Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

At this time of year, London estate agents have their day in the sun. (Very hot sun, in my experience.) Reviled by most of the community for most of the year – denounced at dinner parties, browbeaten at barbecues – they become, for a few weeks in June and July, local heroes. Why? It's the school fete season.

The first signs are, well, signs. They go up outside Edwardian terraces, Thirties semis and redbrick Victorian mansions. They bear the name of the sponsoring agent and details of the fete, and they look just like For Sale signs. "Lady Margaret School Garden Party" (Foxtons). "Belleville School Fair" (Buckley's). Indeed, they look so much like For Sale signs that one grumpy neighbour takes a dim view of this brand of philanthropy. "I saw what I thought was a For Sale sign the other day," he chunters, "and e-mailed a mate who's trying to buy in this neighbourhood. He rings up the agent, only to discover that it's a school fete sign. I felt a complete idiot."

Grumbling seems churlish, however, in the face of such charitable acts. At my daughter's school fete, one local agent, Rutherfords, was sponsoring the Space Ball, a sinister-looking sphere into which the victim, sorry, passenger, is strapped before being swung upside down and round and round. The mere thought of it made me feel slightly sick – "Just like the stamp duty on my last move," quipped a fellow parent.

At other school fetes I've attended, local agents have been pressed into service as charity auctioneers or comperes. I suppose a lifetime of maintaining a facade of knowledgeable enthusiasm while showing 26 different people over the same house is good training for keeping a beaming smile on your face while some tone-deaf mite sings Can't Get You Out Of My Head off-key in the karaoke competition.

Who used to perform these functions? In the olden days, it would have been the vicar or a local celebrity. Today, the vicar's out, unless it's a church school. Too monocultural. And the celebrity? In the age of Big Brother and famous-for-15-minutes reality TV, genuine stardom values itself at far too high a price for your average school fete.

In many ways, local estate agents combine the roles of both. Like the vicar, they are people to whom one turns during the great life-changing events. Birth, marriage, death, divorce – few of these occur without some rearrangement of property taking place. And as for celebrity, I'm much more familiar with the names of the local estate agents than I am with the names of the latest indie bands. No, I'm afraid you'll have to go with me on this one. Estate agents. Don't you just love them?

HELICOPTERS. DON'T YOU just hate them? Droning around the skies doing what exactly? Keeping the wheels of British industry rolling is what they claim. Irritating the hell out of residents in Wandsworth, Battersea, Fulham and Chelsea is more like it.

I can see the point of air ambulances. I can see the point – almost – of helicopters that monitor traffic. I cannot see the point at all of helicopter trips for tourists. Half the time you can't fly low enough to get under the smog, and chugging up and down from Battersea Heliport to the Port of London in a paraffin Budgie with a payload of Americans several times a day isn't going to improve the situation.

The worst offenders in terms of noise are the police, whose favoured times for aerial manoeuvres, as far as I can make out, are sunny weekend afternoons, half-past midnight and 6.20am. It's like torture. First, you hear the helicopter going pocka-pocka-pocka-pocka over your head. Then there's a rest-and-be-thankful phase in which the noise dies away and you think for one wonderful moment that it's gone. Then the pocka-pocka gets louder, as the bloody thing completes its circuit and repeats the entire performance. Over and over again.

Yes, I know they're probably looking for villains. But the irritation is enough to make even law-abiding householders like me contemplate a bit of villainy. I wonder if I'd get planning permission for an anti-aircraft gun ...