Ever since I remember, I always wanted to have a cat. However, my family in Poland are all dog people. My dad claims he dislikes cats as much as he hates stale bread, long queues and the Polish national football team. My mum feeds stray cats and helps catch and neuter them, but she says she’d never want a cat at home. My sister’s personality is very dog-like, so it’s not much of a surprise that she prefers dogs, and my brother doesn’t get along with anything that’s not a computer, a mobile or a camera. I grew up with dogs and dog people, but deep down inside I always knew I was a cat person.
So when I bought my own flat, I knew that one day a cat will share it with me.
What I didn’t know then was that one cat always led to another.
Loki, my wonderful Russian Blue boy, is over 8 months old now. He’s the sweetest little creature, very relaxed and laid back most of the times, with occasional spurs of total madness. He’s totally gorgeous and I keep telling him that, which my partner finds very amusing indeed. He’s also a bit lonely, I’m afraid.
Or: was. Because on Friday, another cat is coming to live with us: a completely mental Bengal girl named Cara, who seems to never run out of energy. She’s only 5 months old now, so it might just be a passing phase. Or not. Bengals, from what I know, are extremely active and very, very intelligent. I reckon she’ll be opening drawers in no time.
So, I’m officially a Crazy Cat Lady.
Not that I mind.
I love my bike. I honestly do. I feet it’s as much a part of me as my legs or arms are. Fast, fun, eco-friendly – what’s not to like?
Well, there are the angry taxi drivers on London streets. There are huge, scary lorries (my route from home to work is mostly on dual carriageways). There are pedestrians who step on the road without even looking, there are crazy Jeremy Clarkson wannabes who demonstrate their hatred of cyclist by driving like they were insane, there are exhaust fumes, difficulties finding a parking space and security concerns once you have found one and D-locked your bicycle in place.
But there’s also the joy of breezing past motorists stuck in traffic, not worrying about station closures, engineering works or signal problems on the Tube and being where you want to be when you want to be. Since I started cycling, I haven’t been late to work once. Actually, scrap that. I have. That was on the day I had to take the train.
Don’t get me wrong, I think transport in London is quite good, if not totally reliable. Still, given the choice of taking it or cycling, I’ll always stick with the latter. It’s just who I am.
Speaking of cycling, next month I’m doing something really extreme. I’ve done long(ish) rides before, but this is unlike anything else: a 120-mile ride to the coast, only to see the sea and have breakfast at a cafe on the beach. Yes, I did say “breakfast”. Yes, that means we’ll be riding at night. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I want to challenge myself and I know I can do it. I can barely think of anything else now. Anyone up for it?
Everyone’s so into football recently that I feel a bit out of place.
Yes, I know it’s the World Cup. I know it’s the most important time for all football fans. Hell, I sometimes enjoy watching a good game. But why would I want to watch all of them, no matter who’s playing? Why would I be bothered about the result of Chile v Switzerland? Why should I care if Honduras beats Cameroon? Why would I want to sit through a completely boring game with no goals and no action whatsoever? I might as well check the scores online to be up to date.
Not that I feel the need to do that.
Having said that, I’m quite happy that the Polish team did not qualify. They’re not much of a team, just a bunch of guys that play together from time to time, but not often enough to be able to cooperate. It’s not much fun to watch them being beaten by Spain (6:0, a splendid result indeed). I wouldn’t be surprised if they got their arses kicked by San Marino. I’m not exactly an England fan either – not that it matters now that everyone seems to be flying the flag. I have a soft spot for Holland and would be quite happy if they won. Not super-excited-happy, but satisfied.
There’s something more important to me now: in the midst of all this football madness there’s the Polish Presidential Election. This coming Sunday, I’ll vote. And it doesn’t matter how many football games I’ll miss because of that.
A colleague of mine just went for a short holiday to Poland today. Whenever someone I know goes to Poland, I get asked the same question: would I like them to bring me something? Now, there was a time when I was eager to accept their offer and gave them long and detailed lists of items I longed for, missed and desperately needed.
But now I feel there’s no need to do that. Poland’s just on my doorstep, so why should I? There’s a Polish shop or two in virtually every London borough, my local off licence sells Polish products, you can even buy Tymbark fruit juices and Princessa wafer bars online in Sainsbury’s. There are Polish online bookshops that stock all the new books, DVDs and magazines. I don’t need to ask anyone to add extra weight to their luggage. Which is good, as Ryanair’s luggage charges have gone overboard.
Of course, I still miss some things. Like Sunday afternoons spent with the whole family on the sofa, watching bad comedies and predictable action flicks, stuffing ourselves with crisps and cookies. Like walks with my dog in the local forest. Like the sea breeze in my hair as I ride my bike from Gdansk to Sopot.
But these things, unfortunately, can’t be brought here.
When I first cane to London, I was sure it’s only a temporary stopover along the way. I’d just graduated and wanted to go further with my studies, but I needed money to do that. And Poland, as you may know already, is not the best place to earn money.
So I decided to go to London. For a couple of months, a year tops.
Four years on and I’m still here, and it looks like I’m in for a long ride. We’ve just bought a flat, so it’s quite a commitment.
That wasn’t exactly the plan. But at first I got fed up with flatsharing (10 people queuing for the loo, unwashed dishes in the sink, somebody’s filthy socks under the sofa and endless parties in the garden whenever I was about to go to sleep are all to blame), then I got fed up with renting (can’t paint the wall fuchsia pink, it’s got to be the omnipresent magnolia, otherwise I’ll lose my deposit; can’t hang a picture on the wall, as it requires drilling a hole, and if I do so, I’ll lose my deposit; can’t get rid of the old coffee table, as it’s the landlady’s favourite and if I tell her it’s hideous… Yup, you got it) and then I realized I could pay for my own place instead.
Finding a perfect pad is not that difficult. Convincing the bank that you’ll be able to afford the mortgage, the bills, the commuting, the food, the booze and the occasional takeaway is the hard bit. Then comes the long, dreary wait for the lender’s approval and when that’s gone through, an even longer one, for the solicitors to finally draw up a contract. Now I don’t know how difficult it is to draw one up, but I reckon it’s all fairly standard. Why it takes over a month, I cannot tell. You’re lucky if: a) you still haven’t handed in yoyr notice to the landlord, b) you have someone who’ll put up with you for a while if necessary, c) your solicitors are the hard-working types, not the slacking-off-and-coffee-sipping ones. Once that’s sorted, you can move in. Provided you haven’t gone mental from all the hassle.
If anyone tells you becoming a homeowner is easy-peasy, you can be sure they’re lying. And they probably know that.
But – it’s still worth it. The view from my own balcony. The sweat from putting Ikea furniture together, dismantling them and putting them together again, this time the right way round. The irresistible calling of my first oversized corner sofa. The justified spending of hard-earned money and the constant abuse of credit limits on all fronts cards. The finishing touches that have my name on them.
It’s worth it. So to all fellow foreigners in London and all over the UK, if you’re planning to stay for a while, buy a place. And then you’ll never want to leave.
And, being a well-mannered person, I should probably introduce myself.
So, here goes:
My name is Malgorzata. Yup, really. Don’t even try pronouncing it – as far as I know, it’s nearly impossible to do it if you’re not Polish (Maw-goh-zha-tha is as close as they get). So, to make it easier for you, you can call me Maggie. It’s pretty much the same thing anyway.
What else? I’m young(ish) – let’s say somewhere between 20 and 30 – a corporate receptionist and freelance writer, a chocolate addict, a rock chick, a fitness fanatic and many other things. You’ll find out more about me later, anyway.
Oh, and most importantly, I’m a foreigner in the tiny little village of London. And, as a foreigner, I see things quite differently. This is what my blog will be about: the little differences between there and here.
Hope you’ll enjoy the ride!