Driven out of central London by size of family and purse, could she ever learn to love the suburbs?by Kate Kellaway / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
I was a town mouse. I sometimes fantasised about becoming a country mouse but I would never in my wildest-or tamest-dreams have expected to become a suburban mouse. But this year, directed by size of family and purse, I moved to Barnet, at the end of the Northern Line.
I was delighted with the house and garden, but unable to get over the idea that I was living in the suburbs. I could not stop saying “Barnet” in a tone of despair and contempt, like someone holding out a particularly unpleasant sock at arms-length. I told a friend, before we moved, that in 1983 I had had no doubts about going to live in a black township outside Harare but was having trouble nerving myself to leave London for the green belt. She pointed out, severely, that my attitude was typical of the English upper classes. I am not upper class and do not see myself as English (my parents were Australian). But I agreed that my feelings were snobbish.
I have always loved inner London, its history and variety-even its anonymity. I love the liberating privacy of the place. I never minded if it was dirty and was only starting, in middle age, to object to its pollution. London is inexhaustible. You could not imagine Dr Johnson writing: “When a man is tired of Barnet he is tired of life.”
In Hackney (where I used to live) there was a mixture of classes and races. I liked the parents of my son’s friends. What would I do with the philistines of the suburbs who could polish a car but never a sentence? Our large Victorian house in Barnet did not contain a single bookshelf when we bought it. Had a book ever been read in it? Another friend tried to reassure me by mocking the middle-class parents of Islington and Hackney with their unsavoury ambition for their children: the violin in the back of the Volvo estate for the talentless child who would never play it well. I laughed, but my heart would not leave N1.
During my first weeks in Barnet, I would see people outside their houses, every Friday morning, washing the inside of their rubbish bins. This induced in me a panicky gloom. What could their lives be like if they had time for this? What made them emerge like cuckoos out of clocks each…