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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And now to bed

So, after two months of sleeping first in other people’s houses and hotels, then on my sofa bed and in my own spare room, I finally slept in my own bed last night. The frame had arrived last week, though assembly was delayed as my attempts to purchase the ‘assemble on delivery option’ were thwarted, since that is a service ‘not available in your area’. (I was righteously aggrieved at this – am I not posh enough to have John Lewis assemble my bed? But as the cheery delivery men said, ‘nah, pet, do it all the time, dunno what happened there’ – as they rushed down my front drive hastily, clearly scared I was going to implore that they do it anyway, I can only assume it was an IT glitch.)

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In the end, it worked out for the best, as my Capable Cousin Round the Corner came round and sorted it. I had already realised how much I was liking living so near to her – we’ve always got on well, but the last couple of months have reminded me how much I like her company, and since moving in, I’ve discovered just how lovely it is to have someone close by who is generally happy for you to pop round for a beer with very little notice. The fact that she is, like the rest of my family, super practical and capable has just been a bit of an added bonus.

(I am continually astonished that I – cack-handed, clumsy and with the spatial awareness and good sense of a one-winged moth with a head injury, and who lives a life arranged around how many naps I can squeeze in – am related to a bunch of practical, can-do hard-workers who can build you a shelf unit, fix your car or plaster your walls before breakfast, and then go on to do a 10 hour shift. (I blame my feckless, runaway dad. Bad genes on one side, and it’s obviously not my mum’s). (There is a long-cherished family story that one of the grandparents in my extended clan wooed his lady – who, if I recall, came from Roma stock, so wasn’t keen on moving into a terrace where you lived on top of your neighbours’ lives – by building her a house. An actual house. Not sure if this is true or not – given my family, if anything, it’s likely been toned down – but it has left me with some unrealistic standards for men, I can tell you.))

Having already assembled my sofa bed and spare bed in turn, last night my cousin came round to tackle the last of the flat: assemble the bed in the main room and the dining table in the study (since my dinner party hosting skills are as limited as my furniture assembly skills, I suspect it’ll be little used, but it’s a gorgeous table – a gift from friends when I moved into my Brighton place – so I was keen not to let it lie idle and in bits), and disassemble some clothes rails that I no longer need (because I have wardrobes, y’all! Wardrobes!) so I could store them under the spare bed and clear the last of the moving in clutter.

This she did in short order, and we had such a riot doing so we ended up joking we should do it for a living – be ‘lady fitters’ helping women assemble their furniture so they didn’t need no man. (We were getting a bit rowdy by this stage, since as well as bringing her not inconsiderable talents, she had also brought beer – take that, John Lewis, your assembly charge doesn’t include those extras!).

We mooted around a few suitable monikers and catchphrases – all, unfortunately, likely to attract the the wrong kind of call from a business card, but hey. (I think in the end the winner was Screwdriver Sisters: tagline, Sisters are Screwing it For Themselves. We’d had quite a lot of beer by that stage).

I even felt quite the sense of achievement at the end, despite the fact that my actual assistance was limited to keeping the beers filled, holding whatever I was told to hold and passing what I was told to pass, while petting her wee dog enough that he didn’t try to jump into the middle of proceedings.  Though I did help cart all the packaging around to hers for disposal in her jeep tomorrow (in years of having men assemble things, I have never had one worry about tidying up afterwards: which makes me think we might be onto something with this business idea after all…)

And so, luxuriating in more space than I have had in about 2 decades, quietly thrilled by the sight of all those wardrobes, I actually slept in my own bed. Now I’m thinking if I could just get some pictures on those walls…

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(Billy the dog – in situ at his place)

 

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Where We Began – Live Theatre

Home is obviously a subject that has been preying on my mind a lot lately. So I was interested to see Where We Began at Live Theatre the other night, a play made by ‘sanctuary theatre’ Stand and Be Counted. Since returning to Newcastle, I have already been to Live twice and it shows every sign of becoming one of my favourite venues – a welcoming ambience, and a really strong, interesting programme of shows.

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This was my first time in the studio, a compact space for smaller shows, and I admit my night started in a slight grump as my plus one got stranded by Metro cancellations, then my mood not helped by the woman who rocked in two seconds before the start with a party of six and asked me to move seats to make room (hey, lady, if it’s that important your group sit together – maybe don’t wait till everyone else is seated before turning up?) (Yes, yes, I am aware it takes a special kind of privilege to come to a show about immigrants being displaced and being annoyed you have to move from one whole row to another. I’m sure she had a good reason, don’t be so judgemental, blah blah…)

Once started though, the show itself really moved me. A dystopian look at the logical consequences of the hostile environment – why not send ‘em all back? – it was part inspired by the real-life trials of one of the performers, young Londoner Tafadzwa Muchenje, whose life is currently on hold as he seeks the same permanent leave to remain that his family has been given (a family that only came here because we wanted his father’s skills. Not that this country would ever invite people here then screw them over, oh no.). At one stage, he was standing right next to me as he told his story, and it was almost uncomfortably intense (it’s frowned upon to leap from your seat and give the performers a big hug, but lord, I was tempted), and when Greek-born Zoe Katsilerou kept saying, ‘my soul is in Glasgow’ it was all I could do not to join in and yell, “mine too!”

For all my First World Grumbles (even as I type this, I am in the middle of a tantrum about my laptop being slow), I am a lucky person. While I have lived in plenty of places, it’s always been by choice – or, at least, desire. Moving for a man or a job or a dream, some of which worked out, some of which didn’t. I still think of several of those places as ‘home’. Glasgow, where I studied, have friends, and built a big chunk of who I am, has a hold on me that time doesn’t seem to lessen, and the hooks that London gets under your skin are never quite prised free. And though if some post-Brexit diktat decided we all had to stick within the borders of our hometown – because if you are going to adhere grimly to country lines, why not narrow it down still further? – I would be quite well-served by mine (I have family, friends, familiarity, a flat), it would still break my heart to know there are places I could never go back to, whole swathes of my past life off limits.

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I never, really, expected to come back here. Not for long, not for real. I wanted to experience new places, I wanted the space and the freedom to explore who I was away from my mum’s well-meaning but censuring scrutiny, to know what it felt like to strut unfamiliar streets. I’m still unpicking what it means to return. But Where We Began reminded me how very, very fortunate I am, that the decision was up to me.

Where We Began is touring – you can follow the company on Twitter @SBC_Theatre for more details or check their website 

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

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The Bridesmaid Blues Kindle cover

 

Geordie giftage and notebook love

It’s my birthday at the weekend so after being inundated with lovely housewarming cards and gifts, I am now enjoying an influx of birthday stuff (I am keeping all the cards up, I don’t care, it makes me feel wanted and I look super popular if you don’t look closely enough to spot they are from the same people). God knows I will be facing the emotional equivalent of a sugar crash when the gifts stop but for the minute I am very much enjoying being spoiled.

And what gifts! As well the always welcome Amazon vouchers – which I am using for a mix of house stuff and pre-ordering books, which stretches out the whole present thing a bit longer, and champagne and chocolates (because, dahling, one must have champagne and chocolates in the house) I have had a stash of wonderful notebooks. People often ask if I regret saying I love notebooks because that means they are often a default gift, to which I say: hell, nah. I write most things in longhand and I journal, which means I get through a huge number a year – easily over 100 – and while I love buying them, there is also a particular pleasure in using ones people have sent.

So I am rather thrilled with this stash. I also love that my friend U chose a Geordie theme for my birthday gifts (and included some Halloween chocolate, which I am utilising for shameless promo…

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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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.)

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

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Moving day

I don’t have Wi-Fi yet so will keep this short but moved in today! As ever, been inundated with kindness – my family sorted my moving van out and, in possibly the most on-brand moment of my life, my friend M came round at lunchtime bearing housewarming gifts – a bottle of my favourite champagne and a Greggs pastie! 😂

She then took me to Asda where I spent a fortune on bits and bobs to make the place more liveable, and though it still looks chaotic – half of my furniture still needs assembling – it is starting to feel quite homely. I am particularly excited about the amount of storage space – the thrill of fitted wardrobes after hanging your clothes on rails can’t be underestimated!

Unpacking after having everything in storage for a month has uncovered some surprises – apparently I forget I own things the minute they are out of sight. Which did lead to a bit of a turn when I opened one box to a sea of eyes staring out at me – only to remember I had a Funko collection…

(A friend, commenting on this picture on Facebook: “So that’s what happened after Thanos clicked his fingers”)

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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]