Wednesday, November 07, 2007

One of the delights of living where I do is a small swimming pool up the road, open at 7 am for those of us who can drag ourselves out of bed early enough to get a few lengths in before starting work. There are many regulars, some swim slowly and quietly, giving the pool a sense of calm, rather like, I imagine, a pool on a cruise ship. It's an old pool with natural light let in from the roof, a bit tatty, lockers at the sides and a balcony for spectators. During the day it's used mainly by local schools. It doesn't have the luxury of hotel or private gym pools, but I like its quirkiness. Years ago when I worked in Reading, at a news agency above a chip shop on Cemetary junction, there was a similar size pool that I used from time to time, with changing rooms around the sides. It too had the same unhurried atmosphere.

There's a lot I like about where I live. The sea, the Downs, visible from most points (I love to see the edges of cities, to know there's a natural barrier), the Pavilion and parks; most of all, today, with the wind up and sun shining, the elms that Brighton is still famous for. There's one almost directly outside my house and its shadows are moving in the rectangles of sash windows projected onto my front room wall.

I know my neighbours, I can walk into town and to the beach. We have local shops, buses at the bottom of the hill and a little park. One of the best local shops is a Turkish grocer's selling amazing olives and big round loaves of bread that taste nothing like ready sliced. Walking down London Road yesterday, I noticed a new Polish grocery and realised that the changes Brighton is undergoing have become visible in its shops - the black barbers on Lewes Road, the expansion of Taj, once a small specialist grocer in Hove, now a supermarket with branches in Western Road and on the corner of the Steine where the Job Centre used to be.

But the other night, walking to the station for the Lewes bonfire, there was graffiti on a window of an empty shop in Lewes Road. The graffiti asked the question - do we need alcohol on sale through the night until 4 am? This is the flip side of the changes in the city and what I am beginning to loathe about where I live.

I am sick to death of drug dealers, drunks talking loud on mobile phones outside my house at 4 am, cars speeding up my road to avoid the Lewes Road or Elm Grove, litter and dog shit.......I am sick of paying enormously high council tax when my street is full of litter, when the only contact any of my family has with the police is when they stop and search my son because he's a teenager and when I am told by the school that the only way to ensure he gets extra help with his GCSE maths is for me to pay for private tuition. His maths group (struggling) has a succession of supply teachers. The current one is a religious studies teacher.

It is now almost impossible to park here after 7 pm. Neighbouring streets suffer the same, cars are double parking overnight - dangerous and deadly for any of us unfortunate enough to need an ambulance or the fire service. We should have residents' parking up to 9 pm with a restriction on one car per household, but I am in a minority in having just one car. Most neighbours have at least two vehicles - car and van.

When a family moved out of the house opposite me, it was rented to students. I reckon they have at least four cars between them. Many more houses in Bernard Road are now rented out and the knock on effect is increasingly clear.