Charlie Swinbourne: From London to Yorkshire!

Posted on August 24, 2012

Well, hello again, loyal readers. Firstly, although this is several weeks late, I should say a big belated thank you to Emily Howlett for her sterling work editing this site while I was on holiday.

After five months of waking up and checking this site, spending two weeks digging sandcastles on the west coast of Ireland without a TV, let alone an internet connection came as a welcome break!

As relaxing as Ireland was (aside from the night a stone kicked up from the road and smashed my wing mirror – I’m still traumatised), on our return to Blighty it was all hands on deck as my family prepared for our second move in three months. This time a little further than simply across Twickenham.

Now, it’d be remiss of me not to start by offering some background. Exactly two years ago, I wrote an article for the BBC’s Ouch website weighing up the virtues of living a deaf life in the countryside or the city. Back then, in favour of London, I said:

The capital is full of opportunities for deaf people, with weekly deaf pub meets, regular events, accessible cinema and theatre performances, and numerous deaf centres and sports clubs. Major deaf charities and organisations are based here, so you find that many deaf people flock here from all over the world. Consequently, my partner and I have many deaf friends across London who can easily be reached by just hopping on public transport.

However, daughter number two was on the way, and the days when we could float freely across the city were already becoming a distant memory.

My article made reference to how the skills of a heptathlete were needed in order to get a pram across London by train, tube and bus – but I’m sure even Jessica Ennis wouldn’t find getting a pram containing two children from Twickenham to Leytonstone as easy as winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

A recent column by the Mail’s Mimi Spencer, who’d left London after having a child, also summed it up:

With children in tow, you start to notice the drawbacks. The energy-sapping difficulty of getting from A to B in anything less than an hour (this applies to any A and any B – which always perplexed me); the jockeying for position, for tickets or school places or a seat on the tube; the dead-faced encounters with fellow drivers, shop assistants, passers-by; the very existence of Oxford Street…

My wife and I read that, nodding. Before getting the rag as far away from us as possible. It’s the Mail.

I digress. In that Ouch piece, written in 2010, I wrote about my own childhood, of growing up in a small market town in Oxfordshire where we were literally the only deaf people in the village. There were drawbacks in terms of being cut off from other deaf folk, but there were great positives too. A sense of community, of friendliness and of being closer to nature than you ever could be in the city. Writing that piece was like planting a seed that continued to grow and grow.

Something I didn’t write about in the article was how we’d also become more and more intrigued about the idea of living in the north. My wife has family in the North East, and my parents live in Nottingham, where I went to university (some people say Nottingham isn’t quite the north, but let’s not have that debate here).

A close friend of mine lives in Lancashire and I’ve never forgotten a pub meal we had where we ended up speaking to not only the waitress but also the people on the tables either side of us. That easy friendliness came as a surprise at a time when I was living in central London, where people rarely made eye contact with each other.

[Just as a little aside, I should say that London has many friendly people. Like our daughter’s pre-school leaders, the many other parents we’ve met, and the creative Deafies I’ve met over the years. It’s just very hard to get a conversation started with people you don’t already know in the hustle and bustle of city life.]

In April this year, that seed finally grew into something unavoidable, like a, er, great big tree. My wife found a job opportunity in South Yorkshire and we decided she’d go for it. After the interview, I picked her up and we spent the afternoon driving around villages south of Doncaster, stumbling upon a market town (or more accurately, a village) with a few shops, pubs, a couple of schools, the remains of a castle and some bright green fields all around. Just what we’d dreamed of. She was offered the job, and after some late night chats, we decided to go for it.

It’s from that village I write now, after a marathon move on Monday which coincided with the M25 grinding to a halt – clearly London’s sneaky last-ditch attempt to keep us within its clutches.

Alas, the traffic jam couldn’t stop us swapping the shops of Kingston-Upon-Thames for the designer outlets of Leeds, the art galleries of east London for the up-and-coming art scene in Sheffield, and the delights of Curzon Soho for Nottingham’s equally delightful Broadway cinema.

For the first time, our kids have their own rooms, and we’re already enjoying strolls around the village. So far, I’ve taken part in friendly chats with staff in the fruit and veg shop, the cafe and the newsagents. Our kids love the duck pond…

Best of all, yesterday my wife came home to find a bag full of home-grown vegetables left by our neighbours for us to eat. Talk about feeling welcomed.

So what difference will being away from the city make to our lives? Will we find ourselves more cut off from the deaf world, as well as the accessible cultural delights that London had to offer? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure though, moving out to the sticks is a little different in these days of easy communication online. Facetime has already beamed our daughters’ grandmother into our new home, while we have Skype, Facebook, Twitter, email and a million other things that my parents couldn’t have dreamed of when they made a similar move to us, over twenty years ago. Back then, a textphone seemed like a lifesaver and a fax machine was a mind-blowing advance.

I might even be able to have my cake and eat it. For work reasons I’m going to be in London at least once a month, so after seven years in the capital, I can be a tourist again, gazing in wonder at the tube map, the buildings and the crowds, like I did when I first arrived. Before going home to quieter, calmer climes.

I shouldn’t speak ill of the metropolis. London gave me so much. In those seven years, I made life-long friends, made stuff, got to know the deaf community in the capital, met my beautiful wife and raised my kids in their earliest years.

I could say moving to Yorkshire is going to be like starting a new chapter, but I think it’s going to be more like reading a chapter in a different book. A book accompanied by a cake I’ve just discovered, called Yorkshire Parkin.

Bring it on.

[ps. Today we took our first bus journey from our new village. Who do we meet next to us? A very kindly old deaf lady from Worksop who happens to know my parents! We signed all the way to Doncaster’s amazing markets. Mad! Looks like we won’t be too disconnected from the deaf world after all…]

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, training and consultancy Deafworks, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Look, Smile Chat campaign, and the National Theatre’s captioned plays.

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