Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Facebook fancy or real life?

“My name is Jackie and I’m a social network addict”. A few days ago I found myself aimlessly Facebook–stalking London Daughter’s ex–boyfriend. So, it’s a fair cop, and I need to get a grip or get to Social Networks Anonymous.

When we left London and moved to Berwick just over a year ago, I signed up to Facebook as a way of staying in touch with London Friends. In fact many London Friends have washed up on the shores of the Tweed at some point or other during the past year which has been brilliant. But that hasn’t stopped my daily need to check out what’s going on in everybody’s parallel cyber world. That’s the world of status posts, photos, YouTube clips of ‘Charlie bit my finger’, homemade videos of family members doing voiceovers to Justin Bieber songs, and discovering that Niece Number One’s ex–boyfriend is off to Zambia…

Previously I’d avoided Facebook like the plague. I felt I saw enough of scantily dressed young people using interesting language constructions without having to look at them on my computer. But now I’ve started, I just can’t stop. And I’ve been surprised at how many people around my age are as active as I am in letting the world know what they’re up to, where they’re doing it, and who they’re doing it with.

On Facebook you gather friends and frivolous information like children pick up nits. In fact, on a recent flying visit to London for a friend’s 50th, my tireless social networking had pretty much negated the need for smalltalk.

And there’s the rub. Relationships are built on spending time together and having meaningful conversations as well as playful ones. I notice that I’m beginning to know more about the real lives of Berwick Friends than I am about those of London Friends. We may exchange flippant comments on Facebook but we also grab a coffee at Café Curio or a glass of wine at The Maltings Bar. We discuss our parents, our children, our anxieties and frustrations. It’s the chunky real deal of life as well as the bite–sized snippets.

The 10–Year–Old longs a little less for her best friend in London as her daily ups and downs with Berwick friends preoccupy her more. Even The Husband has found time to hook up with a few northern Silvery Haired Old Gentlemen and mumble about property prices and shooting pheasants over a pint at The Barrels.

Of course, the more we relinquish London commitments, the more we engage in Berwick projects. The Husband’s now on the board of the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, The 10–Year–Old looks set to appear in Berwick Operatic Society’s Annie next March. And, rather startlingly, I seem to be in a play at The Maltings in December – We Happy Few – see you in the bar afterwards?

We Happy Few

Oh, but it’s scary! The truth is that for the last year we have kept our house in London. London Daughter has been living there with three other Twenty Somethings (seemed like a good idea at the time!) – it’s been our boarding house on London visits. Once it’s sold, we will be at the mercy of London Friends. Soon my Facebook status will read, ‘Can anyone put The Husband, 10–Year–Old and Little Old Me up for a few days?’ Will a stony cyber silence greet my plea?

And, without the London security blanket, will we still love Berwick as much? Will that mad impulse that made us buy a house here on a post–holiday whim still seem like the product of adventurous spirits or the outworking of borderline insanity?

It’s one thing pontificating about all the issues and ideas that strike one when one is a newcomer to a place; but quite another really living with them and really engaging with them. So here’s to Berwick – more than just a Facebook Friend…I hope.

A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser on 1st December 2011

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