City Love

Part of the whole “get a job in publishing” plan for 2008 is going to entail moving to a new city because, nice though it is, Southampton is seemingly devoid of decent publishing establishments – go figure. Now, scary “I’m not going to know anyone” relocation issues aside, this is really rather an exciting prospect. I never realised it about myself, but it turns out that I have a little bit of the wander-lust in me. I like to settle into a place and make it my home, but at the same time, after a few years I do tend to find myself getting a bit bored and wanting new challenges and new horizons. I expect that this is because I haven’t yet settled down into the whole career and/or stable relationship thing. But it might also be because I just like to go and explore new places.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life so far that I’ve seen more than a few cities around the world and I have noticed how every city has a feel to it, a vibe and a beat. Some cities I can be in for thirty minutes and go “I love this place”, others my immediate reaction might be loathing, or it might take me longer to grow to like. Now I am thinking about relocating away from Southampton, I am starting to think what it is that is drawing me to certain places and not to others. We live in a world where it is not inconceivable to pick up your life and start afresh in a totally different city, country, continent if you so desire, so it would make sense that I would try and narrow down the choices some to avoid making a humungous mistake!

Liverpool – Liverpool always seemed like a small city to me and not just because geographically it is. When I moved there, a ‘city’ was New York: bustling, teeming with life, chaotic, crazy and high-rise. Liverpool was low-rise, busy but run-down, rough right the way through, any glitz just a thin veneer on the top. Smokestained and totally unique, my southern country eyes just couldn’t work it out. It was the first place I had lived long-term after leaving where I’d grown up so the whole “getting to know a new city” was rather new to me. I lived there for three years and didn’t really appreciate how much fun it was till I left and moved to Southampton…

Southampton – is a very blah city. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it and I am enjoying living here, but it has got nothing to really recommend it either. I guess that’s the problem with being a port city: people don’t come here for the city itself, they come here to get somewhere else. I’ve had great fun since I moved here approaching four years ago, but I’m starting to get antsy. It’s not where I want to settle – I need me some bright lights!

Bristol – Now Bristol is a city that I hold with hatred and loathing in my heart. I freely admit that this is because I had my bag nicked there and spent a very miserable hour driving round it horrendously lost, and really I’m probably doing the city a great dis-service, but I’m sorry. I just don’t like Bristol.

Bath – Bath, on the other hand, is a city I adore. It’s just so pretty and so, so… So Jane Austen. With great shopping. I’m not sure I’d want to live in Bath itself but the environs are to die for. I’m a Somerset lass, always have been, always will be, and there’s just something about the landscape of the moors and the Mendips that seem right to me. If I’m being honest here, Bristol also fits into this: there’s one stretch of motorway I used to drive down every time I came back from Liverpool. You were just past Bristol, you turned the corner, and the entire valley was stretched below you. Every time I saw that view I could feel my heart lift. I saw it as was home in a way I can’t properly describe. The countryside just fits. Unbeatable.

Wells – so small you can’t really call it a ‘city’ in the modern sense, but it has a Cathedral so it is a city. (If you saw “Hot Fuzz”, then you’ll know Wells as the setting for Sandford). Wells Cathedral will always be the quintessential cathedral to me – I’ve sung along to the organ in the Choir. I celebrated Christmas services there throughout my childhood. Wells Cathedral is one of the few places on earth where I can admit to the presence of the divine. He may not be my god, but that doesn’t mean he’s not up there pulling some strings and inspiring beautiful architecture.

Cardiff – it’s been a fair while since I was in Cardiff, and then it was a flying visit for some choir or orchestra visit or something. My perceptions of the city now are pretty much totally based on the bits you see in the new Dr Who and Torchwood. It looks pretty magnificent but I’m not sure I’d want to live there. Something about it just doesn’t push my buttons.

Edinburgh – a city I remember with love and affection. The first time I remember being there was when I was 14 on a family holiday (the first summer holiday my brother didn’t come on because he was all growed-up) and I wasn’t totally 100% as I was still recovering from a fairly hefty illness nine months before, but the city grabbed me and made me feel safe. I fell in love with the history and buildings and for the first time felt a connexion to the Scots part of my heritage. There’s something quite magnificent about browsing in a store attached to a traditional woolen mill and your mum pointing out a tartan, going “that’s our tartan – I remember my grandfather wearing that…” It was also the last holiday we spent any great time with my Great Aunt (a formidable lady). After a few days in Edinburgh, we went off on a week or so of just rambling through Scotland in the car, going where the will took us and fetching up in the most amazing assortment of B&Bs and guesthouses all across the country. I loved it. The last time I was in Edinburgh, it was an archery competition and it was there I completely buggered my back, so my last memories of the city are tinged with excruciating pain, but I still love the place. I wouldn’t be surprised if my feet didn’t find their way back there someday soon.

York – is a city I’m hopefully going to reacquaint myself with very shortly. Moose tells me nice things about it, but all I can remember is going to the Jorvik Centre and stamping out a coin. That was fun.

Portsmouth – seeing as how I live in Southampton, traditionally I am supposed to be all *grr* at Pompey, but I can’t find the vitriol in my heart of those born’n’bred here. It’s got some good shopping and some pretty fantastic naval history going for it. They have a half-decent football team at the moment (a sentence that’s going to get the shit kicked out of me at work) and… Yeah, I can’t get all fussed either way. Not a place I’d want to live though. A city has to have something extra to make me want to live there and Portsmouth’s just a nice place to visit.

New York – another city I hold with great affection. I have had some great times there when I was visiting my brother but it just so totally insane. Like no other place on earth. That isn’t hype but fact. All cities and places are unique I guess but… Manhattan is just something else. There’s no way I’d willingly want to set my life up there. I expect I could hack it for a year or so and have the time of my life but, after that, I’d need to come back for a dose of British sanity!

Paris – I will admit up front that I spent all of 20 hours in Paris, and most of that at night. It was the tail-end of a school history trip to the battlefields of Europe (a rather depressing trip if you are curious) and we arrived in Paris at about three in the afternoon, going straight to our colourless hotel and late food. We then went on a trip on a Bateaux Mouche which was lovely, but bloody cold as none of us we prepared so had nothing thicker than a t-shirt between us. That took us to the evening when some bright spark said “let’s go up the Eiffel Tower!” which led to a mad race across night-time Paris, only to get to the tower in time to be told it had shut five minutes earlier. Then we wended our dejected way back to the hotel for sleep, and an early morning to catch the Eurostar back home. All in all, not the best 20 hours ever! I see Paris in the films and think “that would be lovely”, but somehow that is just overwritten with my impressions of the city as being all grey, damp and depressing.

Kota Kinabalu – it is possible to fall in love with a city but not want to go back there. K.K. is one of those places. I fell totally, head-over-heels in love with the whole of Malaysia (leeches and creepy-crawlies the size of your head not withstanding) in the month I spent there. Culture shock to 18 year old me certainly, but in a good way. However K.K. itself the first time didn’t impress. I’m guiltily still Western enough to want a bit more of a cosmopolitan flavour to my cities (hence, I guess, KL and Singapore’s place in my heart). Returning to K.K. after a week in the deepest, darkest rainforest on the other hand – I felt a genuine rush of “home” when we rolled up to our digs for the night. Still, what I feel for the place is nostalgia, not a desire to return.

Singapore – I can still remember the almost visceral feeling I had in Singapore, a feeling of “I could live here. This place I like”. I can’t place my finger on what it was about the place but I want to go back, if only to be proven wrong. Bits felt a bit false (Sentosa for example was seemed awesome till we experienced the reality the resort was mimicing) but on the whole I adored the place.

Kuala Lumpur – it was the wall of heat I walked into as we left the air-conditioned bliss ofKLIA which told me “you’re really the other side of the world” rather than the 20 hour plane trip. It came as something of a shock to me – I always thought I hated the heat but that trip to Malaysia flipped me into a sun worshipper, or at least a fan. I relished the temperature (I will admit, this was made easier by the prevalence of air conditioning!) I loved the whole place and I wish I had been able to spend longer there, but we were only there two days on our way through to Borneo.

St Peter Port – Guernsey in general was beautiful and welcoming. A lovely place to go for a holiday and it felt safe to go there on holiday on my own. I had the most amazing time and will be going back if I have any say in the matter. Would I want to live there? I’m not sure. I don’t think right now. I have a feeling that, at this point in my life, living there could get a little dull.

Toronto – a lovely city. I’m still bowled over by how bloody friendly Canadians are. Yes, it’s cliche, but it’s also true. From the moment I walked through customs (freakishly welcoming), I felt at home. Canada in general is so big and foreign enough but cut through with a reassuring streak of the European that is missing from America. In both Toronto and Kingston I felt comfortable – also very, very aware of my accent to the point I made the Cute Canadian do most of the talking because I felt so self conscious! – and I loved the blend of modern with that little bit of history. The suburbs of Toronto (Brampton in particular) sent chills down my heart because they were just to soul-less, but the city itself… If nothing else, it’s the home of the yoghurt covered pretzel, so of course I love it!

Oxford – bearing in mind the OUP, it’s not inconceivable to think I might end up in Oxford. In fact, I’ve already interviewed with them for a job a few years back (I didn’t get it because even though they knew I’d do the job really well, I lacked the experience so they gave it to someone with the paper qualifications, more fool them). Oxford is a beautiful place, full of history, but it is a university town. Friends who live there say there’s nothing much to do outside of that insular group. I’m not sure right now I want to be within such a small circle. Call me selfish but I’m still young – I want to live a little!

When I listed out the major cities I’d been to, I realised I have been blessed to travel to some pretty fantastic places with some pretty awesome people over the years. I was also struck with how they fell mainly into “places I loved visiting” and “places I want to live”. I still contend that the best way to get to know a city in a short space of time is to go there with someone who knows and loves the city to show you the best bits, but the places I have a “live here” gut reaction to are the places I’ve visited and re-visited to some respect on my own. They’ve become my cities – my cities are more than what you get in the guidebooks. They are made of memories and quirky little cafes where you can sit all day with a notebook and endless cups of coffee, writing away, that no Rough Guide would ever tell you about. My cities are admittedly small sections of the bigger city, places strung together in a sequence of experiences which owe nothing to geography and everything to how you really live in a place.

London is one of those cities. It has taken time to grow on me and what I know of it is based on aimless missions and wanderings. It being our capital an’ all, I’ve always taken it for granted. (I didn’t visit it till I was 12). At the time it didn’t do anything for me. Now though, I love it. I love the new buildings juxtaposed with the old. I love the energy – busy, but quieter than New York. Now New York (Manhattan) is a truly fabulous city but I wouldn’t want to live there, the pace is just too insane. Too weird. Great place for a holiday though. London however, I can imagine living in.

Which I guess is a good thing, considering where I want to end up.

5 thoughts on “City Love

  1. If you’re ever in the neighborhood visiting Malaysia again Cas, give me a buzz. The one thing you need to experience anywhere in Malaysia is the food. I have to confess too that Kota Kinabalu is a little…rustic…even for me since I’m a city guy. But it’s a great place for seafood though.

    Where as the rest of Kuala Lumpur, you definitely need a local to show you around. Skip the touristy spots and go straight for everything that matters. I’ll be happy to show you around. 🙂

  2. Cas, I don’t comment much, but had to say, I love this post and if you don’t mind may well have to copy the concept of it on my blog too. I totally agree with your way to judging a city, it is a vibe and feeling you get, I guess relating to people and places which seem partly familiar and partly inviting.

    Liverpool. – I quite agree for a major UK city.. it is small!
    Bath – I was there first for a time team dig and loved the place.. so pretty.
    Singapore – Never got the place. just seemed like a large shopping mall / office building..
    Edinburgh – A truly amazing city. It was only splitting up with a girlfriend, which stopped me living there for good.
    London – the best place in the world ever!
    New York – The best place in the world ever apart from London!
    Oxford – I live here at times and have NEVER been a part of the UNI. There are plenty of things to do and get involved with, just the students only do the student group arranged things I guess.

    I think that you only know a city by walking on it’s streets and seeing the parts not normally seen.

    I hope that you find a job in the city you want!

  3. Edrei – oh the food! I still dream of the food! I’m not sure if circumstances are going to take me back in the direction of Malaysia any time soon, but if they do I’ll hold you to that offer!

    Steve – I’m glad you liked the post and I look forward to seeing what you write on your own blog (don’t forget to drop us a link so we can stop on by!) We seem to have a pretty similar taste in cities. I take what you said about Singapore. I will admit that my feelings for the place are coloured by memories of the truly awesome time I had there. And some good cocktails in Raffles! Oxford. Maybe. I’m prepared to give it another try some time.

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