It’s been a bit of a year, 2022. As I sit in this pretty, chilly Scottish town we now call home, planning a forthcoming thawing-out spell in our other home at the tip of Africa, I’m thinking about all the things this year has brought with it. And I’m grateful, albeit a little dizzy.
At the beginning of 2022, just after I’d closed my eyes and pressed ‘publish’ on my debut novel, Sweet Charity, we left for a three-month stay in South Africa. I was still working full-time, and worked from home while we were there. It was there that, after 11 years of working for a charity organisation, I resigned from home too. That started a chain of events that has seen us leave London, buy a small flat in the west of Scotland and move into it, leave formal employment and become self-employed. Our sons both live in Scotland now, too, so it’s magical to have us all in the same country.
And now we’re about to do what we’ve been dreaming of doing for some years: living between Scotland and South Africa. Everything has changed and it feels surreal, exciting, scary and, well, pretty awesome. I’m not sure how we got here, but we’ve got here.
Here are some of the things I’m reflecting on:
- Life in a small town in Scotland is very different from life in London. Apart from the obvious, I’ve noticed how friendly and helpful Scottish people are. From neighbours bringing us tea half an hour after we arrived in our new flat, to others offering us passwords to their broadband while we waited for the ‘seamless move’ our service provider promised, to some popping by to see if we’re okay or if we need anything, to contractors going the extra mile to help us (at no extra cost). It’s been a wonderful welcome to our new lives. Without wishing to over-dramatise, it’s lovely to feel seen. When you’re one of the almost nine million people who live in London, you can sometimes feel invisible.
- We absolutely loved our 13 years in London. And I’m so grateful for all the superb opportunities London gave us: our jobs, travel, all the amazing theatre and live concerts we were able to enjoy, the chance to explore as many corners of the city as we could (much of which I’ve blogged about here), the lovely choirs I belonged to, the church we belonged to when we first got there. We had so much fun. Those 13 wonderful, life-changing and very full years made it easier, I guess, for us to say goodbye and move up to Scotland.
- Moving is not a quick and easy exercise, even after you’ve done it as often as we have! We arrived in London 13 years ago with one suitcase each, and left London a few months ago with five suitcases, a small van and a removal van full of stuff! And that’s after several trips to charity shops to donate bags of clothing and household items. We’ve vowed not to keep accumulating possessions; I’ll let you know how that goes.
- Scotland is way colder than ‘down south’ in England. And, as we’ve experienced, you can have all four seasons over and over in one day! People warned us about the cold and the rain, but I never realised how stark the difference would be until we moved here. You get used to it, by going out in it, and by wearing the right number of layers and thermals. You kind of warm to it, in a way. Psychologically anyway. And you soon realise that you can’t let the weather put you off doing anything and, for some, that includes swimming. We’ve seen (and heard about) people who swim – just in swimming costumes, not wetsuits – in the Clyde and in lochs, all year round. The water temperature is low but at this time of year it can sometimes be higher than the air temperature – we’ve seen steam coming off the Clyde to prove it. But watch this space, I might just become one of those swimmers. (I might regret saying that…)
- Here, in mid-winter, the sun rises almost an hour later than it does in London, which makes me understand why bears hibernate in the winter. But, as the lovely locals here tell us, ‘you should see this place in the summer’. The days are long, the sky is often blue, and everything looks even more beautiful. From the blue-skied days we’ve had so far, I can certainly imagine.
- Our town has a great little high street, filled with galleries, gift shops, coffee shops and restaurants. There’s one small supermarket, a tiny and efficient post office and two pubs. A local told us it’s ‘a great street for a mooch’. I agree.
- Scotland is incredibly beautiful. According to Billy Connolly, that’s a fact, and I couldn’t agree with him more. We live on the Firth of Clyde and enjoy the views across the water to the (currently snow-capped) hills and mountains of Argyll and Bute, on the west coast of Scotland. Inland, the countryside is equally breath-taking, with stunning lochs and glens and wee villages around every corner.
- Scottish people are warm, generous, helpful and hospitable. And that’s a fact, according to me.
- As we drive around our town and the neighbouring towns at this time of year, it seems there’s a competition to see who has the biggest and prettiest Christmas tree standing in their front window! Every one is such a joyous, colourful sight and, if there were a competition to see which one made me smile, they’d all win.
So, with 2022 almost behind us and 2023 almost upon us, I reflect on all of these changes with a huge amount of gratitude and excitement. The new dawn heralds a whole new season, a second novel looming on the horizon, more stories to be ghostwritten, a new choir to join, and a whole new country to explore and write about and I can hardly flipping wait.
Sunshine signing off for today.