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.

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This Is Now: The Knife Visit Manchester for Their Final Tour

Last night was one of only 2 UK dates for The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual tour, confirmed back in August as the last prior to the split of legendary electronic outfit led by siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. I first discovered The Knife several years ago when I heard ‘Deep Cuts’ being played in the Manchester branch of Urban Outfitters; I remember buying the album there and then after hearing ‘Heartbeats’ as I was really taken with their unique sound. Many people may not realise José Gonzalez was not the first to release this song, which was a big hit in the UK Charts back in 2003. Ever since, they’ve remained a staple in my music collection and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see them in the city where I first heard their music. As one of a number of gigs for Manchester’s ‘The Warehouse Project’, this did not sell out, most likely due to The Knife not being particularly well known in the UK. This was only to the advantage of the crowd (including myself), who had a comfortable level of space and I had enough room for dancing/spilling my Captain Morgans and coke. I (along with my friend) travelled down from Teesside for the gig (a three and a half hour mid week slog) and learnt on arrival that Manchester Academy has a 11pm curfew which mean the band were on for less than 90 minutes which was a bit of a disappointment considering we are not going to see them again. Despite this, what the set lacked in length it more than made up for in imaginativeness and eccentricity. Someone shouts ‘I’m in love with your brother!’ (Pass it On) to a partially amused crowd and the gig gets off to a gradual start. Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ is a ghostly, understated performance and we patiently wait for the inevitable dancing to kick in characteristic of the bands’ YouTube videos. Then things really begin. Hypnotic dance beats overlapped with calypso drums, a signature part of the Deep Cuts album and at times you feel like you are in the middle of a carnival. The dance routines performed throughout the set were hilarious and we decided to spend the evening copying them. The student stood to next to me swayed drunkenly, gawping at the spectacle before him and further along another jumped up and down waving his arms having the time of his life. This mixed reaction reflected the diverse nature of the audience last night; a mixture of die hard fans and curious students keen to witness the hype surrounding the Swedish duo. Some of the set was mimed, probably due to the degree of dance routines performed but this didn’t impact on the crowds enjoyment. Towards the end, Karin spoke to the crowd in a quite frankly bizarre monologue which I found afterwards is actually a poem called ‘Collective Body Possum’. Without this knowledge, I did actually feel at this point like I was watching a live episode of Eurotrash. ‘I want a body with 2 dicks, 5 pouches and 15 holes!’. Er, alright love…. ‘Heartbeats’ was not performed during the set, a surprise considering it is one of the bands most well known songs. Someone I spoke to afterwards said it didn’t matter to them as the set was so good. I feel differently about this as I’ve heard them previously perform some awesome alternative versions of this classic (my favourite including a Top Gun’s Take My Breath Away inspired synth) so had really been looking forward to hearing it. The Knife are one of those bands where their live sound is by far superior to their album recordings. Although imaginative, the backing music can sound tinny and repetitive at times on their albums but their live shows really bring their music to life and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see them. We finished the night dancing to The Happy Mondays at 90s night in The Venue and the following day played ‘Heartbeats’ in the car on the way home whilst sighing wistfully…. For some excellent photos from last night visit http://www.thelineofbestfit.com

London never sleeps, it just sucks…the life out of me and the money from my pocket.

Believe it or not, there is a whole country that sits just outside of the M25. I certainly forgot that fact when I lived there and I’m sure I’m not alone in doing this. Most people who live in London love living in London and wouldn’t consider living everywhere else. A large number of people, particularly when they are starting out in life consider moving there and it’s easy to see why on the face of it.

There are more opportunities, more jobs and better shops. There are world famous tourist attractions and quirky galleries hidden in side streets. People enjoy the faster paced lifestyle there and find it exciting and dynamic. There are oldy-worldy pubs, exclusive bars and a world famous nightlife. New restaurants pop up on a whim in secret locations and there are more fried chicken shops that you can shake a (drum) stick at. But more than that, there is a buzz that you cannot describe. There is a comfort associated with being anonymous in a big city and I find that it’s harder to feel lonely when so many people surround you. I still feel that comfort 12 years after I moved away whenever I first arrive into Kings Cross Station.

A few days in however and little things start to remind me why I left. Little things that when combined make you think ‘why exactly are people choosing to live here again?!’. I read a statistic a few weeks ago that claimed the average salary in London is £30,000 but the average house price is 14 times that amount. Housing is so expensive you cannot actually afford live anywhere of a habitable size or where you can hand on heart say you feel safe walking down the street on your own at night. If you are one of the lucky ones who can, you are so skint from paying the rent or mortgage that you cannot actually afford to leave said accommodation and enjoy all the things that attracted you to the city in the first place. Which means you can only afford to go out once every 3 months at a push. So you basically might as well live somewhere nicer and cheaper outside of London, visit every 3 months, stay in a nice central hotel while you do so and avoid the inevitable ordeal of a tube/night bus journey back to the outskirts where you are likely to be residing.

If I’d decided to get a job in the scientific industry and return to London after I graduated I would have had two options in terms of living arrangements: Move back in with my parents or share a house with a group of friends. Both fine as a short term measure but in the longer term my sanity would have been compromised.

It is an unhappy truth but a truth it is. Maybe one day when I can command a large salary I may be able to afford a decent standard of living in my home town.

Then again, maybe I’ve found out that there is much more to life than living in London; that all the things which I describe can be found via other means. That one can be equally, if not more so happy living somewhere else.

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.