My first impressions of London were of the pace, the diverse population and the noise, especially the noise. Moving to central London, I was, of course, conscious of the top notes of traffic, sirens and human voices. But, it was the ceaseless bass drone of city life which kept me awake at night, an aural reminder of the vastness of the metropolis.
I arrived in 1987. Growing up in rural Ireland, I had always felt the lure of the big city and in Garrison Keillor’s words was running a constant low fever from my early teens waiting for my ride to come. I was encouraged by friends who had travelled. I was emboldened by my erstwhile nursing tutor, who in her valedictory address, urged us to travel whether ‘you nurse in Riyadh or sell hats in Harrods’.
So, I joined a class of 30 for post–qualification study in central London with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. New friends helped to assuage the loneliness and culture shock. We sat around in the evenings and marvelled at it all. London was a culture shock, I realised, whether you were from Kiltimagh or Chester-Le-Street. We explored like tourists, visited historical landmarks, watched cheap theatre and nursed coffees through wet afternoons in Soho patisseries. I marvelled at the mix of cultures, the unrivalled theatre and arts scene, the heady pleasures of the nightlife and music scene.
26 years later, I remain resolutely Irish but also happy and proud to call myself a Londoner. Here, in a city of so many tribes, I feel like I have found my own.