I was born in a red sunburned country. An Island down under called Australia. I came earth-side on the 17th of November 1994 in the small city of Perth in Western Australia. It sits snuggly on the edge of the vast Indian Ocean. The city itself is so minute and the area surrounding it is so sprawling that it never felt more than just a sleepy country town. I thought I would spend my whole life there. But, shortly before my 21st birthday in a gap between completing my undergraduate years and commencing post graduate studies, the vision I had of my future was thrown to the curb and I stumbled onto a path that jolted my life awake and into complete chaos and adventure. A two week holiday to London in September 2015 will forever remain the holiday that changed my life.
I never really cared about Britain or its capital before my holiday. I thought of it as a drab, grey and depressing place full of overworked and irritable people and a pompous upper class. I had friends who visited the United Kingdom on holidays and when they returned home to glorious sun and beaches and were asked how their trip was, the reply was always the same: “Cold and wet”. Right then, I can strike that off my list of places to go, I always said to myself. I imagined travelling to warm sunkissed lands like South Africa, Thailand, Spain, possibly even India.
However, I found myself a university graduate with a small amount of time off and a limited budget in mid-2015. A good friend of mine had moved to London to work as a chef in the year previous and had contacted me to say that if I ever found myself in the United Kingdom I could stay with him free of charge. Whilst I wasn’t at all enthused about the possibility of going to the polluted concrete jungle that is London, seeing a good friend and craftily avoiding some undesirable accommodation fees outweighed the disdain I had developed for the city. I booked my flights.
To fly from Perth to Heathrow one must have at least one stop over and be on a plane for roughly 20 hours in total. As I boarded my Boeing 777 in late September I braced myself for a long and arduous journey. The one component of plane travel that I do enjoy is the feeling when a plane suddenly becomes airborne during take-off. Every passenger must remain in their seat with their seatbelt fastened, all phones and electronic devices are turned off and a feeling of anxious anticipation hangs in the air. There’s nothing to do but sit and be present. The plane rumbles and shakes as it runs along the airstrip. It fills with tension and being inside feels almost like sitting in the depths of a person filling with adrenaline before running a race. There’s the noises of engines, air whooshing past and the grating sounds of the wheels spinning along the tarmac. Then, silence. Weightlessness. Suddenly everything feels calm and you know you are in the air.
After a total of 21 hours in transit I arrived at Heathrow airport feeling sleep deprived and hungry. Delirious, I stumbled through customs and down into the underground. People ran around through the pipes and tubes of the underground stations like rats through a sewer system. The Piccadilly line came rattling through with its blue hues and a deep and well-spoken male voice boomed ‘mind the gap’. I had some time to kill before my friend would be home from work to let me into his house and so I decided to pick a station somewhere along the line to get off and look around. I scanned the tube map that sat above the seats of the train and decided to alight at Green Park.
As the train squealed into Green Park station I got out and hauled my luggage to the ticket barriers. Once I had faffed around with my oyster card, getting my luggage stuck in the gates of the ticket barrier and requiring assistance from a lovely TFL gentleman, I walked out of a small tunnel and emerged into an expanse of rolling lush green hills, squirrels clamouring up the trunks of tall splendorous trees and a palace glistening behind golden gates at the end of it all. There were winding footpaths that danced and weaved and connected to a main walkway that cut straight through the middle like an artery pumping a flow of people to wherever they wanted to go.
I followed a small path with my suitcase clacking alongside me. Exhaustion took over and I veered off onto the grass, laid my suitcase behind me and used it as a pillow to rest my head whilst I lay under the canopy of a sprawling tree. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I never wanted to leave. And, in that moment, I decided I never would.