Later this year we’re moving to Leeds. Or in my case, back to Leeds. It’s where I began, so, the best part of 40 years after leaving, I’m completing the circle. Of course, it’s a very different city to the one I left on January 3, 1976. Back then it still had one foot resolutely in the 1950s. Now it’s a shiny beast with its face turned to the future.
I write about Leeds, even though I haven’t lived there in a long, long time. Of course, I’m there often these days, and not just for house hunting. Even when living abroad I went back quite regularly to see my parents and spend time in the place. It’s somewhere I know in my bones and over the years I’ve come to understand how much it’s a part of me. It never seemed liked that back when I was a teenager. I couldn’t wait to get away, first to Birmingham, then to America, to discover those new frontiers. And even when I lived there, I never really explored the place. I didn’t have a car, my friends lived close by. Beyond the city centre and where I lived (Chapel Allerton, Hyde Park, Headingley) there was no need to go further – and I didn’t have the curiosity.
My love affair with Leeds began when I was living in Seattle. Always a history buff, on a visit home – home! – I picked up a history of Leeds and was fascinated by what I read. That led me to more books – thank you eBay and retailers of the Internet – and more hunting around on my trips home.
Home – because that was what it was just beginning to feel like. But when I came back to England I didn’t move there. My mother was still alive and to live pretty close to her when I was in my fifties just seemed wrong. I’d go far more regularly than before, though. And along the way, I started writing novels that were set in Leeds.
That was when I began to understand just how deep Leeds was within me. I felt it in a way I could never quite feel anywhere else. Some part of me loved Leeds. That seemed odd. As someone who’d grown up in England but essentially come of age in America I’d seen myself as a permanent outsider, a man without a country. I was still that – I’m no patriotic Englishman, by any means – but I had a loyalty to place, somewhere that meant something to me.
And the more I’ve delved into Leeds history, the deeper the city’s claws have entered me and the greater the desire to return has grown. I’ve been away, I’ve experienced other cultures, I’ve had my horizons widened in a way that would never have happened otherwise. But it’s time. Last year, when I half-jokingly suggested to my partner that we move to Leeds, the idea took root with her, too (her daughter’s lived there for 12 years). So this summer the house goes on the market and that idle glancing at houses will take on a more desperate, darker tinge.
We all love Leeds – of course we do! – and I’m ready to go home.