The days come and go in England and of course it never disappoints. I’m so happy to talk to anyone in fact that I am at risk of appearing strange. I’m so happy to see my friends and not have to alter my accent, talk slowly or avoid using slang.
“You up to owt?”
“Nah mate, I ain’t, jog on over!”
“I’ll be there in a jiffy!”
My friends and I quickly arrange to see our buddies in Cheltenham, Maddy and Chloe. We’ve been long term friends, but they have made the “break” from Nuneaton.
Nuneaton is an incredibly old town, being originally built from a Nunnery and settlements forming around it from the 12th century. In the Victorian era, the inhabitants worked mostly in the coal mines, of which have within the past five years shut down. Famous for its market, which was founded in 1233, it’s also known for one of the most predominant Victorian writers, George Eliot. George Eliot created books such as Middlemarch and Silas Marner and was born Mary Anne Evans. Brought up in a world where men mostly dominated the written word, Mary invented her pen name and pretended her works were done so by a man.
It was a revelation when it emerged that these incredible works were in fact done by a woman.
Her story inspired me growing up, and of course I feel as a girl growing up in an old fashioned town, you always feel like you have something to prove.
Now Nuneaton is a very special place. It used to be a thriving market town with independent businesses. I remember the yearly bright carnivals running through the streets where people would throw money, cheer and wave to the passers by. I remember when everything seemed brighter and more colourful. Today, Nuneaton represents a sort of ghost town. The businesses have shut down and the shops have been taken over by 99p stores aplenty. The reason is probably due to a number of things, online shopping, competitive bigger stores, huge shopping malls being built in industrial areas, lack of money, lack of investment, the recession and high rental fees. But that isn’t why it’s special.
It’s special because coming from Nuneaton means you have been brought up in a town where you learn how to use your common sense. It’s a place where you learn the meaning of hard work. It’s a place where you discover the meaning of family, loyalty and ambition.
Ambition, mostly because people wish to leave Nuneaton to follow their dreams.
I hope that with time the area will improve. I hope that life gets put back into this wonderful little place. And I suppose I love this area because I grew up here. My friends and family live here.
It’s a place that has always made sense to me in a world where I can’t fathom life.
But once you escape Nuneaton…
Not many return.
Such as Maddy and Chloe.
Me, Tommy and Steve bundle ourselves into Tommy’s car and drive the two hour distance to Cheltenham. I’m feeling a little bit delicate after going out the night before with the boys for my “Welcome home” party and am relieved when I find a bottle of brandy in Tommy’s car.
Tommy laughs in answer. “That’s from the other evening out. I forgot about that.”
I take a heavy swig from it in any case, hoping that will keep the hangover at bay. It works every time. We drive on, punk music playing, a supply of hot toasties for us to snack on and share stories from the past year with each other.
We’re heading to an Octoberfest, a German styled celebration with German music and of course- beers aplenty.
It’s so amazing seeing Maddy and Chloe when we arrive and we quickly fill a flask with enough rum to get us through the night and head off.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been around girls who are like me. Chloe is a wild firecracker who does pretty much whatever the hell she wants. I love that. I’ve never met her friend Lauren before but I immediately like her as she chats to me as though she’s known me for years.
The festival is in a field in the freezing cold in a tent. We walk in and sit down at some benches and tables in front of a stage, the beers so big in our hands that you have to hold it with both. More people start to stream in, wearing their German styled costumes, women wearing tiny hot pants, shivering in the winter cold. I love the British mentality sometimes.
We all drink as one, making a rule whenever anyone shouts the German word for “cheers”, we all have to drink.
“Hey Chloe, have you seen my- Prost!”
“Hey Lauren- what is that on your coat?”
“Just there- Prost!”
The British spirit is high and everyone is standing up and dancing with one another, people clapping, stomping their feet and slapping their hands against the table to the sound of the beat.
I forget the cold, I forget the night, I forget everything. Nothing else matters as I’m here with my friends, laughing, joking and singing the night away. We run outside into the field and recreate the Battle of the Bastards scene from Game of Thrones.
The next thing we know we’re in the back of a taxi on our way home to get fish and chips and collapse in bed. It’s been such a wonderful night. My heart is full and my cheeks ache from grinning so much.
These are my brothers.
I watch them laugh and joke with one another and smile. I’ve needed this so long. I’ve needed this release of energy, this ability to shout, laugh, scream and cheer all at once. We’re Saxons at the end of the day. We’re British. We need to celebrate life because it can be hard at times.
These are the moments that matter.
And they demand recognition.
I go to sleep on a bed made of pillows next to Steve and Tommy. I can hear the snores start from them immediately as Maddy switches off all the lights.
I take a deep breath, smile and fall asleep instantly.
The next day we go for a hike in the countryside. The woods are bursting with reds, oranges and yellows as Autumn has well and truly taken over. I huff and puff next to Tommy and we both realise with a start how unfit we are.
“I need to get myself to a gym!” I wheeze.
“Is that a rope swing?”
We look up and indeed find a rope swing at the top of the hill. Within a moment, Maddy, Tommy, Steve and I are children again. We spin each other around and around, forgetting that we’re all either nearly thirty or over, whooping and cheering as we spin over each other’s heads.
We walk on, the English countryside spanning wide, the hills rolling high above the towns and cities in defiance. We stand in a row together as we look on at the land around us. How many other people have stood here in this place and done the same thing? How much had the landscape changed? How long has this hill been untouched by the stones and rubble of man?
I’m abruptly proud of who I am and where I come from.
I’m British, and here I am in my beloved homeland. The scents of the wet earth fill my senses as the wind throws my hair around my face. We shiver as one, side by side as the grey clouds roll like ghostly oceans in the sky.
“Beautiful, ain’t it?” Maddy says.
We all nod, not needing to say another word to show we agree with him.
And it is beautiful. It’s beautiful because after a year I’m here. It’s beautiful because I’m standing with the friends I knew when I was fifteen. To have gone through all of those days knowing each other and spending time with one another. It’s beautiful because we grew together overcoming obstacles, making decisions and staying young at heart whilst the world demanded for us to grow up.
It was beautiful because after all these years, we were standing here as one.