Last night I went out with an ex of mine from my uni days. He’s a financial accountant for a hedge fund now. When we met up and I walked next to him (he in his city gear, me in my voluntary sector gear ie. any more informal and it would have been beachwear) I felt like I was in Pretty Woman. And not the scene where she wears the red ball gown to the opera. The scene where a suited Richard Gere strolls up sunset boulevard with a girl who’s clearly a hooker. Not that I looked like a hooker. I hope I didn’t anyway. But because I could see everyone staring at him thinking, ‘Who on earth have you got on your arm? She’s not from round these parts.’ We were only walking through Berkeley square but I could hear the smashing sound as my world collided with this other, suited, booted world. I don’t step foot in that world anymore if I can possibly avoid it, and now I remember why. I felt like one of the prawns from District 9.
I used to work in that world when I was a young, sweet, innocent undergrad (ok I was never sweet). I would put on my poshest frock and work the reception of private banks and suchlike. I was good. They liked my voice. I liked the fact I could combine surfing the net with occasionally answering the phone and making coffee for visitors and could get paid for it. Then I got fired from Accenture (I wasn’t one of their graduate scheme people – just a lowly customer service person – I’m not very good at customer service) and my whole life changed. I realised that working for private banks and big corporates was like peeling off a part of my soul every day, walking it into hell and handing it over personally to satan. Or something similar. So I changed paths, jumping onto the charidee bandwagon and hitching a ride back into the light. Nowadays I’d never get a first job in charity, the competition is so fierce, but back then it was a lot easier. The wagons weren’t so full. Everyone in my year at uni aspired to be a banker. No one even knew what charity was. Even today I still get asked by people whether I get paid. No I say, I live on the streets, forage through dumpsters and use freecycle for Christmas presents – I mean really. And so here I am today. 9 weeks left working for charity and yes, getting paid for it. Then I’ll be asking for it (charity that is).
Anyway, back to my story. I’m walking like pretty woman through Mayfair with an ex-boyfriend and we’re surrounded by suits. It’s feeling like a staging of an ENO opera. A Wagner one. It makes me wonder whether or not London really is my city. I am a Londoner. I love London – don’t I? But this London sucks. This London makes me feel uncomfortable and unhappy and like I don’t belong. I used to think that living anywhere else was inconceivable. Where else could be as cool as London? Nowhere. But the truth sinks in. The days of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit rolling around in a Union Jack are gone (shame that). The days where you could go out in the east end without bumping into a crowd of drunk newcastle lads on a stag do have also gone. The days of Cameron are looming, winter is bombing down on us and the bankers are back (I know, I know they didn’t go anywhere, but you’d think after the financial crisis and all, they’d bed down and be embarrassed but they’re out there, strutting around like they’re starring in Wall Street. Where’s the shame?). It’s like Thatcher’s 80’s reign again. I was only a kid then but I still remember my nanny (my grandmother – we weren’t that posh), staying up all night to hear the election results. She hated Thatcher with a passion she usually only reserved for Jesus.
It feels like that’s where we’re headed to again. It’s so time to go.