on buying a shitcycle

I bought a bicycle. It’s bright purple and made for kids, but £10 says that I couldn’t care. You see, I caught a backie with a friend and decided: Right, I need a bike. It’s part of the experience. And man. Has it been an experience.

I trawled Gumtree, Preloved, Friday-Ad, looking at semi-decent bikes at semi-decent prices, until this seemingly amazetits deal appeared before me. Divine Providence, I tell you. So, I caught the bus to look at this £15 bike, optimistically not buying a return, reasoning that for £15, how bad could it be. When I got to the house, the woman hauled out a tiny little bike which we dragged out of the house and I rode up and down her street. Trying to hustle me, she told me it was in working condition. But the brakes weren’t great shakes and the gears made haunted house sounds. It was small. I asked her if it was actually a child’s bike. She hesitated before telling me that she had bought it for her daughter ‘but uses it herself in the park’. She whipped out a spanner and we hiked the seat up as far as it could go. I looked at it dubiously. I offered her a tenner. She seemed reluctant. Then she gave in. And I rode away on a bright purple bike. Who hustled who, I ask you?

By the time I got home, having just ridden a bicycle for pretty much the first time in 10 years, the wheel was making grating noises and I had realised that the gear was stuck on 4. But still. What can you expect for £10. I’ll add now, that I was quite impressed with myself for having cycled 2 miles without getting killed or keeling over. I was overjoyed, despite the problems worming their way out of the rust. The next time I took the bike out, all hell broke loose. It was unridable. But, being resourceful, I found a place where I could fix it myself with some advice and borrowed tools for a donation. Great! Off I hauled the bike. Two metres down the street, the wheel had jammed against the frame and the chain had fallen off. I was coated in grease and had to carry the god-forsaken thing 2 miles across town on a sweaty, sticky Saturday morning. But I did. And I got to Crank, and the lovely man helped me, and I tightened the brakes, pumped the tires, and fixed my wheel back on and tightened the hubs, and rode my little bike home again. Turns out, the brakes can only be saved a small amount and are basically doomed.

I think the bike was in an accident. But again, £10 says that I don’t care. Dolores gets me to work and back in 10 minutes and I love the freedom and mobility of riding a bike. But, if we’re all being honest here, I’m already looking for my next new love. The bike bug has bitten and I want one that I can trust to stop at red lights.

the room of doom

I stayed in a hostel for two and a half weeks. It was an experience. To put it mildly. I met a range of people. All a little kooky because, hey, it’s a hostel. It takes a special kind. Let me walk you through the good the bad and the just plain ugly of living in a hostel while working.

There’s a special kind of community in hostel life, particularly among the hostel semi-permanents, a gang to which I still feel I belong. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. In my stay, I was befriended by a Polish guy, a crazy South African, and a Frenchman and have befriended a beautiful Czech boy (he didn’t have much choice in the matter).

The Frenchman lent me his iron every morning. He also once came into our room one night and said he was going to hospital and mysteriously refused to tell me why. I’m still not one hundred percent sure what happened to his hand. But he was lovely and he had an iron. The Czech boy and I tease each other. All the time. He’s sweet and friendly, works at McDonalds and asked me about work and seems to genuinely care about how I’m doing. He used to say it would cost me 5 Pounds to charge my phone next to his bed but that he’d give me a special friend discount. He tells me about Canada. The Polish guy and I bonded when he broke into my bag for me when I got drunk and lost the key. We spoke about ready mix concrete and he claims he’s never met a woman who knows about building. He also invited me out drinking with his friends because “I sit around too much”. He used to come to my bed and ask me to rub cream into his back and was the resident snorer. Really. His snoring is a talent, and Czech boy and I teased him all the time.

Now, the community warms my heart. When I suffered a bit of girl induced heartbreak, a whole range of people asked me if I was okay, and the South African took me out drinking in a park. I was subsequently asked ‘are you alright today love? I heard about your troubles’ countless times. They seemed to genuinely care and offered platitudes such as ‘good riddance’ and ‘you’re better off here, love’. The Polish guy also took me out drinking as a result of said troubles (which never seem to end). But I suspect he might have been trying to hook me up with his sweet, stuttering brother.

There is something to be said about experiencing emotional trauma while sharing a pungent smelling, noisy room with 18 people. You don’t have privacy to cry, or have angry conversations with friends or eat your weight in chocolate. As one fresh arrival put it, you’re experiencing all of these intense feelings, but everyone is on their computers or phones or reading their books and you can’t really cope. It’s interesting to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by people, so we made an effort to talk to each other and ask about life stories. Said new arrival told me about her heart break – I invited her to tell me about her intense emotional experience, since I had just shared my intense emotional experiences with half the hostel a week before. She also told me about finding somewhere to live. She was so enthusiastic that she claims she ‘overhugged’ her potential housemate and, like an over eager date, texted the housemate encouraging her to let her live with them. This kind of excited desperation for an alternative living situation is common. People want homes, as much as they enjoy the community of living in hostel.

Now, the downside to this community is that a lot of the people are do-lally, and you get lulled into a false sense of security. You start thinking all of the goings on are normal. The thought only occasionally crosses your mind as you embark on a spontaneous adventure ‘what if I’m about to be that dumb tourist’. It should be a bigger deal, but hostel life normalises blurring boundaries. I grew to be incredibly fond of these people and the way of life; the camaraderie that comes from sharing a room with 18 people. But then you wake up in the morning to find that someone has pinched the knickers you left to dry in a broken shower. You can leave your laptop lying about, no problem, but leave your knickers to dry for a night and they get lifted.

So, despite missing the sense of people being around who care about you, and the comfort of being surrounded by people when you’re having the hardest time, and meeting new people from different countries constantly and chewing the fat of life with them at all hours, I will not miss the 3 AM farting contests or the pungent people smell of 18 people in confined quarters, or knowing that someone has my knickers under their pillow, or having drunkards come in at 2 AM when you have work in the morning or not having a kettle to make tea. But mostly the bit about the tea.

Now that I’ve moved into a real home, I’m sure not taking my tea for granted. The day I moved in, I just lay on the bed and enjoyed being alone. Sleeping in a room alone for the first time in 3 weeks – I tell you, being alone never felt so good.

saving my soy bacon

It’s done. I’m in England. Brighton to be exact. Having climbed on a plane to Dubai and then Heathrow, the ever-suffering, ever-loving Neil collected me at the arrivals gate. Sort of. I had jumped on this plane with no real thought about what would happen when I got to London other than ‘Neil will fetch me’. So, when I got out the gate I thought to myself ‘Oh God. What if there’s been some freak accident and he isn’t there.’ I stood and waited for half an hour and when I was about to use the one pound coin my mother hand passed to me at the airport to try call him, I saw his anxious face looking for his lost naïf. I was relieved, to say the least.

I was promptly and unexpectedly presented with a SIM card already loaded with unlimited internet and a bunch of minutes and texts. And an Oyster card. Already loaded with my travel money for the week. I was overwhelmed by his generosity, his thoughtfulness and lack of sleep and tried not to weep at the thought that I had a friend who I could rely on to pick me up and sort my life out for me. And it was only the beginning.

While we caught up with our usual torrent of news he bought me yoghurt and coffee, something that rather unusually brought almost-tears to my tired eyes. Feelings abound. And when I tried to pay him back he started explaining about the ex-pat pay it forward culture. I didn’t take it too seriously until my repeated offers to pay my way were refused by Neil, Cara, Matt and a host of others. I was tour guided through London and bought drinks, bus tickets, lunch, breakfast, deposits on accommodation. I was given a job in the bar that Neil (and at some point Matt) worked at, in exchange for my own cleanly bedded, warm and comfortable room upstairs. I was invited to gatherings of friends of friends. I woke up and someone would tell me what was in store for me for the day. And all of them explained that they were doing for me what others had done for them when they were fresh off the boat. I’ve never come across anything like it and I wouldn’t have survived the transition without them. Certainly, this was not the trauma of moving abroad that I had expected.

Of course I took Neil out for breakfast and drinks. Brought him home pastries and chocolate when he was working at the bar. Gave him his two bags of Ricoffee stashed in my luggage. But nothing equivalent to what he had done (and continues to do) for me. Eventually, after he saved my soy-bacon upon my recent arrival in Brighton, I promised to name my next cat after him (I would have offered a first born, but it seems unlikely I could ever return the favour in such a manner). The ex-pat community looks after their own. No doubtsie-aboutsie. I just hope that some overwhelmed traveller from my past arrives, so that I can pay it forward to them. Lord knows I owe someone something.

So, to wrap it up (I know ya’ll are getting bored of my gushing Neil-glorification), I have had a mostly lovely first ten days in England thanks to my fellow s’africans. I let other people take care of me and run my life, cared less about my future (something I will post more on soon), and generally just let things happen as they do. It’s been magic.

I’ve never had a blog before

So essentially, this blog started when I thought I was on track to happily-ever-after-ville with the girl of my dreams, but instead ended up moving to a foreign country alone. Such is life. In order to keep in touch with my homeslices across the globe (the travel bug has bitten most of my peer group), I thought, ‘hey, let’s start a blog’. This way I can keep people in the loop and explore ALL THE FEELINGS at the same time. Genius, right?

So expect to read about my life in general; feelings, travels, academia, experiences, food, day to day living and adjusting to a new country and a new life alone. Expect some of this to be mundane, some of it to be interesting, some of it to be self-indulgent and some of it to be great. I’m starting a new adventure and I’d quite like some cyber-company.