One Full Year in the United Kingdom

So, exactly one year ago, I arrived in London Stansted Airport. But this time it was a single ticket.

I went to Baker Street via easyBus. I didn’t have an oyster card, I was in a rush and I was afraid of not catching a train before the underground closes. I didn’t have a clue when the last train was. So I overpaid a single ticket to Earl’s Court.

Earl’s Court is a place I don’t particularly like but I had to visit for various reasons all of the times I was in London. It still works as an index of my progress as a man. It is all the nice and bad moments summarized together. It still hurts sometimes…

So, back September the 12th, 2012. I didn’t have a smartphone, GPS or internet. I only had a printed street map of the area around the station and my hotel reservation along with clothes, a laptop and one thousand quid that fed me for 3 months.

I clearly remember that I was thinking the following: (I still do today)

“That’s it. This is your opportunity. No more lies. Prove yourself now.”

I didn’t really know what I was going to do. But I knew that I had to do something.

I found the hotel-bedsit and slept there for a couple of hours. It was so dirty that I didn’t even take off my clothes. Then, the next day, before rush hour, I traveled to zone 3 for the first time in my life. While I was a tourist, I was trapped in tourist zone 1.

I traveled to Docklands, University of East London. (I found the DLR amazing for a couple of rides before hating it with passion.) Then, the stress went away after I finally moved in… The road passing in front of my room was the A 117.

For me, this was clear sign…

The university was very multicultural, I made some friends and it really broadened my mind, while also sticking to British habits inherited from my Dad.

I also made some job applications from the first week. I was really surprised to see that my phone was ringing and I was asked to appear in numerous interviews. Though, as I was in an Erasmus full time studying programme, I had to turn down job offers because attendance is mandatory here in the UK for various reasons.

So, actually, it was one of the most relaxed periods of my life. It was student life 101. I only worked on my opensource and personal projects and of course assignments, but seriously now, they only took me a full week each for a grade above 90 which they consider impossible for some reason here.

Apart from the rent, you can live really cheap in London if you want and if you have the time. It is impossible now that I have zero free time, but back then, I had tons of strategies written down on paper in order to save money.

I learned all the bus routes that could act as alternatives to trains, I also got myself a railcard, I learned all the offers in the nearby super markets along with the time and week they were usually appearing. By completing 3 for 2 offers effectively, I always had an approximate 30% discount on every super market bill and I never disposed any food.

The thing that was the best investment back then though, is my bike. I literally walked into a bike shop in Bethnal Green and I asked for the cheapest bike that was on offer. With 80 quid for the bike and 5 quid for the lock, I biked my way home.

What was hard for me to get used to, was life without car, motorbike, a big house, computers, drums and other luxuries I “unlocked” during my lifetime in Greece. I only had a laptop in a 4sq meter room, a shared kitchen my bike.

But there was also the airport. Some of my best ideas back then came to me when I was sitting on my bench outside, lying in the sun, watching the planes land while I was sipping my Earl Grey.

I learned to cook a couple of foods but I am very lazy with the washing up, so up to now I am actually feeding on toasts, biscuits, tea and whatever I can eat outside.

Then one night, out of the blue, Lefteris forwarded me the following email:

Dear Jack,

Sorry if I am bothering you, but I have a kind request that would mean a lot to me if you could help with.

I was told that you could help me with finding a drummer and/or bass player, one for a blues/rock/cover band for regular gigging through London to make some money, and for gain some attention as well.

And also, with finding a drummer and/or a bass player who is interested to be part of a serious, heavy and hard sounding band that wants to make it professionally, and make it big – this band is based on influences ranging from Rage Against the Machine, to Rammstein, to Pantera and Prodigy as well.

We as a band are between the ages of 19-22, and most of us study music. We’re very experienced, we play at an advanced level, so we are looking for someone with skill, however, true passion is the priority.

Could you please forward this message to a mailing list in hope that interested folks would reply?

Kindest Regards,
Gabriel Caine

I actually laughed a bit because of the “two birds with the same bullet” attitude and also the name, but I also said to myself:

“What the heck? I am an “full time student” with “plenty of free time”. I’ll reply to get a glimpse on how things work here.”

Well, I did reply, and this guy like a salesman kept on writing and writing without actually saying that much but being really clever.

So, we arranged a jam in a Sunday morning in a house in Lewisham, after a ton of emails. Sunday came relatively quickly, it was a sunny day, I was feeling fit, so I stir fried my lunch, I printed out maps for my journey, prepared my bike and left the university.

To be honest, I got lost when I arrived in New Cross, but I also saw two guys carrying a bass amp and I remembered that this is why the rehearsal was scheduled one hour later, so I called Gabriel and I asked him what was the bassist’s name.

Well, he answered me and I caught up with the guys and I asked the guy out of the blue if he was the bassist that we were going to play together. He was with Jan and they were totally confused. They gave me directions for the house, so I arrived there sweating and I knocked the door.

Without even saying hi -yeah, these are my manners sometimes- I asked the guy:

A: “Are you Gabriel?”
G: “Yes, I am Gabriel.”
A: “Well, I am Alex the drummer, nice to meet you, now I need a glass of water…”

And so it began. We jammed, we played in a couple of pubs and we had a lot of fun. Now we are working-playing-eating together and it is still fun most of the times -when he is not late or being a donkey.

The three of us have a couple of really good stories to remember so far. Many stories are yet to come.

Then, my semester was ending, so I had to find a way to stay in London. I got an offer for a paid academic project, but I also had a couple of interviews that went really well.

But I turned down all of them in the end.

Because something completely random and beautiful walked in. There was this crazy Italian mathematician I met after a live in a scummy pub in New Cross. When I met him again after another live in a scummy pub in Camden this time, I couldn’t recognise him because, you know, Italians, they constantly change their appearance.

So, because Italians are always proud, he got a bit offended and I had to explain:

You are Francesco and you are a mathematician. You were sitting on the edge of the table in New Cross, face to the stage and you didn’t have a goatee and your hair was like…

He was impressed with my memory, but I told him that I am also a “programmer” for a living, so I am supposed to remember “other stuffs” apart from songs. He said that he is in need for a programmer because of a project he has in mind with his partner…

And the rest is history…

I embraced the idea, I liked the risk, I got inspired and I said to myself:

If I don’t try something like this now that I am alone, no wife, no kids, no dogs, no cats, no this, no that, then I don’t think I am going to do it later.

And so far, the journey has been amazing. Through different phases, difficulties, departures and arrivals, the whole idea and concept is only getting better and the team stronger than before.

I feel honour and pride that I contributed to it and helped it take shape from the very beginning, the very first snippet of code before it was only an idea.

And then, there was the transitional period

My darkest hour that made me think and put certain things into their place, box.

But apart from the romantics and the poetics, I also had to do logistics in London.

From then until now I am really enslaving myself to work. I am really determined and I have a very optimistic deadline in four days from now.

Me and Karen are constantly hitting our heads to the wall with various problems we encounter but after a Sainsbury’s croissant, we tend to fix everything…

Fingers Crossed!

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