I’m currently standing on the icy stoned marbled floor of my bathroom in a face-off with the Victorian sink. It’s an enormous cream vessel with a leaky tap and a cantankerous temper, choosing occasionally to pamper to my wintered soul and provide some lukewarm water. To me, it signifies London: grandiose, bygone and callous. London’s not very nice to its people and the London natives by default are permanently petulant and irritated. Just like my sink.  

I take out my vanity bag and remove my facial armour.  First, it’s the MAC Studio Fix foundation. It goes under the sink and a few droplets of Thames water pour inside. Next, my mascara, it too lands the same fate. Why? Because if you’re too skint to buy makeup you’re left with only one viable option before going au naturel; add water. Additionally, my mascara is doubling as eyeliner and I am now forcibly pinching my cheeks in haste. The result? Kate Moss circa 2014 stumbling out of a Mayfair club grasping at her entourage with smeared red lips perspired foundation and smudged mascara. Regardless of the aesthetic, I know this diluted maquillage is better than nothing.

By now I’m half decent and fortified with coffee and digestive biscuits and ready to make my way out.  I’m currently selling ovens for six pounds an hour at a design expo across town. It’s a 35-minute tube ride or a 4-mile walk. I set off an hour and a half early to try and make it on time. I can’t afford the tube fare.

My mind is wearied and my body tired, I’ve been up all night writing a piece on the abortion debate in Northern Ireland. It’s rather incongruous with selling ovens, but I should stress that I’m a full time masters student in journalism and peddling built-in furnaces is a part time gig. I need the money.

The walk is long, but the scenery pretty. London is punctuated with pockets of Victorian lined houses, luscious gardens and celebrated monuments and I take it all in, grateful that I’ve bypassed the infamous drizzle. I’m pensively contemplating my budding career when I notice something interesting. One of the bourgeoisies of West London has disposed a tatty but not entirely useless pair of denim jeans, a woolen beret and green Nikes. Pride is something I bid adieu long ago and I open my satchel and stuff the roadside remnants inside. I haven’t been able to afford new jeans in over six months. Nor, do I have a pair of joggers. This latest sartorial find has filled a gapping aperture in my wardrobe.

Walking everywhere, green Nikes in tow. Picture: Catherine McMaster

Thence to work where I’m abruptly reprimanded for tying my red silk foulard in an altogether ‘too sexy’ way.  Why someone who sells ovens needs to wear a silk foulard, I can’t fathom, but according to my big bosomed matriarchal supervisor it ‘lends a dignified air’. I notice that she’s tied hers so severely that her chin folds over it.

Foulard in place and I’m on the shop floor. I’ve been given the dreaded oven and microwave combo section and I’m trying to entice passers- by with a friendly smile and luring opening line; “these ovens feature moisture plus,” I say with mock gusto. I have no idea what ‘moisture plus’ translates to, but I have an inclination that it’s something to do with the abstruse nozzle on the inside. I’m tested on this when an unsuspecting Liverpudlian couple enquires as to its purpose. I’m stumped for words. Evidently, amplifying the benefits of a German-made avant-garde technological oven is not my forte.

No sooner had I bid farewell to the Liverpudlian lovers than a Cornish couple with ecological intentions entrap me. They want an oven below ‘1,000 watts’ with durability, sustainability, permeability, moreover cheap, simple and easy to use; I have a knack of attracting nonsensical customers.  They then go off on a tangent and start describing their ecological quasi-tree house off the coast of Wales. Its merits for environmentalism include under floor heating, recycled carpets, houseplants and a bog out the back. All very fetching for the environment, I am told. Feeling that I may have a shared ally in my Victorian sink woes, I explain my ordeal this morning. Alas, my morning calamity falls short and I’m chastised for complaining about lukewarm water; “some kids don’t have any at all!” they reprimand me with zest.

I feel slightly deflated and conscious of my ecological ignorance, and by the time the clock strikes six I’ve sold, unsurprisingly, a desolate ‘zero’ ovens. No bonus for me, and I receive a stern warning from the meddlesome matriarch that it’s “simply not good enough”.

I can’t face the four-mile walk home and instead decide on a more illicit journey. A credulous young ticket master stands at the entrance to the tube. He’s casually greeting passers-by and smiles with sincere pleasure. A happy London man, you don’t fnd many. I approach hesitantly slapped with a face of sincere worry and distress.

“Excuse me, I am so sorry but I don’t have a ticket. My partner took my wallet this morning and I have no way of getting home. Would you please allow me, just this once, to go through.”

He studies me casually and agrees to let me in. For the first time in weeks I’m able to travel in the underground labyrinth, and even manage to swindle myself a seat. It feels marvelous.

An alternative — and cheaper — way to get around. Picture: Catherine McMaster

So is it worth it? Yes. Struggling in London and living day-by-day on a diet of digestive biscuits and 99p pasta is arduous. I relocated from Sydney to London to study my master’s and I underestimated how demanding the degree would be. Additionally, no city’s exported image is so incongruous with its homegrown reality than London. So many Aussies flock to the capital with raised expectations only to encounter disappointment.

It’s a pretty town, but living can be tough. Picture: Catherine McMaster

But London is vibrant and intoxicating, and I’ve come to appreciate that it offers something far more intrinsic and unique. I have the chance to become part of the fabric of a medieval modern amalgamate city and while it doesn’t bestow any favours, this innately makes me hungrier for success. And if you can make it in London with its sprawling populous of city bankers, entitled hedge funders and dismissive locals, you can make it anywhere.

This is the original version of the piece published by news.com.au. To read the published piece click here

 

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