London 2004 - share CREDIT Minka Guides

It’s 20 years this month since I arrived in London

In May 2004, I landed in London: a city obsessed with The Libertines, Girls Aloud, Vice Mag, Myspace, The Osbournes, and Madonna’s marriage to Guy Ritchie.

This was before I bought my first laptop, iPod, or smartphone. I used to carry an A-Z map book everywhere but was still eternally lost. My Discman would alternate wildly between my three CDs: Le Tigre, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Belle and Sebastian.

For the first month, I squatted (when it was still legal) with my friend Belinda from Sydney in an abandoned basement flat of a posh house in Islington. I remember walking up to Dalston every day to use an internet cafe. It was years before Dalston Superstore opened and changed that area forever.

Sydney 2003

Shortly after, I moved to a sharehouse that smelt of grease above a chicken shop on Walworth Rd in Elephant and Castle. My rent and bills were about £300 a month, the cheapest I could find at the time.

The only way I could call home to Australia was to stand in a freezing cold phone booth at night with a pre-paid calling card (which wouldn’t work from my mobile). I thought I’d only be in London for two years, so my first winter, I didn’t invest in a coat. Instead, I layered two paper-thin hoodies from H&M. No wonder I was so ill that Christmas.

Aside from Belinda, the only other person I knew in London was James, who I’d met in Sydney a year or two before. The week I arrived, he took me to my first Eurovision party. I was shocked when later jumped into this random car in the street. I’d never heard of a minicab before.

Sydney 2003 with Benji

The food culture in London at the time was also a surprise for me. I couldn’t believe that there weren’t Thai restaurants and cheap sushi shops everywhere, as I’d been accustomed to in Sydney. In an attempt to make myself eat anything healthier than the stodgy cuisine, I quickly became vegan. Not so easy in the mid-Noughties. I recall eating a lot of hummus and pistachios.

In 2004, there were so few people in London on Myspace that you could scroll through the list of profiles and message people to hang out. That’s how I made some of my first friends, similar to what I do with dating apps now. I wonder if it was through one of those Myspace connections that I met my friend Lovage.

It was also the year that I became a SuicideGirl, which also helped me make new friends in this new country. It must have been during those first six months that I met Louise, Kate, Nina and many others.

New York 2004

I was an emotionally messy 23-year-old, still reeling from the break-up of my first relationship only a few months before I left Australia. Impossibly, my first date in London was with Tricky of Massive Attack fame, who asked for my number in Herbal (now The Dictionary Hostel in Shoreditch) on a Wednesday night.

I remember a stranger wanting me to take their photo with him. But because I’d never used a digital camera before, I faced it the wrong way and accidentally took my first selfie.

A few months later, I went home with a bartender, only to discover at breakfast the next morning that she lived with Xena and Becky from the iconically queer Club Motherf*cker. I remember their house being at the very end of a long bus route.

London 2004

In between these trysts, like a massive cliché, I went to Berlin for a weekend, met a tattoo artist, and embarked on a whirlwind romance. I deliberately missed my flight back to London and lived with him for a month instead.

When I finally returned to London, I had to email my mum, begging to borrow some money to pay rent. In that NRE-soaked summer, I’d forgotten that I needed to work. No worries, as I had a temp job within a few days.

This was back when Soho was still fun. Trash at The End on a Monday. Nag Nag Nag at Ghetto on a Wednesday. Drunkenly falling into bedsit parties and hidden queer clubs down an alleyway you’d struggle to locate again. Resorting to After School Club in Holborn if there was nothing else on a Saturday.

Berlin 2004 with Christoph

When I partied, I drank Jack and Cokes and smoked Malborough Lights (thankfully, my asthmatic lungs forced me to give them up that NYE). I wore tight black jeans, Converse trainers, and Addict by Dior everywhere. I lived in the vintage Harley Davidson t-shirt I stole from my ex-flatmate Aaron and the red leather jacket I stole from The Salvation Army. I justified this to myself at the time because they refused to help unwed mothers (the charity, not Aaron).

I remember going to lots of gigs that summer because I couldn’t believe how plentiful and cheap they were compared to Australia. Blonde Redhead and Yo La Tengo at the Astoria (since demolished to make way for Tottenham Court Rd station). Belle and Sebastian at Somerset House on a memorably warm evening.

How long ago all of it was.

Berlin 2004 with Peta and Anja

Aside from a few years in Sydney, I’ve spent my entire adult life in London. For the most part, I genuinely thought I would live here forever. It’s why I rushed to get my citizenship in the wake of Brexit. You could tell things were changing in the UK, and I wanted to feel secure in the place I called home. Little did I know, I was changing too and would start looking to leave within the next five years.

I’ve recently wondered who I would be if I’d never left Sydney. I suppose, as I’m on the cusp of moving to Mexico City, I will one day wonder the same about London.

Whatever happens, thank you for everything you brought me over the past two decades. London, it’s been grand. I really hope things get a lot better here again soon.

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Doing drag - Fanny Minka at Agent Provocateur party CREDIT Sink The Pink
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