Sunday, May 16, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Every now and then I get fed up with my house. It is charming and quirky, but it's very small and my dreams of having a workshop, keeping chickens and growing vegetables are impossible to fulfill here, so I find myself scanning the property pages for the perfect home. I need lebensraum.

But, as Phil and Kirsty reminded me on last Thursday's episode of Location, Location, Location, unless you're in possession of a small fortune, you face a stark choice between having a nice house in a horrible town or vice versa. Days like today convince me that we made the right decision. This is the view is we walked into town:

We were on our way to an "eco fair", which wasn't full of earnest people with beards and had some really interesting stalls about community projects and energy saving initiatives. I came away with a free low energy light bulb and a water-saving device for the cistern of our loo. I installed the water-saving bag as soon as I got home, but rather ruined things later by accidentally leaving the garden hose on for an hour.

Events like the eco fair are typical of Lewes. The people here seem more concerned with the quality of life rather than the standard of living. In recent years, two large areas of land have become available for purchase and I've no doubt that in many towns, they would have been sold to developers. But not in Lewes.

The first place - 25 acres of disused railway land - has been turned into a stunning nature reserve with marshes and woodland. The second - a large field - was earmarked by the county council as a car park for their staff, but local residents clubbed together and bought the land, making it available for everyone's use.

Why is Lewes the exception rather than the norm? The history of architecture in postwar Britain makes depressing reading and I was interested to see this article in yesterday's Guardian Review about the critic Ian Nairn, who raged against the growth of "subtopia" (one good thing about the recession, according last Monday's Start the Week, is that there will be fewer building projects).

After the eco-fair, we walked down to a district called Southover, to visit a "Medieval Fayre". I normally avoid anything where fair is written as fayre but this was very good and, to my great surprise, I discovered that I had a hiddent talent for archery:

Admittedly, the woman in blue was a very good teacher, but I wasn't expecting to hit the target, let alone get a bullseye. At last, a sport that I'm good at! As soon as I got home, I seached on the internet for local archery clubs and found one in Brighton at a place called St Dunstan's, which I later discovered is for blind people. I had no idea that blind people could do archery. How does that work?

When I got home, I picked up the local paper and had another look at the property pages. We could sell our house and buy something twice the size in the town where I work, but what would be the point if, the moment I opened the front door, my heart sank? In Lewes, I'm surrounded by beautiful countryside and many people who share the same values. Why would I want to leave?


Lucille said...

We just visit, often, and nurture hopes that one day our favourite walk will be a walk away not a huge schlep by car.

Richard de pesando MA(RCA) said...

St Dunstans is a school for the blind, and is a beautiful deco building on the cliffs overlooking the Channel - it is almost fully glazed on the side facing the sea - and has the best views on the South Coast... it makes no sense to me either.

Caroline said...

You are really a very lucky man to be able to live in a place like Lewes. Believe me, I come from The Netherlands and there's a lot worse places here.

Thomas at My Porch said...

After looking for five years, we finally found a house to buy in a neighborhood that is much different than our current urban location. Our first day there this past weekend and the woman next door brought us cookies and iced tea. Phil and Kirsty are right. Location is everything.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I can only dream of living in Lewes - even in a shoebox!

I can fully appreciate the magic of the place, and the spirit of the people though.

If only there could be a roll-out of Lewes-dom across the country.

sukipoet said...

your view is indeed gorgeous. i am in process of trying to choose a place to live. very flexible. but there are always those dichotomies. nice reasonably priced house w/land out in the boonies, vs teeny wreck of a place but in the area I'd like to live in where i had previously lived for 30 years. or nice house in the village but with a postage stamp sized lawn and a sagging roof vs amply sized beauty w/insulated barn of 2 acres but will be a b.... to heat. How to make a choice. Very hard.

Steerforth said...

It's comforting to know that we're all in the same boat, wherever we are.

Stephen said...

Get out of the South-East! I moved out to rural Dorset a few years ago and I haven't regretted it yet.
The quality of life is much better here and the people more laid-back and friendly.
I am not self-sufficient, but I grow veg, fruit and keep chickens and that is satisfying in itself.
I find it amusing that an element of the English middle classes are always waxing lyrical about the how much better the life is in France, but that quality of life can be found in the UK too! This island is just as beautiful and fascinating as France can be.