London Calling

London Calling

January 17, 2022

I love to travel. I love adventure. I love Europe. And I LOVE LONDON.  Being in that city makes me come alive.  (Rock out to The Clash’s epic hit, London Calling here.) It’s hard to put into words but just walking around London envelopes me in sheer happiness for no reason.  During the height of the pandemic, in fall 2020, I rented an apartment on Chiltern Street and lived in London for six weeks. London at that time had a different energy than usual, but, despite that, being there was the best thing I did for myself.

Seeing London and Sweden Anew

Recently, I took a business trip to Europe and spent a couple of weeks ping-ponging between London and Sweden. I loved the experience—with all the travel between European countries, I felt like a local, a feeling I absolutely embraced. I even embraced my time in Sweden, which is dark at this time of year. (A side note is that previous trips to Sweden weren’t as fun, so I was happy that this time felt not only more comfortable but enjoyable.)

Being in London this time felt extra-special. My previous visits had ended up feeling yucky for a variety of reasons (though my love affair with London always remained unabated). Maybe it was all the Christmas lights, or maybe it was all the work I’ve done to and for myself since I was last in London, but this visit I felt grounded and grown-up, in charge of myself and my feelings. Magic was in the air—and I embraced it as I strolled down the streets of Marylebone, steeped in gratitude and London’s beauty. It felt like my soul was dancing! And, given how challenging the past year had been as I redefined myself, it felt wonderful to notice the spark inside me reignite. I felt more alive and myself—a stronger, more confident, happier version of myself—than I had in quite a while.

The first part of the London leg of my trip was spent in work meetings. I refamiliarized myself with London, seeing the city with new eyes and engaging with it in a new, deeper appreciation. In many ways, it felt to me like coming home.

Serendipity

Yet there were several interesting things that happened on this trip.  While connecting through London on my way to Copenhagen, I had a tight connection since my flight was late. Well, I made it…my bags did not.  That’s okay because I actually planned for this possibility and had an extra pair of clothes in my hand baggage (patting myself on the back for this strategy). 

When I arrived in London from Sweden, I rode down the escalator in Heathrow Terminal 5 to baggage claim. A man stood behind me. Suddenly, I heard a loud noise and turned around to see a huge hardcase carry-on, its handle erect, come plummeting towards me. The man instinctively shielded me.  The case grazed us, and we were both thrown off balance. The escalator kept moving and I fell over, taking my savior down with me (making it a softer than expected landing–haha). We laughed at the awkward encounter as well as our good fortune in having the situation not be as bad as it might have been.

That was the first oddity, but not the last! The second was a Londoner I really liked and had dated before suddenly reached out to me.

Snatched!

The third weird occurrence happened on a Thursday evening and I had just been shopping at Selfridges, which was just around the corner from my fantastic hotel.  After returning to my room to drop my purchases off and freshen up for dinner, I set off to walk to dinner. On a corner about half a block from my hotel, I stopped at a red light, waiting for the light to change as I Facetimed with my dad in Toronto.  We were chatting and I was feeling so happy. And then, within seconds, a guy dressed in all black and riding an e-bike barreled towards me. 

The cyclist snatched my phone out of my hand as he sped past me and turned the corner.  I was stunned. Was this some kind of joke? I didn’t know what to do so I took off in the direction he’d gone. He looked straight at me for about ten seconds before he took off again.  I should have screamed but nothing came out.  I was in a good neighborhood and lots of people bustled around. The streets were filled with rush hour traffic. I seriously didn’t know what to do so I ran back to my hotel.  When you lose your phone, it feels like you lost a limb. Those damn phones have your whole life on them and that is how you are connected. 

The hotel manager called the police right away.  The staff tried to calm me down.  (For some reason people always bring you a glass of water when something is wrong. Why is that?)  I called my dad so he wouldn’t freak out thinking I was hurt or dead. 

Later, my Dad said he saw this look of fear flash across my face as I looked out of the corner of my eye. I don’t remember any of this. The only thing I remember is the guy’s eyes and the white skin. 

A Foreign Emergency

Usually, I am great in a state of crisis, especially when that crisis has to do with someone else. I’m the one to take charge, resolve any issues or challenges, and hold everyone else together. But in this situation, I felt helpless and vulnerable. I literally didn’t know what to do. And though I love London and know it so well, I don’t know how to navigate an emergency in London as I do in Toronto or Chicago. That said, I still managed to figure it all out, with the support of strangers. Family and friends showed up emotionally, but I had to save myself and work through all the logistics.

The hotel staff was absolutely amazing. After a few moments of trying to shut down. My old phone, they suggested that I go to the Apple Store on Regent Street, buy a new phone, and download everything from the cloud. Brilliant idea. Even the business colleague I was supposed to meet for the very first time, and in person for dinner, thankfully agreed to meet me at the Apple Store. 

I left the hotel feeling frantic because it was rush hour and prime Christmas shopping time. Hailing an Uber or cab meant I would be stuck in traffic forever. My heart in my throat and tears in my eyes, I bolted down Oxford Street, dodging between all the jolly shoppers. Once at the Apple Store, the concierge noticed how agitated and frantic I was and asked how he could help me. When I told him what had happened, he immediately got a technician to support me.  My business colleague, who had never met me before, somehow found me.

The Apple associate was great.  We shut down my old phone and I bought a new one.  But getting your U.S. number up and running is not as clear-cut as one would think. My business colleague was the voice of reason.  He took me to dinner, and we tried to get the phone set up.  He said that, though I was upset, and this was tough, it would all work out. 

Clearly, I tried to be nice at dinner but was not fully present.  Once I got back to the hotel, I tried to get things worked out with my phone provider in the US.  The hotel staff was seriously amazing.  One of the guys let me use his personal phone to speak with my family because they were still worried about me for obvious reasons.  I was up half the night talking to my phone provider to no avail.  I emailed and sent Facebook messages to my London friends to ask for their phone numbers. Who remembers anyone’s number nowadays?

Surrender

Finally, feeling defeated, I knew there was nothing I could do.  Exhausted, I surrendered to sleep.  That’s when I realized there was no clock in the room—I’d been using my phone as my clock, which meant I also used it as an alarm.  After I don’t know how many years, I had to ask for a wake-up call just like in the olden days.  I couldn’t flip through Instagram or read the internet on my phone in bed.  I actually had to be alone with my thoughts. So I looked at my email one more time on my laptop and saw my brother-in-law sent me a link to a bunch of phone providers in London so I could go the next morning and get a SIM card.

I barely slept.  I got up, got ready, and headed off again to Oxford Street. My internet search indicated that the stores opened at 9:30 am on a Friday.  Nope. They open at 10 am. After finding out at the first store that international calling isn’t standard, I went into the Vodafone store.

I explained my situation to the two female associates.  They looked at each other and then looked at me and said, “We got you.” Two kind and intelligent women sat me down and took over. They told me to relax and they got me set up from beginning to end, spending an hour with me.  I felt like hugging them—but COVID! As I walked out of the Vodofone store, I felt a wave of relief come over me because I was connected to the world again.  I called my dad and then my mom and sister.  At least I could speak with my family! Then, I called a couple of friends.

I felt a little better having the phone situation resolved, but I think I had PTSD.  It dawned on me that I was okay and not hurt.  For a crappy situation, it certainly could have been much worse. My sister says everything happens for a reason, and I believe that, too. I didn’t know what the reason for this attack was but maybe it was literally the Universe throwing away my phone to let go of something. The flip side is I now have a UK number.  One of my friends sent me a text saying, “You now have a UK number…the future?”

All I know is that I felt grateful for everyone and everything that helped me get back up and running.  Even a family friend who was in Birmingham visiting her girlfriend came down to London that day and got a hotel near me to make sure I was okay.  I even had friends who were going to send me their extra phones. 

The Gift of the Experience

London vibes

I felt exhausted by the drama and yet relaxed because I had a phone. I had to cut myself some slack. I certainly felt more guarded while walking around.  And I don’t feel safe by myself anymore.  That was not a good feeling nor who I am. 

But being vulnerable and accepting help softened me.  Since then, I have felt myself relax more. I felt myself giving everything more space.  I’ve even given others more space.

In the end, everything turned out okay.  I have all the content from my old phone downloaded successfully, I have upgraded equipment, and a UK phone number. I feel grateful and lucky to have so many amazing people in my life—even the strangers who helped me. 

And I got my London vibe back!

Your Turn

Have you ever experienced a trauma that broke you open and required that you be a little more accepting of others’ assistance? How has that changed you? Comment below and share your story!

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Gauri lives life full out and shares her experiences, challenges, and insights candidly on this blog, A Bad Indian.

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