In which I try Birchbox

I admit I am a sucker for subscription boxes. I love getting things through the post (and am lucky enough that I have lovely friends who regularly send me things!) and subscription boxes feel like a little present you buy yourself. The magpie nature of them – ooh, a box of tiny treats! – appeals, even though it’s usually that which also ends up frustrating me. The year before last I tried out several book and stationery subscription boxes, but in the end cancelled all of them because I felt like the joy of receiving a box of goodies was outweighed by adding more clutter and tat to my home. So why sign up to another?In part, for no better reason than I had insomnia and an ad for Birchbox came up on my Instagram with a special offer for 2 boxes, so on a sleep-deprived whim I signed up. In part, though, my commitment to getting out of my comfort zone hasn’t extended to my beauty routine (in which I am, to say the least, a Basic Bitch), and I thought being nudged to try some new products might be good for me. Also, I have a disproportionate love of travel sizes. Yes, my fear of commitment extends even to products (“I have to use that whole bottle?”) and while I know it’s not that environmentally friendly, it’s an indulgence I allow myself.My first delivery was this week – two boxes as per the special offer. My thoughts were initially mixed. Of course I expected to get some things that wouldn’t apply (a lipstick and a lip liner have gone into the ‘present box’ and will be added as a stocking filler to someone’s birthday or Christmas gift), but both boxes contained a hair masque, which seemed overkill. Still, there were definitely some goodies I would use: I love Nux oil, and mini mascaras and shimmery eyeshadows are very me, plus a full size shower gel won’t go amiss. And since in fairness my hair gets very little attention, maybe the hair treatments aren’t a bad idea: I tried one this morning, and my hair does feel rather silky!Will I stick with it? In truth, probably not: I’ll give it a few months then get bored or sick of my bathroom becoming cluttered, and it’ll start to feel like a pointless expense. But in the meantime, I might as well have fun experimenting. And I do so love getting a parcel…

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Flip flops and a family wedding

Although my schedule has been pretty packed since I moved back home last year, one thing I haven’t managed to do is see as much of my family as I’d like. In part, this is because, having been absent so long, my presence limited to flying visits for occasions such as funerals, I have simply fallen out of the rhythm of family life. I don’t have the phone numbers of most of my relations; I don’t know how or where they spend their time. I see my cousin L most Sundays, and when I can I drop into visit her mum, my Aunty A, but other than at Christmas I haven’t seen that much of anyone else.

Yesterday was a chance, then, to see the wider family en masse. L’s daughter Z was getting married out in Durham and everyone would be in attendance. I haven’t had much time to think about the wedding: my deadlines have been hectic, and then I was ill, which meant that my preparations amounted to hastily buying a dress and shoes online (shoes I decided against wearing, in the end, opting for the comfort of boots. But shiny boots – I was making an effort, honest). So come the day, I rather tumbled into it. And it turned out to be just lovely.

The Old Barn at the South Causey Inn was a beautiful venue: rustic and elegantly decorated without feeling too full on or kitchy, and Z and the family had apparently designed many of the flourishes themselves. (The speeches were full of many jokes about Z’s fondness for organising, but the girl deserves her props, as the wedding was full of thoughtful touches, including providing flip flops for the women at the evening do, so that many of the guests could change out of the perilously high heels Geordie women are so fond of: one woman came up to me before the dancing started and said, ‘we’re all smiling and six inches shorter’. Honestly, this should be a widely adopted trend). (I mentioned this on Twitter and someone said ‘this is the best wedding idea I ever heard’).

The glamour quotient was of course high. Northern women like to dress up, and many of my extended family are total lookers, so the combination was a potent one and I spent much of my time cooing compliments at the glossy haired, glammed up women I was surrounded by. Z was a stunning bride, and I admit I had a tear in my eye when her uncle walked her down the aisle (usually a dry and laconic sort, he gave such a funny, moving speech at the reception that a stranger cornered me in the loos and said, ‘I have no idea who he is but he made me cry!’, which has to be the sign of a successful wedding. Though maybe if she didn’t know who he was, she was at the wrong wedding…).

The food was great – I’ve been to so many weddings where the vegetarian option was a few artfully arranged carrots, leaving me starving while all around me guests are tucking into a Sunday roast – but here I was so stuffed I was tempted to find a corner to have a little nap before the dancing.

But while the day was obviously about the young couple at its centre – it was a delight to see them both so happy – for me, it was also a great chance to catch up with the family. And also to be reminded of something I tend to forget, having been away so long: and that’s that I really, genuinely like these people. Oh, sure, they are my family, I love them, I’ve always known that – but I had sort of forgotten just how good company they are. One of the things I am loving about seeing L so often is being reminded how funny she is – we often spend our Sunday evenings laughing ourselves silly at some story from her work or about some craziness she encountered out with her beloved dog, since our neighbourhood isn’t light on the crazy quotient – and it was great to get a chance to reconnect with so many people and to rediscover that they, too, are actually just enormous fun to hang out with.

And to do so knowing I’ll likely see them all soon, rather than be getting on a train the next day to the other end of the country and vanishing for another couple of years, made the day all that more special for me.

If you want to read about a very different wedding, why not check out my book, The Bridesmaid Blues?

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My mother’s daughter

So, the onslaught of Mother’s Day emails have already started. It used to be a holiday I had to keep a sharp eye out for, since my mum was famously unforgiving should a card not be on time. Or, indeed, early, since she liked a fair margin of error. (One year I was getting a train back from London to Newcastle to see her for her birthday, and she called me the morning of her birthday to complain her card hadn’t arrived. I answered the phone from the bustle of King’s Cross: “I have it with me. It’s with your present, in my case, I thought I would bring it. You know, when I come home, today, to actually celebrate your birthday in person.” She let out a huffy sniff. “You could have posted it.”) Now, of course, it is a day of being bombarded with marketing emails urging me “not to forget mum!”. As if I ever could.

Unsurprisingly, my mum has been on my mind a lot since I moved home. I’m not even sure I have yet to process that, and how – if – it affects how I think of her, how I remember her. Certainly, there are days when memories hit me sharply. When I walk past the cafe where we used to get coffee together, the bus stop to her house, the shop where she used to buy her favourite angel ornaments – there are days when I feel like I moved back to her city, rather than to my own. I was already starting to age into looking more like her, and the move up north and the creeping return of my accent means I sound more like her, too, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

I sometimes feel guilty about writing about her – especially as I try to be honest, and that isn’t always comfortable or pretty. My mum was a good woman – if we are all remembered as fondly and widely as she is, we’d be doing OK – but she was as flawed and human as the next person, and when writing about our relationship I feel I need to be as honest about that as I try to be about my own shortcomings. But I console myself that she loved attention, and would be glad that I was still writing about her, even if she didn’t understand so much of what I wrote, or why I wrote it. (“Why don’t you just write more about cats?” she once asked me, after I got published in – I kid you not – Your Cat magazine. To be fair, it’s a question I have asked myself many times since). Anyway, if I got famous for writing about my mum, I know she would be secretly smug. (Or not so secretly. Sorry, fellow beings in the afterlife, you’re probably sick of hearing about me.)

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Your Cat magazine – mum’s proudest moment

Anyway, I wrote this a couple of years ago, and I shared it over on my Dark Dates blog, and a lot of people seemed to like it and even find it helpful, so I thought I might as well share it again.

It’s too early for Mother’s Day. But then, she would have liked that.

On Mothers and Daughters

It’s a weird thing to be no one’s priority, and have no one be your priority in return. It’s approaching four years since my mother died – and ended the one defining relationship of my life – and this is a thought I find myself returning to. In a very real sense, I am completely alone. An orphan without siblings, a partner or children, it’s an unusual form of both isolation and liberation.

Untethered, I am tied down by nothing – I don’t own a home, I don’t have a ‘job’; there is no one who is my unique responsibility, no one on whom my claim is the highest. It’s the ultimate form of adulthood – I have to make every decision, do every task myself, from deciding where to go on holiday to putting out the rubbish – yet it’s also strangely infantilising, since I don’t have any of those things that mark my contemporaries out as ‘adults’: families, mortgages, office jobs. I am a woman lucky enough to be born at a time of better-than-ever opportunities for my gender, with a portable career, and that is a heady freedom – but it also can be terrifying, every day another mile on a journey with no roadmap, where I often have to pave my own path as I go. And in a way I’m only just realising, it’s all because of my mother.

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A friend of mine – happy married, with a surviving father and a bushel of siblings and nieces and nephews to anchor him to life – told me that, on losing his mother, he felt a deep-seated sadness that wasn’t just about her loss, but was also the knowledge that no one would ever love him as deeply again; no one’s love would ever feel so unconditional. At the time, I was moved, but it didn’t resonate with me: so much in my own relationship with my mother felt utterly conditional. It’s only with the passage of time, and the clarity of hindsight, I understand just what he meant.

It’s safe to say my mother and I didn’t always get along. She could be a tremendously difficult woman, and I’m probably no cakewalk myself. It often seemed some cosmic joke that the universe would see fit to yoke such disparate personalities together, without the buffer of a father/husband or siblings to absorb some of the tension, but then again, perhaps much of what I think of as my personality was developed in reaction to hers. My mother liked noise and chatter – she put the TV on ‘for company’, loved it when the neighbours popped in unannounced. The phone was constantly ringing, and conversations were often conducted against the backdrop of the blaring television and the commentary of whoever happened to be on the sofa at the time. I like silence and solitude and, although I can be sociable, I dole out my company in measured amounts, the greatest portion always reserved for myself. My mother loved ‘stuff’ – she lived surrounded by knick-knacks and ornaments and held onto things forever, a shield against a hostile world. I am my local charity shop’s best friend: I treat all of my belongings as temporary. I was 43 years old before I owned a piece of furniture.

Quite often, I suspect we didn’t like one another very much. We certainly didn’t understand each other. My mother was baffled by my choices: a homebody who lived her whole life in the city she grew up in, with family a stone’s throw away, she couldn’t comprehend why I needed to leave. She wanted me home, she wanted me married, she wanted grandchildren she could bounce on her knee. (Her desire for this was so well-known in my circle that once, when asking a friend what she thought I should get for my mother for Christmas, her answer was simply, ‘pregnant’.) The one time I felt we she was truly content with me was a brief spell when I lived in Newcastle – an easy walk from her flat – with a serious boyfriend, a man I could bring to family parties and Sunday lunches. A life she understood.

We were frequently at odds over many things, money being a key bone of contention. We had little of it in my youth, and my mother – who had grown up relatively wealthy – never quite recovered from that lack of status. She had a weirdly resentful attitude to other people’s affluence (an easy way to infuriate my mother was to spend money on something she didn’t think was worth it, no matter who you were, or how little you had to do with her).

When I moved to London, she both failed to understand the economics of the city, and that living there didn’t mean I was suddenly rich. She would regularly make passive aggressive remarks about my lack of daughterly generosity, and get mad when I didn’t take the hint (she wasn’t subtle, either: “It would be lovely if someone would buy me a new washing machine” being a typical opening gambit.) Despite living in social housing all of my life, she thought I was being deliberately wilful in not buying a house, having only the vaguest ideas of how much property in London actually cost. (“Why not just buy somewhere for £20,000 and do it up?” she asked me, on more than one occasion. In an exasperated moment, I finally retorted: “Why don’t you give me a deposit like most of my friends’ parents have?”. She got furious, then upset, and stopped asking the question, though I felt mean every time I thought of it, afterwards).

She could be vain, and selfish, and utterly self-absorbed. (On the morning of a close friend of mine’s funeral, annoyed at my unwillingness to spend an hour going through her holiday wardrobe choices, she snapped at me to ‘stop being so miserable.’ Properly angry, I fell out with her for a while. Her apology, when it came, was ‘you have no idea how upset I am that I upset you’ – managing to make even that about her).

She could be volatile, and petty – she nurtured lifelong friendships, but fell out with friends and family on an almost weekly basis. She cared too much about other people’s opinions and the appearances of being a good mother, of me being a loyal daughter. She could be emotionally manipulative, and wasn’t above weaponising her illnesses (consciously or unconsciously) as tools of control: I could predict that, if I said I was too busy to come home for a visit, she would experience a sudden downturn that would necessitate my return. She genuinely suffered, it’s true, but she also liked the drama and attention that suffering created. Once when I rushed, tear stained and panicked, from London to her bedside after she’d had a heart attack, she gleefully told me afterwards, ‘the nurses have never seen anyone so upset!’.

And yet… and yet. Many of the traits she railed against were ones she herself instilled in me. She resented my habit of reading, taking any silence in her presence as a personal affront, yet it was she who fostered my love of books. She bemoaned that I moved away and didn’t visit often enough, but, herself the long-suffering daughter of a mother who had been in poor health, from my childhood on she told me: ‘Don’t ever give your life up for mine. Stick me in a home, take me outside and shoot me. But don’t ever give your life up for mine.’

She was vibrant, gregarious and open-hearted, with a talent for making friends. She was loyal and generous with her time, always happy to help out a neighbour. For all that her politics were, to me, horrifically right wing, she did more for her community than I, with all my bleeding heart liberalism, have ever done for mine. She raised money for a garden for local families, she helped out at a refugee centre, she stood up to politicians whose policies she thought would hurt the vulnerable. Despite being single all of my life, she was an incorrigible flirt with an eye for a handsome man. I still have a picture of her, beaming, standing between two strapping young gardeners at the opening of the community garden she had worked hard to help establish, and I know she wasn’t just looking so pleased because the kiddies would have somewhere nice to play in. That’s one trait, at least, I hope that I inherited.

She was strong, too. She rebuilt a life that was very different from the one she’d anticipated after her marriage broke up; and when I left to go to university, never really to return, she reinvented herself again. She had surrogates in my absence: a niece she adored became as close as a daughter; she built a maternal friendship with a divorced Iranian woman whose young girls she treated like grandchildren. She filled her life with colour and chaos and I, having failed so spectacularly to meet any of her expectations, was freed to live up only to my own.

She was proud of me. She never really said it to me, though she said it plenty to other people. It was a constant refrain after her death, when I was accosted by yet another stranger who seemed to know my whole life story: ‘she was so proud of you, you know.’ And it maybe wasn’t until then that I properly realised how proud I had been of her.

I suspect, if the universe was such that we could have picked our own families, neither of us would have been the other’s first choice. She would have liked a daughter who stayed home, had children, married a man rich enough to buy his mother-in-law that new washing machine. I would have liked someone more liberal, more travelled and, yes, a bit richer (I really could have done with a deposit on a house). But in the end, forced to move in wider circles because we couldn’t live together in a narrow one, both of us lived bigger, better lives. We might not have got what we wanted, but perhaps, in one another, we got the thing we needed most.

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

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New Moon Party

One of the things I was determined to do when I moved back to Newcastle was get out of my comfort zone more. I loved living in Brighton, but got so comfy in my little Kemptown Village neighbourhood I became a little insular. When you freelance, it’s easy to use money or work as an excuse not to do stuff – something I am very guilty of. And living in a neightbourhood that has all the necessary amenities right on your doorstep (a grocers’, Co-Op, coffee shops, post office, bookshop and beach were all less than 5 minutes walk, and most of my Brighton friends lived a couple of streets away), convenience often wins out over adventure. Why go anywhere, when I had what I needed right here?

So while I grumble about the lack of handy coffee shops – or, indeed, any shops – where I live now, it does at least force me to go further afield on a regular basis. But what good is that if I still stay stuck in my head?

So when my friend L mentioned a retreat she had gone on, and said the person who hosted it was having a ‘new moon’ party, I signed up with no idea what to expect, only a conviction that I wanted to try something different.

I admit, I was dubious. While a massive sucker for self-help books, I fluctuate between thinking anything new agey is bollocks, or that I should be more open-minded. I have also, as I got older and spent more time alone, become a bit more physically prickly, and this all sounded very touchy feely to me. Nobody really hugs me, since my mum died – yes, thank you, I am aware of how very sad that sounds – and I’ve definitely become more physically withdrawn in recent years. (When I went to review The Art of Cuddling at Alphabetti, which ended with a mass audience group hug, I stayed in my seat, claiming critical distance and that my spiky jewellery might snag on someone’s clothes and we’d be there all night, but really because I didn’t want to get that close a bunch of bloody strangers).

(I only realised after this New Moon party that wearing my Alexander McQueen spiked knuckleduster and my sharp fangs ring might not have been a wise thing when there is hugging and hand-holding to be done, but I also wondered if at one level I did it deliberately – a physical excuse to keep people at bay? Maybe I didn’t go in as open-minded as I thought I was.)

Anyway, come the night, scepticism had turned into a desire for active avoidance. The Metros to Tynemouth, where the event was being held, were off, and I had managed to knack up my back in truly ignoble style (um, standing up from the loo – yay for getting old!), so after an exhausting week I was ready to do nothing more challenging than lie on the sofa and binge watch Ghost Whisperer. Luckily, while I am always happy to bail on stuff I am going to alone – even if I have bought tickets, which explains a lot about my finances – with L going I felt I couldn’t drop out, so, rather nervously, I steeled myself to go and get the damn thing done.

Spoiler alert: I’m glad I did. The party was hosted by Alice Allum of The Be Platform in her gorgeous Tyneside home (I had serious house envy), and about 16 women were in attendance. I won’t give away Alice’s secrets – check out the free resources on her website if you are interested – but the night was a mix of talking, singing and chanting (yes, chanting!), with the goal of using the new moon to set intentions for the coming month, and for life.

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It was a fascinating evening. Listening to a group of women talk honestly – and without interruption – about their fears, hopes and insecurities made me realise how rare it is that any of us have space to do that in our lives. The temptation – and social training – is to jump in and offer consolation, reassurance or contradictions, and it was clear that many of us struggled not to do just that  (“You’re not fat! You are great at your job! You are a wonderful person, no need to be insecure…” etc).

There’s also consolation and inspiration to be had from such sharing. Knowing the woman you think looks gorgeous is struggling with self-esteem reminds you not to judge on appearances; hearing someone unapologetically talk about how much they earn is inspiring if you are feeling bad about putting up your prices. Whatever your take on the more ‘new agey’ aspects, there’s undeniable power just putting a bunch of women in a room and letting them be themselves.

Alice was a charming host, far more down to earth than I thought she would be (she’s not above some well-placed swearing, which I do like in a woman), and the fellow guests were lovely. I was especially grateful for the solicitude of my neighbours, who took pity on my knackered back and kept me well supplied with glasses of water rather than me having to constantly get up!

I left feeling inspired and positive. If nothing else, I got to spend an evening with some great women, and did something new, which I think is a valuable thing in itself. As for the rest of it? I’ll take any bonuses I get!

[I didn’t take any pictures – wanting to be in the moment rather than trying to capture it and all that – but as one of my intentions was to be bolder in owning my talent, I shall sign off with a plug for my books instead…! So…]

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The Favourite (and some favourite memories) at The Tyneside Cinema

Yesterday marked my first return to the main screen at the Tyneside Cinema for probably 20 odd years. The Tyneside was actually my first ever screen visit – when I was a young child, my mum took me to see Bambi at the Odeon, but either it was sold out or she got the times wrong, and we ended up (literally, in those days) across the road at the Tyneside, and watching old-timey drama The Amazing Mr Blunden. (We went to see Bambi afterwards, which made for an odd and slightly traumatic day).

In my teens I became a regular visitor. I grew up in what in many ways was a great era for going to the cinema. I saw all the Star Wars movies at the Odeon on Pilgrim Street, (and queued, outside, for HOURS, to get into Return of the Jedi, SEVERAL TIMES – these days I wouldn’t queue if a shirtless Chris Hemsworth was giving out hugs and tenners). I vividly recall my mum having a crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman – she was quite flustered by him (“he’s so tall!”) and this being one of the first instances I realised my mum was an actual woman with human feelings, not some nebulous, asexual mum-figure.

I remember the audience in the Westgate Road ABC cinema bursting into spontaneous applause when Marty McFly made it back to the future. I recall winning tickets to see a preview of Desperately Seeking Susan and turning up on a Sunday morning to join the line at the Odeon – another queue! – and being virtually the only one not wearing a crucifix and lace fingerless gloves, people dressed to the nines in honour of their icon, even at such an unreasonably early hour.

But the Tyneside Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first place I encountered LGBT films, and got an insight into a world beyond my own (fairly sheltered, not-that-well-educated) upbringing. Through the initial medium of my crush on Daniel Day Lewis (I forced my friend C to come and see My Beautiful Laundrette 4 times in 2 weeks so I could see him on the big screen, and there are still bits of it that make me swoon), I became interested in all things LGBT. (Like many 80s teens who felt like outcasts, I felt – probably insufferably! – a kinship with any group I saw as outsiders: it would take (ahem, quite a few) years to realise that the struggles of marginalised groups didn’t just exist to reflect my own insecurities and issues. But hey, cut me a break: this was before the internet, so it took a long time to figure out something these days you could get from 10 minutes on Tumblr) .

At a time when Clause 28 was making ignorance and hate popular policy, it was no small thing to have a steady stream of films about gay lives and the AIDS crisis on screen. It was here I found out who Harvey Milk was (a double bill screening of, if I recall correctly, Longtime Companion with the award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk). I saw – twice – Parting Glances (one of Steve Buscemi’s first films) which remains one of my favourites and, perhaps bizarrely, was one of the first films to make me fall in love with New York. I loved the way it is a rather pedestrian backdrop to the film, rather than a glamorised soundstage: on a recent visit I found the monument featured in the jogging scenes and had a jolt of familiarity it took me a moment to place.

It was here I marvelled over the beauty of Desert Hearts – the first time I saw two women in love on screen. And here where, after a cheese stottie sandwich in the Coffee Rooms upstairs, I skived off a college lecture to cry my eyes out over Torch Song Trilogy with some friends, one of whom later told me that had shaken her at-the-time blinkered (and mostly negative) views of what gay people were actually like (her having had no idea of what the film was about when we went in, except that it featured Ferris Bueller).

It was here I discovered a love of foreign films, and a world outside my own – a love that would, eventually, lead me to a job subtitling foreign language movies, where I got to work on making those very films accessible to an audience like me.

I was also lucky enough to grow up at a time when working class stories were considered to be worthy of showing – when we could be more than a throwaway character offering grim contrast or comic relief. Films like Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette, Letter To Brezhnev and Rita, Sue and Bob Too centred working class experiences in all their variety, and showed me that stories could come from anywhere – even from people like me.

So I have much to thank the Tyneside for, and when I moved back, I became a member, not least to pay that back. However, it’s taken me this long to get around to actually seeing a film on the main screen – though it was most definitely worth the wait. Although – perhaps inevitably – it seems smaller than I remember it, it’s still a gorgeous cinema, retaining much of its Art Deco beauty, lovingly restored. In a world of faceless multiplexes, it’s worth a visit for that alone.

It was a bonus that I really enjoyed the film. The Favourite is the kind of thing I would have gone to see in this cinema back in the day: a clever, complex film that centres on women’s lives and loves, with astonishingly good performances at its core (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are all standouts – though Nicholas Hoult deserves special mention for a deliciously bitchy turn).

Ah, Tyneside. It’s good to be back.

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

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Wanna throw some cash my way? 

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

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

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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)

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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Crocodile shoes and canaries in a coalmine

So, it’s been nearly three months since I moved back to Newcastle – moved home, as I am getting used to saying – and while at times it has been stressful (and expensive – so, so expensive), I’m also convinced more and more that I have done the right thing.

I’ve loved reconnecting with family – my Sunday nights at my cousin’s are now a highlight of my week, not least cos she stuffs me full of beer and great food and I only have to stagger round the corner to get home – and with old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades.

I’m still getting used to my neighbourhood – I miss having a Co-op and a coffee shop at the end of my street – but I like my new flat, and being handy for the Metro, although I still turn up everywhere early because I can’t quite believe I can get to town in 10 minutes rather than the ‘everything is an hour away’ London commuting experience. I love having more space (fitted wardrobes! A spare room!).

My hopes that moving North would enable me to plug into the local arts scene in a way that I never felt I could down south have so far proved wonderfully true. I have been welcomed with open arms by people in the theatre scene, having meetings with the kind of folk I would have previously dismissed as Too Busy and Important For The Likes of Me. I’ve already been to six of the region’s performance venues and seen nearly a dozen shows, and I’m enjoying exploring more offbeat work and ventures. I’m hoping at some stage this involvement will become more participatory – I’m already mooting doing some readings – but at the moment, I am happy just to observe, and enjoy connecting with a bunch of interesting, passionate people.

All of that, really, was what I expected – or at least hoped – to get from my move. A life rich with connection, friends and family, culture and arts, and less focused on the punishing reality of just slogging to make ends meet as a working class freelancer, without a partner or the Bank of Mum and Dad to help out. I’m thrilled by it – it’s gone better than I could have dreamed – but also not entirely surprised.

What has caught me more off guard are the ways in which I am not just reconnecting with others, but with myself. My accent still wanders liberally from one end of the UK to the other – from Newcastle to Glasgow with some Ireland thrown in for good measure – and I still find myself regularly shocked by how cheap the drinks are.

But there are moments when familiarity hits me so hard I’m thrown. I’ll walk down a street I don’t remember, but realise I know where I am going. Words and phrases I haven’t used since childhood are slipping into my conversation. I find I have fully-formed opinions about neighbourhoods I wasn’t aware I knew existed, and can tell by the lightest variation in an accent from which side of the river someone stems.

Talking to a director the other day (get me, now), we were discussing the specificity of cities. We’d both lived in Glasgow, and found it culturally similar to Newcastle, but were also both acutely aware that each city has its own flavour, its own quirks and beliefs and habits. And lately I have been thinking about those specificities, the things you only ever really know if you live somewhere, a culture you have to inhabit to understand.

(A Glaswegian friend of mine once said it’s impossible to explain to an outsider the horror of the phrase, ‘’ExCUSE me, pal’ which sounds harmless but usually means you are at best going to be tapped for cigarettes, at worst mugged, and so you should always head off in the opposite direction when you hear it).

Sometimes the things you think are unique to you, are actually culturally ingrained. In the Biscuit Factory this weekend, enjoying their gorgeous art, I was looking at some bird sculptures and casually remarked that my mum would never have images of birds in the house, believing it unlucky. ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a mining tradition,’ my companion blithely assured me – and something I hadn’t even ever wondered about fell neatly into place.

Sometimes, you forget how engraved certain things are in your local culture consciousness until they are surfaced by other people. Say the phrase ‘She’s lyin’’ in an Geordie accent to anyone of my age and we instantly have the Jimmy Nail earworm Ain’t No Doubt stuck in our head for the rest of the day, when most people will barely be able to recall it.

And the other day when I wore my fancy, shiny Brighton boots to the ballet, one of the ushers stopped me and said, ‘wye, they’re a right pair of Crocodile shoes, aren’t they?’ And I was so shocked I stopped on my way to my seat. Oh God, I thought, they are, aren’t they? They really, really are…’

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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)