In our final year of college, all my friends were applying for postgraduate degrees – after 18 years of education we had become institutionalised and the idea of leaving the education system was appalling.
Why get a job when you can afford to keep studying? So, driven by Expectations and a terrible job market, the rest of the class went on to Even Higher Education. I had other ideas.
I wanted to be a writer. In my case, my privilege was actually a drawback – although I was educated and eloquent, witty wordplay does not a writer make. Growing up in a loving, stable household, attending Trinity College and being generally well behaved is really not very interesting at all. I knew I would have to live a little more if I wanted to have anything to say.
Everyone told me if I moved to London I would be broke. It’s so expensive, the rent is extortionate, you’ll barely be able to afford to feed yourself etc.
Brilliant, I thought, it will be just like RENT. I was in love with a romantic ideal of being broke and bohemian – I imagined an ancient loft with exposed brick and wooden floors where I would read and write and have passionate affairs with artists. I’d cook cheaply and simply and dress from charity shops in vintage-inspired broke girl chic. I’d spend my weekends browsing second-hand bookshops and nursing a cup of coffee for hours in an arty cafe.
It’s only now in my wiser years – my mid-twenties – that I realise the smack of privilege off this fantasy. Not being able to afford coffee from Costa every day is not poverty – real poverty is devastating and affects millions of people around the world. There are people without roofs over their heads and I was a middle-ish class girl with Notions. I’m 26 now, a middle-ish class woman with Notions. I’m still pretty broke, but I’m trying to address my privilege.
I was an arsehole. I was well on the way to becoming a writer.
In a way, I achieved my dream. I certainly was very poor in London. Unfortunately, it was not as glamorous as I had hoped. It involved a lot of watching Netflix and eating noodles.
My first job was in the Sherlock Holmes Museum. If you’ve never been to this “museum” you’re probably thinking “That’s so cool!” If you have been to the museum, you’re probably thinking “That’s not bad!” If you’ve ever worked in the museum… Please contact me, we have a support group.
So, it was horrendous and they got rid of me after 2 months for no reason, as they did with everyone I knew. I met some great people but it was hard to get to know them because everyone was getting fired all the time. I was in trouble, anyway, I had just moved into a new flat (a room, modern and unromantic without a sniff of exposed brick) and now I had a no job and didn’t really know anyone.
Part of the broke girl fantasy had been working in a cafe or restaurant – then the coffee would be free and I might meet other writers and arty people who were regulars… So, I convinced myself it would be okay and took an interview for a very popular cafe chain which will remain nameless.
The day of the interview I had to travel to Tottenham Court Road – I still thought the Tube was pretty great and had a special cover for my Oyster card. After the interview, I realised that while I had taken my card, I hadn’t taken my purse. I checked my Oyster card and, of course, I was out of credit. I had used the last of it getting into the city centre.
So, I was stuck in the middle of London with no purse, no cash, no job and no friends. No close friends, anyway. No call-them-when-I’m-stranded-in-the-big-city friends. I couldn’t call my parents because they lived in another country. My BA from TCD wasn’t going to help me here, nor was my privilege or my Notions.
Desperate, I went through my list of contacts in my UK phone, which was depressingly short at this stage. The museum was nearby, but most of my Sherlock Holmes colleagues – my Sherlock Homies – had, at this stage, been fired, so I didn’t expect to know anyone in that day. Luckily for me, one of the guys I knew had managed to cling to his job (the men had a better track record of Not Being Fired For No Reason) and when I texted him he said he was in that day and was happy to help me out.
It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life, having to walk to the workplace I had just been fired from to borrow a fiver from a man I barely knew. It certainly humbled me further – though I still had a long way to go. He was very nice about lending me money to get home and I promised to return it immediately.
I got offered that job, so at least I had an income. I still continued to be incredibly poor and miserable, which I think is known as the London Dream.
And that man from the museum? I returned his fiver the next day.
A year later, we were married.
Just kidding, this is not a reddit post.
This wasn’t the worst of my London experiences, but it may have been the first time I removed my rose-tinted glasses and thought “Shit, I have to look after myself!” It’s a scary moment when you realise that you are the adult in your own life. What I would have done if nobody I knew was in that day… I don’t know, but there were plenty of challenges to come, some that couldn’t be solved by a friend with a fiver.
I’m no longer in London and though I’m still broke and still kind of an arsehole… I’m doing my best to change that. I sometimes had a miserable time in London, but I’m acknowledging the privilege that allowed me to go there and have a miserable time. There’s a difference between being broke and being poor and I was very lucky to be able to afford to be broke.