There are rumours that the immense private flat development, which has sprung up at the back of my Bloody Brighton paradise, is on course to become a “gated community”. Since it emerged, with its luxurious playground, the local council house kids have been keen to investigate, uprooting gardens in their wake. . One father surrendered his two under-fives in their pyjamas to the playground's warm embraces before scuttling off home, beer in hand. Incidentally, there is a beautiful park 5 minutes walk away, but many parents won’t take their kids, nor let them wander too far where they might discover it.
If I delved into the planning history, I would no doubt uncover the ways in which the developer managed to build higher, somehow noisier and far more intrusively than the locals might have been led to expect. It’s what developers usually do.
This is Brighton, where house prices are ridiculous. In the 12 years since the birth of my second son, developers have built modern flats on three huge chunks of vacant land on Pankhurst Avenue, thrust down amongst the pebble-dashed 30s public housing that often seems beyond makeover. The estate lies at the edge of town by the racecourse, where it usually got forgotten when it came to building public facilities. The empty nurses home, a Victorian ruin rotting from the inside, once a dare for bored teenagers, was pulled down and the bulldozers took over.
The flats are the new reality. There is a rooftop terrace. The buzz of the city Brighton has become has suddenly taken root on the outskirts of town. Noisy parties and fences have cut off vital territory for the foxes, which once roamed across rolling hospital grounds. Places like our own ramshackle garden are one of the few respites. I can smell evidence that their frequency of visits has increased. I won’t be sealing off their entrances any time soon. This house is not a gated community. I often allowed large groups of kids to play in our unusually large back garden, although if left unsupervised, mayhem occasionally resulted.
Incidentally, for reasons I won’t go into here, I am exiled from this Eden, except for a couple of days a week, when I stay here to spend time with my children. The garden gets ignored. Everything is overgrown, there are old sofas dumped, drumkits and daleks festering in a leaky shed. Then last night, wandering outside to stargaze and smoke a spliff I was struck by the massive human presence, now cackling and whooping high above us, and staring down at the gardens below. We must learn to be neighbours. If they don’t lock the gates first.