This week’s been a busy one so I’m writing this post ahead of time. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my regular booth in my favourite local coffee shop, Crave Coffee & Desserts. It’s been closed for a few days due to a family emergency and as well as my heart going out to the lovely owners, Sharzia and Raj, I felt a bit bereft too.
For the sake of my conscience I am pleased to say that my first thought on hearing news of the closure was ‘Oh no, hope everything’s okay’ – but this was quickly followed by ‘What am I going to do?’ I love the solitary life of a writer and would happily spend my whole time alone at my desk in the corner of my bedroom but I know it does me good to get out of the house at least sometimes, so once or twice each week I head down to Crave and enjoy the hubbub of the outside world while still getting on with my work.
Part of the problem with Crave’s closure was that I couldn’t think of anywhere else locally that I could go to instead. Sure there are some chain coffee shops around but they’re not really set up for workers. I searched online for options in nearby towns but again nothing seemed quite suitable.
This lack of local options turned my mind back to a subject which has much occupied my thoughts in the last couple of months: learning to love where you live. I love the ‘Weekend in…’ or ‘See the best of my city’ type articles that are a staple of magazines but they always leave me a bit disenchanted. My feelings to where I live could be described as ambiguous at best.
Nuneaton is a large working-class town in the middle of England, part of the beautiful county of Warwickshire but firmly in the less affluent northern end. Much of its 120,000 strong population are in the D and E class groups and this relative poverty shows in the town centre with its boarded up windows alongside bookies, charity shops and every variance of Poundland imaginable.
Some know it as the birthplace of the great nineteenth-century novelist George Eliot but in recent years it has received media attention for being a crucial ‘swing’ seat in parliamentary elections. This has made the town more prominent but even the most sympathetic coverage can’t disguise its shabbiness and struggles, as this report by left wing journalist Owen Jones shows.
I was born here, in the George Eliot Hospital no less, and spent the first eighteen years of my life vowing that I would leave and not return. Off I went to university, only to find myself back for a year after I graduated while I saved for my MA. It was like I could never quite escape the lure of the place: family, friends and finances kept pulling me ‘home’.
Towards the end of my PhD I returned again and several years later I’m still here. In spite of my best intentions, I put down roots. Even though my job took me to London and the south east for half of each working week, I didn’t want to relocate down there.
My partner, another rather ambiguous Nuneatonian (albeit one with a diehard love of the town’s non-league football team), and I are now settled in our home here. Despite being freelance, and being on a yoyo up and down to the capital (twice this week), I don’t have a huge desire to move. Family, friends and finances still win the day.
But… (there’s always a but isn’t there?!) I can’t shake the feeling that I *ought* to be somewhere else. Somewhere more exciting. Somewhere more glamorous. Somewhere with an M&S Foodhall, let alone a Waitrose. Somewhere with more than one option for a coffee shop where I can work for the afternoon.
I’m trying to work my way through these ambivalent feelings, the connection on the one hand and the revulsion on the other, in different ways. A large part of this is figuring out what my callings to move represent. Some of it is snobbery, some me feeling that my choice of location reflects badly on me as a person. Am I boring for living back where I was born? Have I not been adventurous enough? Am I at heart just as downbeat as the town’s image despite all my pretensions to the contrary?
Big questions but alongside this I’m working away at nurturing more love for the place. And if I can’t get to love then at least respect. For me this means recognising the town’s good points, the things that it does have to offer. Surely its only attraction can’t be that, well serviced by the motorway and rail networks, it’s easy to escape from?
So I’ve been working on putting together my own version of ‘See the best of my locale’ article. I’m still refining this, as well as trying to put together prompts that other people can use if they too are looking to develop a more companionable relationship with where they live.
The photos used in this piece were taken when I embarked upon an artist’s date to capture the varied architecture of the town centre – little glimpses of a proud past that can be easily missed. My goal now is to create a list of ten things that I’d like to do in or related to Nuneaton.
So far I have five! I should be clear that I can only come up with five because I’ve already actually done some of the good stuff, some of the iconic Nuneaton stuff. I’ve eaten in both Toppers and Wales, two of our celebrated fish-and-chip shops. I did the George Eliot walking tour when I met up with a Japanese academic who was visiting the town to research our trailblazing homie.
What remains? Just five ideas so far:
1 Commit to memory the name of the prominent architect who designed the town library as well as some other famous buildings that he is responsible for
2 Visit Arbury Hall, a significant local country house that doesn’t get much public attention because it’s still in private ownership and only opens on a limited number of days each year
3 Read a George Eliot novel (*hangs head in shame*). Many of them are set in this area and landmarks can be identified still
4 Go to The Tavolda Calda. I can’t exactly say I want to do this but it seems integral to the town’s identity. Every year the Carnival Queen and her maids are wined and dined there.
5 Spend an afternoon in the Atack Snooker Club. A snooker club wedge in between the railway line and Chinese takeaway. As a child I thought it looked like a den of iniquity (I was precocious and probably would have used that phrase). Sheer curiosity draws me in.
And what else? If you are familiar with Nuneaton and can think of anything I should include on my list, let me know!
And where do you live? Do you love it or loathe it – or somewhere in between? I’d love for you to come up with an equivalent list. What have you never done in your locality? Share your thoughts below or on social media.
Let’s all learn to love where we live, one small step at a time.