Studies student, do you have a favourite bit of Roman London?

Oh it's got to be the remains of the Roman baths next to King's College on the Strand, and the Mithraeum.

Do you think you'll stay here forever now?

I like having my friends nearby but I don't think I'd ever be able to afford to buy a house here. Also, in the long run I'd like to own a llama farm, which I don't think would be feasible here!

If you could change one thing about London, what would it be?
Visiting city farm llamas

The house prices! And the cleanliness of the tube. Really, I don't think it's too bad? Well, let's just say I saw a mouse eating another mouse down there the other day.

If you could own one building in London, what would it be?

Buckingham Palace. I'd evict the Queen.

Describe London in under 10 words. 

A dirty, fun palimpsest of cultures.

Nicely said! You can follow all the weird and wonderful things that Nat eats and does on Instagram at @Natwal89. 


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