Paying Attention & Seeing Signs

Why hello there, folks! My apologies for the lag between blog entries: the first couple of weeks in a new country are hectic, as you might imagine, and blogging quickly falls down the priority list when one is looking for a job, searching for a flat, and trying to fit in some “I’m in a new country!” fun at the same time. Today, I’ve decided to stick close to my temporary home and catch up with the world, and I’m happy to report that catching up also includes blogging.

Since I’m a person who needs time to adjust to not only the particulars of living in a new place (transport, navigation, cost, etc.) but also the rhythm of it, the last two weeks have been a real exercise in paying attention. As you might imagine, there’s a whole Hell of a lot to pay attention to in London, which makes adjusting both intellectually and physically exhausting at times. London is a whole world unto itself: it’s got so many bits and pieces, so many systems and quirks, so many delights and horrors that trying to take it all in would truly take a lifetime. All that said, I can confidently say that the most important thing that I’ve discovered about the city since I arrived is that trying to figure out which part of it you want to put down roots in is really the most important and most difficult part of moving here.

I had some indication before I arrived that there were places to trust and places to avoid, and I’d done an incredible amount of looking at where I might like to live. The truth, of course, about that particular research is that it’s all well and good until you actually hit the streets and start looking at places. Because I’m on a budget of sorts, particularly while I’m still looking for work, I’m restricted in what I can and can’t afford to consider (which is heartbreaking, sometimes). That said, it’s made for a very interesting set of flat-viewing experiences in different regions of the city. My “Flat-Viewing Tour of London” has brought me to Lambeth, Haringey, Wandsworth, Hackney, and finally to Tower Hamlets, all of which have had their individual charm. I walked away from each viewing with a sense that I could fit into any of those boroughs, but I turned down a couple of them for different reasons, and a couple were taken by other people. There was one flat in Brixton I was particularly sad to see go to someone else, but nothing seemed to fit quite right until earlier this week when I ended up in Wapping.

Wapping is very near The Thames and located in Tower Hamlets. I knew nothing about Wapping before I ended up there, and was so pleasantly surprised by it that I’m still a little bit in shock, days later. I stepped out of Wapping Overground Station and was actually smacked in the face with (of all things) silence. The station was small, quiet, and clean; the street was nearly traffic-free, and the buildings in the area were tall, well maintained, and filled with flats. I had arrived in the area early so I could check it out and make sure I found my way to the right place in time, so I started walking. I found the flat with relative ease and so kept walking around the block a little. As I did so, I stumbled on some signs (both in the literal and metaphorical sense) that seemed to underline to me that I was, in fact, in the right place.

Some of you have heard me speak of how much I admired (and still admire, of course, though they’ve both passed on) my grandmothers: they are my heroes, and will always be. As women and as role models, they’re really quite hard to top, and I live my life the way I have and do partially in the hope that I might one day be able to say that I came close to bringing the same level of grace, joy, and strength to my life and loved ones that they did during their lifetimes. My grandmother Inkpen’s name was Pearl, and my grandmother Dean’s name was Hilda. As I rounded the corner while waiting for my viewing in Wapping, I noticed that, while the flat was actually designated as an address on one main street, it backs onto a street called “Pearl Street”. When I first noticed this, I smiled and walked on. I rounded another corner, casually looking up and around to see what else I could see in the area, and my eye caught sight of another sign: a giant banner painted on a building that said “Saint Hilda’s Wharf”.

I actually got chills and stopped dead in my tracks. I promptly hauled out my phone to take a photo of the banner, and then marched back to take one of the Pearl Street sign as well. I’m a person who has always paid attention to life signs and, while some are a little more vague and might be influenced by my tendency to search them out, these were more than a little bit huge and obvious. I mean, even if you’re a skeptic when it comes to life signs, those two are really quite difficult to ignore, especially when you consider the overall calm and pleasant feelings I had when I arrived in the area. I know a couple of you are wearing your “Sara’s Being Fatalistic, Cosmic, and Silly” smirks after reading that but I swear: those few minutes were like being hit over the head and hugged at the same time, and that’s really hard to ignore.

After I had my viewing, I decided that even if that particular flat didn’t work out for some reason, Wapping was where I wanted to be. I walked around the area and found lovely little restaurants, coffee shops, and corner stores, and then I stumbled on The Prospect of Whitby (reputed to be London’s oldest riverside pub, having existed in some form or another since the reign of Henry VIII). As you can imagine, I opted to have lunch there and realized that, if I moved into the area, this ancient relic of a pub could become my own local. Well, that sealed the deal: a local pub known for its age, its reputation of being a watering hole for sailors and scoundrels, and its view of The Thames? Yes, please! I had to laugh to myself about the amazing things I was finding in Wapping: none of the other areas I’d visited made near that much sense, nor were they as near water, nor were they as safe. I’d been paying close attention everywhere I went in search of a flat, but Wapping whopped me wholly in the heart and that is there you’ll find me.

There’s a lot more I’ll be paying attention to over the next while, and a lot more of London to see (including some signs, no doubt). Once I have my place in Wapping I’ll be more settled and more able to write and post about my adventures. For now though: I’m happy, healthy, and having a great time. I’ve met some wonderful people both on purpose and quite randomly, and I’m finally starting to feel as though I’m getting the hang of existing in such a rich, stimulating, and busy environment.

And so, until next time, I say: pay attention to where you are — you never know what signs you might see.

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