Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, by 'eck!

A couple of weeks ago the Yorkshireman and I headed back to his homeland to pay a visit to his family. It's always a bit strange for me when we head over to Yorkshire because, although I don't hail from the part of the world, I did live there for two years, so it oddly feels simultaneously like home and yet not home. I still remember the bus routes and the shops and the places we lived and worked and spent time as if it were yesterday.

For the most part everything always seems to stay pretty much the same, but every time we visit something small has inevitably changed that removes a little bit more of the familiarity. It might only be a new café opening or an old shop shutting down, but there's usually something that wee bit different about the place. Whilst there's always comfort in the familiar, I must admit I do enjoy seeing the changes too. After all if everything stayed the same, the place would be stuck in somewhat of a rut, and I like to have new places to explore when I come and visit.

This time one of the changes brought me a bit of a "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" moment. You see, I used to work in the customer services team at the British Gas call centre in Leeds. It's a big, horrible, grey, old tower block of a building, which you can see if you crane your neck to the left when you go round Eastgate roundabout down beside the West Yorkshire Playhouse Theatre and the bus centre.

I hated working there with a vengeance. It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd just been allowed to actually, y'know, provide good customer service and actually help people, but with call times and stats and sales targets (sales targets! I ask you! "Hi I'm calling to complain about my outrageous gas bill" - "Nowt I can do about that I'm afraid sir but while you're on the phone would you like to give us some more money by any chance..?"), it was just a horrible place to work.

When I left back in 2005, they were telling us about this wonderful, new, state-of-the-art call centre we would all be moving to eventually, but I had no plans to stick around long enough to see it. Thankfully it wasn't too long before I left and got a really brilliant job that I loved instead, but going past that building and seeing the British Gas sign at the top always gave me the heebie jeebies.

However it seems that their plans for relocation did indeed go ahead after my departure because, as I took a masochistic glance at the horrible old tower block on this visit, I noticed the British Gas sign is now gone and it just looks like any other old, grey, manky building. I'm sure the poor souls of the British Gas call centre staff have been tortured elsewhere in Leeds for quite some time now, but it was the first time I noticed the sign missing and it gave me great satisfaction to imagine those awful, out-dated, open-plan call centre rooms now empty and powerless to crush the gentle spirits of any more employees.

We also happened to end up paying an inadvertent visit to the area the Yorkshireman and I lived in Bradford. That was another hell-hole, with drug-dealers outside our window, playing heavy-bass music until the wee small hours and the police unwilling to come and escort them out of the (supposedly private) car park. The day before we moved out I had to give a statement to the police about a couple of youths who had hidden some stolen goods behind the wall of our flats and, I kid you not, while they were there taking my statement, they witnessed another attempted break-in across the road! I'm telling you, people who think that Belfast is a dangerous place to live should stay in Bradford for a while - there's no comparison!

Yes, the day the van packed with all our worldly goods rolled out of that road, we vowed we would never return. Unfortunately for us the route from the Yorkshireman's dad's house to his sister's house passes through an all-too-familiar area that made us both visibly wince, even though we just about managed to avoid the top of our old road. The area didn't seem to have changed that much though. The laundrette had closed down and there were a few more takeaways but generally it was the same. Again I had no sense of nostalgia or loss - just pure unbridled relief that we got out when we did.

Luckily the rest of our visit to Yorkshire wasn't quite so harrowing - it was positively pleasurable in fact. We got to play at being local tourists, which I always enjoy doing and which I will write about next, and we enjoyed spending time with our family. Not to mention playing with the Yorkshireman's dad's new kittens, which were insane and made for hours of entertainment. I hope it's not too long before our next visit, but I really want the in-laws to come and visit us next so they can see what changes Belfast has undergone. The last time they were here half of the city centre was being dug up, so I just really want to show off our wonderful little city now that it's all shiny and new. Better get booking those flights, family peeps, or else!

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