Victoria Summerley: City life

'My study has a view of the street. Better still, it has venetian blinds, so I can nose while pretending to be hard at work'
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I'm always puzzled when people create a study in one of the most inhospitable parts of the house: in a corner facing a wall, perhaps, or in a small, icy bedroom looking out on to next door's drainpipes. Not all of us have the luxury of lots of space but, given a choice, I'd rather work at the kitchen table than in some spare-room Siberia.

If you need a study because you intend to spend hours and hours in it working or, indeed, studying (as opposed to somewhere to dump paperwork and books that you have no intention of looking at ever again), then it makes sense to create a space that is comfortable and warm. A view is good, too. Garden or street, it doesn't matter as long as you can extend your focus, which in my experience is good for both eyes and brain.

I'm lucky, because my study doubles as a sort of den, with a fire and a sofa. It's supposed to be the living room, but because the biggest TV in the house is in the kitchen/dining room/family room next door (switched off during mealtimes, of course), I am rarely disturbed.

The good thing about the study, however, is that it has a view of the street. Better still, it has venetian blinds (the fashionable, modern equivalent of net curtains) so that one can spend quite a lot of time nosing into other people's business while pretending (if spotted behind the slats by passers-by) to be hard at work.

By far the major activity in our rather quiet street involves parking, or the manoeuvring of vehicles in some way or other. It starts at about 8am, with the arrival of skip lorries (there's always a house with a skip) or bin and recycling lorries, closely followed by workmen in vans of various sizes (there's always a house with workmen). This is followed by the departure of neighbours to work, school or supermarket.

A brief lull is succeeded by the arrival or departure of the "squatters", the people who park their cars or vans in our street because there are no parking restrictions. They like to nip in and out when no one's around to avoid being harangued by tetchy residents. They are entitled to park in our road, of course (as they frequently point out). The residents, on the other hand, wish they wouldn't, especially if they have big motor caravans.

Some "squatters", such as Hairdresser Man, are tolerated because they are regular in habit and considerate in disposition. Hairdresser Man has a big white minibus and a motorbike. He parks the minibus while he goes off on his bike, presumably to work, then returns, parks the bike, and goes off in the minibus. We know he's a hairdresser because his bike carries a livery that proclaims, "Mobile Hairdressing" and a mobile-phone number. He is always careful not to block garage or driveway entrances, and will park alongside a garden fence rather than outside your house.

Other squatters are extremely unwelcome, such as Sawn-off Shotgun Man, a suspect in a fatal shooting, who dumped his car in a nearby street. Obviously not a criminal mastermind: he should have known better than to park it in our neck of the woods. Who needs Neighbourhood Watch when you have Venetian Blind (or, in the posher houses, Plantation Shutter) Surveillance?

Sometimes it's difficult to tell the locals from the squatters. Someone has parked a black BMW over the road from me, which has sat there for at least a year. I've never seen the owner, but every so often, they renew the road tax. This puzzles me. Why continue to pay road tax for a car you never drive? Why, indeed, continue to keep the car?

By some strange neighbourhood telepathy, I know that Mystery Beemer is a local, unlike Mystery Merc, which was parked opposite my house at the start of the year. This was a silver Mercedes estate with a very distinctive number plate, which arrived some time over the Christmas holidays. At first, I thought it had been parked there while the owner went off to Spain or Florida for a few weeks, but when it was still there in April, I took a closer look.

It had a valid tax disc and a parking permit on the windscreen for North Battersea, which I thought was odd. Why park at the other end of the borough when you could park outside your own house? Perhaps it was stolen. I rang the police. "Ooooh," said the voice at the other end when I told them the registration number. "Very interesting. V-E-R-Y interesting." I never found out what was so interesting, but by 7am the next morning, the Merc was gone.

It takes genuine concern rather than busybodiness to make me ring the police, though. Shortly after I moved in, I noticed a white Transit van had been parked opposite my house for a couple of months. Some of the local teenagers had managed to get into it and seemed to be intent on trashing it. The van had the name and number of a building company on the side, so, in an attempt to be public-spirited, I rang them and asked them whether their van had been stolen, because it was sitting outside my house being targeted by vandals.

I got a call back from the owner of the company. He lived round the corner, he informed me. The van was not in use because it needed repairing, and the "vandals" were his sons. Five years on, he still ignores me if we meet in the street.

v.summerley@independent.co.uk

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