Monthly Archives: October 2011

The friendliness of village life


Though small and unfathomably old (the pub dates back to 1450, the church to 1100), this isn’t one of those villages where you need three generations in the churchyard before you’re considered a local. In fact it’s reassuringly full of DFLs, as we’re known (Down From Londoners). Fortunately they’re all very friendly, in the way that you are when you haven’t a large pool of friends to choose from.

Next door (moved down from Battersea last year) turned up to welcome us bearing homemade malt loaf. I was impressed, not least because I didn’t know malt loaf could be homemade, having just assumed it always came in those little packets with the grapes on from Sainsbury’s. I also like that people turn up without calling first, which no one ever does in London.

Having a dog and small child helps on the meeting-people front, though meeting so many at once has its drawbacks. The woman who runs the toddler group keeps getting my name wrong, which I now know is something you need to nip in the bud immediately. Through a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I didn’t, and now it’s too late and is going to look really weird when I pluck up the courage to tell her that my name isn’t Anna.

Anyway, it’s as well people are friendly, because apparently we’ll be snowed in with them for the best part of the winter. Which isn’t something you appreciate when you’re smugly contemplating how nice it is to be away from the main road. So next time you’re driving through one of those villages on an A road, thinking, ‘This village would be so pretty if it wasn’t bang in the middle of this massive A road,’ remember that they’re the lucky ones, the people who, come January, will be considered worthy of gritting. Meanwhile we will rot here, with all-night Whistlestops and other walkable amenities but a distant memory.

** Am now feeling enormously guilty because about 45 kids and their parents have turned up to trick-or-treat, rendering my single family bags of KitKats and Maltesers woefully inadequate. I had no idea there’d be so many of them – it’s the first time I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. They don’t come to Shoreditch; or if they do, you don’t want to open your door.

Actually, the reason I’m feeling so bad is that I’d eaten half the Maltesers before any trick-or-treaters even arrived.

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Bored at work?

Check out this ad for Google Analytics, which Misha directed and I co-wrote:

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How to stay married

You’re not supposed to buy books for their cover, but this one I did. Or, more specifically, for that typeface. Plus, as I’ve said before, I’ve a soft spot for posh women hectoring me about how to live.

It’s rare to be a raging Sloane and popular with the masses, but women of my generation love Jilly Cooper, who comes across as so cheerful and such a laugh. Having lapped up Riders at school, I’d also bought her last novel, Jump, its sequel. I’d hoped for a rollicking read but found I couldn’t finish it. While I’d expected trashy and light, what I hadn’t anticipated was boring. I think she’s been hanging with Camilla at Highgrove too much and may have (whisper it) lost touch with her audience. As another disappointed friend put it, ‘There’s only so much I can read about horse racing before I want to tear out my eyes.’ There wasn’t even much sex, except for a weird rapey bit.

But How To Stay Married isn’t boring, even if it was clearly written in about 25 minutes. It’s a short, entertaining insight into social mores of the time, offering a peek into what life was like for young married women (upper-middle-class ones, admittedly) in 1969. Working was fine – expected, even – but still Jilly advises coming to an arrangement with your boss and working 8.30am-4.30pm, allowing you to go home and do the housework before your husband gets in. ‘No wife has the right to go to seed,’ she adds, continuing, ‘If a man is married to a real slut, who constantly keeps the house in a mess and serves up vile food, he has every right to complain.’

To be fair, she acknowledges the silliness – or rather, massive double-standards – of all this in the introduction, confessing that the only bit of text she amended was the line, ‘If a wife refuses her husband sex more than two days running then she only has herself to blame if he’s unfaithful.’ But I love that she’s resisted editing it, because it’s the details – the casual attitudes towards chain-smoking, infidelity and lashings of double cream – that reveal how much the world has changed.

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Country creepy crawlies

No one told me about the insects.

It turns out country houses are full of them. We arrived to find the aftermath of World War Woodlouse in the kitchen, their corpses strewn everywhere, the remaining survivors cowering in corners or fleeing for refuge under the stairs. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to says, ‘Oh, they’re perfectly harmless, they don’t carry disease or anything.’ Like that’s the point.

Meanwhile there’s a great chunk missing from the back door, where something has tried to force its way in. I kid you not – look:

‘Probably a fox or badger,’ the estate agent said breezily. Now we were no strangers to foxes in Shoreditch. But at no point did they try and force their way into my flat.

But worst of all are the spiders. Or should I say this particular beast, which has been staring at me through the living-room window since we got here. Never trust a spider with skeletal markings, I say. Or a belly that fat:

Ugh. I’d evict the fucker, but I also like knowing where it is. But they’re everywhere, too, the spiders. We’re massively outnumbered. On opening the pantry door, my first reaction (well, second – after, ‘Ooh! A pantry!’) was, ‘It’s a spider house. Nice.’

People talk of being ‘close to nature’ as if this is a good thing. When we were in Shoreditch, people from less urban climes would make slightly sneery comments about the lack of wildlife. But we had wood pigeons and squirrels and blue tits and surely that’s enough? You want more, go to a petting zoo. But the difference with urban wildlife is that it respects boundaries. I’m not sure I saw a spider in the 12 years I was in Shoreditch. And definitely, definitely never a woodlouse. And you know what? That was just fine.

On the plus side, the garden is nice. Lots of this sort of thing:

It’s an upgrade from the scrap of decking we had before.

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From Shoreditch to Sussex

And so we’ve moved. Hence the radio silence. Well, that and a rotten cold. But I won’t bore you with that, the only thing more boring than other people’s illnesses being other people’s dreams.

So moving, yes. It was two weeks from making the decision to move to being in the new place, which I think is some sort of record. Is that a record? I dunno, it’s been so long since I last moved maybe these days that’s average, but it feels pretty bloody quick to me.

The new place is a five-bed, 18th-century lodge nestled in a South Downs village, which, hilariously, is about £400 a month cheaper than our 700sq ft, one-bed flat in Shoreditch. It’s a big change, obviously (no streetlights, nothing open on Sundays, and the silence is deafening), but I’m throwing myself into country life, to the point of making apple crumble with fruit picked from the garden (I know, I know). That said, I’ve a horrible feeling I’m simply playing out a role, like Madonna in her lady-of-the-manor phase. I told Misha that I was looking forward to my inappropriate-toyboy phase, but he didn’t find it very funny.

On Sunday I took Emilio to the Apple Festival (more apples – I think this is what they mean by embracing the seasons.) This was better than it sounds, with a fairground and petting zoo alongside the morris dancers and cider/hog-roast stands, and an impressive turnout thanks to the nice weather. It was all a bit Birkenstock, as these things are wont to be, but I particularly liked Mouse Town, an olde-worlde shopping street populated by mice:

The place was chock-full of Boden children, barefoot and facepainted. I know this was when I was supposed to feel all smug for taking my son from the polluted urban jungle and bringing him to this green, wholesome place, but instead I kept worrying that he won’t grow up to be an urban sophisticate, but some earnest, fleece-wearing type, who thinks Brighton’s a big city and juggling an acceptable career choice.

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An Edwardian clothes pulley

We’re letting (rather than selling) the flat, so the past few days have been taken up with viewings. These are no fun, because a) keeping the flat immaculate is such a ball-ache, and b) the process basically involves inviting in a bunch of strangers to judge your belongings. As the world’s worst saleswoman, I tend to follow them round the flat, apologising for everything and pointing out flaws they might otherwise not have noticed.

One recent purchase people do seem to like, however, is the Edwardian clothes airer we fitted in the bathroom. I’m pretty pleased with this too, and would recommend one to any of you who live in flats where space is limited and Nazi management companies don’t let you hang laundry outside. Fitting it was a shag*, but I like that I’m not falling over the old fold-gate clothes airer any more.

You can buy one here www.pulleymaid.com/ for £39.99.

*I should mention here that I played no part whatsoever in fitting it. I went out for the day and returned to find it done, but I hear that fitting it was a shag.

** These are really terrible photos I’m supplying, aren’t they? Sorry. Must sort out a proper camera.

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Things to miss about Shoreditch pt.2

Now that we’re leaving the area, naturally I’m dwelling on all the things I like about it: the narrow, Dickensian streets, the Barbican, the coffee stand in Fortune St park run by the nice Aussie bloke and the girl I thought was a Kiwi but who turned out to be a Geordie (such is my ear for accents).

And, as always with East London, there are new places popping up all the time. On Saturday I checked out Story Deli in Redchurch Street, which has relocated from its old premises off Brick Lane. Run by a former Vogue stylist and her husband, it serves what are hands-down London’s best pizzas (way better than Pizza East, or that place in Brixton everyone bangs on about). At £15 apiece, they’re also its most expensive, mind you. I was quite huffy about the price until I tried one:

The shit iPhone picture isn’t really doing it justice. They’re also massive – we found that one between us was plenty.

Despite the ELLE Deco décor, it’s the most child-friendly eaterie I’ve been to in a long time (ever?) thanks to one ingenious touch… A box of Brio. The owners have left one in a corner, meaning that my two-year-old – the kid who would have been shouting/running around/generally pissing you off – was silently engrossed in trains for the duration of our meal. Heaven. If only all café owners would do the same.

I’m going to miss the people here, too. When we were set to move to Battersea, I was slating South West Londoners (for being thickie minor-public-schoolkids with an inflated sense of importance, penchant for spotty Emma Bridgewater crockery, etc), when my friend gently pointed out that there were some people who thought that Shoreditch, too, was chock-full of idiots. Oops, point taken. If you haven’t seen this already, it sums them up far better than I ever could:

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