What your first year in London teaches you about life

Everything is gonna change forever


You break up with your boyfriend

We had a good run, Kevin. We grew up together, and we’ll never forget those times. After the initial denial of the first month or so in London — “no, not me and Kevin, we’re different, we’re for keeps” — you start to realise that you don’t really have much in common anymore. It’s less hanging out in your parents house and SU night outs together, and more fraught tube journeys spent in silence on his visits to your shit flat in Mile End. The ceiling leaks and the guy next door plays Bob Marley really loudly in the middle of the night, and Kevin doesn’t want to go out so you spend the night watching House of Cards without speaking. Kevin thinks you’ve changed, and that you’re a bit of a dick now, and to be honest you have, and you are. You start to resent each other, him for the train fares, you for his old jokes, and after a final night of perfunctory sex before he goes back to Manchester you decide to call it quits. He deletes you on Facebook soon afterwards, and you start seeing a guy with a beard who runs a pop-up, purely because he lives close enough to your work that it’s convenient. You sometimes miss the purity of your relationship with Kevin, but accept that if you’d stayed together, you just would have ended up miserable in a semi-detached help-to-buy with a couple of simpleton kids.

You make a big list of thing you’ll do in London

But only end up going to Madame Tussauds. Once. 

You realise your uni friends aren’t your real friends

Three long years of friendship and this is what you’ve got to show for it – half a bottle of cheap Chardonnay at a chain pub in Holborn on a Tuesday night. “How’s work?” you say “not great,” they reply. It’s tantalising stuff. “What on earth did we talk about at uni? Were they always this self involved?” you think, as you pour over her latest argument with her boyfriend, this time it’s about the mortgage. It’ll take you the approximately three months to realise your university friends have got nothing on your London friends. When you do, it’ll hurt a little, and you’ll spend some time trying to convince yourself you’re really keen for that girls’ trip to York. But the sooner you wake up and smell their dull life in New Cross the better. London friends are more interesting: they’re more single (and therefore have more fit single friends), they take more drugs, they stay out later, they just get being twenty in London more. Crucially, they talk less about uni, which happened months ago, thanks, Beth.

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You start drinking Prosecco

Because it’s the perfect midpoint between classy and ironic.

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You discover coke

At uni, you could drink to paralytic levels, and somehow manage to stay up until three, and have sex, and get up the next morning for lectures. How the fuck did that happen? How is it that now I have five vodka lime sodas and I’m fucked, properly fucked, falling asleep on a chair at half past one. What if there was something to extend my night, make me more awake, more alert, more fun? What if it’s only £60, and what would you spend that on a night out, really? Because money doesn’t go that far in London anyway. What if it meant you didn’t eat disgusting kebabs on the way home, and you were much more chatty? Luckily, cocaine exists, and it’s being offered to you on a framed family photo in someone’s Hackney bedroom and you think “all these people are my friends, so I probably probably won’t die”. After this discovery, you still spend the same amount of time hunched over toilet bowls in shit clubs, but you’re vomiting less, and you’re colder all the time.

You get really into coke

Bring coke now you accidentally tweet, thinking you’re messaging your mate Ella who you met in the queue for falafel in Boxpark, forgetting that a tweet isn’t a text, a tweet isn’t even a WhatsApp. Delete it before someone screenshots it and sends it to your Mum. Then message Ella properly.

Maybe, a small voice says, maybe this is a sign you’re doing too much coke. Maybe falling asleep at midnight every time you go out and don’t do any coke is a sign you’re doing too much coke. Maybe saying “going out without doing coke is boring” is a sign you’re doing too much coke. Maybe the nosebleed you had in the shower this morning is a sign you’re doing too much coke. Maybe doing coke Wednesday, Friday, Saturday last week is a sign you’re doing too much coke. Maybe watching the Amy Winehouse documentary and thinking I know what you went through hun is a sign you’re doing too much coke.

Be reasonable, a louder voice says: coke is fucking great.

You decide coke isn’t that great

If you sit back and examine the amount of money you’ve spent in the last year, you’ll feel really, really ill. The money you’ve blown on rent to a landlord who is definitely fucking you over. The money you spend in Pret a Manger. The money you spend on coke. Shit coke. Shit, cut-up coke that you always end up doing in a flat with five people you don’t even like that much. Or better, West London coke, from a number someone in work gave you, that burns your nose and makes you think — maybe I’ll die, oh shit, am I actually going to die. While you originally thought it made you chatty, and outgoing and decreased your appetite, you realise that actually you’ve spent all of your time outside the main group at parties, begging people for jumpers and telling them about your childhood and to get Jamie xx tickets with you. Plus, it makes you smoke more.

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You’re spending an obscene amount of money on lunch

You meant to make your own lunch every day, you really did. But very early on it became apparent that doing so would use up such an extraordinary amount of effort, that you end up going to Pret every day instead. Unfortunately you’re spending £50+ a week on your gourmet wraps and bulgar wheat kale salads and are dangerously close to not being able to afford your rent. But will you ever stop buying lunch and start making your own? Of course not.

You spend an obscene amount of money on cigarettes

Everyone smokes.

You switch to straights

Because who has time to roll anymore? Plus you look more classy.

You start to judge tourists because it makes you feel ‘Londony’

Finally sussing out the Northern line has given you an edge over the idiots slowing you down, buried in their phones on Google Maps (have they not heard of Citymapper?). You begin to get irrationally angry about the tiniest of things. Why do they walk so painfully slow? Why do they keep stopping and starting? Why are they standing on the wrong side of the escalator? Don’t they know it’s morally wrong to bring two massive suitcases on the Central line at 5pm? Do they not have jobs? No, because they’re hopeless, ignorant, amateur tourists.

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You become obsessed with the Tube

This is more of a way to fit in than anything else. People get weirdly into London underground knowledge, and it’s easy to get sucked in for the first few months. There are entire blogs dedicated to it. Someone mentions an obscure station and you mumble back “is that on the Northern Line?” to a few approving nods.

You learn to resent the Tube

The novelty quickly wears off after a week commuting on the Central Line at eight in the morning, body crushed and neck craned to perfectly nestle into a sweaty banker’s armpit. This is the next five years of your life: aggressive huddles, miserable men, strikes, suffocating heat, queues, bacteria and, if you’re lucky, a copy of Metro.

You stop smiling at people on the street

There’s only so much rejection you can handle.

You realise the rent you’re paying isn’t worth it

It’s easy to start out being optimistic about renting. “I’d live in a cupboard under the stairs. I’d shower in the living room if it was a bit cheaper.”  My shower has been broken for a month now and crouching under the taps is both undignified and a massive pain in the arse. The honeymoon period is definitely over.

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You learn one bus route really, really well while remaining oblivious of all others

There was a time when you needed to check Citymapper every single time to make sure you had the right bus and even the right side of the street. Give it a year though and now you’ve got the route to and from work imprinted in the back of your skull. You could even tell people the name of every stop. Sure you don’t know any other bus route as well but that won’t stop you pretending to be able to give directions next time a tourist stops you in the street.

You start going on nights out in Peckham

Peckham has been “up and coming” for about the last 10 years. You’ve got one mate who lives there and will not shut up about it. Afterparty at mine, guys? No. No one wants to go south of the river for the sake of two hours more of warm Fosters. But what about Bussey Building, guys? OK yes, there is that and Frank’s and Canavan and Peckham Springs and Bar Story and Brick Brewery and Beer Rebellion and Peckham Pelican and the weird squat next to Bussey Building that hosts pop-ups. During your weekly Sunday phone call with your mum she’ll make jokes about Only Fools and Horses but she doesn’t know how beautiful Canary Wharf looks as you watch the sunrise from platform two at Queen’s Road overground.

You’re first friend gets pregnant/engaged

It’s a seminal moment when the first of your friends from home gets engaged. She used to be the one who would scoff at other young marriages, but she’s “twenty two and in love now so it’s fine.” There’s mixed feelings of happiness, excitement (first wedding) and fear.

You buy a spiraliser

You’re the worst kind of person.

You don’t see your parents for six months at a time

My relationship with them now consists of weird Snapchats of them drinking more since I’ve left home and questions about pictures posted of me on Facebook. It’s been a steady decline since Mum discovered what having large pupils means, so now I have to eat more before I see them just so they know I’m not wasting away.

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You learn way too much about your neighbours

The guy down the road deals weed under the streetlight, some twat with a motorbike turns up in the dead of night to have sex with his girlfriend and the stay-at-home mum next door likes nothing more than complaining about how much noise you make and leaving rubbish outside her front door. Oh well, at least the house opposite haven’t realised how often you spy on them yet.

You meet A LOT of French people

And guess what? They’re still all cunts.

Someone drags you to a Europa League game ‘because it’s cheap’

Somehow watching a team from the arse end of Eastern Europe playing against a Premier League side’s reserve side is even worse in the flesh than when your mate used to make you head down the pub early because the Spurs match started at 6pm

Tube strikes are devastating

When you were at uni you related sympathetically to striking workers en masse. They were victims of the capitalist machine, the Tory scum, and you felt their pain. But after ten minutes in London, a tube strike is unfathomable, a nightmare scenario, and you’re sneering about it on Twitter and Googling how much TFL pays them in near apoplectic rage.

You tell a girl you’ll take her up The Shard ‘for brunch’

You’re basically James Bond now.

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You take your Mum for a drink at The Shard when she visits

Isn’t it nice she says. Mission accomplished.

You find any excuse to go to The Shard

Because being inside it makes you feel wealthy, successful, powerful, famous, entitled, glamorous, envied, aspirational and inspirational in a way you’re not and never will be.

You stop using Tinder

Kevin is a thing of the past now, and you need to get back on the horse, so to speak. Tinder at university was easy, everyone you knew, friends of friends — safe, accessible, fun. Tinder in London is a labyrinthian hellscape filled with spam bots, creepy 50+ guys, everyone who has ever worked in the city or ever will (and will tell you that on their profile), and — if you’re desperate enough to expand your radius — half of the cast of TOWIE. You switch to Happn, but some guy tells you he’s less than 100m away from you quite at late at night so you shudder and give up, dejected, and consider sneaking a pet cat past your fascist landlord.

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You sleep with Australians

Because everyone sleeps with Australians. But nobody likes to admit it.

You really need a living room

Fat chance.

By Oli Dugmore, Tom Jenkin, Jack Cummings, Will Lloyd, Roisin Lanigan, Grace Vielma, Bella Eckert, Lauren Raine, Cloe Fernandez-Barnes, Catherine Reid, Ben Clarke, Craig O’Callaghan and Daisy Bernard.