I won’t miss the thoughtful dog owner who allowed their hound to crap on our driveway so my husband stepped in it as we were corralling the kid into the car for Saturday swim lesson.
I won’t miss the dogshit strewn pavements and the fact that, owing to cuts, the street sweepers no longer follow the refuse lorries and I’m constantly picking the detritus of junk food out of my front garden.
I won’t miss the seagulls – those filthy flying rats and their assault on any untended rubbish bag, stray duckling or car in their vicinity (and everything is in their vicinity in this town).
I won’t miss the old git who told me to keep my dog under control and threatened me with his stick when the dog tried to make friends with him a little too enthusiastically.
I won’t miss the bullying at school and the parents kicking off in the playground.
I wont’t miss the daily battle for pavement space between the buggies and the mobility scooters.
I won’t miss a Government that has launched a full on attack on the most vulnerable on society whilst it allows money to filter upwards to its cronies – and I won’t miss the way that most of my neighbours simply don’t seem to care.
I won’t miss working for an employer that chronically undervalues me.
I won’t miss being a little bit cash rich and chronically time poor.
And yet, and yet…
This morning I took the dog for a walk to the local recreation ground. The sky was brightest blue, the sun warm and the sea breeze welcome not arctic. The groundskeepers were out mowing the wicket, the boundary marked, the nets out ready for the cricket season. Old men were playing bowls on beautifully tended greens. The blossom trees were laden with blooms like a go go dancer’s frilly knickers (thanks for the simile 5 year old me) and the dog was bounding around joyfully with his doggy pals – Gucci and Minky and Smudge. I exchanged pleasantries with fellow dog walkers on the wonderful remodelling of the park. We strolled to the beach and walked down to the wide strand of sand that unveils itself at low tide. The sea sparkled as I threw stones for the dog to chase. That gorgeous Modernist masterpiece that is the De La Warr Pavilion sat proud and gracefully monochrome. It was a beautiful morning, a beautiful walk. ‘Glad to be alive’ was the descriptive cliche of choice.
This is actually a rather nice place to live – we have the Pavilion of course, the Lighthouse Cafe so beloved of Keane (you can walk the Keane trail and visit Strangeland if that’s your thing), an independent record shop (they have some pretty good CDs at the moment – I know, I sold them), a great butcher just round the corner. If I want to cook Hungarian or Afro-Caribbean/Asian food I can visit two local specialist food stores. There are plenty of great charity shops (let’s call them retro shall we?) and a greengrocers and two decent bakers and a fishmonger. We have a farmer’s market every Friday and a French market twice a year. We still have a local library. The new play park and the fountains on the prom are brilliant for kids. There’s a beach (we even have sand at low tide) and a train station that let’s you get out to Eastbourne or Hastings or the fleshpots of Brighton. London is accessible. Heck you even get from our front door to Paris in under 4 hours or take the Tunnel to France that’s 30 miles down the road.
So, taking redundancy and the lack of opportunities and our dissatisfaction with our lives here out of the equation, why on earth would we want to go anywhere else?
It’s not just the better education and health service, not even the better (and cheaper) quality of life. It’s not just the cleaner pavements or the fact that you can take a dog just about anywhere. It’s not even the sense of unfinished business that has nagged at me for the last 8 years, calling me ‘home’.It’s the opportunity to enjoy the good things together, to have a proper balance to our lives. For our son to know his father as more than a 5 minutes before bedtime dad. To sit down and eat together as a family more than once a week. If we could do those things in this house, in this town, perhaps we’d stay. But to keep our heads above water, we both need to work – and that’s no family life for any of us.
Moving to France won’t be a magic bullet – it would be stupid and dangerous to think so – but it might just be what my son calls a ‘magic plaster’ – something to soothe the little hurts of never having enough time together.