Thoughts on my Hometown

They hate you if you’re clever, and they despise a fool – John Lennon

I have a rather turbulent relationship with my hometown. We’ve never really seen eye to eye on a lot of things. Ever since I can remember I’ve always felt like an outsider in my own city. This is something I think about a lot and find very difficult to articulate.

I’m from a place called Sunderland – a small, working class city in the North East of England. For readers who aren’t familiar with the geography of the UK, it is the Game of Thrones equivalent of Winterfell. I find it’s the type of place you either never leave or move as far away from as you can. It’s a city that revolves around drinking and football, neither of which are high on my list of interests. It has very limited opportunities but if you try hard enough you can find a job at a call centre, or at a bar, or a school or an office. Everyone has a ‘living for the weekend’ mentality which I could never get on board with. It’s a place that can provide you with a cushy life where you have just enough money to pay the bills and go out drinking on a Saturday night.

If Sunderland had to sit an exam that tests its quality of life it would probably get a C+. It’s not a bad place to live. But it’s also not that great either. Which is where I’ve concluded the problem lies. In this middle ground. This is my theory:

Sunderland is a comfortable place to live.

Comfort breeds complacency.

Complacency breeds stagnation.

A major fear of mine is to become stagnant and trapped in a place/job I don’t like. And I fear that is what will happen if I stay here. My hometown represents stagnation to me. So I remain uncomfortable, resentful and unhappy in order to keep myself motivated to leave. If I get too comfortable it’s over. Is this a crazy way of looking at things? It’s crazy isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, when the sun hits it right Sunderland can be a very scenic place to live. The city has a beautiful coastline, surrounded by green countryside and some charming 19th century architecture. In my view, what holds the place back is the negative attitude of a lot of the residents. On any day of the week if you go to a local pub you will invariably overhear a conversation that sounds something like this:

“Argh Sunderland is a shit hole. It’s always been a shit hole. Never nothing good ever ‘appens”

“Should we do something about it?”

“Nar, I’d rather just complain about it and makes others feel bad for trying”

Okay maybe that isn’t a verbatim conversation you will overhear but it’s certainly the general tone. It is a ubiquitous attitude that can unfortunately be very contagious. I find that people are so fixated on the negatives that they refuse to acknowledge the positives. And they carry that with them in all aspects of life. I feel that in order to be happy you need to become a miserable drone and embrace how awful everything is.  You have to proudly exclaim: “it’s shit, but it’s home” 

(I know I am painting my picture with broad strokes here. Not EVERYONE is like this obviously. I am just trying to get across the general negative attitude of the city.)

Northern Stereotype
Northern Stereotype

I grew up with people saying I could do anything I wanted to. Yet whenever I would express any ambition or ideas that deviate from the “norm” I’d get shot down for it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time living outside of Sunderland and the UK. I spent two years living in America and working in various locations around Europe and Asia. Whenever I am out of Sunderland I feel like I can accomplish anything. I feel unbelievably creative and happy in my own skin. I smile at people on the streets and wish them a good day.

Then I return home, and it is like all that personal development and positive change never happened. I feel like Frodo returning to The Shire and trying to explain how scary a Nazgûl is; the description will never do it justice. I tell stories about the happy people I met or the fun things I did, and more often then not I am received with mockery and judgement. I am made to feel like a snob for even considering alternative life choices. I suddenly feel awful and pessimistic about my life goals and I don’t feel like an individual anymore but part of a group that I don’t connect with. You get all your ambitions and dreams shaken out of you and told to get a “normal” job. To meekly shuffle down the path of mediocrity like everyone else and stop being so pretentious.

I know this isn’t unique to me. Returning to any hometown is tricky. Whenever people return to a place or see people they haven’t seen in years, it is often a challenge not reverting back to the person you used to be. I find that a lot of times in friendships you tend to hold the person that your friends with to the standard of what the friendship was originally.

For example, when I am looking at hometown friends on Facebook who I haven’t spoke to in years it is hard to imagine any sort of emotional development. I still think of them as being the same person they were at that party four years ago. Like they are some kind of 2D character in the production of my life. (Maybe this isn’t universal and I am just demonstrating the size of my ego. But I am going to continue in the hope that something of what I am saying will resonate with someone.) But this is the challenge for me when returning home to my friends and family. People don’t see the person I have become, but the person I was. This is when resentment starts building up. 

Okay I think I’ve lost my train of thought now and am just incoherently rambling.

To conclude, I’ve often blamed the city for a lot of my negative thoughts. It’s an easy scapegoat for a lot of my problems. For example: the reason I’m not more successful is because of the limited opportunities it provided me. Or the reason I’m not more self-confident is because of the close minded/stifling attitudes I was brought up around. Or it’s the reason I can’t ever get a tan in the summer (that last one upsets me the most).

Maybe I’m a victim of my surroundings. Or maybe I make an active decision to place myself as an outsider. Or maybe it is just a case of “the grass is always greener” or suffering from the fear of missing out. Who knows. But I realised all of these negative feelings towards my hometown was unhealthy, counterintuitive and was only breeding more disconnect and isolation. My external surroundings don’t define me as a person.

So in an attempt to transcend my own negativity I set myself a challenge to make a positive video about Sunderland. I decided to ride around on my bike and film all of my favourite places. It was actually quite a therapeutic experience and I am rather pleased with the result.

I’ll admit it may not be an actuate representation of the place as I mainly focused on the coastal areas and the places far removed from the city centre. But I think that works as an unintentional metaphor for me feeling like I am on the outskirts of society looking in rather than being in the thick of it all. I could have just as easily (if not even easier) made it look gritty, industrial and miserable. But that wouldn’t have been as fun. 

Here is the video!

It’s not a bad place really, I just need to stop being so negative. As I grow older I know I am very lucky to be where I’m from. Relatively speaking there is lots going on. 

Let me know your thoughts. How do you feel about your hometown? Do you feel resentment or do you love it?

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29 thoughts on “Thoughts on my Hometown

    1. Thank you for watching! It’s all so common. And of course, not everyone who never moves out of their hometown are ‘simpler people’. Well travelled people can be dull. Local people can be remarkable. I find it difficult talking about my feelings without generalising or coming across as a snob! But I’m trying.

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  1. I think where we’ve grown up is always dull, because we know all about it…or so we think. My son left our hometown for Arizona, just to get away. He now realizes that there is far more to do here that he ever thought, and how little there is going on in his new home.

    It’s the “grass is always greener” phenomenon, unfortunately sometimes the grass is greener simply because they’ve spread more manure, and you don’t realize until you get there. I, too, have been many places, they always seem more interesting because I don’t really know them, but after a while the glimmer wears off and I find they are no different, really, than where I am from.

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    1. Yes, I’m sure there is an element of familiarity breeding contempt. It’s hard to really appreciate our home towns as they hold no allure or sense of the unknown anymore. But as I grow older I know I am very lucky to be where I’m from. Relatively speaking there is lots going on. However I know it’s not where I want to stay.

      I often worry about the “grass is always greener” phenomenon. I suffer from the fear of missing out a lot. I have a very romanic attitude towards places or people I’ve never met. As if there’s a place perfectly suited for me. But I understand intellectually that this isn’t so. Like you say, after a while of being in a new place the glimmer wears off and you find that places/people are essentially no different from where I’m from.

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  2. My hometown actually is not my real hometown. But lets say I still (or again) live close to where I grew up. There were times when everything seemed too small and too small-minded. I wanted to live somwhere else and by chance did. But when I came back I noticed that nothing had changed. I was still the same person. After years I noticed that not my surrounding needs to change to make me feel better, but I have to change to make me feel better. Wherever I go I take myself with me. So I cannot excape myself. I have to change and I will be happy everywhere.

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    1. What a beautiful comment! Your revelation is the journey I am on at the minute. I’ve changed a lot over the past few years. But then I come back to my hometown it’s a challenge not reverting back to the person I used to be. Then it’s like those experiences and change didn’t happen.
      However I know that my external surroundings shouldn’t change or define me as a person. I am more than my hometown. I need to be happy inside.

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  3. Very few of us really appreciate our home towns. It holds no allure, no sense of the unknown, or possibilities for exploration as other places around the world do. I only started to appreciate what my home town had to offer after I’d left for several years. Having now lived elsewhere for many years I can see all the positive things I’d overlooked before.
    As an outsider to your home town of Sunderland, I see it as a lovely place surrounded by beautiful scenery – coast and countryside. Yet I know what you’re saying about the negative attitude of the people there. I think many ‘northern’ towns are the same in that. (I can’t speak from experience for southern areas.)

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    1. I’m sure there is an element of familiarity breeding contempt. As I get older I am starting to appreciate my hometown more. I know I am very lucky to be where I’m from. Relatively speaking there is lots going on. However I know it’s not where I want to stay.

      And thank you for watching my video! Yes, the negative attitudes is probably where the stereotype of the ‘grim up north’ came from. I challenged myself to make the place look as picturesque and calm as possible, but I could have just as easily (if not even easier) made it look gritty and miserable. I focused on the coastal parts and places far removed from the city centre. I think that is an unintentional metaphor for me being on the outskirts of society looking in.

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  4. This video was heartbreakingly beautiful. I too, hail from a picturesque town that I had to get away from. Was the soundtrack Explosions In The Sky? This band formed in a town that’s just up the road from my hometown.

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    1. Thank you, I appreciate you saying so! I was unsure about the finished product but it seems to be getting positive responses. The background music was by a band called Young Collective. The song was ‘Ameri Can I’. It like its calm build up.

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  5. To me, Mr Lennon was onto something when he wrote: “they hate you if you’re clever, and they despise a fool”. We are somewhat encouraged to be ambiguous, live our lives on our own terms, and do something outside of the norm, but when we try, some are ready to put us down and say things such as “you’re not a team player”, “heartless”, “snob” (that last one is from experience). I understand what you mean about being an outsider and detached. My home city gives me that impression quite regularly (I am a Southerner below Gloucester). It strange to walk round your home city or town and get the impression that you’re an alien living amongst people with a different mindset (especially if you do not follow the crowd or participate in the “normal” activities of a young person). Also, it is odd how (as an outsider to your home city) I thought it looked picturesque and calm. Although what you filmed did seem far removed from the city centre and does indicate how you feel about being on the outside and looking in rather be in the thick of it.

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    1. I think this is my favourite comment I have ever received on the internet! You articulated issues that are always rattling around my head. Like you say, I feel I grew up with people saying you can do anything yet whenever I express ambition or ideas that deviate from the “norm” I get put down. I always worry about coming across as a “snob” because I don’t want to go down the same path as everyone else where I’m from. I think it’s a common feeling people get from growing up in English towns. And that John Lennon quote sums it up perfectly! I just updated the post with that in the heading.

      And thank you for watching my video! I challenged myself to make it look as picturesque and calm as possible, but I could have just as easily (if not even easier) made it look gritty and miserable. I focused a lot on the outskirts and coastal parts of the city rather than the industrial parts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Kudos to you for getting out of your hometown to travel. It’s great that you were able to find some positive thoughts in your journey. Your hometown has some beautiful areas. I have also experienced the same kind of thoughts with returning back to my hometown after traveling abroad for so long. You just have to find what makes you tick. Stay positive and keep traveling it makes you see such a different perspective on life. -Lilly

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    1. Hi Lilly,
      It has some beautiful areas, but it also has some not so beautiful too I could have easily made it look awful. And I completely agree. Travelling has taught me more than 22 years of formal education ever could!
      I really enjoy your blog posts. Keep it up!
      Kristian

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  7. I can’t tell you how much I relate to this post. I’m from a small market town in Shropshire, but asides from that difference the attitude of the people you describe is very similar here. I’ve lived away for a short while but came back. Since I came back though I have had a slightly different perspective, like I can appreciate some of the better parts of this town (like you are trying to do with Sunderland). I still want to leave though, because I’m convinced there’s little here for me in the long term.

    I know many people hold a similar attitude about their home town. The only exceptions seem to be people from London – they always seem to love being from London! I guess because it’s the capital city, in theory it should be the best place to live – maybe that’s their attitude? The only way ‘up’ then is out of the country!

    Great post by the way. You’ve inspired me to try to write about my own home town for a future blog post!

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    1. I’m glad you can empathise! I think it’s a common feeling a lot of people have growing up in small British towns. But I always worry I am just too romantic about other places. A sort of grass is always greener attitude.

      And you’re right about London. I was thinking about places like London and New York the other day. People always complain about how dirty, overcrowded and loud they are but they always love it. It’s easier to romanticise them. Why can’t I feel that way about Sunderland??

      Good luck with your hometown post! I’d love to read it.

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  8. A great read. However, I would argue that where you’re from most definitely DOES define you as a person…not in its entirety of course and there are other factors – but I certainly feel molded by my upbringing and that is an offshot of where I’m from. Certain attitudes I have still linger for better or for worse…and they are most definitely Sunderland attitudes.

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    1. Hmm, maybe. I don’t believe Sunderland defines me as a person. It certainly played a huge part in moulding my core values and character. How could it not? But I really think a person can change and move beyond their upbringing. But I think we are arguing the same thing here.
      I don’t know, it’s a tough one.

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      1. What is a person if not their core values and character? I’m arguing for arguing’s sake it seems, but it’s quite accidental. But the miserable tone, but escape into humour, a dour outlook with a glimmer of hope…coupled with the fact I can’t see a bicycle unlocked without suspecting it will be stolen at any given time – all things inherited from Sunderland.

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  9. I thought that John Lennon quote was very powerful too – it reminded me of my experience at school, which I’m sure is common to a lot of people – if you did well at school you were ridiculed, called a “geek” or a “swot”, if you did poorly you were called “stupid” or a “retard” (sorry, but it was the 90’s). It’s easy to dismiss that kind of behaviour as petty jealousy, but I also think it acts as a comfort blanket.

    I come from a Yorkshire family who are very stuck in their ways. When I’ve expressed an interest in travelling or pursuing a career that is ‘out of the ordinary’, they’ve tried to put me off, told me it’s not worth doing, not possible, or that I’m not capable. They’ve lived in the same village in the same suburbs of the same town for their entire lives, so they don’t want to hear that there might be something better going on elsewhere. It’s painful to admit that they’ve missed out on things or might’ve made a mistake by never exploring other options. If they can convince other people to stay in the same place and live the same way that they have (whether by hook or by crook) they will feel reassured that they’ve done the right thing.

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  10. Your train of thought was not lost; it took a little detour. I love your posts, coz I bet they make connections with a lot of people and make this blog feels real. I get how you feel as I myself have always found my mind wandering to another distant town across oceans, away from my own. Major salute to you for being you regardless of what people expect of you!

    As for me, I love my hometown but I have a vague suspicion that my love for it is out of familiarity. I am not one to want settle and stick to one place for a long period of time (then again, I am only 22 years old). I would love to set sail overseas and do something there for a few years, however I have no choice. I need to stay right where I am due to my studies/job. Nonetheless, I am pretty determined to build a life somewhere away from my home for a while and come back a better me.

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  11. Perhaps what you see is all true, perhaps it’s not. The only thing to remember is that the truth does not matter. If you approach people’s attitudes and worries with love, you will find that no matter what anyone says, your motivation will never shut down. Loved your video btw and the beach looked amazing. I wish I lived near water. My hometown is far far away but I wouldn’t say I love it or resent it. It’s a place I can always go back to and that alone is enough.

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