The In Between Days — Living and Breathing in London and Barcelona.
The London Winter is cold in an inescapable kind of way. A sunny forecast is almost a twisted type of optimism when as you walk out and into the Tube, every potential wind tunnel gap in the street is exploited by an arctic-like wind which reminds you of where you are. The wind weaves between olden, ancient buildings from Victorian England and through your clothes, digging down the back of your neck and sneaking up under your shirt as if it’s trying to warm its hands on your belly. It blows fast and frigid off the geriatric London Tube carriages (which by the way want to be real trains one day, but are nothing more now than museums chugging away for just one more year, after its more than 150 years of service to The Queen)…and somehow it lands fiercely on your skin. Ice seeps into you.
The cold and grey imparts a sense of urgency in people. They walk faster, jog up the stairs, run to catch trains and crash into people. Between the occasional sheet of newsprint fluttering down the street and the sustained pace of the city itself, London can be a frenetic place. It is the coldest city I’ve ever lived in, despite rare days of GMS (genetically modified sunshine).
And so I moved after 7 London Winters. Well kinda.
The intention was to live in London for only 5. The dream was to move back to Barcelona, with enough poundage and lines on my CV to incite the dream job to come calling so I can earn British pounds and live in sunshine. Not an unreasonable dream when you work up to 16 hours on some days, or so I thought.
No one could have predicted that the costs of our ‘highly-skilled migrant visas’ would increase by 420% after living in the UK for just 24 months. And up by 800%+ after 6 years. One side of my logical brain says: “…Well, if you move to a country a gazillion miles from your country of birth, then you can expect to be taxed for the privilege!”
But this is what that translates to; says the other side of my brain which refuses to accept it as logical: As a family of 5 entering the UK in June 2008, the family visa fee was £685 for my husband and I with our three kids, all under 12. Two years later the cost became £1714, and the renewal tenure changed from 3 years to 2 years despite the 148% increase in cost.
By 2012, the renewal visa cost for us to legally live, study and work in our new home became £5,500. “Indefinite Leave to Remain” or Permanent Residence was the next expensive step at £6250 for a family of 5 in 2014; and then “Naturalisation” or Citizenship at £1550 for a husband and wife (how generous!) which could only be acquired 6 years after first entry…
If I lost you in the math, the Home Office of Britain expected a family of 5 with a joint income of well under £120,000 per year for 2 working parents and three young children to pay visa costs that jumped from £685 in 2008, to £6250 in 2014 (812% increase).
In reality, after 3 London Winters and the sudden realization that we would never afford to buy a house due largely to the massive unplanned immigration costs, we wanted to leave London and its ridiculous rising rent problem.
But we could not, mainly because of the children’s education.
That chapter of our life was not an isolated incident by any means. Some people’s fates were harsher. 18,000 expat families were torn apart by draconian changes. An example that jumps to mind is that if certain Tier 1 migrants did not somehow magically acquire a PhD in the two years they lived in the UK on a similar visa to ours, they couldn’t stay.
As ‘points-based immigrants’, we had to have good jobs and zero recourse to public funds (i.e.we never took on benefits); yet we were vehemently spanked with exorbitant charges. The fees to stay were totally disproportionate to income for anyone who did not have the predisposition to a ‘Breaking Bad’ solution.
The Home Office even lost our passports and 5 years of banking and original documents once, as hey were returned to us using second-class post. Our family thus became a Police statistic, with our passports accounted as 5 of 17,000+ documents lost by the Home Office in transit. They did not take responsibility or refund anything. Very cold.
The main feast…
I have never experienced such toxicity as I had in several cold corporate worlds while working in London. I have always been a smiley happy person. Looking back now I know that I kept my spirits up and enjoyed conversations with more than 1,400 people I worked with directly over a period of 6 years. But I formed an opinion after a few years, that the cold weather seemed to have seeped into a collective consciousness that was also plied with a stunning amount of alcohol.
The amount of games people play in offices — wow. Misogyny runs deep in certain individuals, and this they hide behind a thinly veiled ‘love for history’ and championing the cause of the suffragettes (“…So hey, there’ no Glass Ceiling in Britain! Women’s Day in 1914 began here!”)
I consider myself very lucky that I was seen largely for the work experiences I brought in from 3 continents, but I witnessed a significant amount of disdain for immigrants who make British workers “look bad” by working ‘too hard’ or ‘too effectively’. I was in board rooms that found some way to fire women after maternity leave to cut costs, but only after setting them impossible tasks in order to fail.
On the flip side, I met women in power who admitted in one meeting that they hazed (or were hazed) in Prep School and have perfected ways to torture others mentally over a period of time. And then over a series of meetings I saw them play out malicious mental mindfuck games with others (and eventually me). Very Prep School. Possibly a fan of ‘Cruel Intentions’, Icy cold.
I am happy for everyone who have had amazing work experiences in London. I had some great times too. It is, however, unfortunate that I remember all important conversations…making the level of deceit and game-playing starkly obvious; but also more difficult to bear over time.
So I quit the Corporate World in London and moved my family to Barcelona.
Today I hold in my hand a British Citizenship Certificate. After 7 years of holding two jobs at any given time, sometimes three; raising three children who are now 19, 17 and 16 years old; surviving as a consultant after a company I worked for went into administration in the most insidious way (thank you Deloitte’s); 7 Winters; my husband surviving 14 hours of Brain Surgery (thank you NHS); and parting with a sizeable investment in Visa Fees which could very well have sufficed as a house deposit several years back…I am here.
I’m deeply convinced the people whose paths I crossed will always remain with me despite such a gargantuan move in geography and circumstances. The toxic people I’ve had the displeasure of sharing oxygen with will get their just desserts, but certainly not because I will them to (Ok, I have on occasion wished for a brief millisecond that Prep School girl will be run over by a car and be hurt not dead), but because I believe in causality. Karma’s a bitch.
I cry sometimes and am unsure why. I think this could either be in part because I had to pause my dream jobs several times in the last 7 years. It’s partly because I ache to be more fully immersed in my art. It’s partly perhaps because after quite a spell of sacrifices getting everyone to Spain…our kids want to return to London.
Maybe they are tears of pure relief. We just bought a house yesterday. Well, we put down a reserve, anyway. Did I mention we’re in Spain?
So there is time. There is always time to dream a new dream, and I know my ones will be tinged with interior designs of aqua and turquoise and teal. And in the meantime, in the dead of Winter where London is -2 degrees Celsius, I am in Placa Real, typing away under palm trees in our favourite cafe.
And it’s so not cold.