…or, as I’m calling it, the “Manchester Experiment”.
Saying “It’s all about me” sounds terribly self-indulgent, doesn’t it? Maybe this is, but it’s something that I need to do:
I am going to try out living in Manchester for a couple of months.
2016 marks my 20th year of living in our hectic Capital.
For the first 3 years after arriving in London I was a young guy working at a small tech company, surrounded by lots of people of the same age. Many of us were recent graduates who had moved for the job and lived locally to our workplace. Some of us could be out almost every night. Very sociable. That changed as the company grew. We started to recruit people who lived further away, others moved on, some folks moved back home after a year or two. Some paired off with boyfriends and girlfriends and chose loved up nights in so this social group started to break up.
Then I changed job myself.
For the next 10 years I probably “lived in the world”, more than I lived in London.
I often found myself travelling internationally, both for work and pleasure. I had a frequent flyer “habit” that supported premium status in two different airline programmes. I wasn’t away so much I qualified for a tax exemption, but I had wondered on more than one occasion. I’d even dated people that weren’t in the same country (or at one point the same continent!) as me. My home in London really wasn’t much more than a bolt hole. A place to keep my stuff and sleep when I needed it, near the workplace that I sometimes went to.
Reading it back, it sounds like a lonely existence, but it wasn’t. I was in an almost continuous circuit of conferences and meetings, working with my colleagues, and leaping on planes to go and meet my international friends. The time that I did have at home was “me” time, a respite from the whirl of our conference circuit, and I really didn’t mind that.
The last 5 years have been different again, and during that time I feel that I’ve reconnected with the area I come from in so many ways.
I guess this started in 2010 when I became involved in volunteering with the East Lancashire Railway, and grew during a career-break that was extended by family illness.
My folks are still in the North West and they aren’t getting any younger. 5 years ago my father managed to survive cancer, but it brought me back “home” even more. I already regret that I haven’t seen as much of them as I’d like in the preceding years, so it’s time to make amends. Being around 5 hours drive away just isn’t working for me any more. I’d like to be able to drop in for a brew and a chat, not have to thrash my way through the misery Friday night London traffic and stay for the whole weekend to make it worthwhile.
Many of my closest friends are in the North, I’d say there are more there now than in the South East. Some of them moved there from the South over the years, Northerners that returned home themselves or Southerners that have been willingly “converted”, some are old friends from my early life, while others are new friends I’ve made along the way.
Because so many people I know down in the South East don’t even live in London, but in the circle of “Zone 6-plus” towns that people race home to at the end of their workday, I’ve grown tired of almost everything I do having to be seriously pre-meditated, orchestrated, arranged well in advance. Doesn’t lend itself to anything spontaneous like grabbing lunch together or meeting up for a quick coffee or cheeky pint when you’ve got an hour’s journey each way. For an extrovert like me, it’s a tough way to do things.
A couple of months ago I was talking about these feelings to a friend who lives in the North West. He asked me “Where is it that you feel alive?” “Here, in the North”, I answered, “In London, all I seem to do is exist.”
Another friend told me, “Your soul is already here. It’s time that the rest of you followed.”
I’ve been thinking off and on about this for a while. For more than the past 5 years if I’m honest. When I took my career break and no longer had a full time position in London, a lot of people asked when I was moving back North. They assumed it would happen. They probably know me better than I knew myself at the time.
For a while, things have conspired to stop me going ahead with it. Now they can’t. Now it is time, my turn to come “home”. Back where I feel I belong.
So, from mid May until mid July I’ve got myself a place to call home in the North.
I’ve decided to base myself in Didsbury. A great neighbourhood, close to transport links and lots of other good stuff. A quick hop onto the motorway to go and see my folks – close enough to visit easily, not so close I fall into the trap of being there all the time – a healthy distance! Easy day trips to friends on both sides of the Pennines that I simply don’t get to see enough of right now. A quick drive to my hobby of rail preservation over in Bury. I can even take my work with me too. Manchester has a great tech community which I’m looking forward to participating in.
As for what happens next, once the “Manchester Experiment” is over? Well, I’ll take things one step at a time. Walk before I try running. Come back and ask me in the first week of July.
The Manchester coat of arms contains the motto “Concilio et Labore” – this loosely means “By wisdom and effort”. It remains to be seen how much wisdom has been involved. I feel like I’m making the right choice, but only time will tell. One thing I can assure you of is that it’s certainly taken a lot of effort to get this far, and there’s likely more to come. This is just the first step.
In the back of my mind I hear “Wherever you go, there you are”: that even if you change your surroundings, you’re still the same person inside. But actually I liken it more to being a fish out of water. Twenty years ago, I almost literally washed up in London. Didn’t think I’d stay here this long. Now I’m getting back in the water – no jokes about the great Manchester weather – and I’m really looking forward to it.
Hopefully this is a wise move and it is worth the effort. Hopefully I’m not just being foolhardy and brave.