Born in Guernsey, made in London | Olly Browning for the Guernsey Press
This post was the first of my Saturday columns from the Guernsey Press ‘The Week’ supplement. Read it at GuernseyPress.com.
Hello, I’m Olly. I work as the head of marketing for a startup in London and I’m a freelance art director. Perhaps more famously though (and I use that term loosely), I’m known to a few people in Guernsey for annoying people on the internet and ranting about things that annoy me. Now if that’s not something to write home about, I don’t know what is.
Three years ago, I made the daunting decision to up sticks and move from Guernsey, to the sprawl of life in London. I’ve been writing about my experiences ever since. Since I’m now in my third year of living in London, I thought it would be a good time to look back and compare life in both Guernsey and London — the things I miss, the things I admire, and all the bits in between. Think of this as my diary, but without the incriminating and naughty bits. Which is lucky, as there wasn’t anything that exciting to edit out in the first place.
In London, it’s funny to see how quickly you can go from being the new, bumbling tourist with the massive suitcase to being the person who resents those people. I’ve been in the city long enough now to have a decent handle on the Underground — and while I couldn’t admit to knowing the Tube map like the back of my hand, you do get to know your commute (and backup options) pretty well. You know which stations to avoid, which shortcuts to take, and which stations are just easier to walk between.
Often people from Guernsey would try catching me out with dismissals like: ‘But your commute must be awful!’ And ‘It must take forever!’ Well. It is and it isn’t. It does and it doesn’t. Sure, your fellow commuters can be awful: it’s hot, the trains can be packed to the gills, and you can almost hear the resentment of other passengers. But at the same time, you can also get your commute down to a fine art after enough practice. At my old agency, I could roll out of bed, throw on some clothes, and be door-to-door in under a half-hour. And that’s always my refute when someone from Guernsey complains to me about how awful my commute must be. Sure, Transport for London can squeeze so many people into a metal tin that even John West would be jealous, but at least I don’t have to worry about traffic, don’t have to worry about my parking clock, and no longer have to angrily loop North Beach looking for that fabled 10-hour parking space.
That said, sometimes I do just miss my car. Not even so much for its function, but simply because it was the one precious space that truly belonged to me: a sacred piece of personal space, that doesn’t judge you and that’s yours alone. You don’t often get that sort of chance to be alone in London. Your car doesn’t care if you rant to yourself about the events of the day. Your car doesn’t care if you try channelling Kate Bush by singing Babooshka at the top of your lungs; your flatmates and the neighbourhood cats do. It remains one of the more unusual things I still miss about home. And when I am home, a slow pootle along the coast with a new favourite album is a dearly missed treat.
Regrettably, I need to find a new place to live in London by the start of March. It’ll be the fourth time in less than three years I’ve moved — and that’s not a bad track record. The most recent one has been a lovely year-and-a-half spent in a shared flat in North West London. Yet I’ve realised there’s no real point in me getting worried or stressed about the move yet, the housing market moves so quickly in London. A property I’d be looking at today would likely be snapped up within a couple of weeks.
The downside of all of this waiting is that it’s left me in a weird limbo period — where all I really need to do is sit around at home, cast my eye over the contents of my room, and then get an immediate sense of foreboding. Lately, the typical conversations I’ve had with myself have been along the lines of: ‘Hey Our man in London, Olly Browning was born and brought up in Guernsey and three years ago upped sticks to London for a breath of fresh air. Because you know, because the ‘fresh air’ in London is so good there. Olly – you see all this stuff that’s sitting in this room right now? Yeah, that all needs to be sorted, packed, and moved within a couple of weeks.’ It’s both daunting and terrifying. And it’s not until you move house before you even realise quite how much stuff you have lying around.
Those greeting cards you’ve been hoarding for years? That scrap of wrapping paper that’s been following you forever because it just might come in handy one day? The chilli plant that’s been growing on your windowsill since 2016 despite you not even liking chillis? Yeah, it all needs to come with you, and if not, you either have to get rid of it or try selling it somehow. And that’s a whole can of worms I’m not ready to open right now.
You know who I place partial blame on for helping me accumulate all this stuff? Amazon. Sure, you might have to pay VAT on getting things delivered in London, but the speed of Amazon (and a ton of other online services) means ordering stuff online isn’t just the norm – it’s often the option that makes most sense.
For example: one stormy Saturday night, I mistakenly left my umbrella on the tube. By 11am Sunday, I had a five-star, windproof, super-duper new brolly poking through my letterbox — all delivered for no extra cost — and I didn’t even have to get wet. Another time, when we were short of wine during a party, I didn’t get my shoes on to walk 10 minutes to the shops, oh no: I ordered three bottles of fine white wine from an app – delivered perfectly chilled to my front door by a guy on a moped within half an hour — and for about the same price as the supermarket. When I needed my best coat dry cleaned, I discovered I could pay a company to come and collect it from my house, clean it, and deliver it the next day, cheaper than the dry cleaners up the road.
All these services can’t be good for my energy levels, probably not good for my health, and certainly not good for my bank balance, but it’s getting me closer and closer to having to never leave my house again, and by me, that’s good.
And beyond all that, it’s really one of the fundamental lessons London has taught me. What seems laughably extravagant or ludicrous to you might make economic sense to me. What you take for granted – like driving and screaming along to the radio – might actually be one of the things I miss most. It doesn’t really matter – it’s all about your context, and that’s yours to own. And I’m beyond excited to be invited to share a little more of my context with you over the coming months.