London, October 2011
And so, after years of dreams and snuffed-out plans, I am finally writing about the markets of Central Asia, and being read by tens of thousands of people. But there’s an unsatisfying catch: the markets are the pharmaceutical, financial and energy ones, not ones filled with exotic people and food. The readers are clients of the company that I work for in England.
A year and a bit since swapping small, traditional Kyiv for vast and multi-cultural London, my world has never seemed so short of variety. In Ukraine every day was unusual, memorable. I used to type up the eventful parts of my week into a 1,000-word blog; now I can write about 14 months in half as many.
I moved to London last autumn to work for a company in Southwark. In order to join them I had rushed my wedding to Ana and left a successful firm in Ukraine, but after two months of hellish work I was let go. By the next week I had run nose-first into the granite wall at the bottom of my overdraft, and had to leave a £4 jumper at the till in Primark.
Ana joined me in the October; we moved to Wembley, where we sat on a sofa all winter, sad, poor and with Friends for friends. At the start of 2011, after applying for 800 jobs, the fifth company I interview with offered me a position. I became a translator in a Russian-speaking office again, and life returned to the whir of Slavic sounds and semi-serious scribbles.
I went back to Primark and bought the jumper!
But London is expensive – for the price of a cup of coffee here I could travel to work for a week in Ukraine; my rent is three times dearer and the price of taxes and utilities is astonishing – so most of my evenings and weekends I do extra work to pay the bills. Some of it is enjoyable (translating articles about Russian politics and Turkmen gas pipelines); some of it is at once infuriating and boring (teaching an online English course to students in Kazakhstan).
There is no time to see old friends. I hardly even see the city, but my commute follows the tourist trail: Baker Street to Oxford Street to Victoria Station, and home via Buckingham Palace and Green Park.
My camera literally gathers dust. Just as my writing was falling to pieces too, I was asked to write some travel features for Panorama, the in-flight magazine of Ukraine International Airlines. It’s a nice balm for a knackered self-esteem, and my fee for them pays for Ana and me to celebrate our wedding anniversary in Turkey (which was stunning. And Ana had earned a break more than me – the year after completing a Master’s degree, the only job offered to her was in a shoe shop).
I’ll never write about the real markets of Central Asia – but once we get the hang of London I’m sure the words will flow again.