The amount of flats my new friend and I have seen in the first month of living in London, in the areas of Brixton, Morden and now NW area was quite vast. Us, being relatively new to London and generally abroad, were somewhat shocked to see the streets of south London with its traffic jams, Poundland shops, and a whole rainbow palette of a bunch of different people. We knew we were in a foreign country, but only now we felt like we were completely lost in it. I, with my lighter attitude to the world around me, was in a comfortable place, but sometimes I had to teach my new friend, a girl from a far eastern Russian town, how to not stare.
After a week and a few days we decided to move to Brent Cross, mostly due to the lack of other options. It was Brent Park Road, the street that lay right behind the once famous Brent Cross shopping centre, and so to get to it you had to walk right through John Lewis, and past my then favourite Hollister shop, smelling of California beaches and exotic flowers. At night, when the shopping centre was closed, you were sort of wading through slowly, past the forgotten trolleys and empty parking spaces, through almost what seemed like an actual hole in the wall, but in fact was a narrow pathway connecting the parking lot with the very long road that we called our house for the next six months.
The Number 88 Brent Park Road now had six residents and none of them were British. My Russian friend Dasha and I lived on the ground floor, with curtains always drawn, with one double bed, two chairs, a wonky table and a wardrobe, doors of which didn’t really close. When you’re in a foreign country, you actually become friends with strangers, so much you sleep with them in one bed. Above us lived two Polish boys, who differed from one another so much that it was crazy. The two Turkish guys next to us were usually quiet except for when sometimes they had their famous cook offs and invited us over for some handmade koftas that were exceptionally delicious. A month later a young Australian girl joined us and taught everyone how to smoke weed.
The days in number 88 were practically non-existent, as I tried to stay in Central London as much as possible, but on the days when I needed to go and do that weekly shopping that I never did (did maybe two-three times), I had to walk to the big Tesco’s which was about 25 minutes away on foot. The buses didn’t really go there, so you had to walk all this way to get to the most boring, in my opinion, supermarket in all of the UK. I was always a spontaneous shopper, so I didn’t make any grocery lists, which as we know, is not a good thing, plus the dreadful walk along the North Circular Road and on the Brent Cross Flyover, which could potentially be a twin of that bridge in Archway, where people killed themselves occasionally, meant Tesco Superstore was the no man land for me.
After I discovered that instead of the Brent Cross concrete architecture I could use the nearby Marble Drive, in order not to cross the massive North Circular, I was more satisfied. Most of the time, my trips to this supermarket ended with buying some cereal and regretting I spent a whole hour on the most useless and tiring walk, when in Central London I could walk, run, dance for hours on end, without being knackered.
The daily trip to the tube station which was Brent Cross, the nearest one, where you also had to get to on foot, meant only one thing – about a week later I started taking the 189 bus from Brent Cross shopping centre going to Oxford Street, or the C11 that stopped outside Finchley Road station which housed a lovely flower and vegetable shop, where you could get lovely items for discounted prices at about 5-6pm. The big Waitrose shop opposite the tube station served me quite a few times, when I felt especially fancy and needed some posh canned soups and maybe some frozen broccoli, because cooking myself meant too much trouble and too much time wasted that I could spend on London sightseeing and experiencing.
Sometimes I would take the C11 bus going to its final stop, Parliament Hill Fields, and climb to the top of ..well…Parliament Hill, where you can see London on a clear day, with wind in your hair, and tears in your eyes from too much wind. I used the 189 bus more than I did the C11. 189 would usually take me through the streets of Cricklewood, their many kebab shops and the dark Kilburn tube station, with the Brondes Age pub, where I tried my first sea breeze, along the Shoot Up Hill, all the way up Kilburn High Road, the names that puzzle me until this day. I knew I didn’t want to live in the area, definitely not in the place with this sort of name, and later, Zadie Smith would write a novel, where everything that can happen in a place called Kilburn, does.
On the top of the 189 double-decker swaying across the bridge over the North Circular which was always lit red, taking me past that pub in Brondesbury, gently braking as it entered the borough of Camden and the City of Westminster, where driving like a lunatic was generally frowned upon. We would drive onto the famous zebra crossing of Abbey Road, with the driver beeping at the Beatles fans trying to recreate that walking photo from the Abbey Road Album.
It then was Lord Cricket’s Ground, with crowds of people on the match days, then we would turn onto Baker Street, with its famous fictional resident and a very real museum, which I visited a year before. The bus went past that affluent Marylebone part, where five years later Chiltern Firehouse would appear.
The walls of Selfridges finally appeared, and we were on Oxford Street, the place I loved and loathed at the same time, much just like everyone else I guess, however in my case, it was more love, or loving to hate, or even bragging to hate, as I spent more than two years working in retail here, welcoming all kinds of locals and tourists, trying to brighten their day if I couldn’t do it with my one. I loved being a part of it, and when people around me couldn’t believe it, there was this tale I would tell them about how Oxford Street should be wiped off the face of the Earth, just because silly tourists can’t walk fast enough.
In the first days in London, riding buses, being skint and saving that extra quid on the posh soup from Waitrose, instead of using it on the third zone Oyster card, it was still exciting and scary at the same time. You would get off your seat, walk up to the exit, and then press the button well ahead of the actual stop, or sometime, you press the button and then rush to the exit, long before the bus stops, because you were afraid the driver wouldn’t let you out. Some time later, I say a few months in.. you lazily push the stop button to notify the driver of your intention to get off, then when the bus stops, you trump off the top floor of that double-decker, hopping off of it in a jolly manner, knowing for a fact, that you are the king of the vehicle. You ain’t no tourist, so the doors won’t slam you on your bum, you live here, thus you rule.
Then I was off to either school or work, not really looking forward to returning to NW4, which I particularly disliked, even after I started dating that Polish guy from the second floor, who in the end turned out to be a complete waste of time, just like those trips to Tesco’s.
The 189 was a whole story by itself, incorporating my first life experiences about life, love, fear and light hatred.