A Sort of Homecoming

I never really thought I’d come home. It wasn’t in the long-term plan – I have no long-term plans – or part of some well-thought out strategy. Like pretty much every other major decision I have ever made, it was the same combination of part-whim, part over-reaction to circumstances that has shaped so much of my life.

Bit bored of Newcastle? There’s that bloke in Sheffield who’s happy to have you move in. Glasgow tenement too cold? Move to London! London rent too high? Give Brighton a try! Windows in the Brighton flat buggered? Back to Newcastle it is, then! It’s not what you could call strategic, but it’s certainly a pattern, and one I can’t feel sorry about, as it’s led me into some adventures and experiences that planning could never deliver.

But in a way, this latest move is significant not just because it wasn’t planned for, but because for years, I actively resisted the very idea of it. I moved down south two decades ago, even if it was less to seek my fortune than to escape a ground-floor flat in Glasgow that was so glacial I had to wear gloves to type. I had thought about London before, but it seemed so big, so far away, so much an anathema to my Northern soul, that I’d never really considered it until a bad break up and a year of sleeping under three duvets to stay warm suddenly made it a more appealing prospect. I answered an advert on a whim and, when I got the job, felt obligated to at least give it a go – little realising it was to be a job that would shape my career for the next 20 years, and lead me to the business I now run.

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Oh, but I loved London – for all its flaws, I love it still – and for years, I couldn’t envision living anywhere else. But as my forties started to loom, the difference in my circumstances and that of my friends started to bite. Sure, we were all broke and muddling along together in our 20s and early 30s, but it doesn’t take long in a city like London to start feeling the pinch of inequality: friends mysteriously buying flats way beyond their income and grudgingly admitting to “a little help” from their parents, an inheritance from grandma, the salary of a wealthy spouse. Single, with long-dead grandparents and a parental bank that could barely stretch to a good night out never mind the deposit on a flat, I was starting to feel outpaced.

Back home, it was actually worse. Low property prices meant that friends no better off than me but smart enough to buy young were not just settled, but heading into mortgage-free forties, a middle age of foreign holidays and nice cars. Looking at the friends and family up North – some of whom were much younger than me – I was astonished by how grown upeveryone seemed, how infantalised my life of landlords and loans and the constant hustle for gigs was in comparison. But at least I’m here, I thought. At least I went for it, even if I’m not entirely sure what ‘it’ actually is. That counts for something, right?

And so Not Moving Back became a talisman of its own. As long as I was ‘away’, I was still striving, maybe even thriving. I could still “make it”, or at least do a passable impression of having done so. It’s easy to paint your life as glamourous at a long-distance: hey, look at me at my gallery openings and eating canapes and drinking champagne at the top of the Gherkin and mingling with the stars at some West End press night. Look at me in my Georgian sea front flat with its balcony and high ceilings and gorgeous views. I mean, don’t look too close, or you’ll see the duct tape on the windows and the sky-high debt and the constant, exhausting hustle for work. But step back and everything is shiny.

(My mum, bless her, remained convinced till the end of her life that I was earning far, far more money than I let on, because she had this vague idea about ‘London life’ and London wages and because many of my jobs were far bigger on glamorous perks than they were on income. And so she would regularly drop heavy-handed hints about my perceived stinginess: “if only somebody would buy me a new washing machine!”. “If someonegave me five thousand pounds, that would solve so many of my problems.” Me too, mum. Me too.)

If distance was the only success I had attained, wouldn’t moving back be failure? I’d always thought if I came home it would be triumphantly – a best-selling author, an award-winning playwright, bringing back all that London money and retiring to my 5-bed mansion on the coast that I bought with the sale of a one-bed in Streatham. Up close, my glittering life would be revealed as the cheap bauble it really was, and compared to the actual adults with sorted, grown-up lives I would be surrounded by, I wouldn’t seem free-spirited and bold, just flaky and kinda broke.

In the end, of course, none of that mattered. I made the decision as I always have: pretty much off the cuff. Driven by a sense of disconnection with the city I lived in, and the sure-fire knowledge I couldn’t face another winter of single-glazing and duct-taped windows and working with a hot water bottle tucked under my knees, I made the move anyway. And, astonishingly, all of my friends and family haven’t spent all their time analysing and judging my life – I know, right? – because they are too busy with their own.

If a few people are puzzled that I am renting rather than buying (the estate agents were openly baffled that someone of my age and relative solvency wasn’t in the property market, especially when they heard I had been living down south) and that my life is not awash with the riches I earned in the Big Smoke, they have been mostly too polite to comment. I still have moments when I feel like a flaky kidult in a land of People Who Have Their Shit Together, but maybe that’s the artist’s lot. Or maybe that’s just me, and it’s always going to be so. Either way, I’m realising I’m sort of fine with it. And I’m discovering that in releasing all those notions of what a ‘triumphant return’ would have looked like, those externally-imposed definitions of failure or success, I’ve allowed myself to reconnect with people – and with my city – in a more honest, authentic and nourishing way. I didn’t have to earn my return with riches or acclaim: I just had to decide it was time.

Recently a friend, when I was bemoaning my precarious income and utter lack of savings in contrast to his nice secure job and his ringfenced cushy pension, cut short my complaints. “Well, you chose this, Tracey. And you keep choosing it.” And I realised he was right. My ship may just be a little tugboat chuntering up the Tyne rather than a sleek mega-yacht cruising Mediterranean seas, but at least I am still the captain. And I’m finding I like the view.

[Note: this post also appears on my writing blog, Dark Dates.

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Things I miss about Brighton

So, my first weekend in my new flat is coming to a close. It’s been a slightly odd weekend – Saturday a flurry of activity, today mainly some unpacking, with a wander around my new neighbourhood. It’s thrown up some mixed emotions.

One, I am just relieved to be in after a month of other people’s spaces. I’m excited to have fitted wardrobes and storage space – neither of which were exactly in abundant supply in my old place. Less thrilled about a shared back yard that my neighbours’ dog pees freely in and in which they sat all afternoon, meaning I could hear every word of their conversation. (They seem friendly, though, on my brief meetings so far, though the dog greeted me this morning by taking a giant dump on the mat outside my door, much to his owner’s horror…)

But it’s 3am and I am lying on my sofa bed (having spectacularly failed to manage to assemble my bed), and I am aching for Brighton and the sea. So here, in no particular order, are some things I miss:

The light and the views – oh, but Brighton is blessed with beautiful skies and light straight out of a paintbox. I miss seeing the sea every day. I miss having a view from my front room (my new view is the bins in my back yard). I am pleased to reacquaint myself with trees, mind, which were in short supply.

Neighbourhood life: Kemptown was, for good and ill, a village. I knew my neighbours, the guys in the Co-op and the coffee shops. It had a French deli and a bookshop and a fine wines store and all the vintage emporiums you could desire, all less than 5 minutes from my door. I could nip out to the Co-op for wine and snacks and be back in the length of an ad break. (It certainly passed what my friend K calls the Good Vibrations test – can you get to the nearest offie and back in the length of that song?) I could walk to the city centre in 15 minutes. My new place is handy for the Metro, but other than a pub has little in the way of easily accessible amenities.

Similarly, I miss bumping into my neighbours and being invited in for coffee. A cool pub at the end of my street. Walking to my friends’ place for dinner, and being close enough to pop into feed the cat when they were away.

I miss popping out for coffee. No reason, just a desire to get out of the house. Maybe meet a friend. Do some writing with a different view.

I’m sure Newcastle will bring its own delights. I am sure the trade off will be worth it. But it’s a weird feeling to be home, and homesick at the same time.

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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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[Note: this site uses some affiliate links]