We are allowed some luck

Life in London chapter I

DHH was very lucky when, as a 13-year-old, he started to get interested in an English football club called Queens Park Rangers without knowing that the club with the exotic name came from London. The club could, for all he knew at the time, have had its home in a dark and dirty alleyway of places like Stoke or Derby or Wootton Wawen – or, horror of all horrors; Manchester!

50 years later, when it was time to spend the best part of a full football season in England watching his team full time, he was again lucky. This time he was lucky enough to be blessed with a wife with a genuine interest for football. It was, however, easier to persuade her to spend a few months in London than it would have been to make her settle in one of the before mentioned murky villages of the remote English north.

Home sweet home in Harlequin House, Coningham Road, London W12.

Not only does she like football, she understands the game better than DHH. She perceives Idrissa Sylla’s laziness, Matt Smith’s clumsy running technique, Joel Lynch’s defensive howlers and Jake Bidwell’s hopeless crosses much faster than he does. DHH is neither a football expert nor a football gourmet. He is the sort of fan who enjoys the atmosphere and the surroundings every bit as much as the game itself. He is also pretty much an anglophilic. During the cause of the season he spent many a Tuesday or Wednesday night going to games at places like Barnet, Aldershot and Dover, while ES sat at home watching Champions League on TV. Who won last month’s El Classico in Madrid? He could not care less. He would much rather go to Chelmsford and watch the home team play Wealdstone in the National Conference South.

After having made our decision, we first travelled to London in June 2017 for two days of intensive speed dating. Between us, we had made one deal that would define the choice of flat. He would choose the neighbourhood, she would choose the flat. Choosing the neighbourhood was not particularly hard, however. It had to be Shepherds Bush, London postcode W12, and it had to be within 20 to 25 minutes walking distance from the Queens Park Rangers Football ground.

This is Bush, we are QPR, and it was never a question of living anywhere else.

In the space of eight hours on a bright Monday in June, three estate agents took us to six buildings showing us eleven different flats. We ended up taking the very first one we had seen in the morning, but of course we did not know that until we had done them all. We got a flat facing south, full of light. It was on the third floor overlooking Goldhawk Road, one of the main streets of Shepherds Bush. It was in a brand new building next door to a pub, and we were in fact the very first occupants! It could hardly be better.

When we quit our jobs and sold our house back in 2015 to become travellers, we very much knew that we had to watch our money. Everybody has to of course, unless they belong to the community of the stinking rich, but we have to more than most. The reason is that we live a life of no routines. We very often do not stay in a place long enough to establish the everyday life habits that makes personal financial control a backbone reflex. Even in Norway, where we officially live, we do not spend very much time in the flat where we are registered. It belongs to DHH’s father, and we cannot live there full time and totally take over his life. Therefor, even when we are in the home country, our time is divided between places like our country house in the north, visits to various good and generous friends and also a fair share hotels, airbnbs and roadside camping sites. In such places there is always something extraordinary, the need for the extra tank of gas, the extra taxi when you are a bit out of town, the extra piece of travel equipment that you forgot to bring last time we went to our storage room and the extra restaurant dinner on a day when you really should be a bit economical by eating at home.

Harlequin House. Our flat is to be found behind the two windows to the left on the top floor. To the far right the O’Donoghue’s pub in 174 Goldhawk Road.

For that reason, we make sure we know how much money we can spend in an average month throughout the year and how much money we need for an average month living in London. And, surprise surprise, the two sums did not add up! A reasonable London budget left us with expenses way above over our monthly income. Not good.

One of the characters in Charles Dickens novel Little Doritt famously states that someone who earns 20 pence and spends 19, can live his life as a happy man. On the other hand, if he earns 19 and spends 20, he ends up in wreck and ruin. To avoid such a faith, ES and DHH benefited from the fact that an English football season starts in August and ends in May. One could underspend for the first six months of the first year, in this case 2017, and then overspend in the last six. Then one could repeat the exercise in opposite order in 2018, and suddenly we could be on budget for the full two years in a row. Brilliant thinking, isn’t it?

London is expensive, and a very big bit of it comes down to housing. For 70 square metres we paid 1950 pounds per month, and on top of that a council tax of roughly one more hundred. The fixed expenses did not stop there, however. We then needed a combined Internet/phone/TV-subscription to get the Premier League on TV, and we needed tickets for all the QPR home and away-matches. This whole package set us back another 550 a month. Sum it up and we have already spent 2600 pounds before we had even eaten our first shepherds pie or drunk our first cuppa. Our car was left behind in a garage in Switzerland. Parking space in our area is very hard to come by, and anything we could have found would have cost us another few hundred pounds a month.

O’Donoghue’s pub in 2005. In the background the gas station that had to go when Harlequin House was put up.

Our expense sheet thaught us our first serious lesson both about London and about football. It made us understand how privileged we are coming to the UK carrying Swiss and Norwegian money. Even as pensioners, our income is way above what millions of people in this great country can even dream about. The official living wage for London, a level that is well above the legally binding minimum wage, is 10,55 pounds per hour. If you work 2000 hours a year (and the average Norwegian does not have to do more than 1700) you are left with 21’000 pounds per year or 1750 per month. This does not even cover our rent, let alone our football tickets. There is no way people on this kind of wages could even dream about going regularly to watch a favourite professional team. No way Jose.

With our financial privileges, however, this is not a problem. Once the rent and the football tickets are paid for, life in general is rather affordable. Food in the supermarket is 60 per cent what we are used to from Norway, and food in a restaurant even less. We enjoy scaring our English friends with the Norwegian price of beer. When a pint in a London pub reaches 4 pounds, the locals start to moan and groan. Where we come from, we count ourselves lucky should we get away with paying less than 8.

Back when DHH was just a tourist in London, he used to do most of his clothes shopping on Oxford Street. Not only because it was cheaper than Norway (the difference is actually not so big anymore) but because he is a stereotype male that dislikes shopping. If he got himself a couple of pairs of jeans and half a dozen t-shirts and boxer shorts in one go, he could be done for a year. What actually is very much less expensive than in Norway, however, is tailor made clothing. ES, who had stocked up a load of silk and other fabrics in India the year before, suddenly realised that Shepherds Bush is full of very good and very reasonable tailors. Our Polish friend Anna across from the Richmond pub in Shepherds Bush Road is hereby very much recommended. ES paid her several visits and had several good new pieces made. Even DHH had a couple of new shirts made, but he took the easy way out as usual. He just showed up with an old favorite shirt and a roll of fabric, and had some copies made without spending more than five minutes in the tailor shop! He lived to regret that however, when ES came home from a fitting session having met one of the big national football celebrities in Anna’s shop. It turned out she is also the personal tailor of BBC- and Arsenal legend Ian Wright!

Another good side to London life is that we can buy your ourselves some popularity. It comes with a cost of course, in this case the extra cost of renting a flat with a guestroom. As soon as you can offer friends and relatives a few free overnights in the big city you suddenly find yourself quite in demand. They all came by, some more than once; old school friends, ex work mates and present football friends, and above all a broad collection of sons, daughters, brothers, in-laws and grandsons. For us this was part of a cunning plan. The guestroom was very much something we knew we wanted. After travelling the world for two years we found it hard to keep up with people we wanted to stay in touch with. We always did our best to see people when we could, but now we had a way of making them come and see us for a change!

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