Thursday, 10 May 2012

Down From London

'Brighton: the capital for people who can't handle London. Unless they move to Lewes, which is for people who can't handle Brighton' Oliver Bennett -The Independent.

A year ago this week we moved out of my mother's spare room and into a two up two down in Lewes. We had sold our furniture and were waiting for the call to board a plane to Melbourne, we signed a six month contract not expecting to see out the full term of the tenancy. After six months of sleeping on a borrowed futon we bought a bed, then a fold up table,gradually we accepted that the job would never come up and that I secretly didn't want it to. I had fallen for Lewes a little and realised that emigration was a dramatic cry for help, an escape route from negative equity and my loathing of Suburban Eastbourne. It's not Brighton or London I couldn't handle, it's the burbs. The terraced house we bought was no longer a home but a pact with the devil. The property ladder had become a circus act without a safety net and I was tired of clinging on for dear life.

Despite its middle class credentials: a castle,  twittens, patisseries, journos  and DFLs (down from Londons) , I love the place. I've met more than my fair share of eccentrics and bankrupts, people who have been around the block and have nothing to prove. After years of living in a cultural desert I am chuffed that Lewesians  have warmed to my bright ideas and money making schemes. They have supported me with genuine enthusiasm, putting their money where their mouth is and attending my events.  I have experienced genuine kindness and generosity in what has been one of the toughest years of my life. I often question why at this junction in my life I didn't move back home. Back to London were there are jobs aplenty, my favourite city in the world.

Last week we took the train back to London for Mr Porter's 40th. As the train pulled in past Battersea Power station I felt that warm feeling of coming home. The brown slopping river, the new flats with the coppery facade, the old blocks of social housing to the left. Down into the tube station with our one day travel cards we forged, no longer needing to go southbound. A day out in London simply for the fun of it .Although  London is my favorite city, despite the fact that I want my ashes scattered on the little beach on the Thames, I cant imagine moving back .
I will always love London but living there could often make you feel like a child with her nose pressed up against a toy shop window. You cannot beat the looming stone buildings, those urban cliffs of the London skyline,the diversity of people, the fact that my own personal history is inextricably linked with its streets, that its perpetual movement soothes me in a way country lanes and quiet afternoons in the suburbs do not. But unless I can live in a flat overlooking the South Bank, a move back would be a step back. My London reality would be waiting at a bus stops  with shopping bags and a pram.

 In reality, many of London's poor are being pushed out to the margins of the city. Rough , ugly places, the overspill caused by gentrification, the rise in house prices causing a form of social cleansing. I made the choice not to return because I knew id never be able to live in a desirable location. I'm too long in the tooth to prove I can hack it in a rough area. There are no prizes awarded for being hard and I like the fact that my son can walk barefoot in his lobster pendant, hate football and shouts 'Nib!' as a form of abuse. Being a Londoner I am impressed by cows in fields, country beer gardens and tractors passing my front room window. I never tire of the novelty factor.

Once the kids leave school I'll be free to run away with Mr Porter and have a mid life crisis in Copacabana, In the meantime Lewes is a fine place,  'to park your arse'. I can walk everywhere (albeit up cobbled streets), swim at the Pells Lido, learn to love real ale, write my stories, visit London, bring up kids, walk the downs, visit the seaside, and generally mooch about. I am a DFL (down from Londoner) via Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne. I am staying the course, I may even replace my makeshift bedside table, constructed with a hardback book of nudes and several shoe boxes . Australia. Can you seriously imagine me wearing thongs?


Michelle Porter is Looking for work in the writerly profession and donations of real furniture.