I’m leaving Leeds today and my emotions are far more mixed on the subject than I ever would have thought possible when I moved here eight years ago.
I came across the Pennines from Manchester where I’d lived, studied and partied hard for five years. I felt at home there and for good reason – it had been the big city in my life since even before my student days, when I spent my teenage Saturdays in Affleck’s Palace buying purple hair dye and baggy jeans that soaked the rain up to my knees.
It was the first city I sneaked, underage, into a disco night at the Ritz, back when bouncers looked the other way at the date of birth on your provisional driving licence. When I filled in my UCAS form, it was the University of Manchester at the top of my list and when I got offered a place, I couldn’t have been happier.
When I finally arrived a deferred two years later (that’s a story for another day), I knew I could handle the hurdle of permanently leaving my parents’ home a few miles down the A34 in Cheshire. And for those few years, I loved Manchester – the way the sun hit the Victorian red bricks; the sticky dives sadly no more (RIP Roadhouse); my attic flat with the Velux windows that had views over the Northern Quarter’s roofs; the bars, the history, the swagger, the accent, the music, even the rain.
So I approached moving to Leeds in 2010 kicking and screaming. My friend Amy patiently kept me company during those bleak weeks when we went back and forth on the rattling Pacers to look at depressing basement flats in Headingley. When the time came to leave for the new job I packed a van, sobbed across the M62 and moved into a (much nicer) flat on North Street with a girl I’d met on Gumtree.
The following year was a difficult one as I struggled cluelessly through my trainee reporter paces, and though I wasn’t altogether happy, I had started to try and make the best of things. I was lucky enough to have a gracious and relaxed roomie (thanks Carmen). I was introduced by a mutual bud to the positive life force that is Gemma. I reconnected with my best pal from university, Emily, who had moved to Leeds and whose support and friendship I am lucky enough to enjoy to this day. I started writing for a local blog and going to gigs, finding refuge in Nation of Shopkeepers and North Bar and spending weekends covering festivals like Live at Leeds and Constellations.
But I still hadn’t entirely warmed to the place. I spent most weekends either going back to Manchester or escaping to my best mate’s house in London. It was only when my new flatmate moved in and tweeted about our housewarming party that things took a turn for the better, because who should turn up but the man who would bowl me over by throwing a record on to the NCP from my balcony.
Ewan was (and still is) a big-time advocate for Leeds and its surroundings, and was a more than willing tour guide. We drove out to Ilkley, to Golden Acre Park and to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We went to Otley car boot on Saturdays and took in the view from the Chevin.
We picnicked in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, built snowmen in Horsforth, petted animals at Temple Newsom and visited the meerkats at Tropical World. We walked down the canal, saw the viaduct at Knaresborough, played on the beaches in Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Staines.
We ate at the Man Behind the Curtain before it got its Michelin star, got really drunk at Cosmic Slop, went to Belgrave’s opening party, consumed delicious roasts at the Adelphi and the Reliance. We drank beer in Friends of Ham when it was the size of a cupboard, saw bands in a field near Skipton, and made a home for ourselves in Burley, where we were lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from literally all our friends.
It’s only as we are leaving for Birmingham I realise how much I will miss the latter and the ease of drunkenly stumbling a few hundred yards between our houses. I’ll miss the fact that in the summer we would sit in the park together on a random Wednesday evening, or on the stoops at one of our houses, and drink cans until it got cold. And that every Christmas we would set aside a date to celebrate our own December 25 by each bringing a dish to the table.
In addition to the pals on my doorstep, I was also welcomed into the Armley fold – a warm and wonderful bunch of musicians and creatives who lived a few miles away. It meant I was doubly lucky because I had two crews to hang out with, all of them patient and funny people who taught me everything from yoga, to how to change a baby’s nappy, to how to party just that bit harder.
Our house was a gorgeous end terrace on the steep streets, with stripped floors, amazing afternoon light and views from the top room that allowed us to watch the fireworks at several different parks. Leaving the first home we made together makes me too sad to type.
Yesterday, as I walked around Leeds on my final day as a resident, I realise how much it has changed into this wonderful, creative city. Its independent scene has blossomed, to the point where it may even surpass Manchester’s.
I already know I’ll long for the food at Bundobust, the meat at Ox Club, the brunch at Layne’s and films at Hyde Park Picture House. Where I once missed the red bricks of Manchester, I will miss the bleached sandstone of Yorkshire. Also, &Other Stories. I will definitely miss that.
But the sadness I feel about leaving Leeds is different to how I felt about leaving Manchester eight years ago. The desire to start again in a new city is similarly lacking, but whereas back then I couldn’t envisage anything living up to what I had left, I know now that Birmingham will be what we make it. For Indian street food, we’ll go to Zindya; for films, The Electric. For excellent brunch, there’s a whole host of amazing looking places to try, and the Jewellery Quarter beckons. When we crave the countryside, we’ll drive to Warwickshire, or the Cotswolds.
And if it doesn’t work out, Leeds isn’t going anywhere.