Somewhere I Used To Know

Ever revisited a place where you used to live a long time ago? What motivates you to undertake on such a visit? What do you hope it will achieve? Will it up to your expectations?

These were the questions racing through my mind a few days ago when I was deliberating whether to visit a place I last lived in 12 years ago. I don’t know why I felt the urge to visit there. My Dad said is was ‘A Quest for Past Happiness’. But I don’t recall being particularly happy there for the most part of it. I was 20 and decided to move to a village in the New Forest for a year’s work placement, at the time a 5 hour train journey away from my then boyfriend. But although I found it difficult, I have some really happy memories of the place and of the time. Of snatched weekends of happiness when he’d arrive on the train/bus/ferry for a few days at a time before he’d have to return (to a soundtrack of tears and Classic Rock!) back to his studies at University. When he visited we’d explore the New Forest together and everything seemed more colorful, more vivid and really beautiful.

We’ve long since broken up (we ended up together for several years) but I fondly remember all the lovely places we visited there and wanted to see if remained as magical as I remembered.

Some aspects inevitably were a mild disappointment. One of my all time favorite shops had long since closed down thus leaving a void in my nostalgia. I soften the blow with a long walk by the sea from Lymington towards Milford-on-Sea armed only with a lidded cup of tea and a Cornish pasty. Some things never deteriorate or diminish; it’s still one of the most dreamily beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK and was exactly how I remembered it. I ate my pasty whilst staring out to sea. Two runners ran past me and smiled, reminding me of the one of the things I love so much nowadays: my running. I was now wishing I’d bought my trainers this time round!

Lymington Coastline with said pasty
Lymington coastline with the pasty in question

I carried on walking and passing familiar places until my feet ached but I kept smiling; I was glad I came back to see this place again.

I next returned to the village where I lived for a year. Hythe is mainly accessible from Southampton by ferry and (interesting fact) is home of the World’s oldest pier train. Previous days were spent watching this train go up and down the pier, a gentle chug chug chug as it delivered commuters to the small passenger ferry every 30 minutes which then departed onward to Southampton.

The Solent and Hythe Ferry
The Solent and Hythe Ferry

In the distance across the massive expanse of water massive cruise liners were busy being boarded, ready to set sail on their epic voyages around the world. It’s a remarkable place to sit and watch the world go by. You feel almost at the edge of the Earth with a flurry of activity barely visible by eye but on closer inspection being epic in proportions. Massive container ships passing by of all shapes and sizes, delivering and receiving orders of astronomical proportions. The expanse of water is so large however that it makes these ships look like mere toys, bobbing up and down for our entertainment rather than serving a critical purpose.

The Edge of the Earth
The Edge of the Earth

I watched the ships in the Solent for a little while with an ice cream and then began the walk back to my car. During which I thought about the days I felt utterly alone here but also the days where I was happier than I’d ever been.

During the walk, a familiar couple passed me on the road, smiling as they passed. They were my former neighbours in the block of flats In which I used to live. They didn’t remember me but I got a warm glow of familiarity.

There are pieces of home everywhere if you choose to look for them.

Cat Pin-ups for 2015….my descent into Christmas Calendar hell

So Thursday night I frantically had to design a calendar for my Brother’s girlfriend. It all started when I asked him what she would like for Christmas…

‘Does she like music?’

‘No.’

‘Does she want a travelling photo album for her travelling pictures?’ (They met whilst travelling)’

‘She already has loads of albums from travelling.’

‘What about a canvas?’

‘I’m going to end up putting it up aren’t I?!’

Buying presents is tough.

…’But she’d like a calendar with pictures of the cats.’ (They have two gorgeous cats called Tilly and Pip)

‘OK. Can you send me the pictures?’

‘Yeah…I’ll set up an album on Facebook and give you access, I’m not having all my friends thinking I’m a weird cat man.’

(5 minutes later)

‘Greg! I cannot see the photos!’

‘What?! Yes you can!’

And so on, we ended up arguing over whether I could see the photos that I clearly couldn’t, he refused to make the album public (even for 5 minutes while I downloaded the pictures!) and the situation resulted in him giving me the username and password to his Facebook account. The temptation to post humorous status updates was beyond strong but I resisted as you’re never to old to get a ‘Grandad’ from your sibling at Christmas. A ‘Grandad’ is when you get punched so hard in the pressure point in your leg, you walk like someone over 80 years old for up to 30 minutes afterwards. Once, my brother gave me over 10 consecutive granddads on a bus in Devon, just for fun. He’s lucky he’s getting a present to be perfectly honest with you.

So I eventully, obtained these photos, and I understand why people would think he was a weird cat person. A selection of what I can only describe as provocative cat poses were in now in my posession. Different lighting, cats with their claws flirtatiously pawing at the camera. They were brilliant and I now have enough blackmail material to take me to at least 2016. I’ve made some an arty sepia, I’ve cropped, switched and photoshopped snowballs and starts onto the December photo.

‘Greg, I’ve done the calender, and it is STUNNING.’ I messaged him afterwards. He, ahem, I mean his girlfriend will be so pleased to receive it on Christmas Day 🙂

My Top Tips for Finding Happiness in a New Place

I don’t know if i’m going to one day regret saying this, but I think it may be a sign of getting old when you see yourself becoming more like your parents but you don’t actually mind as much as you once would have done. Uh Oh. Well, they have much less to worry about nowadays, they’ve not got that much to do (being both retired and bordering on retirement), they are always laughing about something and they don’t particularly care when they say weird stuff.

Yes, the Parental Unit have been in residence. Since I’ve moved Up North, Mum and Dad visit me every few months; occasionally they stay with me in my house (like this time) but mostly tend to rent a cottage in Richmond which is about a 40 minute drive away. The reason for this is because after a few days in each other’s company it becomes apparent that there are too many egos in too small a space. Plus, a few years ago, my father became rather attached to Richmond, so much so that he wishes to move there. So it’s nothing personal. I hope. Despite this, I’ve really enjoyed them staying. We went into Yarm (the local town) and my father bought what will be known henceforth as ‘The Coat’. Let me explain. When Dad (or any other member of the Banton family for that matter) spends more than approximately £7.50 on an item of clothing, Mum exhibits the following patterns of behaviour:

1) She brings up said expenditure in literally every other sentance.
2) She sneers when she mentions said item of clothing.
3) She goes unusually quiet and you can literally feel her thinking about the expenditure and if there is any possible way that it can be undone.

When I bought my Biba fur coat the other week (no regrets), even though she was 400 miles away at the time, she instinctively knew that a Banton somewhere was spending more than the aforementioned amount on clothing. Her left eyebrow started twitching. I’ve since been informed that she didn’t eat her dinner that evening. Where this level of thriftiness has come from no one fully understands. I do however know that my Grandad (her father) painted the front door of their family home the worst shade of pink I have ever since in my life (it stayed like this for at least 3 decades) and he did this simply because it was the cheapest paint he could locate in the North London area. So one can start to understand her extreme dislike of spending money or the general treating of oneself. This has since been transferred onto me in the form of guilt; I felt I had to confess that I had bought the coat before she visited so that she could disapprove in advance without impacting on her visit. There was days of questioning. It will never be forgotton.

Anyway, whilst they were visiting, we drove up to Beamish which is a Victorian town near Newcastle. My Dad recalled that when I first moved up I attempted to drive them to Beamish but we never actually made it because I got stressed, lost and drove the wrong way around a roundabout. I had actually forgotten this had happened and it got my thinking about how disorientated I was when I first moved up to Teesside, so much so I was in a permanent state of confusion for several months desperately trying to find my feet and establish a sense of normality. This memory gave me inspiration to what I would write about next; I decided on a series of quick hints and tips which I have found worked for me to help find ones feet and address this disorientation. The first few months of a new location are a blur of new faces and places (so much so you apparently forget the Highway Code) and it’s important to try and establish some sort of foundation and routine which you can subsequently build on. So here it is, my handy tips for finding ones feet in a new area:

1. Buy your local paper (particularly in the UK). Relying on electronic media like Facebook is a surefire way to not find interesting stuff to do and see. My personal things to find in local media are vintage fairs, craft fairs, gigs and one off exhibitions.

2. Say yes to EVERY invite. I’ve met all of my best friends through acquaintances who have invited me along somewhere & I’ve subsequently lost contact with the original introducer strangely enough.

3. Establishing a routine is critical and leads to greater stability and wellbeing. Every Saturday, I love going into my local coffee shop, buying a sandwich and reading the Saturday paper from cover to cover. Every Tuesday I buy the same celebrity gossip magazine on my way home from work. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it builds comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.

4. Write to your friends. Receiving letters in return are one of the loveliest things to experience, especially if they are on fancy paper. If you don’t particularly want to write to anyone, write to yourself on fancy paper, you can’t but help getting absorbed as it’s deeply theraputic. I read a great quote last weekend which sums this up: ‘An email is a record of your words; a letter is an expression of your state of mind’. I write my thoughts down before I transfer them to my blog, I seem to be able to capture my state of mind better on paper for some reason, perhaps it’s because I grew up writing things down as opposed to typing.

5.Take up old hobbies as well as considering new ones. When I lived in Warrington, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a life drawing class to try and meet new people. I was appalling at life drawing and I was surrounded with people who were very talented at drawing and were rather amused by my attempts to participate in the class. It was never going to work out. I later decided joined a band as I loved music when I was younger and played the piano for years as a child. As this was something I had an actual ability in so it was much more enjoyable and I again met one of my closest friends through doing this.

6. Take up running. Until a few years ago, I had never ran anywhere ever except perhaps for the bus and away from people I disliked. Now, I regularly run between 3 and 6 miles at a time. I started running on my own and totally enjoyed my own company doing this. Mainly because I used it as an excuse to zone out and completely immerse myself in my music collection whilst doing it. I later joined a club and it was one of the best decisions I made. Running clubs are perceived as a scary place but if you find the right one, they become part of your extended family. It is the single best way of meeting new people that I’ve found over the years and you can’t find a better way of both getting fit and becoming more positive in your outlook on life. I know it sounds a bit evangelical but I have indeed become one of ‘those’ people. See featured image for some of my lovely running friends!

7. Buy an Ordnance Survey Map of your local area. In other countries this is the equivalent of a detailed map of footpaths, features of interest etc. The reason for this is you take things like knowing where paths are etc for granted in your home town and it takes a very long time to find them on your own in a new area. A map like this really helps you to find your feet quicky.

8. Write a to do list. Plan things in to give yourself things to look forward to that involve your family and closest friends, even if it’s as simple as telephoning someone for a chat. When you are new to an area you sometimes have evenings and weekends to fill until you establish new friendships and it can be lonely at first.

9. Take time to put all your photos in photo album. The problem with digital images is that you forget about them and it’s really comforting to have the physical images in an album to look at.

10. Relax. Don’t feel like there is a rush to make a circle of friends, this does not happen naturally if you try and force it. Learn to enjoy your own company in the immediate, friendships will come in time and with patience. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who don’t make you happy, even if it means you have more time to yourself for a while when you do this. I’ve learnt from experience that when you stop spending time with people who bring you down and feel miserable then kinder, better friends will eventually fill the place they once occupied. It’s a happy truth.

Why I’ve Started My Blog

Yesterday, I went shopping my friend Jayne. I spent far, far too much money and I’m now nursing a financial hangover. However amongst reckless shopping and a visit to the crispy creme drive through there were discussions of a rather fundamental nature. Not of the ‘why are we here’ variety but those of a more personal theme. We were discussing what else we would do if we weren’t in our current occupation (we are both Scientists). Jayne suggested creating a matrix of things you love doing and things you get paid a lot for. I said I love music but I’m not good enough to get paid a lot for it. I also said I always wanted to write. ‘Well why not start a blog?’. I thought this was a good idea so googled how to write a blog. Hence why I am writing to you this morning with a now cold cup of tea and Friends on continuous repeat in the background. I thought about what I would write about. What could I offer to the people of the world in terms of useful information or advice. Well, could write about heartbreak but I think that’s largely covered. I could write about love. Again covered. Then I thought about what could I help people with that I think I’ve made a success of. Well, 8 years ago I moved from London on my own to a completely new part of the country. 5 hours further north in fact. Why did I do this? Because I found a job that I really wanted to do. How easy was it? It wasn’t easy and for most people it’s an incredibly daunting prospect. Despite this, I like to think I’ve made a rather good job of it. Not by chance but by experience; I’ve previously moved to another part of the UK on my own on 3 separate occasions. When people find out that I’ve done this I always get a mixture of the following reactions: 1. ‘But why would you leave London?’ 2. ‘But aren’t you lonely?’ 3. ‘But why did you move here?’ (I live in Teesside). I will answer these 3 questions in due course, but my point is this is something that a lot of people don’t understand. But people are more now than ever having to move away from their friends and family for work reasons. It it isn’t an easy thing to do. But after 8 years I can say I now call this new place home. I have my own home, a job I enjoy and some fantastic friends and hobbies. I recently had a friend who has had to move away for work and she’s now experiencing similar feelings that I had when I first moved away by myself and it got me thinking I might be helpful to share how it coped with doing this and all the things I’ve learnt along the way about myself, other people and the new place in which I love living. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.