“Put t’kettle on. It’s time for a natter.”
Considering the fact that I run a blog called This Northern Gal, you probably aren’t shocked to hear that I love the north and love living in it. I’ve created a corner of the internet that is all about sharing my favourite things in the north and I really enjoy doing it. But it wasn’t always that clear cut.
Like many, I jumped at the chance to leave my hometown at 18 and I wasn’t convinced that I was going to come back. I had my sights set on something and somewhere new. Wait a second. I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
I’m Kelly and I’m very happily northern. I’m pretty proud of it and will happily shout about how wonderful the north is to anyone who will listen (or who happens to be within hearing distance). My parents may be southern but I’ve lived in the north for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Darlington, in a terraced house in a street of identical terraced houses. I went to primary school in Darlington, then secondary school, then sixth form.
It was around this time that the town I loved started to feel a little small. I began to daydream about starting out somewhere new. A city, perhaps. Maybe somewhere near the sea.
Armed with my A-levels, I decided to ‘get out’ and made my parents drive me the four hours to the University of St Andrews. While not a city, it was different to my life here in Darlington. I was by the sea and the terraced houses were gone, replaced by a rich history that I couldn’t wait to explore. I loved it and it was my home for the next four years of my life.
In that final year, I started thinking about where I would go next. I still had the city life in my mind and it seemed most of my friends did too. London, perhaps, or Edinburgh. Somewhere where I could carve a new career for myself and work my way up the corporate ladder. It was, after all, what graduates did and I had been so keen to ‘get out’ of the north.
I did my research and looked into my options. I weighed up the glamour and the cost, the opportunities and the bustle.
And somewhere along the way, I realised it wasn’t actually what I wanted.
I wanted the neighbours I’d had growing up, who would stop and talk about their day when you ran into one another. I wanted culture that reflected the life I’d had growing up. I wanted art that reflected that blend of industry and familiarity that I had always associated with the north. I wanted to order chips and gravy without seeing a look of disgust.
One day, I sat on the beach in St Andrews and thought about my next steps. Without really meaning to, I wrote a poem called ‘A Love Letter t’North’ and I knew what I wanted next: I wanted to come home. I packed up and returned to Darlington, the same place I had practically ran from four years before.
I’ve been back for three years now and although I won’t say I’ll never leave again, I will say that the north is home and always will be. There is such warmth in these northern towns and cities that I feel welcome everywhere I go. There is food I love, and art I love, and culture that I love. I feel pride when I look at the north and I feel homecoming. I’m not in the business of giving that up for the life I was told I should have.
More than that though, there is the space and freedom to make a life for myself here. It is not lost on me that I have managed to create a life for myself that I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford if I had gone down south. I don’t think I would have wanted to either. The hustle and strained smiles aren’t for me.
I had to travel to Scotland to learn that lesson. I don’t regret it. Not one bit.
I don’t want to be in a big city right now, slogging my way through the corporate world and collapsing into a houseshare I can barely afford.
That wouldn’t be home. The north is.
Find out more at http://thisnortherngal.co.uk/