V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Will it be home or away?

Published in The Toronto Star, October, 2004.

I'm already getting nostalgic.

I wrap my hands lovingly around my ritualistic Tim Hortons double double coffee and savour the sweet solution of cream, sugar, and caffeine.

When I'm on the subway, I smile at fellow Torontonians during peak rush hour, who return my gesture of friendliness with confused, sometimes frightened looks.

I stand in the middle of my new apartment, sighing at the recollection of the many gleeful hours I spent Ikea-ing the place.

I'm nostalgic because I may be leaving the city I've built my life in for the past eight years to move to the U.K.

It's supposed to be a smart career move. I'm young, with no mortgage, kids or dog - hell, I don't even have a (living) plant in my apartment.

Reasoning is, if I have to move and relocate out of Toronto for a job, I might as well uproot myself to somewhere exciting as opposed to a small town in northern Ontario, right?

And I've done it before, having lived in France for a year during my university days.

So it wouldn't be a completely new experience. Except that, back then, I could cloak myself under the safety net of student status.

Now, I have nothing to hide behind except for a thin veil of late-20s angst.

Aisle seat, 14G. I've decided to take a test trip to London with a girlfriend for some perspective. She's never been to Europe before and I'm eager to show her around.

I've had the privilege of visiting London more than a dozen times but during this trip, I keep the idea of living here uppermost in my mind.

We arrive in London on a typically gray Friday morning.

We navigate our way through the tube system toward our lodging, the Blakemore Hotel near Hyde Park, one of the sites used in the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant comedy Notting Hill.

Despite the fact that high season for tourists is over, when we emerge from Queensway tube station we're joined by at least a dozen other foreigners.

The hum of rolling suitcases on old, cobblestone streets fills the air - the familiar cool, soggy air that seeps right down to the bones. Even the bed sheets feel damp and sleep is hampered by the faint smell of mould.

CONSIDERATION 1 As a serious SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferer, would I be able to live in a country where sun is scarce and the umbrella a necessary fashion accessory?

Speaking of fashion, we decide to dedicate day two to a different necessary evil while in London shopping.

As my friend Jackie drops her credit card at dizzying speeds - quite rightly on beautiful finds - I occupy myself by people- watching on a busy Saturday morning on Oxford St. It's also London Fashion Week and models with legs the size of my forearm are everywhere.

Even so, Londoners make for better viewing. Many are effortlessly stylish, some are renegade fashionistas and others are simply inexplicably attired. It seems there's more tolerance for individual expression here than in Toronto.

I envision myself in a London cafe wearing a purple boa just because I can, and writing at a window table while watching the people pass by.

Consideration 2 As an aspiring scribe, I'd have no shortage of inspiration in a city like London. It's a cultural breeding ground for creativity. I could reinvent myself here.

Perhaps London will bring out the animal-print loving woman that Toronto's relative conservatism has been repressing. Enticing thought.

But, creativity doesn't always pay the bills.

By day three, London has eaten my money. We try to skimp on lunch by buying sandwiches from Marks & Spencer and buy a coffee from McDonald's so we can eat inside.

Consideration 3 As the "aspiring scribe in London," can I afford to live here without having to sell pints of beer or blood? I would be going over blind without a job, with no real contacts.

It would make for a good life story, though, for when I'm old and smacking my gums "When I was your age I had to live on sardines and crackers for six weeks ..."

Saturday night, Jackie and I hit Soho to experience the London nightlife. People have spilled on to the streets.

The city is alive. Brits are famous for their drinking. Social activities revolve around the local pub.

But I can see that losing its appeal quickly for me. When a drunkard tries to look up my skirt while we wait to cross the street, I just sigh and tell him and his giggling compadre to get lost.

Consideration 4 I won't be able to escape the staggering sport of imbibing until the point of sensory deprivation, and will just have to deal with it.

That is, unless, I too take up the habit out of loneliness.

After browsing through the expat website, www.canuck abroad.com, I'm disheartened by some of the postings which rail against British coldness.

One expat lists the "unfriendliness" as one of her British dislikes, saying she's lived in the U.K. for seven years and doesn't know her neighbours.

When a snobby sales clerk gives me attitude while I help Jackie with another size - because no one else will - we leave in a huff, both indignant at how I was treated.

Consideration 5 What if I don't find anyone who will "huff" on my behalf?

I'd be leaving my friends and family for strangers who, though friendly, I'm sure, among themselves, aren't really known for hospitality.

I'm now back in Toronto where everything is familiar and safe.

I browse through the pictures of London and remember the show we caught for half price, a cheesy but entertaining rendition of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

I call up the memory of the Tower Bridge, in which I wanted to be that surefooted Londoner who weaved her way through the throngs of tourists, anxious to get home after a hard day's work. That person who called London home.

This is getting complicated I'm already getting nostalgic.

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