Thursday, 31 May 2012

Our half-year Brighton anniversary - any regrets?

Six months? I can't believe we've been here six months already. On one hand, Brighton living is so comfortable it feels like we've lived here forever. Yet on the other, it feels like we only left our London lives last week. But six months living anywhere is a realistic time to decide whether you've made a mistake or not. I think the only mistake we've made is not doing it sooner. I love living by the sea it feels so much simpler than London. Less pressure. Less congestion (bar the weekend crowd) and the kids just love it. They've all settled in to school remarkably well and although they miss their London pals they too seem to have no regrets about moving to the seaside. Especially when I bribe them with fish and chips on the beach on a school day.
So actually, bar missing friends, there's been only minor pangs of regret about leaving the big smoke.

But in order to not be too smug, I've compiled a short list of things I do miss about London:

1) Saying I live in the capital. I was a very proud Londoner and seeing pictures and TV footage littered with red buses, black cabs and iconic London sights sends tiny pangs of regret that I'm not there in  Jubilee and Olympic year.
2) Shopping. I miss the markets, especially Borough (despite having to regularly remortgage to buy an organic artichoke) and of course, I really miss Selfridges and the House of Fraser. This is not to say that Brighton shopping is not wholly enjoyable, however I do miss a rummage around the big boys on payday.

3) The diversity. One of the absolute best things about London is that it really is a multicultural city. I used to love all the different areas from the very Jamaican Brixton to the Jewish quarters of Stamford Hill and Golders Green. I think kids learn such a lot about different cultures living in one city and really benefit from it. Unsurprisingly, there's not so much diversity in Brighton and after living in London for so long that does take a little getting used to.

4) The tube. I know it's a pain in the jacksy when you have to commute everyday, but as a leisurely freelancer I loved going on the tube in to town. You can get anywhere, it's brilliant. I'm hoping that Boris will eventually extend the Northern Line down to Brighton. You know it's only a matter of time!

5) Uniqlo. Okay, so this should come under shopping, but COME ON BRIGHTON, I need some new jeans!

But, all in all no, je ne regrette rien. (see how boho am I since I've moved? I'll be wearing a patchwork turban next!)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

House-hunting seaside style

 Photo credit:

It's Tuesday and after a ridiculously glorious weekend Brighton is STILL as balmy and beautiful as ever. After what seemed like decades of murky weather, the sun has finally come out and along with it brought the daytripper-turned-househunting brigade. They are easily to recognise, all wistful looks and fat deposits, noses pressed against estate agent windows all with the hope of living the dream. And it's no wonder, who wouldn't want to move down here in the summer, streets crammed with stunning Georgian architecture, a cool and surprisingly clean ocean and everyone, literally everyone has a smile on their face. Okay, okay, I know I'm banging on again. I will stop soon, honest. After this last strawberry Mivvi...
While statistically the stretch between June and October is the prime time for making the big move to the coast, it's not always the right move. Prices often increase, they certainly hold their value and there is much more competition often resulting in bidding wars during the summer months. So the happiest people you'll see in Brighton on a sunny day are estate agents, rubbing their hands with glee at all that lovely London commission.

This recent report in the Independent showed that Brighton is the most expensive place to buy in Britain, followed by Oxford and then Guildford. But probably even more surprisingly, London came 7th after Chelmsford of all places. So there really is no accounting for taste (sorry Chelmsford).
My husband, a London estate agent, was insistent that we must not fall into the trap of buying a house in the summer when even the ropiest looking dog-pit looks attractive. So my advice is to buy in winter when the grey skies and cruel winds will put even the hardiest of buyers off.

If you're serious about moving down, meet and make friends with ALL the estate agents, call them every week without fail, read Latest Homes, the Brighton property pages religiously and remember that good properties do not hang around for long. Be prepared to view at the drop of a hat, I used to drop the kids off at school and bomb down the M23 to look at places within a couple of hours of being notified. Although not everyone has this privilege, it's often is a case of you snooze, you lose when it comes to good Brighton properties.
Anyway, the beach beckons so I'll put up a few good agents who specialise in the different areas of Brighton in my next post.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Where's Cliff? I'm on a perma-summer holiday

I've gotta say the absolute best thing about living in Brighton has to be the proximity to the beach. It's all I can do to not spend my days on the carousel, eating hot doughnuts and having 'Mam' tattooed on my bosom. Even though the weather has not been kind these past few weeks, a quick hour dahn the arcades and a stick of candy floss is never wasted, in my view.
When you move to the seaside, there's one thing you can expect and that's lots of visitors. If I'd known how popular it would make us I'd have moved years ago. At first leaving my beloved London felt like a massive wrench. For fifteen years it felt like the centre of the universe and I worried that if I stepped out of zone 4 I'd fall to my death into a big smoking crack in the earth. But apparently not. Brighton is the first stop on the seaside train and at the first sign of sun is heaving with be-Croc'd Londoners.
Within weeks of arriving we've already had a steady stream of visitors. Which is brilliant, however, come the summer months I worry that this could get out of hand, like when a cheeky weekend visit turns into two weeks full board in August. If this is the case, I shall be putting my best landlady grimace, hoiking up my formidible bust and insisting on a maximum two night rule.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Things to consider before moving to Brighton

Work – Are you commutable? Luckily, I work from home so my office can be (and often is) on the beach, in the park, in the pub (although granted, it's not the most productive environment - hic). But for those of you who have proper jobs, you might be surprised at the difference in salary if you want to fully relocate to the coast. One way to get over this is to do the daily commute into the big smoke. Thousands do it everyday and because of this the train services are getting better and better with many making the schlep in under an hour. Of course, you have to think of the added price of a season ticket too. But despite all this, coming home on a Friday evening knowing you can kick back on a sunny beach for two days is well worth the daily slog.
You might want to consider your proximity to Brighton station if you plan to do the daily commute, although unlike London, the majority of residential areas of Brighton & Hove proper (as in not your Patcham/Portslade/Hangleton etc. outskirts) are within a 20 minute walk. Either that or get a bike.

Primary schools
We have moved to the Elm Grove area. A brisk 20 minute walk into to town and to the beach. There's Queen's Park nearby and a whole host of good primary schools available.
St Luke's Primary School – With its no school uniform (unless you count Boden) policy and an outstanding OFSTED.
Elm Grove Primary School - equally good
Queen's Park School - again, very good
St Martin's C of E Primary School - above average

Secondary schools
One of the main reasons we moved to Brighton was because we have kids. While I love living in London, I wasn't quite so happy to have my ten year old son roaming the streets in search of entertainment. Luckily for us, I had a man on the ground (and an ex-school teacher at that) to check out the schools down here. With a strict catchment area in mind, we were able to narrow down the best roads to buy in. Brighton has a lottery system for secondary schools, however, this does still fall within the catchment areas. For instance: we live in the catchment for Dorothy Stringer and Varndean schools, both are very good and the lottery will mean we will 'probably' (I say that as I don't want to tempt fate) will get one of these. I'll touch on these again later as we go through the application process and eternal nail-biting that comes with the territory.

I have become a Brighton smugsy

Well, I've got to say, I'm not wholly surprised by this. I seem to have come down with the BSS, or as us DFLs (down from London) call it, Brighton Smug Syndrome. I must admit I should have seen the signs coming. Within a week of moving in, I seemed to have joined a little (actually, a bloody huge) gang. EVERYONE was from London. I met my old London neighbour in the playground at school "oh, you finally made it! Great, isn't it?" she said smugly. "Oh yes, Laura's Brixton, and Julia she's Crouch End." they say with a self-rightous smirk which screams 'look how great we are?' 'haven't we made the right move?'. And now I'm doing it. Well it's so beautiful and trendy and with loads of great shops, restaurants, cafes and when the sun shines it seems like everyone is on holiday. And we have the sea. The beautiful briny sea. And THIS is during winter, can you imagine how unbearable I'm going to be in the summer? Ghastly.
So as my beautiful blonde boy skateboards to school, the little ladies get a shiny glow as they run along the beach, I too have become smug Brightonian. Punch me now. 

Bye London, it's been fun

I've lived in London for the past fourteen years. Starting off in a ropey old flat in West Hampstead (okay, okay, Kilburn borders) above a pub on Tower Bridge approach, above another pub in Marble Arch. I sub-let a grubby flat from a drug-dealer in Shepherds Bush and then lived opposite a recording studio also in the Bush. Then when it came to buy my budget brought me to zone 3 and the lush delights of Gipsy Hill, Crystal Palace and finally, glamorous* West Norwood.
I loved living in London. Yes, it can be gritty, smelly and the chances of being verbally abused by drunk old ladies on the bus rate higher than say, Surrey. But I loved the fact I could hop on a train, bus or tube and be in the West End rummaging in golf sales within half an hour. But despite everything our glorious capital offers, I've always longed for the seaside. So after five long years of badgering Mr Dolly to make the move, last November we finally packed up three kids, grabbed our bucket and spades and sped down the M23 for the very last time. 

*said ironically, obviously.