My fella and me have a year's sabbatical starting in August, which means we can live anywhere we like. This has been the subject of much discussion and planning over the past couple of years, and the original plan was to rent out our house and spend three months in each of the following locations: New York, London, Sydney and Brighton. However, the practicalities of such a globe-trotting year quickly meant that we had to reduce our plans quite a bit. We have an elderly, high-maintenance cat who, on the one occasion when I left him with a live-in cat-sitter for a month, went into a deep depression and took to sitting in a corner of the living room with his back to the wall. Taking the cat abroad would also be unfeasible due to quarantine restrictions. So instead, we are spending a fortnight in August travelling across from Chicago to San Francisco by train, followed by a week in Brighton.
The other issue which brought us back down to earth is cost - I thought flats in London were quite reasonable initially, but then I realised I was looking at the price per week rather than per month. So the capital city was out (and anway, it's so unfriendly and competitive). Eventually it came down to a competition between Brighton, Bristol or Newcastle-upon Tyne. I like all three places, but ultimately it was the bonus of having friends and family in Newcastle which was the deciding factor. My fella, very kindly let me make the final decision, although he stipulated he wanted to be in "walking distance of a Waitrose".
So we've found a nice apartment (near a Waitrose), overlooking a park, in a fancy Georgian terrace. And this weekend, we moved in half our furniture. My fella bravely drove a van across. I caught a cold earlier in the week, so it wasn't the best timing - and our efforts to move the bulky sofa were worthy of a Laurel and Hardy film. Lots of comedy accidents. And we have to do it all again in July when we move the rest of the stuff.
We thought the boiler was broken, but just as we were phoning British gas we realised that the strange box in the kitchen cupboard with a credit card sticking out of it was a pay as you go meter - put in because the previous tenant didn't seem to like paying any of his bills. We hadn't seen one before so I'd just kind of ignored it as irrelevant. So we had to get the card "topped up" at a newsagents. There were lots of "final demand" letters for the last tenant, including some from bailiffs and an £800 phone bill. He sounds charming. There were all sorts of weird little things we had to resolve over the weekend - I had to buy a new toilet seat because the one they had didn't stay up (why? how?) At least it gave us an excuse to go to John Lewis a lot.
Oddly enough I don't think we'll use that Waitrose much. There's a huge Marks and Spencer next door to it - the food hall is about 8 times bigger than the one in Lancaster - and it has things we've never seen before like Luxury Garlic Bread - Lancaster only has the regular sort. I feel so cheated - like one of those Russian diplomat's wives who went insane on first seeing a British supermarket in the 1980s.
So between now and August we'll be living in two places, echoing that period in 2006-7 when I lived in Bristol and commuted back to Lancaster. I have strong and fond memories of Newcastle - I used to go shopping there in my childhood, although the enduring memory is of never having any money and doing a lot of enviously staring in shop windows wishing I could buy stuff. I recall going to an all-night showing of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Evil Dead films at one of the cinemas, and when I was a student, I visited my friend Kathryn (who still lives there), and we used to spend a lot of time going around the charity shops (it was the early 1990s - grunge was just coming in), and watching foreign films at the Tyneside Cinema (we thought we were so sophisticated). During the summer of 1992 I discovered Newcastle's gay scene - in those days there were a lot of men wearing check shirts with moustaches, and I had a brief relationship with a chap who was high up in the civil service and wanted to take me to Egypt.
Geordies only seem to have two vowels ("a" and "oo"), so I'm sure in a year's time I will be incomprehensible all over again.