My first impressions of Plymouth after moving during a pandemic

Until this year I’d never heard of Covid-19, Gus Honeybun or Janners, and thought Mutley was just the giggling dog from Wacky Races.

In June I started my first job as a trainee reporter for PlymouthLive, but never expected to be working from my parents’ home miles away in the Midlands.

On the first morning of my new job, my biggest concern wasn’t how to impress my new bosses, it was trying to stop my dad walking into my virtual meetings in his pyjamas with the cat over his shoulder. My mum also seemed determined to gate crash the morning news meetings asking what I’d like for breakfast and if I’d slept OK.

I’m embarrassed to admit that before moving here, I’d only ever been through Plymouth when going on holiday to Cornwall.

Suffice to say, the first few months of my time at PlymouthLive was spent imagining Plymouth, while adapting to the new normal of hand sanitiser, masks and Zoom quizzes.

Thankfully, after four months of working on my family’s squished dining room table while balancing my laptop on my mum’s Nigella cookbooks, the easing of lockdown meant I was finally able to move to the city I’d been spending all those months writing about.

After months of working from home and hearing tales of Plympton’s Owl Man, a creepy sounding place called Devils Point and realising the Hoe is a place and not a person, I was ready to finally move to the city.

Not being a born-and-bred Plymothian like many of my colleagues, I’ve learned a lot about Britain’s Ocean City in the four months I’ve lived here, so here’s a few.

Lost in Translation

One of the most difficult things to understand when you first move to a new city are local phrases and terms of endearment – or otherwise. And when I first met my colleagues via the amazing powers of the internet, I kept hearing a word I’d never heard before – Janner.

What on earth was a Janner? Was it a swear word; an insult? Was it good to be a Janner; was I one? Or perhaps I’d misheard, was it a Jenner – a half-sister connected to the Kardashian dynasty?

After a quick Google and many wrong spellings later (Yanner? Ganner? Jenner?) I finally understood what a Janner was – although I’m still not 100% sure if it’s an insult or not.

By the time I was across the first word in the Plymouth People’s Dictionary, I was soon confused again when someone told me to ‘Geddon’. Was this short for Armageddon – was I in danger? Or was I being asked to ‘get on’ something? Again, massive shout out to Google for decoding Janner-speak.

I now realise these words are a kind of local shorthand that you pick up the longer you’ve lived somewhere.

On a similar note, when I first heard of Gus Honeybun I thought it was a tasty Plymouth delicacy. Maybe a honey-glazed pastry or choux bun made by a bloke called Gus.

But after being shown what I can only describe as haunted pictures of an unearthly, probably possessed rat-like creature, I now know he’s a regional treasure (or a Poundland Halloween combination of Sooty and Sweep…).

But I think my colleague Carl Eve covers the Plymouth legend that is Gus Honeybun far better than I ever could.

Panic on the streets of Plymouth

Even with a grey sky it's still stunning
Even with a grey sky it’s still stunning
(Image: Eve Watson)

Urine flowing through the street, cocaine sniffed from a pasty shop window ledge and NOS canisters sprinkled like sunflower seeds. No, this isn’t my Saturday night; this was my first impression of Plymouth.

Hear me out. Having written copious stories on the public urination and cocaine inhalation on the Barbican earlier this summer, I think I could be forgiven for thinking that a full bladder and a packet of Colombian Marching Powder was the essential kit for a night out on the Barbican.

Obviously, I’ve since discovered that this isn’t the case. Yes, the Barbican had some problems in the summer months, but having never been there and only reading the stories and seeing the photos, there was much I had to learn.

On my first actual visit to the Barbican a matter of weeks ago, I discovered what a magical place it is. At night, glittering lights line the street and reflect in the water, offering something more reminiscent of a warm Mediterranean holiday town than somewhere in the chilly UK.

The quirky independent shops offer a little of everything, while the restaurants here conjure up every kind of cuisine, from Greek to Italian, to good old Devon cream teas.

It’s like you’re on holiday walking down the cobbled streets and taking in the rich culture – but instead of hearing the native tongue of Spanish or Italian you’re more likely to hear, ‘Geddon, Bey!’

Two walkers enjoy Southside Street
(Image: Erin Black/Plymouth Live)

And maybe it’s because I’m from the Midlands and we don’t have the sea on our doorstep, but Plymouth is beautiful. The air smells better, the sunsets are sensational and there are pockets of culture and beauty in every corner of the city.

Walking along the Hoe with a sea breeze in my face with the backdrop of the iconic striped Smeaton Tower is something I’ll never take for granted.

And back to my original impression, I was delighted to discover that class A drugs were not in evidence – and urine isn’t a water feature flowing down the cobbled streets of the Barbican as I’d first thought.

Locked down in the city

I don't know why I'm doing that with my arms either
I don’t know why I’m doing that with my arms either
(Image: Elliot Ball)

I was asked to write 10 things I’ve learnt about Plymouth since moving here during lockdown, but I’ll be honest – I don’t think I’ve learnt that much.

The constant changes to the lockdown restrictions, and the strict tier structures in between, has meant I’ve not really been able to fully experience Plymouth in all its opened-up splendour.

Working from home in the city, I’ve made a well-trodden path to my local Co-op every day. I could tell you all about the three beers for £5 offer, and which security guard will be on shift at any time of the day.

I also know a great deal of the delivery drivers in the city now, mainly due to the sickening amount of takeaways I’ve ordered.

I see it as my duty to research every takeaway Plymouth has to offer, and I think I’m almost there. So I could happily give you the top 10 things I’ve learned about takeaways here (to be continued…) but not so much about Plymouth itself.

I can see there’s so much to enjoy when we’re out of the clutches of coronavirus.

Plymouth, like the rest of the world, has been through so much, and I can’t wait to open it up and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Plymouth Live