Welcome London

14 August 2021
Last time I was in and around London was June 2019 and as far as I recall have to look back to at least the mid-2000s for the last time I had been away for over two years. While this is just a day-visit rather than logistics in furtherance of my longer-term plan for living here, it is a long-awaited first step in me rebuilding my life after 18 months of Covid-19 lockdown overseas. This rebuilding includes making a start on creating the foundations for new social circles, and this trip to London is a first step in the reconstruction. Given the limitations I felt that the day was about as successful as I could have realistically hoped for.

Feeling of being back

Considering that I spent close to half of the last twelve months in the UK it does not feel like I have just emigrated, particularly as I had stuff shipped over in batches almost evenly spread out over that period. Time spent in the UK would have been even longer had I not cared about things like tax residency issues and the accomulation of loose ends. My first port of call upon arriving in London was the long-time haunt of Camden Town, which did feel a bit odd as I was now there as a prospective resident rather than semi-regular visitor. I had been back since but this is the last place I remember being before heading off to New Zealand in 2013.

Camden Town

Conversely it has not really sunk in that I no longer have a home overseas. Suppose I was lucky in that things had only just started to open up by the time I finally left so I was able to catch up with some people I had expected to lose all contact with, but it was so close to my final departure that there was no time to settle into new routines. By this point my mindset was there being little left to attract me back to the place — especially with hobbies cut off — and there were a few places I decided not to visit as I felt the associated memories were best left undisturbed at this late stage. In psychological hindsight my life there ended back in March 2020 when I moved out of my long-time flat.

Camden Town (again)

Since arriving back in the UK my overriding feeling was the joy of finally being out of limbo and having everything in one place and largely unpacked. For the first few days I did not really care where I am and was just happy with finally being able to have something approaching a non-transcient living situation that put me in the right frame of mind to get things done. I still had some non-trivial things to sort out, but the really big things were all done and dusted.

Lining up the ducks

As it happend one of my contacts was having a lunchtime meetup with some others in New Malden, and I was able to get there towards the back end of the lunch. Although I had been around the nearby Wimbledon a few times, New Malden was well off anything I would consider my own beaten track. Most of the people I met had other things to do so only a few went on elsewhere afterwards, but I felt that the day had already been reasonably successful in what I set out to do. There was some talk about dropping by some house party but I felt that it being even further away from the city centre made it that bit too risky in terms of an “exit” strategy for when it was time to leave.

New Malden

Even though the evening was not as long as I would have liked it was successful as a first move in building a social circle, particularly as one of the things that was discussed was rough plans for the upcoming long weekend — in other words precisely the sort of lining up of ducks I had wanted to do for a long time. It will take time but ultimately building up a social circle is upstream of another longer-term goal of rebuilding my personal life, but that is something that I do not expect any progress on until next year and in any case prefer to keep private.

Outside area

Trains. Oh dear.

One thing that is clearly bad today is the trains, as on top of the already cut-down timetable there were also several last-minute cancellations which resulted in trains being packed like sardines. Getting on at Berkhamsted on the way in I nabbed the last seat in first class, and on the way back things were even worse. Far as I am aware all trains between 22:00 and 23:00 were cancelled due to “lack of staff”, so by the time the delayed 23:05 was boarding I had already decided I was not even going to attempt to get on it. Instead I decided to take the Watford DC which was basically empty, and although it meant my trip back was substantially longer it was at least a fairly pleasant trip.

Packed train

Weekend evening trains out of London are pretty nasty at the best of times, but after this experience I decided that next time I go into London I am going to drive and stay the night. For the time involved I may as well park up somewhere like Golders Green or New Barnet, and the £45 price of the return train ticket can get a half-decent place to crash out that is reasonably close to a night tube station. Packing trains like this was not acceptable pre-pandemic, never mind now.