And so… A Year in London

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.

I’m too busy to think about my life in Kyiv, let alone miss anything. The three years I spent in Ukraine, and the one in Russia, live on only in my blogs and photos.

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.


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