Real life

Balham is about as close as you get, in 2015, to the 1950s

The only true villages that exist anymore are in London

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

After pulling out of my flat sale and U-turning on the idea of moving to the Cotswolds, it took me a while to realise why.

But there is a reason I can never seem to find what I’m looking for. No matter where I go to house-hunt for the cottage of my dreams, nothing is ever right, be it in Cobham or further along the A3 or, giving up on the south east altogether, in the Cotswolds. And the reason is not that I am a hopeless flake.

The reason is that I have not really been looking for a place in Cobham, or Ripley, or ‘down the Hog’s Back’, as tempting as that may sound, or, more exotically, in a village on the Surrey-Hampshire borders, or even in Cameron Country just outside Chipping Norton.

No. I realise now I have not been looking for a place in a place. I have been looking for a place in a time. I have been house-hunting for somewhere in 1956.

This kind of house-hunting is, of course, problematic. Estate agents don’t tend to sell houses set in eras. Set in three acres is tricky enough. Set in its own grounds is just about possible on my budget. Set on a larger than average plot is more than likely. But set in the ’50s — not so much.


This is a great shame, because I think if one could house-hunt for somewhere set in the time of one’s choice the housing market would be a lot more buoyant.

As it is, you go to see a house which looks idyllic and conjures just the quality of life you were aiming for, in the pictures. But when you get there the quiet, friendly, civilised village you were hoping for reveals itself to be a village set in 2015.

There is no shop, there is no post office, and when you stop to talk to someone ‘local’ they look as though they would very much like to punch you, because they are so tired from commuting that when they are around they haven’t the strength to do anything more neighbourly than click open the electric gates and disappear up their driveway.

In fact, the only true villages that exist anymore are in London, where thriving neighbourhoods have survived in spite of people who would love to hate each other if they had enough money to but they don’t.

If I want local, therefore, I would be better off staying in Balham, where there is a Cosy Corner newsagents, an Italian deli, a Costcutter with a post-office counter, a filling station and a hairdresser all within a few minutes’ walk of my house. And where people talk to each other because they have to. Because they can’t get away from each other up a long drive.

But the idyllic cottage in the Surrey Hills is quite another matter. It has a spurious connection to E.M. Forster, all right, and sure enough it is near a shop with children’s fishing rods for sale outside, but when you pull up and park there to buy an egg sandwich an old couple scream at you that you’re in their personal village parking space, which is costing them the better part of £1,000 a year so get the hell out of it or they’re calling the police — and the old man’s vein bursts through the side of his head.

As for the Aga-ed up house with three acres and stables near Dummer in Hampshire, which turns out to border the M3 with the nearest place to buy milk a Sainsbury’s so large it takes me five minutes to drive round the car park to a car parking space within hiking distance of the door and even then it’s 20 minutes’ walk to the milk aisle.

I want to live in a village where people pull up outside shops without sparking a public inquiry, and where old people are like Miss Marple. And where there is pest control and country sports, and everyone is honest to their kids about meat being a creature that has died, and where hypocrisy is a mere twinkle in the eye of the animal rights brigade.

Let’s face it, I am not going to find this on Rightmove. For sale: exceptional example of an interesting, secure period set in beautiful standards of human behaviour. From the lack of aggression and impeccable manners of citizens generally to the ability of everyone to stand together in the face of adversity, this truly will be the time of your dreams. Social cohesion and moral consistency are complemented by full religious tolerance and legal rights for all, including those in the majority. Non-violent, interesting culture. Space race, Golden Age, rock’n’roll, Elvis, Hitchcock, Fellini, Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe complete the stunning feel. Planning permission for Kim Kardashian denied.

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Gateway to the south.

    • The Red Bladder

      I’ve heard that Quill’s Folly is lovely at this time of year.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Hey, a non-Mole response. That makes a change.
        “And is there honey still for tea?”
        “Honey’s off, dear.”

        • The Red Bladder

          Sorry about the delay been at the forge carving tooth-brush holes.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            The Duke of Edinburgh stopped and had a couple of words with me. I didn’t understand either of them.

    • Smiffy51

      Gateway to Paradise!

  • Teacher

    I live in the place you are describing. I have been there 29 years now and it hasn’t changed one bit. It was like the 1950’s when I moved in and it has not altered a jot since. You can pull up in a car outside the local shop/Post Office (which sells everything) and there’s a Grimsby fish man in a van every Wednesday. There are no parking restrictions whatsoever and people quietly mow their lawn, kill slugs and exchange friendly words with passers by. You can pick blackberries from the hedges between the houses and there’s an eccentric village fair every year complete with a cake stall and dog competition (‘And the prize for the most endearing doggy eyes goes to…’). Local youths play footie and rugby on the green each Sunday morning though we do not have uncouth fathers shouting expletives at the ten year olds because it is 1954 and no one did that then. I wake up every morning hoping that Ground Hog day still operates. I dread the outside world finding us.

    • Gilbert White

      At night when the moon is out and old Hodge the poacher is tickling trout, the ropers will be cutting the throats of sheep and the gypsies will be siphoning your petrol and diesel.

      • Labour Mole Catcher

        Well, the last part is probably a little more modern, alas.

        • Allow me to @ show you a excellent way to earn a lot of extra money by finishing basic tasks from your house for few short hours a day — See more info by visiting >MY____^(DISQUS)^____ID+=

      • Teacher

        Oo-arr, that they do m’dear. And they need the moon as there only be two o’ they streetlamps in the whole place.

    • hedgemagnet

      Oh go on. At least give us a clue!

    • συκοφάντης

      You might enjoy Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, by the sound of it.

  • Jambo25

    Really! There was me thinking that places like Moniaive, New Galloway, Penpont, Thornhill, Ae, Diurisdeer etc etc were villages. When we moved to our place in Dumfriesshire a friend gave us a house warming card which simply read, “Welcome to the 1950s.”.

    • Matthew Robertson

      But then the young from Durisdeer, Penpont, etc., now live in the Lot et Garonne & work in Toulouse or Bordeaux. Moniaive was always full of “in comers”!

      • Jambo25

        Eh! The last major group of ‘incomers’ to Moniaive were some of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ art group in the late 19th century.

  • jeremy Morfey

    The author needs to get out more.

    I reached that conclusion in 1986, when I made the decision to move away from Surrey, where I had grown up, and far away from the unpleasantness of London. My then mother-in-law found Bromyard in Herefordshire, which fits the bill perfectly. A small market town rooted in the 17th century, it has no traffic lights and still has a back street where the local greengrocer doubles up as the best ironmonger for miles around and recently diversified into animal feed. The builder’s merchant went into selling wool and funeral services and videos. The estate agent doubled up as a launderette for a while. The antiques shop set up a Doctor Who exhibition. A rough old farming family (rumour has it that one of them had 16 children, some perhaps inbred, and populate most of the land around Pencombe) took over one of the other ironmongers and set up a top class delicatessen.

    Another ironmonger got into trouble when the police raided the place in the middle of the night taking away three golliwogs found in the shop window, slamming them in the cells. Never mind about liberating Islamist rabble-rousers, the campaign to free the Bromyard Three was relentless and successful. They were auctioned off for charity in an anglicised version of a Roman slave market.

    It’s not changed a lot, even now. A new theatre where the cash & carry was, a new library and sports centre where the market place was, but otherwise business as usual. It’s the sort of town you’d wouldn’t look out of place shopping in wellies.

    I live about 10 miles from Bromyard now in a real village – not touristy and icily prestigious like the Cotswolds, but ramshackle and straight out of The Archers.

  • Dogsnob

    Sell up love and get yourself up North. Plenty of grazing. People say hello, and like each other’s presence. (Not all of it you understand, but it’s like that where I live)

    • συκοφάντης

      Trouble is, Northerners might be friendly as you rightly point out, but most of them are thick.

      • Dogsnob

        Even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their virtues.

  • Radford_NG

    Bal-ham! Bal-ham;Gateway to the South!
    Do they still have the famous town illuminations?
    “And is there honey still for tea?”
    (Feel free to complete this.)

  • Tellytubby

    There a hundreds – if not thousands of proper villages in the North.

  • Stephen Wigmore

    Wolston near Coventry. Exactly as you request.

  • ‘anymore’ as one word? Are the Yanks taking over, or what?

    • ViolinSonaten b minor.

      ” the occasional black bear” you’d need to watch that, your local council might deem that racist.
      You might be allowed to loan the Pandas from Edinburgh Zoo 😉
      And yes the very young are ‘ children’. I believe ‘ kids’ are a name for goats. We were called
      ” ankle snappers’ when young, better then ‘ rug rats’ I suppose.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Gateway to the south.
    Somebody had to say it.

    • EUSSR 4 All!

      Or was it where you used to pick up men?!

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