Real life

I tried to escape the confines of Balham in Oxshott

I tried to run away to the country, and found myself in an episode of The Prisoner

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

My London flat now has so little space in it I’ve begun storing stuff at the dry cleaners. Back in May, I checked a huge winter quilt in at Viking’s and left it there until the weather turned colder. There just wasn’t anywhere, not a single spare nook or cranny, to put it and quite frankly I balk at renting a £100 a month lock-up at the Big Yellow Storage so I can keep a spare winter duvet.

The man at the dry cleaners was quite cross when I turned up this week to claim it, pleading forgetfulness. He had a look that said he knew full well I had intended for my quilt to summer in the back of his shop. When he couldn’t find it he allowed me to come around the counter to look myself and there I found rack upon rack of duvets and quilts snuggly vacationing on his shelves.

As I paid, the owner informed me I was lucky as the rule is anything left for three months is thrown out. ‘Thanks for looking after it… I mean, not throwing it away,’ I said. He scowled.

Clearly, I cannot go on like this. I cannot live the rest of my life in a space that has no space, with a rule of something in, something out for every new dress or book or Cath Kidston mug I buy. Cue house-hunting in Surrey. Again. Like Margo Leadbetter I always threaten to move to Cobham when I’m fed up.


But this time I thought I would spread my wings wider than Cobham. Branch out. Go wild. Give Oxshott a whirl. Ah Oxshott, home to the largest number of Premiership footballers in one place, and the safe haven from which Andy Murray bangs on about Scottish independence.

I had seen a lovely place there for a surprisingly modest price. It turned out to be a very small wing — a sliver — of a country house. It was on one of those fancy private estates with an entry gate like a picket fence. I could do Desperate Housewives, I thought, as we crawled slowly up the pristine winding road. When I couldn’t find the house (no For Sale signs allowed, apparently), I pulled over. Within seconds a man came down his driveway and peered at me. I pulled away and drove round in a circle and eventually saw the agent standing at the entrance I was to turn into.

The house was divine, really sweet, with plenty of room for me, the spaniel and several duvets. But there was something troubling about the location. Everything looked so, well, perfect. Was it just me? Had I become too used to the reassuring scruffiness, noise and nuisance of south London? Or was there something not quite right about all the niceness?

After viewing, I asked the owner if I might leave the Volvo in her drive and walk around with Cydney. After all, I would need to satisfy myself that I could take the dog on nice walks if I lived here. I was pointed to a public footpath behind the house, which bordered a golf course. A few moments down it, tracking alongside the ninth hole, I would reach Crown Estate land where I could walk for miles.

I got the spaniel out of the boot and she pulled me down the footpath. The ninth hole looked suspiciously like a place where Cyd would disgrace us routinely. There was a water feature that looked ripe for her throwing herself into it. But there was something else bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while but it came to me after our walk, during which Cydney predictably went rogue and I had to scream the Crown Estate down to get her back.

As we strolled back alongside the ninth hole and past the picket fences and the pristine gardens and the clipped hedges and the man peeping at me from his doorway because I looked like an imposter, I heard a woman’s voice suddenly piercing the graveyard quiet:

‘Good morning, good morning, good morning! And what a lovely day it is! Rise and shine, rise and shine! Before our program of early-morning music, here are two announcements. The long-range weather forecast is that the fine spell will continue for at least another month. Your local council — and remember it is your local council, democratically elected by you — have decided to organise a great new competition. Can you paint? Can you draw? Can you model in clay? More about this later, but now: music…’

As I shuddered, Cydney pulled me back into the driveway of the pretty little house she had obviously decided should be ours, wagging her tail, apparently ecstatic about the whole idea of us living in The Village.

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  • Slicer

    Enlightening article. Thanks.

  • Richard Eldritch

    Pah! They’re all wife swappers, I know, I lived there. Still if ya fancy shagging an ageing variety performer or a footballist then fill ya boots.

  • Bonkim

    Keeping a dog in Balham is criminal.

  • Blindsideflanker

    I don’t know about Balham but I once gave someone a lift to Croydon. and on attempting to leave the place came across a roundabout where all the exits listed Croydon as the destination. So I figured out why Croydon has a population, they just can’t find the exit.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Balham, gateway to the south.

    • terence patrick hewett

      Peter Sellers. On the same disc was a great cod Irish number. Any opinions on Will Hay?

      • Fenton!

        Excellent: thanks: I watched the whole thing and loved it. What a hugely entertaining man.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Unforgettable.
        “That’s a bum note you was playing there, Shawn.”

        Only us pukka, born-in-UK-Brits would know this.

  • Jim

    Sixty lines of pointless, middle-class smugness.
    I don’t like to do the politics of envy, but I mean really, what in hell is this article for?

  • Lydia Robinson

    I find Melissa and her builder boyfriend and her spaniel entertaining even if a bit pointless and far removed from my own world. I rather look forward to her columns much as I look forward to reading Jeremy and Taki. I’d like to know if Melissa takes up that country house in the end and haven’t heard about the builder boyfriend for a while. Let us know – 🙂 Good luck.

  • Sussexpintman

    Oh dear, what a mug; I feel sure that Margo would not
    have allowed one in here Cobham (or was it Chobam?) abode.

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