Pure heaven, at a price

The view from the high street Two views of life in league-leader Kingston upon Thames and bottom-of-the-list Barnsley
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The Independent Online
CHRIS BLACKHURST

One of the worst one-way systems in Britain, some of the most hideous modern office architecture, no theatre or multiplex cinema ... Kingston, on the face of it, has little to offer.

But for anyone with children, and money to burn, it has plenty: Bushy and Richmond Parks, the river Thames, Kingfisher swimming pool complete with sloping beach and wave machine, good schools and shops.

Together, they create a place that after the hell of living in London for many of Kingston's in-comers is pure heaven.

If you plunge into the middle of Richmond Park and the big planes are heading into Heathrow on a different path, and the smog is enveloping London in the distance, you can, at a pinch, imagine yourself in the middle of the open countryside.

Walk down by the river, first thing in the morning or last thing at night - better still, stop for a jar outside The Boaters in Canbury Gardens - and London, and above all, work, seem a million miles away.

Whenever Kingstonians get together - I know, it sounds horrible - one topic dominates: the schools and how good they are.

Kingston is one of those few last bastions of the old 11-plus: pass and you go to Tiffin Boys or Girls, consistently at the top of the national tree; fail and the choice is a comprehensive on the other side of town. In Kingston, the shopper is king; the poor residents are, just occasionally, made to feel second best. Whole swathes of the town were flattened to improve the road links - for us we were told; for the need to get 70,000 shoppers a Saturday to the swanky new Bentall Centre more likely.

We may not have a theatre or an art gallery but truth is, the children would rather gaze rapturously at the giant screen in the Disney store, and stop at McDonald's or Burger King on the way home. The grown-ups may wince but Kingston is made for children. The only problem is - you have to be able to afford it.

Chris Blackhurst and his family have lived in Kingston upon Thames for 11 years.

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