There’s a certain rhythm to your hometown. We’re back home almost a year and that familiarity somehow throws a reassuring arm around you.
It’s the wee things. It’s wholly rare that I walk Paddy of a morning and don’t nod the head or say “how you doin’…” to a familiar face along the way. You’ll never drive to the shops without raising a hand off the wheel to wave to a friend or neighbour.
Faces that go back a lifetime or a reconnection to people who have always been in Newcastle, it’s just you have returned after 20-plus years of roaming.
That roaming took this ginger to the bright lights of Dublin and Edinburgh for 15 years, or a whole of life experience crammed into four years at Stirling University.
And that’s not counting the most recent chapter where Gill and I played tug of war across the Irish Sea before the boss inevitably prevailed and we settled in the village of Loans outside Troon for five life-changing years.
The nomadic existence can be both exhilarating and utterly frustrating. There’s a freedom to plotting your own course. Break the mould a little, go wherever it takes you.
The flip side is the grass was always greener for me – a suppressed home bird. Lifelong pals ploughing enviable furrows in the shadow of the Mournes. The simple envy of the lads pegging it up for a game of golf every Sunday and talking nonsense as they make their way round the hallowed turf of RCD.
And the nights out, the banter, the camaraderie, that gets put on the long finger, it can’t be done from afar.
Family time inevitably gets compromised too. You can’t break bread together from several hundred miles away. This was key in the decision to move back home. Our time is now. This much we know.
We’re lucky to have slotted into a great street. Doors are open, friendly faces, kids playing till the sun goes down. Conor will be just fine here.
Truth is, that green grass can be deceptive. Those dreamed up idylls are few and far between. Our run has moved onto a new chapter; pints and parties made way for nappies and nights in. It’s all part of the journey and it’s to be embraced.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. History repeats, generations follow one another.
Like I said, the simple things. I get an inner glow on the odd Friday nights I take my nephews to Donard Park for their football before dandering round to nana and granda’s for a bite to eat or a cold beer.
Standing at the side of the pitches affords a glance up the forest and beyond to Slieve Donard. On a long summer’s evening, it’s a sight to behold.
It’s easy to forget what’s on our doorstep sometimes. Mountains, forests, beaches, countryside…we really are spoiled.
A glance around the pitches and without fail you pick out a familiar face, a face you once played ball with in the same park a generation ago. As childhood play parks go, there are few better than Newcastle – of course, I’m biased.
Would I have altered the compass? Not a bit. If I had I wouldn’t have the lifelong friends that are now scattered the length and breadth of the country.
And Scotland? Well, it has undoubtedly moulded me into what I am now. It will always be our other home. Conor’s Scottish/Irish heritage remains strong. His mum makes sure of that.
But it is here in Newcastle where we now look to bed down. If the wee guy enjoys half the childhood my brother and I did then we will have made the right choice to come home.
Whatever we have lost, there is still the comfort of home.