CONNECTICUT DAYS : Sticking up for life in stuck-up suburbia

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The Independent Online
Bill is a Master of the Universe, that strain of humankind described by Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities that has evolved for one purpose only: to make mega-bucks on Wall Street. He catches the 5.57am each morning and returns home at around 10pm. That is the way it has to be, he says, because he is "waging a war" in Manhattan every day. A war for millions.

We are at a gathering of the "Greenwich Newcomers Club" and I am beginning to wonder whether Bill, with his suspiciously stretched features and disarming candour, is a plant - hired by our friends back in Washington who had pleaded with us so passionately not to move here. "Live where you like when you go to New York, but at all costs don't go to Greenwich," they said when we first announced we were leaving. "It is where the Republicans live."

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that this is where we would end up. Not only are we here but, after some hesitation, we have even succumbed to the Newcomers Club. (Thirty dollars for the evening, bring your own grilled-crab hors d'oeuvre). My wife has been approached by another group calling itself "Daughters of the Empire". It seems it is not done to live in Greenwich, be British and not be a Daughter. Judy, though, is demurring.

It is all rather embarrassing. I wish people in New York would not keep asking the inevitable question: where are you living? I want to say, "We found this wonderful loft in SoHo," but have to confess to renting in Greenwich. No, not the Village, but Connecticut - from where I must make the 30-mile commute along the north shore of Long Island Sound. Then I get that withering look. Not only are you in suburbia, but you're in stuck-up suburbia.

If you wondered if America can manage to be stuck up, come and experience Greenwich. I would suggest dropping by Hay Day, a modest food store on the Post Road that by accident we wandered into on our first day. Two things before we even got in the door: instead of the usual metal carts outside, there was only a pile of wicker baskets. I assumed they were for sale, until Judy realised they were for putting the food in. Next to the baskets was firewood: little bundles with eight logs each, all perfect rounds of silver birch, bark unscratched, tied together with red ribbons. For burning.

From Hay Day, you might visit one of the very chic little coffee shops in Old Greenwich, where the Mistresses of the Universe - ("We live in Greenwich so we can dump the wives here. They love it." That's Bill speaking again) - seem to reside with their beloved little ones in tartan and velvet. Or just order a home- delivery pizza. Our pizza man drives a new Volvo.

Or take a spin in the "back-country" - the inland areas of Greenwich where the really big houses are. It is not just the Englishman who likes his castle. Here are castles, and mansions and palaces (even one ludicrous mock-White House with fountains spurting forth from the snowdrifts) spread about on 10-acre lots in rolling countryside. Residents include Diana Ross and Victor Borge. Michael Jackson is said to be castle-hunting.

Finally there are the beaches. Two are on an island in the middle of the Sound and another on Greenwich Point, a peninsula of parkland with a dazzling view of Manhattan, its skyscrapers seemingly floating on the ocean's meniscus. As you would expect, though, these are facilities strictly for Greenwich residents. A watch-tower guards the entrance to Greenwich Point, from where guards can machine-gun intruders and lost Democrats.

There was a profile in the New York Times recently of one local woman who has dealt with the stigma of being a Greenwich resident by launching a career as a stand-up comedian and drawing on the town and its folk for her material. "Better peel off your Clinton-Gore bumper stickers before you come to Greenwich, or your car will be pelted with Martinis." That kind of thing.

I think we will survive the opprobrium. Greenwich, in the end, was where we found a house we liked, where police cars don't bark orders at you in the street (they do in Manhattan) and where the schools are excellent and free.

Bet all our friends in lofts will be wanting to come and visit in the summer when it is hot. We are allowed seven guests on the beach every day.