Moving Home

Coming home I feel like I,
Designed these buildings I walk by

Guy Garvey (Elbow) – Station Approach

When I finally left Dumbarton, the town I grew up in, a place that holds more memories for me than any other, I never looked back. I’d long since felt like I’d outgrown the increasingly claustrophobic small town feel that is common when you live in a place where more people seem to accept they will stay than those that try to leave. The move away was one of necessity (I’d gotten a job in England) but it felt timely as I was still in my early twenties, newly married, and ready to see more of the world.

The world is a big place, but I did get as far as Aylesbury for a couple of tumultuous years and Dumbarton remained a place regularly visited to see family members a couple of times a year.

Scotland eventually dragged me back and I spent a few years in Hamilton, before a divorce pushed me to move to the West End of Glasgow, a place I finally felt at home in, even if I did move three times within the G11/G12 post code!

Now I’m a husband again and a happy father and, as seems to be the story arc of such things, I’ve just finished moving back to Dumbarton, which is both my and Becca’s hometown.

In the lead up to the move I was feeling decidedly odd about it, something wasn’t sitting quite right in my (admittedly sleep deprived foggy) brain.

Maybe it was because Becca grew up here too and although we’ve been chatting about our own histories and memories of this town, the age gap between us means we hadn’t crossed paths back then so there isn’t any common ground.

Maybe it was because I spent far too long deriding this town a little too harshly; the vigours of youth giving me a perceived insight to the downfalls of life in a rural town that hindsight tells me was more than a little false.

Or maybe it was because I was always so desperate to leave that coming back feels like some sort of step backwards?

Regardless, it was back to Dumbarton for us, a place we both know well and I have to admit that, putting aside all those remnants from my childhood, I find I’m looking forward to (re)discovering this place with my son. As it turns out, I find I do have more than a few fond memories of Dumbarton.

As we settle into this next chapter of our life here, I am wondering why I was so desperate to leave in the first place.

Dumbarton is, on the face of it, a fairly average town. It’s stereotypical in every sense, a dying high street, retail parks with all the usual fast food outlets and supermarkets, and few attractions of note. But it’s wonderfully positioned a short distance from Loch Lomond (the gateway to the Highlands), not far to the big city of Glasgow, it has a lovely park (with a ParkRun), and an added bonus that we are now a 10 min walk from my Mum and a short journey to my sister.

With all that in mind I’m keen to rediscover the town as I’ve not lived here for a couple of decades and I now have an inquisitive boy to show around. That will be the joy of it I think, showing Jack around all the parts of the town I enjoyed when I was a kid, exploring the Overtoun woods, playing at Levengrove Park, walks up the (Lang) Craigs and beyond, the excellent cycle path a few minutes from our door, and more.

Of course it’s hard not to compare Dumbarton to other places I’ve lived.

When I moved to the West End of Glasgow I finally felt “home”. It’s a wonderful place, a delightful mish-mash of cultures thanks to the proximity of the university and the desirable (expensive) location for those with money; Upmarket deli’s compete with basic boozers, charity shops sit alongside boutiques, the range of cuisines is extensive, and the numerous coffee shops buzz with gossip and laughter from groups of parents who’ve just dropped their kids off at school, whilst at the next table a headphone clad student is deep in study.

And my last place of residence – Bothwell – has a lovely village feel whilst still having all the desirable mod cons, was a great gateway to the surrounding area, with a local walk along the Clyde a wonderful hidden joy stumbled across when I was walking Dave one day.

Of course, such comparisons aren’t fair if only for the changes to my own circumstance these past 18 months or so.

With a new outlook on life and new requirements on where I live it became very easy to move back here. It wasn’t such a bad place to grow up after all, and Becca and I turned out ok so there is every chance it will be the same for Jack.

I always enjoyed the accessibility of the great outdoors – 30 mins one way – and the ‘big city’ – 30 mins the other – and it’s got everything you really need (although I’d kill for a good sushi place locally!), and after that the re-discovery of it is a little bit of an, admittedly nostalgia tinged, adventure!

There’s the pub I used to drink in (long since shuttered and dormant) and, across the road, that’s where the other one was (now knocked down and a foot path to a new housing association development. That’s where Woolworths was, and that big boat engine used to be in the town centre… and on and on and on.

So it turns out that those unsettling feelings that had crept into my brain weren’t driven by negativity towards this place, nor were they dredged up from my past rather, it seems, it is the familiarity and sameness that has caught me off-guard. Whilst there are a few new establishments here and there (although most have gone the way of most small local businesses recently) it still all feels the same as it ever was.

Given that one of my constant joys of having moved around so much was getting to know my local area, exploring the lanes, the local businesses, and learning how to fit in to the feel of the place, is it any wonder moving to some place I know so well was me a little off-kilter?

But I realise that perhaps it’s better this way, returning to some place familiar. I don’t need to explore it, it holds no surprises for me. Instead I can embrace the familiarity and use it to my advantage and perhaps I can start to see this town anew as I explore it all over again, through the eyes of my beautiful boy.