Essex Girl, Lost Up North?

Even I’m confused about the title of this blog now, so I bet you are too. I’ve lost my way in terms of the original intention of my setting up this blog, but I don’t want to lose everything I’ve written and I’m pretty sure I can’t just change the name. What would I change it to anyway?

I moved up to Greater Manchester from Rayleigh, in Essex back in April 2010. The scariest, yet still the best decision I’ve ever made.

I wish that I’d started this blog then. A place to talk about my adventures and adjusting to a new life I was creating for myself. The reality though, is that now I’ve been here for coming up to eight years, I’ve spent far more of my adult life here than back where I started my life. Which is absolutely mad to think about!

It makes it really hard now to reflect back on how I felt and a lot of what I went through.

I’ll try and tell more of some of my experiences when I first moved up, but for now, I’m going to continue to write about whatever comes naturally for me.

Sure it might not make sense, and sure my title doesn’t really match my purpose anymore, but I enjoy writing and it fills my soul up.

What I can say though, is I’ve made a life up North now and I’m definitely no longer lost. This is home.

Me and my some of my amazing friends 🙂

My perfect man, Dave

Me and my man again after the Wigan 10k in September 2017

Me and my best four legged pal – Poppy. She’ll get a blog post all of her own one day!

“What’s a Wigan?”

I met Lucy on 25th September 2006. Yes, 10 years ago, on my 20th birthday. I was going on a night out in Chelmsford with my friend Kayleigh and a couple of girls from Uni, and Lucy was on the cheerleading team with them. Like me, she was doing a law degree but was the year above.  In the spirit of the more being the merrier, I was more than happy for her to gate-crash. If you’d told me on that day that I’d met the one person that I would still be in touch with 10 years later I would have probably laughed at you.

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Me and Lucy in the Student Union bar on my 20th birthday, 10 years ago

Our friendship was cemented less than a month later when I found myself with a spare ticket to go and see Panic! At the Disco at Brixton Academy and she came along.

Lucy is originally from Romford, just outside of London and lived with her Mum and Dad and sister, Sophie. I got to know Sophie just as well as I did Lucy, as I whiled away hours talking to them both as they worked in the Student Union shop.

The town I’m from, Rayleigh was somewhere Lucy loved – not least because its home to the UK’s longest running Indie/Alternative club, The Pink Toothbrush. We’ve had plenty of wild nights there, which always ended with us stumbling back to my house and us both climbing into separate bunks in mine and my sister’s bedroom (no mean feat with more than just a couple of snakebites in you!)

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One of our countless trips to The Pink Toothbrush – I think this one is in 2007!

My Mum and Dad adored Lucy. One of the few friends of mine that they actually liked, and even now they’re pleased to see her!

As Lucy and I have grown together over the last 10 years (her birthday just a day short of two months before mine), the parallels we’ve identified between ourselves have been scary. They started off as mere coincidences, with our father’s both working as carpenter and joiners, to us both studying Law at Uni.  In 2008 though, Lucy met her now husband, Adam, in London. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but Adam is from Wigan. Until I moved to Atherton, I had no idea that Wigan was so close to Bolton (where I work. I never made the connection).

After I moved, mine and Lucy’s friendship grew closer. Although we never really drifted apart, after Uni it was harder for us to see each other, but as soon as I moved, and discovered our mutual connection to Wigan we made so much more of an effort with each other. We caught up with each other with regular phone calls and Lucy came to stay with me a couple of times. I returned the trip, and when she and Adam bought their first flat in London I went to stop with her. She took me to see Legally Blonde The Musical that weekend which totally appealed to both of our legal, but quite girlie side.

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Lucy’s first trip to visit me – June 2010

Eventually, Adam and Lucy were expecting the birth of their first daughter Poppy (also the name of my dog!) and needed to move into a bigger property. Knowing how much Lucy loved Rayleigh, I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was moving there. What did surprise me though was she moved onto a home on the estate built on the now knocked down office I had left behind. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have moved had Lucy moved to Rayleigh before I left there.

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One of Lucy’s trips to Wigan: A glass of wine and your best friend. The best accessory’s a girl can get! – November 2014

To this day, we’re constantly amused by how we have both ended up with Wiganers. If you’d told us this would happen when we were at Uni, we would probably have asked “what’s a Wigan?!” It’s perfect for us, because we now have regular phone catch ups, but we also have the luxury of being able to catch up, both when she’s up visiting her in laws and when I’m down visiting my family. Even if it’s just a couple of hours over coffee.

I literally would not change our friendship for the world – I’m a lucky girl to have such a loyal friend, that no matter how long I go without speaking to, will always be there for me and no matter how far away she is, it’s still only ever a phone call.

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Lucy’s Hen Do – October 2015!

Shalefield Gardens.

It’s been a year since I’ve told anymore of the story of me moving from down South to Wigan, and I want to pick up where I left off.

My relocation date was agreed for Friday 9th April 2010. With that came two important jobs.The first, with much regret, I needed to sell my beautiful Mazda MX-5, Rosie. My Dad, who’s a bit of a car man was very much under the impression that I needed something cheaper to run and a bit newer. So I regretfully ended up with a Fiesta (which was an absolute bargain and has served me well. I have never named that car though and is more fondly these days referred to as “The Shed on Wheels”).

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Rosie – my beautiful little car. I have so many fab memories of her, from hot sunny days along Southend Seafront, to getting caught short with the hood down when it started raining!

The second, and perhaps more exciting prospect, was trying to find my first home. As I wasn’t familiar with the local area, but knew that I wanted to live a reasonably close drive to work away, I just searched for everywhere within a five mile radius that was in my budget. My criteria was furnished and around about £450pcm (to any Southerners reading this, believe me it really is possible!).

Some of the properties I viewed were absolute horrors (but not as horrific as I discovered four years later. I’ll save that for another time though). Sometimes the place was quite shabby and in others it was simply a case of the area just not feeling quite safe. I probably viewed about 8 properties all in one Saturday and finally stumbled upon what was soon to be home when I’d all but given up. I fell in love with the apartment in Shalefield Gardens in Wigan almost immediately. It was modern, spacious and I felt safe. It was a touch out of my planned budget but it was affordable. My heart immediately told me that it was the one, but my Dad felt that I should sleep on it. Through fear of someone beating me to it, I ignored my Dad’s advice which I don’t often do, and signed straight on the line. I’ve never once regretted it.

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The Living Room

 

When Mum and Dad came up with me the weekend of my moving a month later, they both pleased with my decision and felt that they could rest easy, knowing that I was in a nice home in a safe area.

Over the years, so many people have asked me how I could just up sticks and leave. I’ve always maintained that I desperately wanted a change and I needed to spread my wings. Not to mention, I could never have afforded to do that down South. Being able to relocate with work just made things easier for me, and the redundancy situation bore no influence on the decisions that I made.

The real proof in realising that moving was the right thing came when of the 60 odd people I’d invited to my leaving do, just 6 showed up (luckily it was in the pub and not in any kind of function room. That would have  been embarassing!) The real slap in the face came the next day when a “friend” asked me why I wasn’t having a leaving do, and I responded that I did have one the night before and he’d been invited to it. It showed me just how much value my so-called friends placed on our friendship and made it so easy for me to turn my back on them. For them not to show was bizarre, because when I’d told people I was going they’d begged me to stay. Except for one person. That person deserves a whole blog post herself (which I’ll write some other time), and that’s Lucy. Lucy was the only person (family aside) who encourged me to go. She knew that it was what I needed. Ironically, she’s the only person from my ‘past life’ that I’m still in touch with and actually we’re closer than ever.

 

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Me and Lucy in September 2009. My 23rd birthday, and a bad haircut to boot! Roughly 6 months before I moved to Wigan.

He said yes!!

On the 23rd December I received the call I’d been waiting for. Seeing Paul’s name flash up on my phone sent nerves to my stomach. This was the call I’d spent what had felt like an eternity waiting for. I took myself off into a meeting room and answered Paul’s call. We all know how this part of the story ends because I wouldn’t be writing this blog if he hadn’t said yes! Now all I needed to do was agree a date for my move. Oh and break the news to my parents which to be honest was the scary part! I’ve had a reputation over the years for suggesting things on a whim, without thinking it through and as a consequence, never really following through. The desire in me to move up North though was definitely not a whim though so it was so important for them to take me seriously.

I had someone else I needed to break it to first though. I mentioned in my previous blog that I had a line manager that my relationship was a bit shaky with at the time, and I needed to tell him. Luckily for me the opportunity would be presenting itself that afternoon when I had my end of year review. At the end of my review, he asked me if I had anything else I wanted to discuss, to which I told him I did. This was the first surprise for him and I truly believe he thought I was going to bring up the reasons for why our working relationship had broken down. Imagine the shock on his face when I told him I was relocating! Honestly, it was brilliant watching him trying to keep a straight face, as he asked me the why’s, how’s, when’s etc.

When it came to my parents, I started with my Mum. She’d left home at 18 herself to go and be a holiday rep in Germany and later an Au Pair in Austria, so I knew she’d understand my need to go out into the big wide world on my own, which she did. I hated the thought of my parents keeping secrets from each other but I asked her not to tell my Dad until I was ready to – I knew with my Dad I’d need a plan of action to prove that I’d thought it through, and to just stop him worrying!

It only took me a day to pluck up the courage to tell my Dad so on Christmas Eve I gave him the best Christmas present ever – his daughter was finally moving out!!! He took it surprisingly well – so well that I suspected my Mum might have had something to do with it. I’ve asked her since if she ever told him and she said she hadn’t. It meant a lot to hear that as in all honesty, I never expected my Mum to withhold information, particularly this big, from my Dad. I’ve also since told my Dad that I was surprised by how well he took it, and he says that he could tell how serious I was about it because I never think things through as well as I had for this.

The last people to tell were my brother and sister – my brother, Matt, who is 5 years younger than me, was pretty laid back about it. I don’t suppose it really meant much of an impact on him. My sister, Georgina, who is 3 years younger than me was a different story though! She’d shared a room with me for pretty much 18 years, so her excitement at finally having her own bedroom, and not having to share with as messy an occupant as I am, was something she couldn’t have contained if her life depended on it! I later found out she’d basically mentally redecorated the bedroom and purchased wall paper and everything probably within a month of me telling her I was going!

Finally, I just needed to agree a date. I thought long and hard about it over the Christmas period. I wanted to be there immediately and work had told me they wanted me up there as soon as possible. It wasn’t practical though as after putting all my money into studying I needed to get a little bit of saving behind me and I needed to finish studying. Eventually we agreed a date of 9th April, and it couldn’t come quickly enough

A return journey…

Over the next few months my life changed quite a bit…I moved into my final year of studying, I found out what a toe rag my boyfriend was and by mutual decision we finished things. I didn’t think too much about coming back up North but I did make it clear to my line manager that if anyone was needed to go up there again, I’d want first refusal on going.

My return to the North eventually happened on 1st December 2009. The Bolton office was short on trainers for an induction course and needed someone to come and run a week one. I obviously jumped at the chance as I’d been hoping for a return since my trip 9 months earlier. During my time up there I fell back in love with the place and was as open as I was the last time about how I’d move here if I wasn’t still studying.

Halfway through my third day, two of my colleagues, Deb and Ste, sat me down and talked to me about seriously considering the move. Ste even went as far as to say he had a mate with a spare room going that I could rent out, although I think he was also trying to set me up with said mate!! The more I talked with them the more it seemed like a real possibility that I could make the move work. I was bubbling up with excitement and hope….I really could do this!

Fit to burst, I went to speak with Steph, one of the members of our management team, and now my line manager, about the possibilities of relocating. She asked me to seriously think about what I was doing. I think she was worried I was just a bit giddy about being up North and it was all just a novelty for me! I assured her it really wasn’t but at the time I was only young (just turned 23) and had a bit of a reputation for going on a whim. I guess she wanted me to be certain it was the right thing for me to do.

I returned home on the Friday and began to plan. Could I support myself on my wage? Living alone on my salary, although a good one, would have been impossible in Essex.  Did I want to house share, rent a room or have my own place? I’d shared a room growing up so the appeal to living alone was huge. How would I tell mum and dad? When would I tell them? When could I go? I was due to finish studying in June and was happy to travel back to London for my final few classes and exams. I needed to get some savings behind me too – I didn’t have any money in the bank as anything spare was put into my course fees. Buying a property was out of the question for that reason but I didn’t want that sort of commitment yet anyway.
That week waiting for Steph to call was the longest week ever and when I still hadn’t heard from her I was a state! When I did eventually speak to her I confirmed that it was definitely something I wanted to do and she told me should would put the request into her manager. I didn’t have a great relationship with my own manager at the time, and I worried he would purposely try to block me off of what I wanted to do out of spite, so I wanted to keep it secret from him for the time being.

Paul, Steph’s manager, contacted me on the 15th December to ask me what my reasons were for wanting to move and to then stick it all in an email. Then all I could was wait…

My first trip up North…

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…