I’m still working out the best way to answer this question.
The reason it’s a tricky one is because I’m not entirely sure what I do. There’s some vague middle ground in between illustrator, cartoonist, comic and writer, where I’m a little bit of all of them, but a long way away from justifiably identifying with any one of those titles. Now that I’ve somehow got a book published, I could technically call myself an author, but that brings about this conversation.
Ultimately, I fumble around with the definition long enough to launch into a meandering run-down of how I left the easily identifiable profession of ‘Architect’ to become the deranged Illustrator-Cartoonist-Comic-Writer-Author hybrid of confusion that I am now.
Anyway, here’s that story in a much longer format, with a bunch baffling tangents and some general nonsense thrown in for good measure (it’s okay, don’t run away, I’ve broken it up for you)
Part 1: A Bike and a Bag.
Ever get the feeling that your life has stagnated? Remember when you were kicking goals and moving up the ladder or any number of other boring corporate metaphors uttered by self aggrandizing wankers you love to hate? The same ones who seem to have surpassed you while you’re still in the same office doing the same shit you were doing three years ago for not much extra pay? Well, some people might say the best way to snap out of that malaise would be to work harder, push for that promotion, be proactive, get a mentor or start doing hot-yoga, but they would all be wrong.
No, the best option is to just move to a completely different city and get more-or-less the same job for the same pay. The difference is, when people ask you how things are, instead of saying ‘I have an unrewarding job and I’m stagnating at life’ you can just say ‘oh, I live in London now’ and everyone will think that’s quite impressive, while glossing over the fact you’re actually doing exactly the same thing you used to be doing. Which was essentially nothing.
You might say that moving to an entirely new city is a lot harder than a few hot-yoga classes, however I’ve since discovered that the further you move the easier it is. The logic being that if you move to a new house down the block, you take everything with you. You call your long suffering car-owning friends and they spend an entire Sunday afternoon lugging all your ostensibly valuable possessions 300 meters down the road. (Including all those books you think you’ll put into a library one day, which, spoiler alert — you won’t.)
Move to a different city however, and you’ll take less stuff. Move to a different city on an entirely different continent and you’ll find yourself standing at the airport with nothing but a bag of clothes and a bicycle, ready to create the illusion of success.
At least that’s how I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 in late March 2015. (yeah, I took a bike with me — I’m one of those guys)
After putting the bike together I quickly discovered that you can’t just ride out of Heathrow; a fact I would have known if I’d bothered with even the smallest amount of research. So, right from the start it was London 1, Chaz 0. It should be stated, that this would be the first of many victories that London would lord over me.
Safely out of Heathrow, I eventually rode to Greenwich and stayed in a friend’s spare room, until he and his girlfriend started breaking up and I had to move out, so from there with nowhere to really go and not enough money for a hotel, I decided to go on a date, because when life gives you lemons, put them in some gin and tonics… or something like that.
After a few more days of floating around London looking at (and not getting) a long string of horrible rooms, my only other friend in London, Lee, miraculously called me looking for a new housemate. He asked if I wanted to see the room first, but I just told him point-blank that I’d take it — at that point I really didn’t care because I desperately needed a home, and a three-day-long date was starting to feel a bit excessive.
Which is how I ended up on a single bed, in a tiny room in what was best described as a strange collection of rooms masquerading as a house. There was no living room, and everyone could lock their rooms, which was really good because I honestly didn’t know which people lived there and which ones just wandered in occasionally. An old Colombian woman would sometimes emerge in our kitchen cooking food. When we asked who she was and what she was doing there she just repeated the only two phrases she new in English: “Hello my Friend” and “You have?” — the latter uttered while offering us food she’d made. I guess when strange Colombian women make you food, you tend to care less about how or why they broke into your house.
Procuring food from the mystery Colombian lady turned out to be a vital aspect of my survival, as I was quickly coming to terms with the fact that rent was between two and three times more expensive than Melbourne, yet I was being paid about the same at the Architecture job I’d finally managed to find.
Once I’d paid rent and bought food so I didn’t die, that left me with about 50 quid for the rest of the week (which with my drinking ability wouldn’t go too far). Despite all this, I kind of liked it; I read Down and out in Paris and London again and embraced the ‘struggling artist’ mantra, I started drinking a lot of cheap red wine by myself at home, I started smoking dodgy under-the-counter cigarettes because that seemed to go well with the territory. I even started taking photo’s in black and white on instagram, ostensibly to visually mark the shift to London on my feed, but in reality because colour just seemed a little too vibrant for my mood at the time. The fact I even found swans depressing is a Case in point.
And so that’s how things were for the first 9 months or so, day in, day out:
Work, eat, sleep, inadvisably go out, borrow money, work more, try not to spiral into too much debt, wait for payday, skip meals, scrimp, save, (and still only just get by,) back into debt, borrow, pay-back, yearn for pay-day, get there, pay rent again, borrow again, rinse, repeat.
But along the way, despite it all, somehow find the coin to get some cheap cans of Red Stripe from the off-licence and some dodgy under-the-counter smokes and climb up out the window you weren’t supposed to at the top of that nightmare of a house, sit on the roof, and look out over my corner of East London and then yell across the miserable grey rooftops ‘Fuck you London. I’m not leaving!’ and then quietly under my breath…
‘because you’re the only thing I got going’.
Part 2 Here.