Monday, 18 July 2011

Bye-Bye Brockley

Hold on a moment, let’s back up a bit.

I know. I know what you’re thinking: ‘You’ve been talking about moving out of SE4 for ages now, exploring a house share here, a studio flat there and – just recently - maybe even a full sized place somewhere else entirely, all to yourself, just get on with it.’ Thing is, it’s never been as simple as anywhere, anyhow. I’ve been in Brockely ten years now and whilst and I thought it was time to get out to actually do so felt like a wrench.

‘Why?’ asked Stu as we strolled through Hyde Park back in March. ‘I mean you really like it there. Why move?’ Especially, he didn’t add, if there’s going to be all this melodrama about it.

Because. Because. Because. Why change for the sake of change? Because I’m frightened that I’m frightened of change. Because I worry that the easy choice is to stay put when sometimes it’s better to do something not because it is easy, but because it is hard. A cliché, but they’re usually true.

‘What’s wrong?’ I suspect AS may have asked a couple of years ago as I disgruntled to be round her Maida Vale flat.

‘Been in West London too long,’ I grumbled. ‘Starting to break out in hives.’
That exact exchange probably didn’t happen, but it may as well have done. After all, my feelings about West London were pretty strong. My arrogant, inversed snobbery towards somewhere so much more affluent than the South East - and, indeed, me personally – was rife. The West was an area of which my main experiences were endless traffic jams on the A40, the Westfield shopping centre inching itself together over the years, plus coked up wankers in pizza restaurants riffing off old Jim Davidson routines and then trying to pick a fight when called on it. Okay, so there had been the odd enjoyable experience, CAMRA real festivals in Earl’s Court for example, but they were the exception.

Maida Vale, for no reason other than jealously and the near-fight with the “oo, she was Jewish princess, she was” routine obsessed, vodka dieting, misogamist prick back in 2004, came to be the epicentre of my disliked West London.

But then again, I didn’t really know it, did I? I had no real call to ever go there. I was a bit too quick to judge, a bit too keen on sweeping statements when I was a younger man and so as my friendship with AS grew and we visited to the area’s drinking establishments my resentment became somewhat diluted. In one of my more absurd property plans I even considered a tiny studio flat in the area, but that idea quickly faded and so I was still a little cynical of Madia Vale and its types when I stepped into my then-new girlfriend’s road a year ago.

‘Huh, pretty,’ I muttered to myself standing on the steps of the Victorian red brick mansion block with the huge bay windows and the balconies and the heavy deep wooden black door that would stop a bomb if it had to. The mansion blocks were built for wealthy young men to enjoy London life whilst still allowing room for a man servant. It was city living whilst still being on the right side of the city for country-bound parents and senior relatives to keep an eye on them. They were an outdated type in the twenty-first century, the sort of place Bertie Wooster would have lived. But then Bertie never actually came from the time he was supposed to. PG Wodehouse knew the world he wrote was a made up version of something that had passed all too fleetingly before the real world of the twentieth century got in the way.

Still, I never envisaged someone like me even existing on the edges of such a place, but then again, perhaps I’d never thought of myself in the right way. Perhaps I’d been swallowed by a pre-conception of who I should be.

I pressed the buzzer on the gold plate and tried to look as coolly out of place as possible.

As the weeks passed something I didn’t really ever expect to happen, happened: I actually started to rather like Maida Vale and its surrounding area. Possibly even all of West London. Well, okay, let’s not be silly: At least more of it than I ever expected. The pubs are great, especially the Warrington and the Prince Alfred. Kensal Green cemetery is joyously atmospheric. Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill delightfully green. Even Willesden bus garage is kind of cool. I like the restaurants, hell, even the pizza place is okay without that twonk being there too. It’s well connected. I could walk to work in about 45 minutes, if I so chose.

Okay, so all the things I was sceptical about are true: It is part of the West London fantasy island in the middle of the city, tied to the equally swanky Notting Hill, Chelsea and Kensington so that it sometimes feels as though it’s shunning everywhere and everyone else. Most of the population are bankers or the wives of bankers or the over indulged children of bankers still discovering themselves from the safe edges of the city before, inevitably, choosing their own banking-based career. Or old money of the sort that never needed to work, but actually those people make it sort of, well, nice, I guess.

Not particularly cool, and certainly not edgey, but nice in an easy to live there way (provided you can block out the occasional baying laugh). Life seems to drop down a gear, perhaps only because you sub-consciously know it won’t take an hour to get wherever it was you wanted to go or maybe because the expectation that whoever you’re meeting will wait for you. That probably rubbed off the guy next up in the bar. They’ll wait for him. He’s paying.

What can I say? It all got slightly Brideshead Revisited.

In early May we sat under the sunshine, amongst the ruins of a German castle. All around the Ruhr valley stretched its bleary Sunday morning way down from the hillock. There was no-one else around save for the view and I watched my reflection in her sunglasses which reflected her in mine.

‘Have you got a hang-over?’ she asked, letting go of my hand. ‘You feel clammy.’

‘No,’ I looked away for a moment and rubbed my palms together. She was right, they where slightly sticky. ‘I’m just nervous.’

‘Nervous? Why are you nervous?’

And so I asked her.

And then a few weeks later (because, sorry, but that’s how my brain works), I started thinking that’d there would be a blog in this. And that I’d call in Bye-Bye Brockley. That it would be a farewell because, I mean, I just presumed we’d move towards her. My girlfriend is West London through and through. She grew up there whilst I only ever moved to South East London. I’m a convert not a lifer. Her claim was greater than mine and besides, like I said, I’d been talking for years about moving ont. This was the perfect opportunity.

(Not that any of this was the reason I’d suggested we’d move in together, but it was a fortunate by-product. The reason was something around love and so-on which I won’t bore you with.)

What I hadn’t counted on was that Brockley had got its charming hooks into her too. ‘It’s so pretty and leafy and the parks are nice and Mr Lawrence’s is great,’ she enthused. ‘And we’ll get so much more for our money in the South-East. We might even get a garden!’

Non-Londoners might not appreciate that people will kill their children for an affordable garden in Zone 2. We nominally extend the search to include Peckham Rye and East Dulwich, but Brockley always seemed to be most likely to yield the best deal and she does like a bargain, does my girlfriend.

And so after all of the frustration of flats one through thirteen and the dozens we didn’t even see because people seemed happy to rent somewhere without even visiting the bloody place, we were excited to have finally found somewhere which perfectly matched our expectations.

‘It is a long way to cycle for work,’ my girlfriend said after we’d paid the deposit.

True, I thought, but her current route along the canals of Little Venice and through Hyde Park as it comes awake is kind of insanely quick and picturesque, isn’t it?

Still, everything seemed to be pretty much perfect until this happened:
She placed her hands on my biceps, looked into my eyes and said: ‘I need to talk to you. So, you know how we’ve found a flat? Well, something’s come up.’

To be continued…

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