Where I call home: 50 moves and four countries before returning to Manchester

Our new series asks our reporters to consider whereabouts they call home – was it the place they grew up, the town they first moved to or perhaps where they are settled now?

Our reporter Pauline tells her story of being born in Manchester but moving around 50 times in four different countries.

Where is home for me?

I was born at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester and grew up in Ashton on Mersey. Since 1966 I have moved home around 50 times having lived and worked in many different places and regions in 4 countries.

Around my 60th birthday I returned to England to live in what is now Greater Manchester, Radcliffe.

Have I been lucky to travel so much? Yes.

For ten years I lived in the south of England – in Bournemouth, London and in Stratford on Avon, Shakespeare country. I’ve learnt so much about other cultures by living as a foreigner in three countries, picking up their languages – French, Dutch and German.

People are fundamentally the same. Everyone believes their country is the best to live in and that their home is the best place to live on the planet. Everywhere there are local customs which can sometimes only really be experienced as a local.

Moving to live and work in Brussels in 1976 when I was only 28, is probably the most important move in my life.

It opened my eyes wide to the opportunities both for international travel and work. Just 2 hours driving and I was in France, Germany or Holland. Learning French was fun as was discovering the superb food in a city with 5000 restaurants and at supermarkets with a wide choice of produce open till 9pm.

Experiencing in 1977 the Festival of the Holy Blood in Brugge (Bruges), which is a one drive from Brussels and is a medieval procession through the main square on Ascensions day, was fascinating to watch whilst lunching at a table in the square.

Having my bank statements in English was a plus as was my first introduction to PIN numbers; and living in a spacious flat, then the top half of a Maison de Maitre near to the centre and the local St Gilles prison was one street away.

My last move in Brussels was to a quirky small farmhouse on the outskirts, which had cherry bushes in the garden. The local brewery came and picked them and then left a crate of cherry beer on my doorstep.

In 1982 my employers moved to Holland and I lived in one of my favourite places for 8 years – Heemstede, which means homestead and is part of Haarlem. Working in Amsterdam and adjusting to a totally new culture and language, a shock after bourgeois Brussels to move to a more dour and discrete society, with less choice yet with hidden depths. The people are warm and welcoming and I made more friends with local people than in Germany or Belgium. The Haarlem area is still one of my favourite places to live, so much so that I returned there after 7 years in Düsseldorf and Limburg.

One day in 1986 I was having a chat in the Amsterdam head office with Lothar, a German colleague, and I congratulated him on how good his English was now. He said, “How can you say that you aren’t English you are Belgian”, and I realised that he only knew me since I had worked in Brussels and then I became a “European”.

My European jobs involved lots of travelling around Europe and my first trips to the USA during the 1980s. In 1987 I got married in Brussels in one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, the Town Hall in the Grand Place and our son was born in Haarlem.

Another big change in 1990 resulted in moving to Düsseldorf, working as the only non German in the European head office for a US multinational. Yet again different culture, language, cuisine and customs. The travelling continued, I was away 100 nights a year; by then we were living in a small village in Limburg on the River Maas. The shock of redundancy a second time…and then my 4 years old son saying,

“Its great you have lost your job, now we can have breakfast together”

Carnival/Karneval in Dusseldorf is special. It starts on the 11th November and lasts till Shrove Tuesday with the big Rosenmontag parade. For one day the women are in charge in offices and symbolically cut the men’s ties and no work is done after 11. In Limburg there are various twists on these festivities, the dialects in both countries are a Dutch/German mix. Everyone joins in, in fancy dress and drinks a lot.

Starting my own business at 46 was another shift, then back to Haarlem – divorce and coming out as Pauline, being a single parent to my son in his teenage years.

My life has involved many changes – home, language, work and gender. Sometimes its been very tough other times have been full of fun; the trick is to enjoy the ups and smile. Always smile.

The one constant is my home, the place I live. I always found the best way to enjoy a place with all my moves is to find what is good locally, never complain about a place and its people. Enjoying local things like Sint Maarten, Belgian beer, chocolates and food, Dutch gezelligheid and German Christmas markets make life pleasurable.

Wherever I have lived people are friendly and have a sense of humour and have made me welcome and its wonderful how if you smile people smile back.

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