In March 2009 a five week business trip to Bolton, planted the seed for my life changing forever.
I work in Learning and Development for a well known company (who shall remain nameless) who asked me to come up North from my home in Rayleigh, to support in a sales coaching initiative. I can’t say I was overly enthusiastic at the time – I had a boyfriend and I was studying part time to be a barrister, and I couldn’t see how I was going to be able to hold everything down.
I was only given a week’s notice for the trip so before I knew it, it was the Sunday before the Monday and my colleague and I were making our way up the M6. (The M6 is my most favourite motorway ever…where else do you get to see cows crossing the road?! I nearly killed myself getting distracted the first time I ever saw that! )
I was staying up at the Mercure (back then the Ramada) on the A6 at Lostock. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I stepped out the car at about 8pm. It was dark but I could see the snow on the tops over at Winter Hill (although I was adamant it was a mountain). As a lover of winter and the cold, I remember the chill in the air and seeing my breath. And I felt like I’d come home. I’d never travelled further north than Nottingham, yet here I was, not more than 2 minutes out of the Vauxhall Vectra I had as a hire car, and I’d never felt more at home in all my life.
Like any southerner, I cracked all the Peter Kay jokes about garlic bread and cheesecake when ordering my dinner that night (which I now know when North of Watford Gap, it’s referred to as tea!). There was no malice in it though. I was genuinely delighted by the broad Bolton accent I was hearing.
First days in offices you’ve not worked in before are always a bit scary. It’s like being the new girl, all over again. For some reason what sticks with me about my first hour in the office was the discovery that they did cheese on toast in the canteen for breakfast – something that didn’t happen in Rayleigh. The other thing that was so clear to me was that my first day nerves were completely misplaced! Never in all my life have I met such a friendly, welcoming bunch of people. I felt at home pretty quickly, not an unwelcome feeling and one that seemed to be recurring.
Over the course of my five weeks away, I coached seven people and developed a great working relationship with them but I also felt like I’d developed one or two friendships as well. Every Friday when it was time to go home I was so disappointed to be leaving.
By my fourth week I was openly talking about how if I didn’t have the commitments of my studying and my boyfriend I wouldn’t think twice about leaving Essex behind for a new start. The end of the fifth week was heartbreaking. I cried as I got a lovely send off with chocolate, flowers and wine, promising to add everyone on Facebook so I could keep in touch and I continued to cry all the way home. I really wished I could have turned round and driven back up that motorway.
Because of the lifestyle I had chosen – to study so intensively part time, as well as work full time, I didn’t have much time for a social life. Most of my friends were now working in London and had made their own friends and were socialising in London after work. I’d stopped being invited out anyway as I always had to say no, so I gradually drifted from my friends. My boyfriend was pretty shit and seeing someone else behind my back, although I had no idea. I didn’t even know something was up, as my previous two boyfriends had been pretty crap too. I didn’t know any different. I just thought that was how a relationship was supposed to be. Although I didn’t realise to what extent at the time, my life wasn’t making me happy. I must have felt something though to crave the escapism of the North so much…