Street Art

While wandering up from The Side, I happened across this odd little piece of art outside the Theatre Royal: a board that changes with messages to, apparently, reflect our relationship to the city. It’s a piece by Naho Matsuda and I’m not sure I understand it, really, but it’s quirky and fun.

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The Side Gallery: About the North

Getting my culture on, I popped into The Side Gallery today to catch their exhibition About The North: Imagined Dialogues before it closed. I have long loved the Side. It’s free, holds interesting events that manage to be both locally focused and grounded without being parochial, and it’s small enough that you can take in a whole exhibition before your feet start to hurt.

About the North was a gorgeous show: a mix of photographers, some I had heard of but had no idea had ever set foot in the North East (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt), some known for their Northern-focused fare (Martin Parr) and some I was unfamiliar with. Much of the older photography was focused on poverty – indeed, some of it was from projects that had been commissioned specially to illustrate things like housing issues – but it was presented with a warmth and humanity that stopped me feeling like I was gawking.

The exhibition only runs till Sep 9: catch it if you can!

A visit to the Stack

There seems to be a vogue for container parks at the moment in Newcastle, as one has opened on the Quayside, and a couple of weeks back The Stack opened on the site of the old Odeon cinema. Although billing itself as a “Creative Social Hub”, at the minute is seems to be basically a food/beer court with a few boutiques thrown in – albeit in an attractively arranged setting, with plenty of seating, decent choices (including some vegetarian / vegan spots).

I walked past on opening day and it was rammed, but today it was much more leisurely, so I availed myself of a halloumi wrap and a glass of wine on the upper mezzanine (where you can only purchase alcohol on presentation of a token to prove you have bought food, presumably to stop people getting tanked and falling off the balconies onto the diners and drinkers below.)

It’s an undeniably charming spot – lots of glitter balls and polished wood – so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle a Northern winter, given how much of it is exposed to the elements, and if it does develop into something more than a nice place to eat and drink. It’s a great location – just off Northumberland Street, opposite the Tyneside Cinema – so hopefully it will thrive. Certainly the Enchanted Garden gin palace would seem to have my name on it…

In which the FOMO kicks in and I wonder if I have made a terrible, terrible mistake

I have been in Newcastle almost a month now. While I have, on the whole, been having a lovely time – albeit one where I have lived out of a suitcase, so am constantly looking for belongings I don’t have with me – it hasn’t been a straightforward experience.

Being back, and knowing that I am properly back, not just visiting, has thrown up a lot of emotions. I am constantly being ambushed by memories. When flat-hunting the other week, I found myself wondering why the street I was standing in looked vaguely familiar, only to remember it was where I last lived in the city, in a flat I shared with a boyfriend, in a relationship that eventually went so dramatically wrong it gifted me a chapter in my first book. Walking out of Eldon Square a few days ago, I caught sight of a café and remembered with a pang it was one of my mum’s favourites – when I was visiting, we would often meet there for coffee and scones.

I realise I am very, very lucky in my work: I can do what I need to from anywhere with a laptop, a decent phone signal and a secure wifi connection. I am also single, without commitments of any sort: no partner, no kids, even ‘my’ cat was only ever on loan. This can be scary and invigorating at the same time – it makes the world wide open, but it means that any choice I make is slightly arbitrary. It also gives me no one else to blame.

Sure, there are reasons. The conversations I have had with estate agents have centred around not-untrue statements about wanting to reconnect with family, old friends, but even as I say that, I know it’s not the whole truth. (Apparently, when people ask, ‘why are you moving back?’, ‘because I felt like it’ isn’t an answer they expect or know how to respond to.) I do want to spend more time with my people here – but I’m also aware that, had that been my only goal, I could have managed that with a stronger commitment to visit more often.

I wanted to live somewhere cheaper. I wanted to get involved with an arts scene that felt grounded, and local, and more inclusive of the working class. All of these are true, yet none of these are reasons. If I am really, truly honest, I moved mainly because I was a bit bored, I fancied a change, and the pleasure I had in seeing my family at a recent birthday party reminded me how much I enjoyed their company, which felt like a timely steer. But I can’t help wondering if a good weekend in Glasgow would have had a similar effect, and I might even now be camping on a sofa a short walk from Sauchiehall Street, pondering my choices.

It’s this lack of a compelling reason that makes it difficult to counter the doubts when they do arise. If I’d moved for a job, or even a relationship, there would be an element of ‘I had no other choice’. But with nothing but a sort-of-whim to blame, it’s no one’s fault but mine if I have made a massive mistake.

This has felt acute this week. In part, it’s because all my London theatre friends have returned from Edinburgh, so my timeline is full of fun things people are doing in London, giving me a severe case of Fear of Missing Out. Why did I move away, when all the good stuff is happening where I was?

(I never get this about when they are actually in Edinburgh, funnily enough. In part, because the Fringe is too full-on for me, and I’m of an age I no longer enjoy shows set in basements where the roof leaks into my pint or the toilets had starring roles in Trainspotting. In part, because almost a decade living in Glasgow has given me an honorary-Scots suspicion of an influx of English people, many of whom seem to forget the city – indeed the country – exists the rest of the year, and view the Fringe simply as an importation of London shows and London folk, only on a more hectic, hedonistic schedule and packed together in easy walking distance. Not everyone, obviously, before you protest, but I have encountered enough of this attitude to make me wary.)

But while part of my problem with Brighton is it’s too easy to view it as London-on-Sea, it was undeniably handy for the capital. And it does feel like there is a bit of a moment in London theatre happening – a raft of exciting, inclusive new shows that are shaking up the staid certainties of the scene, welcoming new voices, creating a more vibrant, important theatrescape than we have had for years, if not decades. Did I leave just as things were getting interesting? Is everyone I know out enjoying – and creating – wonderful new art while I am sitting watching reruns of Grimm on someone else’s sofa?

I know some of this stems from my currently unsettled state: a month moving from spare room to hotel to spare room, my life in suitcases and storage. It’s hard to feel like I am putting down proper roots when I am always on the move, when I haven’t yet reconnected with half the people I know in the city, when I still feel like a stranger in my own hometown. I’m sure (I hope…) that once I have my own place, a base to stash my notebooks and make plans from, I’ll be able to enjoy more of what Newcastle has to offer, as well as spend time with the very folk I have been so keen to see.

But more than that, I have to remind myself: isn’t this what I wanted? As a writer, as a creative, as a person in the world: the challenge of another new beginning. Of forcing myself out of my comfortable, lovely, seaside-and-blue skies rut; of broadening my experiences from the Brighton/London bubble that was starting to feel like my whole life. Surely the whole point of leaving was knowing I could have stayed. But I chose not to. I chose this new adventure – with all its blips and its memories and its uncertainties and fears. That freedom is something I should celebrate. And if it comes with a side order of friends, family and much cheaper rent – well, that is all the better.

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The Mog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine

Those of you who know me will know that my Brighton life was brightened by my being godmother to one of the most beautiful kitties in existence: my friends R&A’s cat, lovely Lyra, of whom I apparently post so many pictures that many people think she is actually mine. (Last time I was home for a visit, many people asked ‘who is looking after Lyra?’ and were shocked when I replied ‘her owners’. Likewise many of my friends, while expressing joy at having me return to the fold, have also been a bit sad – ‘Does this mean no more pictures of Lyra?’).

 

 

But at least kitty company is available in Newcastle, albeit by the hour, in the not one but TWO cat cafes the city has. Last time I went to Mog on the Tyne, drawn mainly by the name. It was a slightly odd experience to go on my own, sharing the allocated timeslot with a mother and daughter: it was an exercise in neediness, since you aren’t allowed to pick up or fetch the cats, and have to wait for them to come to you. (I solved this problem by ordering food, at which I was suddenly the centre of attention, and they do give you some treats to share, so you are guaranteed at least some of the cats will come to you…).

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The place is obviously designed to maximise the cats’ comfort – one gorgeous ginger tom just bolted for a seat that was suspended from the ceiling and remained there the whole time, wanting nothing to do with us, and was left there unmolested. But there are enough friendly cats that you don’t feel like you are sitting in the corner being scorned. The cafe provides notes on the cats’ personalities, so you know which ones like to be petted, and which are more standoffish, and my personal faves were Ballet and Wobble, two rescue cats who had neurological conditions which made them unsteady on their feet (but not in pain, the notes were quick to point out), but who were ridiculously affectionate, and quick to come for cuddles.

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Overall, at a fiver a session (plus a reasonably priced coffee and cheese scone), it’s great value, and I expect to visit again when the Lyra longing gets too strong…

 

(It’s also worth noting that next door – NEXT DOOR – is a Dog cafe, entitled, with no respect for the Geordie accent, Dog and Scone (it took me ages to realise this was a pun on Dog and Bone, since we pronounce scone like ‘gone’ and ‘bone’ like ‘own’). I feel like this is either a disaster in the making, or the plot of my next rom-com.

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Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

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Paperchasing

As anyone familiar with me knows, I am a bit of a stationery fiend. The good thing about this is, as a writer, notebooks are a justifiable tool of the trade – my collection is enormous, but none of them go to waste. Also, having a reputation for loving notebooks makes me super easy to buy presents for, and every birthday and Christmas brings a glorious stash (not to count the steady stream of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ gifts from around the globe).

Since returning to Newcastle, I have of course been on the look-out for new stationery shops. Old favourites like Fenwick’s (which now contains a Paperchase concession) and Waterstone’s are still a treasure trove; and I got a great haul in the Scribbler sale. Geeky themed notebooks abound in the Geek Quarter, and I was delighted to discover Blackwell’s glorious stationery department, where my friend had to physically restrain me from buying all the shiny Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. So, in fairness, I am spoiled for choice so far… but if anyone has any tips they’d like to share…

The Kindness of Geordies

I have written before about kindness, and it’s a topic I find myself returning to frequently. In part this is because my life is such that I have often found myself at the mercy of others’ generosity, sometimes by accident (homelessness, penury), sometimes by design (holidays spent on strange sofas).

I’m fascinated by kindness, because what should be so simple – what is a basic human instinct – gets so very complicated. I’ve written before about the difficulty of asking for help, and why I think it’s important to build a muscle of trust: to not just ask for help, but to get into the habit of it. To ask without feeling you are a burden, that you are weak, that it is embarrassing not to be able to handle whatever you are going through – a financial shortfall, an emotional crisis – alone and unaided.

And likewise, to be bold enough to give. We are so often constrained from our natural instinct to generosity because we fear that we look pushy, interfering, presumptuous. As if we are storing up favours or expectation in return, as if someone will look at our gift and wonder at our motives.

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The truth is, though, there is pleasure and rewards to be had on both sides of the equation. Giving with an open hand is delightful – is there anything better than presenting someone with a gift they truly love? Offering a helping hand when you know you can make a real difference? And likewise, the enormous relief of relaxing into someone else’s aid: of having a hand help you keep afloat, even for a minute, even just long enough for you to catch your breath and start swimming again.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since my return since I have, by necessity, again been dependent on others’ hospitality. Although I had anticipated having to stay with friends and family for a while, it’s taken longer than I hoped, and my plan to spread myself so thinly as to not be too much of a burden (see? I write about this shit and still do it) has fallen through due to not everywhere I was counting on being available. But it’s also been a bit of an unforeseen gift. I’ve been splitting my time between one of my oldest friends and my cousin, and being able to catch up properly with them – as opposed to ticking them off a list as I hare around trying to cram everyone into a weekend visit – has been an unmitigated joy.

It’s also been useful and eye-opening: all my initial plans for my move involved city centre apartments or luxury flats with balconies overlooking the river, a fantasy that is more manageable in a much cheaper city. But staying in very different neighbourhoods has broadened my perspective, and the place I ended up renting is located in an area I hadn’t even initially considered. It has encouraged me to face up to my own issues about accepting without angst – for example, setting up a Ko-fi account was an exercise in asking. (HUGE thanks to everyone who has donated – I get an email every time someone does, which adds a nice little buzz to a day).

Having been the subject of generosity from all over the country (indeed, the globe), I don’t think one region, place or culture has a monopoly on kindness. But I have noticed a difference since I moved back North. In large part, it’s a matter of attention.

In London, as in New York, we train ourselves to look away. Perhaps this is its own form of generosity: in a city where we are living on top of one another, giving someone privacy is a gift of its own. But it does mean that many things go unnoticed. In exceptional circumstances, both Londoners and New Yorkers have proven themselves capable of extraordinary kindnesses – but on an average day, you’re lifting your own suitcase up those stairs, matey.

In Newcastle, we seem more programmed to look towards one another. I’ve mentioned the whole ‘smiling on the subway’ thing, which continues to freak me out. But I had two experiences this week alone where strangers ran to my aid, unasked, and I wondered – how the hell did you even notice that? The other day, I was buzzing into my aunt’s building when I realised that, laden with bags as I was, I was on the wrong side of a barrier: so actually managing to hold open the door, cross the stairs and get inside before the whole thing slammed closed again was impossible – and a young couple literally sprinted across the street to hold it open for me. A few days later, when I was locking up at my cousin’s, and doing my usual ‘paranoid I haven’t locked someone else’s door properly, so I have to check 45 times’ routine, I faffed about so long that a builder from the construction site across the road came over to check that I was OK. ‘You alright, pet? Locked yourself out?’ Neither action was earth-shattering, but each spoke to a level of casual observation I have rarely encountered down south.

Of course, feeling people are paying attention isn’t always a good thing. I could have done with some London indifference the other day when, sitting on a crowded Metro, I went to reapply my lipbalm and only realised, as I put it to my mouth, that I had actually pulled a loose tampon from my bag…

20180524_193310

Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

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[Note: this site uses some affiliate links]