I’ve spent far too many hours listening to show tunes, so much so that Spotify doesn’t even bother recommending pop music to me anymore. How about a slice of Waitress pie 🥧, a banger from Heathers 🔫, or, dare I forget, a Dear Evan Hansen number 👕.
So, what could possibly be a more fitting way to sum up my two years of living in London than through a playlist of musical songs? The songs I’ve chosen encapsulate how I was feeling at different points in time. Some songs relate to my experiences quite literally through the lyrics, while others more just reflect my mood in the music.
'Cause it's an effed-up world but it's a two-player game!
In short, my time in London started with a brief stint of ‘normal life’, with Covid hitting just as I was beginning to feel settled. From then on, I guess I never really escaped it and ended up going through the ups and downs of lockdown life and quarter-life crisis soul-searching. Luckily in the eleventh hour, I managed to jam-pack in travel to Europe, and thankfully, a host of incredible West End shows!
Take your seats ladies and gents, switch off your mobile phones and please keep your face covering on for the duration of the performance.
...yes, there are two acts because why not?
Act I (2020)
One Short Day Wicked
Job sorted, flat arranged and bags packed, I was excited about joining Simon in London for the start of my OE adventure. I really didn’t know what to expect of life overseas but at least with the two of us, we’d surely be able to muddle our way through. Setting foot in central London, nothing could take away from the thrill of walking through Leicester Square and along Shaftesbury Avenue, soaking in the buzz of London at its best.
Every way. That you look in this city. There's something exquisite. You'll want to visit.
What a way. To be seeing the city. Where so many roam to. We'll call it home too.
On My Own Les Miserables
So it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, other than the day I arrived in London, I probably didn’t see the sun for a good month. Jumping straight into work, I was leaving home at 6am to power walk to the tube, returning again in the dark with barely enough time to unwind before hitting the hay. It was hard to adjust to the new way of life and work through the feeling of loneliness from being so far from home.
The trees are bare and everywhere. The streets are full of strangers.
Out of the Darkness (Into the Spotlight) Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A breath of fresh air. And not just figuratively. We moved flats, going from a city apartment to the suburbs and were reacquainted with trees and the sound of birds. My commute to work was now only 3km so I settled into the routine of running home each evening. The days got brighter and things like walking to the grocery store became a welcome norm.
Out of the darkness. Into the spotlight. There is a new star. Shining so bright.
Something Bad Wicked
Without a doubt, I was guilty of ignorance here. Catching snippets of reports about Covid on the news, it seemed like something so far away that I couldn’t even fathom it affecting me. I thought that my coworker was overreacting by wearing her scarf over her mouth on the bus ride to work. I didn’t think much of the murmurs I heard about schools potentially closing.
It couldn’t happen here. In Oz.
Blankets and Bedding Come From Away
Well, talk about doing a 180. In the space of a week, everything suddenly became so real and panic was knocking on my doorstep. All of a sudden, we were preparing home learning packs for our students with the possibility of the school closing at a day’s notice. It’s funny, I have to admit I got a kick out of the whirlwind of chaos, suddenly kicked into fifth gear after sitting in second, unsure if I needed to change up or down. In the end, we only had 18 minutes warning before our school closed. And no word of when we’d reopen.
How do you know what you need when you don't know how many you’re needing to feed?
In a flurry of madness - moving day - school closure - new flat - no flat - move home-home? - flat hunting - lockdown - everything was overwhelming. So many questions, with answers not keeping pace. But then came the peace. And quiet. We found a new flat and locked ourselves away. In the month of April we only left the house 4 times for walks to the park and a handful of times to get groceries. Closed off to the rest of the world, I was largely left to my own devices.
And my heart is pounding. And my eyes are burning. And suddenly everything, everything is. Quiet.
Two Player Game Be More Chill
Home workouts, knitting, Netflix binge-watching, Zoom parties. 101+ ways to pass the time in lockdown, right? Well, instead of baking banana bread, I ended up spending hours playing ‘Don’t Starve Together’ on the computer. Gorging on chocolate and settling in for three hours of uninterrupted gaming. Sounds like the life.
'Cause it's an effed-up world. But it's a two-player game!
I Can Do Better Than That The Last Five Years
Still working from home and with extra time on my hands, I started exploring side projects and other job options. Not feeling too hot on teaching, I realised I could take the opportunity to upskill. I didn’t have much confidence in myself that I’d be able to do anything other than teaching but nevertheless, I immersed myself in Les Mills instructor training, online courses, blog writing and website work.
I thought about what I wanted, it wasn't like that at all.
Thinking "I can do better than that".
What You Own Rent
Our first real taste of freedom in 5 months. Ruling out any international travel as too risky, we rented a car and road-tripped around England and Wales. It was a much welcome break from lockdown life and a real chance to unwind. Crank up the tunes!
Don't breathe too deep. Don't think all day. Dive into work. Drive the other way.
I Say No Heathers
This was a new life event: Quitting a job...messily. The full story is too long to tell but basically I had my arm pulled into taking a full time teaching job when my intention was to switch to supply teaching. After a week, I was sure that it was not what I wanted to do but the pressure was on me to stay. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to get work if I didn’t keep this job and told that I couldn’t leave, despite never actually signing the contract I’d been sent. I’ve always prided myself on being the type to stick to my word and see things through, even if it’s tough, but in this case, I stood up for myself. I prioritised my own wellbeing and said no. It was the scariest thing but I’m so glad that I did it.
Don't say a word. You speak and I cave in. You'll twist the truth again. And drill deep down beneath my skin.
Things were looking up. A few theatres were able to reopen, we had just signed a 1-year lease on a flat and I had started a new job teaching PE which I’d always wanted to do. After moving around so much, I was relieved to have a place to settle down. We made it to SIX the musical and were looking forward to catching the West End Musical Christmas at the Palace Theatre.
Who knew we owned eight thousand salad plates? Finally they're opening up the gates.
There'll be actual real live people. It'll be totally strange.
Look Down Les Misérables
Until...Christmas got cancelled. Not that we had any real plans. But still. A lockdown but with schools still open turned into a full lockdown and we were cast back to April. This time though, it was dark and the days were still getting shorter.
Look down, look down. Don't look 'em in the eye.
Lockdown, lockdown. You’re here until you die.
So not the cheeriest of endings to 2020. See what 2021 had in store for me...after the interval.
Act II (2021)
In the End of Time School of Rock
HAPPY NEW YEAR! But nothing had changed. Dark. Cold. Repetitive. As we saw friends in NZ living it up, it definitely felt like we’d drawn the short straw yet again. Work helped to break up the long days at home but I still think I went a little crazy...Jack Black crazy.
Well you're not hardcore [No you’re not hardcore]. Unless you live hardcore [Unless you live hardcore]. But the legend. Of the rent. Was way hardcore!
Do You Wanna Build a Snowman Frozen
Snoooowiiiing in London! Without a doubt, this was the most exciting thing that had happened in months. We hastily threw on some warm clothes and wandered the streets and park in awe. And of course, we built a snowman. My first snowman.
Do you wanna build a snowman? C'mon, let's go and play.
By this stage, I was seriously doubting that I would get to do much more on this 2-year OE other than continue in lockdown. Things started to seem more positive when I had the opportunity to get my first vaccine dose. Maybe, just maybe, a new chapter was on the horizon.
The sun'll come out tomorrow. So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow.
You and Me (But Mostly Me) Book of Mormon
Leading up to Easter, I found myself again engrossed in learning. I made the most of each day and wrote 11 blogs over my one week term break. I also completed both of my Les Mills Advanced Instructor modules over Zoom so was feeling pretty chuffed with my effort.
You and me - but mostly me. Are gonna change the world forever.
With restrictions starting to ease, I made a point to pack every weekend with activities. From visiting Warwick, Hever and Dover castles, to enjoying afternoon tea in the Buckingham Palace gardens, to exploring free museums, and even doing a couple of London walking tours, I think we did a jolly good job guv’nor at making the rounds. And picked up a little bit of English history along the way. Innit just right though innit.
Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.
My Shot Hamilton
And then it was upon us. The long awaited ‘Freedom Day’. After 18 months, we were finally “free”. TIME TO HUSTLE. Despite travel being a complicated web of restrictions and logistical challenges, this was our chance to finally see Europe. Both having received our shots, it was now or never. All guns firing, we ventured on back-to-back trips to Ireland, France and Greece.
Rise up, it's time to take a shot...And I am not throwin' away my. Not throwin' away my shot.
Mamma Mia Mamma Mia
Carrying on with the momentum we’d built over the summer holidays, we fell into what felt like an absurd new lifestyle of working 4 days a week and jet-setting off to Europe the other 3 days. Leaving home at 2.15am on Saturday morning, then arriving home at 2am on Tuesday morning only to wake up at 6.50am to head to work that same day suddenly became the new norm. And if that wasn’t busy enough, all the shows I’d booked months ago were finally reopening and we had weeknight tickets. So when was there even time to plan the next weekend trip? 20 mins on the commute to work, 5 mins during a lunch break, and in what was left of the day after arriving home from a show at 10.30pm. MADNESS. Utter madness. But the good kind. There was barely a minute to stop and breathe before the next trip was upon me.
Mamma Mia, here I go again. My my, how can I resist ya?
The Negative Waitress
What could possibly derail this lifestyle of leisure. Oh that’s right, the pandemic. There was some kind of testing requirement for every trip we went on. My new weekly schedule became packed full of: NHS PCRs, Lateral Flows, Pre-Departure Antigen tests, Day 2 Return PCR tests, and submitting results. After a while, I just ended up breaking into this song (The Negative) whenever I had to do a test. It was all fun and games, until I got the same result as Jenna...I think the last line of this song sums it up perfectly. (Luckily this was only in Lateral Flow tests but not in the follow up PCRs).
Focus on the negative.
For Forever Dear Evan Hansen
One of my highlights of our travels was in Sintra, Portugal when we went on the most beautiful scenic walk up a bush track to the Palace of Pena. Not a soul around, nestled within the bushes, the golden sunlight dancing through the crisp morning air, it was one of those times I just wanted to savour forever.
All we see is sky for forever. We let the world pass by for forever. Feels like we could go on for forever this way. Two friends on a perfect day.
Stop the World Come From Away
With the end of our time in London drawing nearer, I increasingly found myself delving into thoughts, memories and feelings. What a crazy time to have been living away from home. There’s no way I could have foreseen what ended up happening. But that was the adventure of all of it. The last few months had been both exciting and hectic, so I was grateful to have a couple of weeks to stop, reflect and take it all in.
Stop the world. Take a picture. Try to capture. To ensure this moment lasts. We're still in it. But in a minute. That's the limit. And this present will be past.
For Good Wicked
Saying goodbye is hard. I’d met some amazing people over the last two years who kept me sane, kept me smiling and, of course, took the opportunity to show me how to be properly British. Unlike in this song, I’m sure that this isn’t really a goodbye but a bye bye until next time.
Because I knew you. I have been changed. For good.
You’ll Be Back Hamilton
Well, let’s wait and see Dear London. Maybe I will be…