Goodbye then, Bal-ham. You were my gateway to the south. I loved you for so many more reasons than that, but the fact that I could get away from you and go down the A3 to the verdant grasslands of Cob-ham was probably one of the biggest ones, if I’m honest, so by and large Peter Sellers was right.
It was a love/hate relationship. The dynamic of our life together was forged by the state line that runs through you, which is every bit as drastic as the Mexican border.
My flat was a few hundred yards from the boundary between Lambeth and Wandsworth, so I have spent the past 16 years within touching distance of a flagship Tory council while being dictated to by the loony left and their amusing ideas of how to best spend my money, for example on toilets for heroin users.
Fox-feeding, that was the speciality of the Corbynistas of Lambeth. I will always treasure the memory of the night I caught a local cabbie throwing raw sausages from the window of his cab to the ravening beasts — sorry, I mean ‘magnificent creatures’ — who came off Tooting Common each night to prowl the streets. Patrolling their territory, they lapped up the tidbits of passing lefties, and helped themselves to the liberal spillages of tofu, mung beans and quinoa from the wheelie bins.
Ah the wheelie bins. Every one an example of native Bal-ham art. They had assigned me four by the time I exchanged contracts on the cottage. Two black, two green. And endless rolls of plastic sacks which they insisted the recycling was put into before it was placed in the green bins.
Plastic wrapped in plastic placed in plastic. That was the lefties’ preferred way of saving the planet.
The separate garden sack was the stuff of Orwell’s wildest dreams. I didn’t dare use it after they labelled it with a red ‘Contamination!’ sticker, making it look as if I had been disposing of nuclear waste.
In fact, when I peered inside, there was a tiny piece of cellophane, no more than an inch square, from the cigarette packet of a passerby, which had blown into the sack and lay on top of my neatly chopped branches and leaves.
‘You are worse than Isis.’ That was the strangest thing a lefty neighbour ever said to me. It was in response to my revealing I was voting Brexit. ‘I don’t quite see your reasoning,’ I said. ‘I want to Leave the EU so we can close the borders and stop Isis.’
‘Nonsense. You and Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and Isis are all on the same side.’
‘Righto’, I said. And I decided I would simply have to chalk that one up to the fact that the good lady had drunk so many kale smoothies they had rotted her brain.
Nonetheless, it has been a privilege, one of life’s great experiences, to be part of a cosy metropolitan la la land where we are all just as happy as can be to be brought to the boil slowly like frogs.
‘Where are you going without your husband?’ a minicab driver once said to me, on the way to Heathrow. ‘Come with me to Islamabad,’ said another. And then there was the tyre fitter just returned from a top secret trip to the Middle East who told me that if I only gave an Isis fighter a chance — which particular Isis fighter he did not specify — I would see how wonderful was his way of life.
Many western women convert and take to being a second-class citizen like a duck to water, he explained. Except that, I wanted to say, I think you’ll find they’re all overweight. It’s either go under the veil or have a gastric band and the NHS has a waiting list.
Yes, it has been a privilege to experience life in the bubble of a south London community, where women’s lib and burkas co-exist happily and where the high street plays host to hot yoga, Halal butchery, the Balham farmers’ market, and a café where they serve food that has been ‘foraged from the banks of the River Wandle in Wandsworth’.
They say when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life. And I’m sure that’s right.
But it’s hardly surprising I’m tired when I’m having to pretend that local produce is being sold at a farmers’ market by a Tube station, that foxes are best dealt with by adapting human habits to accommodate them (Lambeth animal welfare guide, number 5: ‘Living With Foxes’), and that doing yoga in a room heated to 40°C and 50 per cent humidity is a reasonable response to mid-life weight gain, because it’s either that or marry an Isis tyre fitter.
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