There are certain things I wish I’d known before I started university.
I wish someone had told me that a gap year is not just a fall-back plan for when you don’t make your grades or decide to reapply to Oxbridge. It may actually help you ‘find yourself’, whether you’re trekking in the Andes or working in your local Tesco. I wish I’d known that when people tell you university will be the best three years of your life, they are probably looking back at it through rose-tinted glasses and forgetting – either through nostalgia or alcohol-induced amnesia – that they’re also the worst. Teenage hormones and struggles with self-identity are never more rife than when thousands of young adults flock to the same clubs and cram into the same libraries every week for three intense years.
In case you hadn’t already realised this from the existential crisis above, second year has hit me like a tonne of bricks, so please excuse the profound lack of regular blogs. I wasn’t expecting university to suddenly become so hard or all consuming and it’s left me little time – or perhaps more importantly, energy – to reflect and write. This year, London has taken on a different energy.
When I first moved here, the non-stop pulse of the city felt life-affirming and exciting and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. But sometimes, as I’ve discovered this year, London is just too much. Despite this, I’ve managed to discover a few tricks to help me find a bit of balance when the capital knocks me off kilter.
It’s easy to live your entire life indoors in London, venturing out only to take the tube. But the capital is almost 50 per cent green space. A walk in the park can work wonders for clearing your head. One particular perk of living in Camden is that Primrose Hill is pretty much my back garden. You may have to elbow a few tourists out of the way to see the view, but it’s well worth the guilty conscience.
A slightly niche happy place for me is the subway that takes you from South Kensington tube station to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The destination is lovely, of course, but so is the walk, in its own way. There’s something dream-like about a tube subway filled with the sound of buskers. It reminds me of that scene in About Time where Rachel McAdams falls in love with Domhnall Gleeson.
London has so many amazing galleries, and most of them let you stroll in for free. If you manage to free up a whole afternoon, the V&A is well worth a trip. Its current exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? is an absolute joy, complete with a magical 60s playlist and a whole room dedicated to Woodstock, where you can lie back on beanbags and fake grass.
If you fancy venturing south of the river, take the tube to St Paul’s, wander across the Millennium Bridge and take in the smell of sugared almonds on your way to Tate Modern. Even if modern art isn’t your thing, there’s something really special about the architecture of the Tate; Turbine Hall is a rare case of plain, open space in the city and the views from the café are among the best you’ll get without paying a hefty entrance fee.
Columbia Road flower market is a wistful way to pass a Sunday morning. The street fills with a procession of people delighting in the market sellers’ cockney cries. Also, nothing is quite so effective (or underrated) as living plants and flowers to cheer up your room. I have some succulents from Columbia Road that I’ve managed to keep alive since June (they even came back to Manchester with me over summer). They may be the easiest plants to maintain, but I’m proud of it all the same.
I’ve also taken to carrying a book with me on the tube. As a history student, my bag is always full of books and I would forgive myself for reading no more than is necessary, considering it’s the bulk of my degree. But there’s an element of escapism to reading and it’s a great way to distract yourself from the fact that the tube turns half of London into sardines twice a day. I’ve just finished Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue, which I absolutely adored, and I’m now moving onto The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry.
Admittedly, parks, galleries and books are not specific to London, but they are present here, and anything that offers some respite and peace of mind is worth a mention.
When a city offers as much to do as London, sitting still and doing nothing gets pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities. There’s this sense that you have to be doing something all the time and making the most out of living in the capital.
But, if this year has taught me anything, it’s that London will always offer a million things to do, but no one could possibly do all of them, so it’s okay not to try. And sometimes I just crave the comparative quiet of Manchester.
Turns out, that’s okay too.
By Isabel Webb
Chips ’n’ Gravy is Isabel Webb’s blog for Northern Soul. It charts her attempts to navigate student life in London and wear her Northern roots proudly on her sleeve.