It’s cold today. The type of cold that permeates your skin and settles into your bones. Snow is forecast for later in the week. I pray it will be the first and last time I see the city blanketed with whiteness this year.
Yet, despite near freezing conditions outside, I cannot stop thinking about summer… dare I say already feeling nostalgic about it? Everyone told me my first winter here would be the hardest, that Australian’s always move back home because of the weather, yet shockingly it has been rather mild. Until now. Perhaps that’s why I can’t stop reminiscing on the months gone past, and the fact that London saw the hottest summer on record since 1975 - a year in which I imagine children running through sprinklers in big leafy parks and dance parties in cars without seatbelts, rather than a quiet bus load of people trying to escape the heat by distracting themselves with their fancy iPhone Xs and slow motion videos of cool, blue waves on Instagram.
I’m more depressed when I’m nostalgic… or perhaps I’m more nostalgic when I’m depressed. Like the chicken and the egg, I’m not quite sure which one comes first. Part of me worries and wonders whether, now that I am truly feeling the pinch of winter, that I’m developing SAD. My skin feels drier, my scalp flaky, my hands rough. I cannot help but crave the solace of a humid, tropical island, and I try to trick myself into believing that I’m lying on a beach in Hawaii by bathing my face in coconut oil twice a day.
Perhaps it is also why I spontaneously decided to bleach my hair last Thursday night with my friend/client/manager Sierra. To bring a little more sun into my life.
I dropped two rolls of film to get developed yesterday. The first of which I’m sharing today: a colour roll purchased from my friends at Analogue Academy back in Australia ($2AUD each, how could I resist!) and kept alive in my Canon AE-1 for 6 whole months. A window into a long summer. My first living in London. Captured perfectly on an imperfect roll of film - and sadly, the last roll for my Canon AE-1 Program. A sad goodbye to a friend who has followed me across Australia and the world since my 17th birthday.
I found myself ankle deep in sea water, anticipating the sun rise in Lanikai, O’ahu next to my friend, Kimmy. We met a year ago in a hostel on the North Shore, a short 20 minute drive up the road… without traffic. With more cars than people, O’ahu is notorious for traffic jams.
I had arrived a day earlier in tow with my friend Nikki, and our new friend Anna from a small country town near the German-French border. We hired a car and embarked on a weekend-long road trip and hiking expedition across the island fuelled by overpriced Wholefoods salads. It was Easter, and we shared the chocolate bunny my mum had packed tightly in my backpack as I said a teary goodbye a week prior.
We stayed at The Plantation. It’s exactly the type of hostel you would expect to find in Hawaii: a gravelly red-earth path sneaking up into the steady mountainside from the ocean with tiny wooden cabins dotted along haphazardly on either side. Chickens roaming free across the property, tropical plants providing shade and some privacy to the patios housing colourful surfboards and if you were lucky, a hammock.
It was the place people came to live for a while, not pass through. The locals of the hostel consisted of a kooky bunch of misfits who all seemed to be going through a life crisis of sorts. It was like walking into the set of a sitcom… or a cult.
The first person we met (or rather, the first person who screamed at us) was a lady who became the adopted mother of a baby chicken she found outside of Foodland. “PIU PIU” she yelled out through the plants in front of her hut, her voice echoing amongst the buildings and up the face of the old volcanic mountain. She had lost the chick and was devastated. We felt compelled to help our new friend look for Piu Piu, but to no avail, he had been lost. Later that night her wailing was cured with the help of Corona. Soon she would be dancing atop a table and banging pots together to Gangnam Style - a song we all thought had died back in 2012 but was alive and well in 2017 Hawaii.
Our roommate Fiona – or Nips as we fondly nicknamed her – was a seemingly affluent Brazillian Woman who was going through a nasty divorce and had sought refuge at the hostel. She drove around in a Volkswagon SUV with the numberplate “SURFERGAL” imprinted like a tramp stamp. She would offer to make us sandwiches… relentlessly, and would talk on the phone very loudly at 4am in a language we couldn’t quite understand. The nickname came from her gravity-defying boobs, always stuffed into tank tops that were approximately three sizes too small, no bra - she didn’t need one, so why bother - nipples fully on display. Hugging her was akin to what I’d imagine hugging the step-mom in A Cinderella Story was like when I was approximately 8 years old.
Kimmy and her brother, Matt arrived the day after us and were thankfully assigned to our hut. Like all good new hut-mates, Nikki, Anna and I swiftly introduced ourselves and struck up a conversation centred around The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. Effortlessly we became bonded over a bourbon-filled card game and a midnight car drive to McDonalds halfway down the island where a tipsy Carolyn tried to pay for her burger with her drivers license rather than a bank card. We each shared a strange type of solidarity against the other residents of the hostel.
June saw the beginning of the hottest summer on record for the UK, and it was also the month I moved into my first flat in Hackney. I have never really been one to be tied to a physical place before, let alone a five-storey 1937 apartment building that was also the backdrop to the 2011 London riots, but something about those white textured walls and big glass windows whispered to me, you’re home now.
Flat 42 is really modest, but it has this kind of charm about it. We could have paid a lot more for rent but we didn’t. The kitchen was dusty, the bathroom somewhat mouldy, but the sun that permeated the bedrooms in the morning was enough to make me feel at ease.
During the summer I worked. A lot. I worked 7-day weeks for two months trying to get ahead financially, a arduous task in a city like London. The cost of living isn’t too different to Sydney or Melbourne, but the pace at which the city works makes it hard to avoid spending money. Meal prepping and walking to work quickly became a distant memory as I swapped chasing miles for chasing the bus down the road at 6am in front of Tescos or else I’d be late for work.
But I loved it. I loved every early morning wake up, every call from clients on my day off asking me to rush to this building, interview that person, every weirdo I’d mistakenly sit next to on the Sunday morning bus coming down Kingsland Road after a wild night out. I can vividly recall lying in my bed, the hot sun shining on my face, waking me up a little too early for my liking, and thinking, this is everything you have ever wanted since you were 15.
I remember writing in my journal, incredibly depressed at the time, wishing that I had a place to call my own with, “tall white walls and floor boards, fairy lights and bean bags around a shaggy old rug to drink wine on”. I lacked the lights and bean bags, but everything else I had. Every time I watched the sun rise up over the high rises towards Stratford, and pinky hues turning the colour of ripe mangoes in the evening at sunset, the feeling of gratefulness vibrated through my body. I don’t think I missed seeing a sunrise all summer long.
My flatmates were two men in their early 30s. One was a filmmaker, sometimes he worked for clients like Nintendo, and other times he was making rap videos on a 1990s camcorder for my other flatmate, who was trying to be a DJ/rapper/work in the music industry in general – or at least he was until his girlfriend fell pregnant. Within the space of three months they both packed their bags and moved onto new lives with their families.
In October my friend Naz moved in. We met working at a small cafe in the city - my first job in London. Summer was spent behind a Slayer watching out at the world through two large floor-to-ceiling windows, finding out the latest gossip on the West End thanks to our regular customers, and spotting celebrities and Arab Princes in Lamborghinis.
The night she decided to move in, Naz, Nicky and myself walked down to what would become a regular hangout, Off Broadway. Off Broadway’s magic lies in the fact that is is relatively unknown except for those who live nearby. The fact that I’m even writing about it in this semi-public forum is questionable in itself because I wouldn’t dare want to spoil the magic… but some things are best to be experienced in person and for this reason, I’m omitting some very important facts about this bar out of this blog post.
I came to know of this bar after my co-worker, Bella, told me that her flatmates had once stolen a chair from the bar for their dining table. I saw this supposedly stolen chair at the very end of summer, wooden and grazed with chips and worn marks, but I couldn’t help but day dream about all the amazing people who had probably sat in that chair at some point in its life.
Off Broadway is the only bar I’ve encountered outside of The States where people actually talk to one another. I would comfortably sit at the bar alone and by the end of it meet a menagerie of misfits. I never really learned many people’s names, aside from the bar tender and Jesucio, who would call out to me over the crowd in a thick Canadian accent, “Hello Carol-lyn! I had nicknames for everyone, of course. There was the old man in the hat who would always try to sell us rings. He drank a single glass of red wine always at the bar. Never at a table.
The two kiwis who worked on the VFX on Game of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings respectively. They casually lived across the road and had an Emmy sitting in their front window. Yep - a friggen Emmy.
There was Tom, whose name would change every time I saw him. He was supposedly a talk show host. Having never owned a television in London I couldn’t confirm or deny this, so I took him under good faith that he was probably famous.
The double-bassist who had the type of glasses where you just know that, that person reads a lot of really good literature. He had a girlfriend I was forever envious of. I saw them drive away one night in a convertible 1960s Fiat 500 in a colour so pale blue it looked white under the moonlight.
Ash, one of the bartenders, would keep me fed and watered, often neglecting to charge me for yet another pint of larger, and I would try my best to take a nice photo of him on a disposable camera every so often. I never felt like I was in London when I was drinking in this bar, but more somewhere caught between New York’s grittiness and Paris’ artistic beating heart.
Naz is the type of person who can talk her way into anything, a quality I admire about her. As we walked into the bar, she noticed a sign in the window advertising for new staff members. By the end of the night she had a new job and we were all doing shots with the bar tenders while Bowie was blasting over the speaker system.
I was able to take some time off work (4 whole days!!!) and travelled to Paris… of course!
In hindsight, I should have applied for a visa for France rather than the UK, as I have spent more time travelling between Paris and London than any other city in Europe. I have come to the realisation that if I’m going to live inland and in a city, I should only do it in a place that makes me stupidly happy in every single sense of the word. So blind to happiness that I forget about the ocean entirely. Paris does that for me… and it helps that the wine is cheap.
I don’t travel to destinations with friends often because I love to explore a city at my own pace, but when my friend Kate asked if I would guide her and her sister, Mel, around the Parisienne streets, I couldn’t resist. There is something about seeing people experience a place that you love for the first time through their eyes. I can’t quite articulate it, but it is this sparkle that fills you with absolute joy from the tips of your toes right through the very ends of your hair riddled with split ends.
I arrived on a hot, sticky night. My white teeshirt was drenched after hiking my backpack crammed with photography gear and vintage clothes - hey when one is in Paris, one must look the part - to the 7th. Up and down the metro steps (elevators/escalators aren’t really a thing in Paris), cobblestone laneways and up another three flights of uneven wooden stairs to the apartment I was staying in. I said breathlessly to my host, “No wonder French people are so skinny, every time I leave a building I get in a full body workout!” He laughed, and the deep lines around his eyes crinkled up as he shook my hand.
“It’s so nice to meet you, I’m Simon,” he said.
There are two things I look for when booking apartments in Paris: the natural light and the view out the window. This apartment had two big art nouveau-style windows opening up into an old courtyard. Twisted vines frozen in iron creeped up the window creating a small balcony and it was the perfect place to rest my Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon and dinner of goats cheese and grapes on.
Out the window, four apartment buildings kissed each other at the edges, encapsulating a cobblestoned ground specked with weeds and flowers as though nature was trying to wrestle with the strength of concrete and stone. At the end of the corridor sat a fountain featuring Poseidon standing on a small fish sporadically spurting out water into a large conch shell. One thing I have learned about Paris is that you don’t question the ornamentation, you just learn to enjoy it.
It was dark by the time I arrived in Paris, and I sat with my dinner looking out into the dimly lit courtyard. People were stumbling over the cobblestones as they walked back boozy from the local bistro, two of my neighbours were loudly arguing about a boy named Michel over gin and tonic and jazz which vibrated against the thin paper walls.
I had a daybed all to myself. Admittedly it was uncomfortable, but when I woke up every morning, the first thing I saw was that faded blue colour famed of Parisian rooftops. Any and all gratitude that I could come to Paris (almost) freely now instead of living 24 hours away cancelled out any future back problems I may have procured from that daybed.