Thursday, 1 November 2012

But am I Cumbrian?

Am I using the name under false pretenses?
I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm a very rooted person; I've no desire to leave soggy old England, or have vast wealth, fast cars and assorted homes dotted around the place, but I do have a need to feel "at home".  (Plus I've often wondered how those rich folks with several homes keep track of what's where, I struggle trying to remember what's packed onto Delores at any given time.)  It all sounds simple enough but it's not altogether straightforward.  When someone asks me where I'm from I'm not quite sure what to answer.  Sure, I live in Cumbria now, but am I Cumbrian?  Margaret, who lives down the road, and whose family have lived in the area for generations, has made it quite clear in the past that you're not considered a local in her books unless you can count back 3 generations or so.  Hmmm...

Beautiful Fleet Pond
I grew up in the West Midlands, not far from Walsall but left there aged 18 and never return except to visit family so, having not lived there longer than I did live there, I don't really feel as if I'm from there any more.  (If that makes any sense!).  After Walsall there was an all too brief 3 year stint in Aberystwyth where I got to grips with all things Geological before the need to find work lured me south.  I then spent 22 years living in and around the home counties: Berkshire, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and finally Hampshire but I never really settled, not properly.  The houses & flats were nice, the neighbours delightful and the local amenities bountiful but I was never quite 100% at home, though I don't think I really realised it at the time.

Gorgeous Grange-over-Sands
The work upheavals which precipitated our move north may not have been at all pleasant, but I shall be forever grateful to them, for without them we wouldn't be where we are now, but I've often felt somewhat apologetic about living here.  "Offcomers" was the word used to describe people like us, and it wasn't always used politely either, though I think attitudes have softened these days.  When meeting new people I find myself playing the "Steve grew up around here" card to try and make us sound more local but my non-Cumbrian accent stands out a mile, even though I've tried hard to learn the lingo.  But the reality of the whole thing is that I have truly never felt more at home anywhere than I do up here, and since we finally sold the house down south and cut the last of the non family ties, I've sunk even deeper into Cumbrian bliss.

Thirlmere - one of the most beautiful but overlooked of
the lakes (even though it's technically a reservoir!)
When we were house hunting several people enquired if we were looking for a second, or holiday, home and seemed quite relieved when we explained we had work up here and were planning to settle permanently.  Much as tourism is valued and welcomed in the region there's no doubting that the huge number of second homes and holiday lets cause a wide range of problems.  Firstly locals struggle to get onto the property ladder because places which elsewhere would be "ideal for first time buyers" up here become "ideal as second home/ holiday let".  The knock on effect of not having year round permanent residents is felt in the local shops, schools and other amenities.  Our house hunting was done in January and we viewed several homes in beautiful villages which in summer are vibrant places full of life but through the winter months are soulless and pretty much deserted.  The number of second homes in some parishes runs to nearly 40% of the local housing stock; small wonder that some villages have rather more of an air of Butlins about them than "traditional Cumbrian village".
Seems I'm not the only one who feels
at home here...

Anyway, I digress, this whole blog began with me pondering where I was from, and I still don't have an answer, but maybe it doesn't really matter  These days people travel around the globe setting up home in new and exotic places far from where they were born and, so long as the local culture isn't adversely affected, maybe that's no bad thing.  We've certainly done our best to blend in up here; getting to know the neighbours, joining in local events and supporting the local shops and businesses as much as we can and, as I sit here just over 2 weeks away from launching into life as a full time freelance trainer & writer, perhaps there are other things I should be worrying about right now.  Maybe I will start telling people I'm Cumbrian, just promise me you won't tell Margaret.