It was with equal parts excitement and terror that I moved north, after spending almost exactly half my life in the south.
The first example of normality (‘normalcy’) was in the manner of the train conductor. He had a laugh and a joke: ticket checking was a small part of his job; talking to passengers (‘customer relations’) was a much bigger deal. I had forgotten all about that in my time in London, Bristol, Brighton, Spain.
The land grew wilder, hillier, greener – and towns became scarcer. The sky grew wider by every clickety-clack. The buildings became individual, rather than high-rise identikit housing stock, families crammed one above another, cheek-by-jowl, no one knowing neighbour’s names, family relations, occupational status, worries. I could feel my spirit lifting the further the train drew away from the city.
My second surprise was that I could once again speak in the language in which I was familiar: I wasn’t moving ‘home’, but this place understood that ‘dinner’ is at midday-ish; that tea is in the afternoon. Who has ever heard of a ‘lunch lady’? Which British child has ever returned home from school to demand to know ‘what’s for dinner?’ rather than ‘what’s for tea?’
And whoever calls it Sunday lunch or Christmas lunch is plain incorrect.
I was deliberately misunderstood in the capital. At perhaps two o’clock in the afternoon, I would exclaim I was hungry, because I hadn’t had dinner yet. The whole office would look mystified. It’s strange that I didn’t look at them in the same manner when they said they’d missed lunch. It is a willingness to ignore the northern extremities, the ‘regions’ if you will, that offends me.
After 12 years of being in a place I called home the moment I stepped into this small, hilly town, I still enjoy the banter with the postie, the butcher and the stranger at the bus stop (where we form queues, ahem). I still live cheek by jowl, but with people alongside, rather than above and below and at each side.
I sit here on a hot summer’s evening with the door open, listening to the neighbouring children playing out unencumbered at 9pm. I know all my neighbours – and their children (and in some cases grandchildren) by name.
I am at home.