12 May 2005

Culture Shock

Moving from London (well, no suburbia - the border between Northolt and Ruislip) to the depths of Dad's Army Land back in 1996 was an incredible culture shock, for my two older children in particular.

I did find it annoying to have to slow down so much - all the shops shut on Sunday with half day closing mid week as well, the police station clearly advertising opening hours and the days that it is shut (yes it shuts), the buses all (still) stop at 6.30 pm and only turn up once an hour in between times and living in a street of tidy bungalows, if you can hear anything more than songthrushes or seagulls, well that constitutes news.

My husband loves it, but he would, as he only has to come home to it after a day at work, but for me it is a delicately scented and preened slice of purgatory. I have learned to be spiritual and meditate a lot, and I am addicted to the computer. Dont get me wrong, I love it here, I could cheerfully spend ooh, what, a whole month a year here, just for the greenery, the lack of apartment buildings or dog fouling, the bunny rabbits, and the fresh air (the freshest in the whole of the UK, or at least it will be until they stick the bloody incinerator up in Newhaven, because we are directly down-wind of that.)

The original Pooh-sticks bridge is just up the road, there are still wooden and concrete sign posts, wooden hut-like bus shelters and tiny letter boxes built into brick pillars. The next village up the road has a byelaw forbidding security lights and street lights (and another one barring outdoor washing lines) and nestles in the hills like Brigadoon. Bloody torture.

Back to the kids. So we came from what was once Middlesex before the Greater London Council claimed London Boroughs that far out (forgive me if my history is a bit squiffy there.) The children would have adjusted far better than I, were it not for the preconceived notions of the inbred children at the single local senior school. Yup, it really is a one-horse town, and only two things have saved it:
  1. It is rumoured that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were brought to visit Seaford beach (the ultimate accolade if you want to be known as 'undiscovered' or 'unspoiled') and it has a genteel air that inspires other Sussex residents to want to retire here.
  2. Croydon arranged for a council house build at the back of this place for their overspill during the 70s and 80s.
I suspect that but for those two factors there would be pre-marital blood tests here by now.

Andrew, aged eleven, was greeted as a threat. The children here all aspire to being Londoners or knowing a Londoner, or having once been to London. He was therefore too big for his boots before he even opened his mouth, and was set upon until he had been 'put in his place', ie once those who had previously claimed supremacy due to London connections had reasserted their authority to the gawping hormonal masses by other means. Andrew became the exception to the rule - 'yes, he's from London but it doesn't count because he's a prat'.

Alex's reception was far more damaging. She was a twelve year old girl from London, the ultimate in teenage desirability, having 'heritage' as well as breasts - she was a catch. The boys all wanted her and the girls all wanted to be her friend. I watched in dismay as she became overly confident, brusque and mouthy, as all teenagers must, but at the time there seemed to be a direct correlation with the strength of her fan club.

When we first moved in, the sum total of visible graffitti was the rain faded scrawling of 'Nirvana' on the pavement near a local bus stop. Everybody knew exactly which kid had done it. Shortly after that, however, little marks started quietly popping up - on the wooden bench next to the memorial rose garden, on the tiny, ivy covered supporting wall near the village duck pond, down the back alley by the bowling green; all over the place, actually. They always said, in black marker pen,
I (heart) Alex W

So, my daughter had a secret admirer, or maybe two, as the incidences seemed to increase as time went on. In fact they matched the speed with which she became the most sought after female in lower school.

I was torn - inside I was a very proud mum, but was also concerned that we were still on locally-enforced probation. Little things had happened, such as the neighbours discovering we would be a family from London, and promptly having security halogens fitted to their bungalows in welcome. When we were out, boys would come knocking for Alex and then wait sitting on the grass verge outside our house, to see if we would be back soon. The neighbours took to advising me of this as if they were giant houseflies and it was my responsibility they had been attracted to an otherwise geriatric and silent haven. I think I was supposed to get a guard dog and pepper spray the lawn and door bell.

Someone might have tried to force a window on a neighbouring house, once when they had gone on holiday (even though they hadn't told us they were going.) I say might, because they had the old, original wooden window frames at the back, when the salt air here rusts everything but volvos and galvanised steel and will eat wood in no time. A small piece of the rotten frame had fallen off and was lying on the back path. Still, it was generally agreed that it was my fault, as if I didn't have a pretty daughter then the kind of undesirables she so wantonly attracted wouldn't have been in our street. The fact that these were all local boys, sons of accountants and Rotary members mostly, (but then thats 90% of the juvenile male population in a nutshell) never entered into the equation.

I am still learning about my children. The whole (final) point of this post is this: my daughter, though she knows it not, is a business genius. She should be in politics. It turns out that her immediate reception at the local school was as frosty as the one her brother was treated to, the 'I'm hard' top girls started targetting her the second she got there.

Her solution? All those little graffittied vows of undying love, which upped her kudos and made her acceptable, were her doing. She simply learned to scrawl in marker pen with her left hand, so nobody could tell.

Part of me could kill her, but to be honest, most of me is bloody impressed.


She Weevil said...

Can't believe your kids are more grown up than mine - no, I do believe it because you have blogged the odd bit about them before.

I've been an outsider all my life carrying various noms de guerre Posh, stuck-up just because I didn't sound like the pasty eaters I went to school with - hi all of you - and now my kids are too. Hannah's boots, envied and adored blogdom over, have had some very Vicky Pollard "Omuygard, look at her boots!!" reactions on the school bus. And as for T, well it's just as well he's on his own planet most of the time because I don't think the current kingdom of Chav that we inhabit would have much appeal.

Cheryl said...

The difference between my daughter and yours, then, is that mine would lie through her teeth, say they were designer ones off the web and she had to wear them cos they cost mum £200.
If ever you want to be bored into a coma, we're only up the coast, and Brighton (were those boots would cause a riot, in the good sense) is a bus ride away.

Ally said...

carrying various noms de guerre Posh, stuck-up just because I didn't sound like the pasty eaters I went to school with
Me too ...

Cheryl, can you get your daughter to work out some kind of marketing plan for me? :).

Badaunt said...

I'm bloody impressed, too.