… and an ode to Cheltenham
About a year ago I was still living in London. But I was desperate to get away from there. Indeed, I had known I wanted to get away from there for quite some time. It was part of the reason I became a translator! My husband, too, although born and bred in London, wanted to move away from there. We just weren’t sure where we wanted to move to.
We were living on the edge of London in one of those nondescript places dominated by pound shops, charity shops and fast-food chains, and surrounded by grim housing estates from the 70s and, worst of all, a town centre redevelopment from the early 90s – a monstrous multi-storey car park that had replaced a beautiful Victorian public bath and a 30s cinema.
Mainly, we wanted to live somewhere more beautiful. Somewhere with a sense of community, where people took pride in their local area, where people cared.
And far enough from London not to be in the commuter belt – outside the range of its grip… But not completely remote either. Somewhere in a town, near shops, but with beautiful countryside on its doorstep.
Who says creative visualisation doesn’t work?
We didn’t know where that place was. But we trusted that it existed. I was trying to connect with it, somehow, on a metaphysical level, and draw it towards me – or draw myself towards it.
I worked on that for a good two years. Visualising our new home and environment – trying to picture it, fill out the details.
By 2009, we had narrowed down the general direction. We wanted to go west, not as far as Cornwall or Devon, but somewhere like Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset or Gloucestershire. Those were the four counties we had shortlisted.
My husband has been working for the same retail chain since the late 90s. He is happy and settled there as a store manager. Ideally, he wanted to stay with them and just relocate. So we were looking for a manager’s vacancy to arise somewhere in one of those four counties.
And I also have this thing about forests. I wanted to be somewhere near a forest. Not any kind of forest: it had to be beech forest. In fact, the beech forest was one of the first and clearest images I had come up with when trying to visualise our future home.
Then, in January 2010, my husband came home from work with the news that a manager’s position had come up in Cheltenham. They were looking for someone quite soon, and it would all be a bit sudden and head over heels – but, should he apply for it anyway?
Well, it sounded like an opportunity too good to miss. The opportunity we’d been waiting for for more than two years, in fact!
The perfect place
The next week he went to check it out while I did some research on Google. It looked wonderful: on the edge of the Cotswolds – one of the prettiest areas in England. A respectable-size town, just over 100,000 people, and it seemed to be brimming with civic pride. Moreover, I discovered it had some of Britain’s finest beech forests on its doorstep. We had found the perfect place! Or rather – it had found us.
On a bleak and cold day in late January I went up there to see the place for myself and get a feel for it. I discovered that, walking along the High Street, you can see the Cotswold Hills in the distance, that the people here are the friendliest people in the whole of the UK, people who smile at you as they pass you in the street, who chat to you in the supermarket queue.
There is beautiful architecture everywhere, both old and modern. There are nice cafés and great places to eat and cosy pubs with real fireplaces and real ale. Cheltenham also has some high-profile festivals and there are things going on all year round. And it has the magical beauty of the Cotswolds within a 20-minute journey from the town centre.
What I mean by ‘people who care’
As I was wandering around the town, soaking up the feel of the place, testing, tasting, trying to sense whether I would be happy here, I saw a couple coming out of their house in a small residential street near the town centre.
Just outside their house in the kerb they noticed a discarded drinks can. One lonely piece of litter in an otherwise spotless street (not like our neighbourhood in London where litter and debris was a constant fact of life).
Without hesitating for a moment they picked it up and put it in the bin. Such a simple thing. But for me this was the moment I knew we’d found our new home town.
We’ve been here for nearly a year now, and still, every day, every time we leave the flat, we feel grateful and extremely lucky to have landed in one of England’s most beautiful towns. Of all the places that could have been in need of a new Ryman’s manager, it happened to be the most perfect one.
It’s like magic. And we made it happen.
P.S. This post was inspired by Gwen Bell’s Reverb10 project in December 2010. The #reverb10 prompt was : “How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?” and was provided by Jeffrey Davis, author of The Journey from the Centre to the Page.