Brian Viner: Could I give up focaccia for fresh air and fields?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The house is Georgian, built around 1765 for an eminent local judge, according to the estate agent's blurb.

The house is Georgian, built around 1765 for an eminent local judge, according to the estate agent's blurb. It has six bedrooms, an Aga, a flagpole, a wine cellar and a splendid garden – containing a cherry orchard, a water feature, several stone cherubs, a greenhouse, and very possibly Charlie Dimmock – stretching down to the River Avon. There is a landing stage and fishing rights. And for less, quite a bit less, than the price of our terraced Edwardian house in north London – bought with unwitting shrewdness seven years ago, since when it has exactly trebled in value – it could all be ours.

To move out or not to move out? It is a metropolitan dilemma which churns up almost as much angst as the debate about schools. And it overwhelms us every few summers, when the pollution of the city and our tiny patch of greeny-brown conspire to convince us that there must be a better way.

Visits from out-of-town evangelists do not help. "I can't imagine what it must be like to be overlooked like this," said a friend, bluntly, as he sat in our back garden, and waxed lyrical about life on Tayside. He took the high moral tone, and we took the low one, and he got to Scotland before us.

Four years ago, our flirtation with moving nearly blossomed into a full-scale romance. We found an old house in the Cheshire countryside, made an offer, nearly went. It was a farmhouse in need of some updating in the village of Broken Cross, which caused great merriment among London friends. "Broke'n'cross... you probably will be," they chorused. We stayed put.

Perhaps we will this time, too. There is a great deal to stay for; the shops, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and all that, but principally our friends and our children's friends. Kindred spirits – that's the phrase that pops up as we toss and turn each night. The lovely Georgian house is in a solid Conservative constituency. We are not Conservative voters. People hereabouts recognise me from my picture byline in The Independent, especially at night in dark alleys, when half of my face is in shadow. If I want to be recognised in Middle England – which I don't, but that's hardly the issue – I would need to become a columnist on the Daily Mail.

"Typical metropolitan arrogance," spluttered a fellow-guest at a dinner party last week, when I enunciated these fears. He's probably right. Londoners do look with self-righteous disdain upon provincial values, especially Londoners who started life in the provinces themselves and are afflicted with the zeal of the converted.

My wife suggested that, if we move, we should advertise in the local paper: "Lonely refugees from Crouch End seek similar for companionship and reminiscences about the vegetarian café in Highgate Woods." Are we prepared to sacrifice liberalism, multiculturalism, and particularly fine focaccia sandwiches with hummus oozing gently on to the plate, on the altar of clean air, green fields, well-funded libraries and good state secondary schools? Tell us, somebody. Please.

At the moment, I find it hard to see beyond an image of myself unhooking my own wooden boat from my own wooden landing stage, and gently setting off along the Avon, not past crack dens, which abound in parts of the London borough of Haringey, but quack dens. My wife has slightly sullied this image by cruelly suggesting that I will probably buy myself a blazer with bright buttons and look like Mr Toad. It is also true that my rowing is more Vanessa than Steve Redgrave. And I don't fish. Or not yet.

By the time we finally make our minds up, the lovely Georgian house will probably have been snapped up, doubtless by someone we know who lives in Muswell Hill. I'm not sure I could bear that.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments