I have now had a cartilage piercing for five months. It came about because I was travelling a silly amount at the end of last year and much like a sixteen year old, I wanted to get a pierced ear to show I had some control over my life. A tiny rose gold piece of rebellion that made no logical sense but made me feel a lot better about living out of a suitcase. I put very little thought into getting it. In the one day I had at home in-between Stockholm and Shanghai I had the thought and ran to Liberty to get it done (you can read the whole story here). Given the complete lack of research into what it would be like, here are the things I wish I had known beforehand:
Even though your heart will be pounding a million miles an hour it doesn’t actually hurt that much, getting a bikini wax is way worse.
When you have hair blessed by Richard Simmons it is impossible to take a picture of your piercing for a blog post.
Turns out that unlike getting your ear lobes pieced a cartilage piercing takes fucking ages to heal…like ages. We all heal differently but mine took two weeks to be able to sleep on it and then four full months to fully heal.
The rose gold won’t clash with any of the earrings you put in your earlobes.
When you are stuck in hotels and need to bathe your piercing in salt water you will find yourself ordering room service just to get the salt sachet.
Cartilage piercings can get a weird lump, but one day you will wake up and it will be completely fine. Don’t freak out, it will get better.
You will look like a middle class millennial bad-ass.
You will be the only one who thinks you look like a bad-ass.
For the indecisive a cartilage piercing is a better decision than a tattoo.
You will need to bathe it in salt water twice a day for five minutes at a time (just pressing, not twirling or rubbing).
Five minutes is a really long time to hold your arm to your ear, leaning on a pillow will make this easier.
Last year I was out and about every weekend, as well as least two or three nights during the week. I was visiting restaurants, discovering art exhibitions and sitting in the gods at the theatre. Then around came 2014 and I just stopped. I don’t know why I’ve stopped planning and adventuring, but I arrive at each weekend with nothing to do. I drink coffee, go for walks and of course blog, but I’m not out exploring the amazing city that I live in.
My reason for lack of art is because there are no exhibitions that excite me at the moment. Last year it was like every museum was catering specifically for me, we had Bowie, Lichtenstein and Schwitters as well as secret poster art and National Trust beauties. But this year? I’m yet to read about an exhibition that I am amped for. Fingers crossed there is something later in the year that they just haven’t announced yet, but right now? Nothing I would leave the couch for.
Now there are some theatre shows that I would love to see. But ever since the roof collapsed at the Apollo Theatre I’ve been less than eager to book tickets. I know that seems silly, it was only one fluke accident after all, but I can so easily see it happening again. Every central London theatre I’ve been to (sitting in the gods after all) has seemed like it wouldn’t last in a strong wind. I remember in one theatre a man sneezing on the other end of the row and the entire section shook. I always comforted myself with the knowledge that I was in one of the most overbearing Health and Safety societies out there, that was until the Apollo. Turns out they don’t have it as under control as I thought. The answer is probably to go further afield to the new theatres built in zone 2-4, but sadly that turns into at least an hour’s travel each way…a bit too much for a school night when the tickets are affordable.
My other go to option is something creative, but I feel like I’ve plateaued on my old hobbies (painting and jewellery making) and without some significant effort (read: money and/or time) they aint going anywhere. I would love to try some new things, but it looks like I would have to mortgage my non-existent house to do a pottery or design course in London…not ideal.
Lacking art, theatre and craft I have a few options:
a) Plot world domination
b) Refresh twitter every four and a half seconds
c) Become an alcoholic
Currently I have selected option b, but I think my iPad is starting to wear out from all the scrolling.
So how am I going to kick myself out of this accidental hibernation? It seems like after two years I have become complacent about this magnificent city, after all I know I’m going to be here long term so laziness takes precedent over the urgent need to SEE ALL THE THINGS. But at the same time I am dissatisfied with my hibernation, I want to get out and do things. So I want the best of all worlds?
My first attempt at kicking myself into action is a small trip to Belgium (watch this space!), but if you have any ideas, or know of any upcoming fun things, please comment or tweet me!
It can be a bit overwhelming when you first get to London – you just don’t know where to look for things. I have found google to be my biggest asset, it can help with ANYTHING. But to save you some hours, here are some of the best transport related websites to use:
1. Transport for London: this is where you go for all your tube/Oyster card information. Top tip – the best way to find out what tubes are open at the weekends (there is always at least one line closed for maintenance) is by clicking ‘This Weekend’ as shown below because it visually shows what is closed instead of a list:
2. National Rail: this is for trains (rather than tubes), but trains do operate within London and can often be far quicker i.e. the train to Wimbledon from Waterloo only takes 15min whereas the tube from Embankment takes about half an hour. Also, their app is fantastic if you are getting trains regularly (I love the ‘get me home’ feature!)
3. Bus Checker app (London Edition): this app has saved me on many an occasion. If you are standing at a bus stop it will tell you how long until the bus turns up, it can show you on a map where all the buses are going and the best feature is that it can vibrate to tell you to get off the bus.
4. If the looser cruiser isn’t your deal, there are always taxi’s. In London the only cabs that are allowed to pick you up on the street are the Black Cabs, any other companies must be pre-booked (or you can walk up to one of their shops and order from there). One of the biggest cab companies for pre-booking is Addison Lee, or you can go through a site like Kabbee to find the cheapest in your area.
Moving to London is part of the Kiwi experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a big step. So here are just a few of my tips for settling into the big smoke.
If you have any to add (or think I am way off the mark!) just tweet, Facebook or comment below.
Welcome to London y’all.
*Last updated in November 2015*
First few days
Before you arrive book a hostel or arrange to sleep on a friends floor for the first few days – you just need somewhere to get over the jetlag. After that I highly recommend a short term let (where someone has gone on holiday etc and you stay in their room), it means you have some stability but are not locked in before you know where you are working. I found mine on Move Flat, but also look on Spare Room or Facebook.
In your first week you will need to:
get an Oyster card – just go to your nearest station and pay £5
organize your national insurance number – just call the number on this page, they will send you a form to fill out and send back
get a bank account – see below
The main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Nat West and Santander. Currently the easiest bank for new arrivals Lloyds because they just need to see your passport (not proof of address).
But to choose any bank you want, get your NZ bank to redirect your statements to a UK address (even if it is a friends), the Banks are happy to use this as proof of address.
NB: most banks DON’T accept the national insurance letter as proof of address.
You should be able to get a basic bank account with no monthly fees – if they say you have to pay because you just arrived you should go to another bank. I choose to pay a monthly fee because my account also gets me travel insurance and mobile phone insurance and the monthly fee is cheaper than getting them separately. It totally depends on what you are looking for and is worth shopping around for the best offer.
Having a smart phone will basically save your life in London. The main apps to download as soon as you get here (you may need to switch to the UK version of the App Store first) are:
City Mapper – This will save your life time and time again, essentially a one stop shop for how to get from A to B. It takes into account Tube closures, and also combines bus/tube routes to give you the quickest options. Also it always shows a ‘rain safe’ option which should be taken very seriously indeed.
London Tube Map – this is a no-brainer, essentially just a tube map on your phone.
I didn’t know if I should include this or not,it all seems so obvious when you have been here for more than a week. Then I remembered my panic the first time I caught a bus and well.. here it is.
You swipe your Oyster when you board but not when you leave (you just push the bell and get off). YOU CAN’T USE CASH you either have to have an Oyster card or a contactless debit/credit card. At the moment (August 2015) a bus trip is a flat rate of £1.50 per ride no matter what the distance. But make sure to check here for the latest prices: TFL Prices.
Less scary and confusing then you think, after all if you get on the wrong train you just get off at the next stop and start again. Pricing is per zone (i.e. more expensive if you cross over zones) and if you are under 26 you can get discounts by using a Young Persons Rail Card. Before you get the tube, just check google maps because there are some parts of Zone 1 where it is far quicker to walk. Top tip: don’t be a dick, give up your seat for anyone who needs it (even when you have to play the pregnant or fat game in your head). Again you can use your contactless debit card (if you got your bank account sorted) instead of an Oyster, just make sure you tap in and out with the same card.
You can hire a Boris Bike all over London, you then just return it to another convenient docking station. Just be careful, because traffic in London is scary and you will most likely be riding without a helmet (which apparently is totally fine here).
In London the only cabs that can pick you up on the street without a prior booking is a Black Cab. Not kidding on this one, no other taxis are allowed to pick people up off the street. There are even massive advertising campaigns about how dangerous it is to get into an unlicenced cab (the gist of which is all the unlicenced cab journeys seem to end in rape, theft or murder). The only way around this is by pre-booking with a mini-cab company (pre-booking could mean 5min before you are ready to leave). I always use Kabbee because it compares all the nearby mini-cab companies and gives you a rating for them. You can always go Uber but I personally don’t agree with their ethics, so I stick with hailing a Black Cab on the street or using Hailo to flag one down with my phone.
As a general rule for office based jobs it is a good idea to register with two or more recruitment companies, and then bug them to death (they will forget about you). Shapelle has written a great piece on recruitment companies and job hunting in London which you can read here.
The recruitment companies over here are industry or job type specific. So you first need to find out which recruiter is going to have the type of job you are looking for. The best way to do this is ask someone already in the industry, but assuming you don’t know anyone go to a job site like Guardian Jobs, Total Jobs, Monster or Reed. Recruiters post job adds there, so find a job you are interested in and then approach the recruitment company that posted it. And if you are truly freaking the freak out about getting a job, click the panic image at the bottom of this post.
You can feed yourself in London far cheaper than in New Zealand. I highly recommend going to markets for cheap fruit and vegetables, they are everywhere so just do some googleing for one near you.
In terms of supermarkets Waitrose is considered to be the most expensive, but they have some of the best meat/fish around. Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco are middle if the range, much of a muchness price and quality wise. The cheapest options are Aldi, Asda and Lidl, worth stocking up on basics.
Kiwis are known for shopping up a storm when they first arrive. This is partly because there is some incredible shopping over here, but mostly because we had to pack our entire lives into a suitcase (and you had to make the hard choice of hair straighteners over those amazing glitter stilettos).
As an emergency measure (i.e. if you expected summer and got winter, the airport lost your luggage, or you are skint) start at Primark. The quality is not fantastic, but it is the ultimate in fast fashion where most of the clothes are under £10. Along the same lines is TK Maxx which is a bit like Kmart in NZ.
H&M is also a really good place to start, particularly for interview clothes. I got a jacket there for £14 that has managed to secure me two jobs. For vaguely less fashionable but yards ahead in quality, go to Marks and Spencer or John Lewis.
Although you can get a cheap suit at Primark and a still cheapish but a bit nicer suit at H&M; if you are after a proper corporate uniform head to TM Lewin, Marks and Spencer or Moss Bros.
When you get the flu after a week
First stop is Boots, which is a massive chain of chemists. The pharmacists in Boots are pretty good, and if you ask them simple health questions they can quite often help you out on the spot.
If you do need a prescription you have two options. You can go to a NHS walk-in centre – you will wait for a couple of hours but will be seen by either a doctor or nurse and you normally don’t have to pay anything.
Or, if you have a permanent address you can register with a GP. You can’t just pick which one you want to go to, they have catchment areas and they have to be accepting new patients (check out your options here). You then need to fill in a form and show bank statement or bill as proof that you are in their area and you can make an appointment to see them.
If it is life threatening the emergency services number in the UK is 999.
Rather confusingly (for Kiwi’s at least), over here 111 is a number for non-life threatening emergencies, if you are panicking and need advice it is the number to call.
Clothes hangers and rubbish bins et al
When you do finally move into a permanent flat, locating some of the mundane aspects of life can be challenging. Below is a list of shops to check out:
Marks and Spencer
Primark (for bedding)
Social media – your new lifeline
One of the biggest surprises since moving to London is the extent to which social media has become ingrained in the expat lifestyle. If you need help, advice, or just need to know where to watch the rugby Facebook groups like Kiwis in London are the answer.
When you are new to a city even the smallest things can be seriously confusing (the two things that confused me when I first arrived was how to register with a doctor and where to buy coat hangers… the two are totally unrelated). But with a Facebook group you can quickly find the answer from the community.
Twitter has also been brilliant, both in finding other adventuring expats and in finding things to do. I (like the majority of people living in London) am completely skint, but because I follow @skintlondon on twitter I can fill my weekends with cheap/free activities.
It sure beats sitting at home complaining that you can’t afford a pint.
This is one that took me almost a year of being here to learn. Some people move over here with a group of friends which is ideal because you have a buddy for all your London firsts. Me? I jumped the gun on London and moved a couple of years before my friends.
After months of walking and wandering on my own I decided to be brave and go out and meet people. I joined a netball team (until I realised that it involved running…), found a book club, attended blogging network events, and stalked Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi.
These were all activities that suited/interested me; if you want beer and rugby there are support groups out there for you as well.
Yes you feel like its the first day of school and are asking the kid eating crayons to be your friend, but the reality is that most expats (and some Londoners) are in the same position and are overjoyed to expand their social circle.
Some ideas for the lost and lonely:
go to KIL drinks (don’t worry if you are by yourself, just buy the guy next to you a shot and it will all be ok)
attend pub crawls e.g. Waitangi day pub crawl
social sports teams
ask people at work out for drinks
You are in a city of almost 12 million people, there are friends out there. Find them.