Episode 25: Arrival in the North Laine

Episode 25: He who lives by the station shall die by the station!

Selling 8 Clifton Hill proved more difficult than expected. With its six bedrooms, large living room and kitchen, conservatory (built by us) and self-contained basement flat, it needed a special kind of buyer. Reaching the conclusion the house needed improvement for it to realise its true value, we took it off the market, but almost immediately received an offer £5000 over the asking price. Thus ended our love-hate relationship with that house, as well as our life together.

Co-ordinating the sale of one house and the purchase of two was no easy matter. I looked at a quirky ground floor flat in Hove, an upstairs flat in Moulescoomb, a bungalow in Hangleton, a strangely shaped house in St Nicholas Road and a house with an enormous garden in Woodingdean. The last would have had plenty of space for my grand-piano, and the prospect of letting rooms to students at Sussex and Brighton Universities, but the garden put me off.

Then Mr Uden, my estate agent, told me about a property which might just catch my fancy, and which a friend of his was selling for just under £70,000. It was in Trafalgar Terrace, a so-called twitten in the North Laine of which I’d never heard.

Unusually for this part of town, there was a large garden with fruit trees on the opposite side of the alleyway, no noisy traffic disturbed the peace and there was a huge living room, with an open-roof ceiling, taking up most of the top floor. I was bowled over by the last.

Practical considerations confirmed my gut feeling. By now Angie had found a house only quarter of an hour’s walk away in Hove, which is where our children would live, the station was practically on the doorstep, the centre of town was within easy walking distance. The lack of a bath, central heating, ceiling wiring and a gas supply didn’t deter me.

When I look back, though, I think it was the mostly the cosiness of this house which appealed to me. All through my life I had been attracted to cosy homes – whether it was the brewery workers’ cottages in Shrewsbury, or the back-to-back of my friend in Huddersfield or our matchbox flat in Tokyo. Maybe because I’d spent some of my most formative years in large draughty buildings, including Featherstone Castle, I yearned the intimacy of a little home.

And so I offered the asking price, and soon after, in April 1997, joined you here in the North Laine in time for the NLCA’s 21st birthday celebrations. When a year later Kay Locke died I took over as street rep, a function I still carry out.

But before that, and only a day or two after moving in, I was off to Vienna for a few months to do further research on Wilhelm Stekel, funded by the Austrian government. Every two weeks I returned for a few days to see my children and catch up on counselling appointments.

Unexpectedly Philip soon came to live with me, establishing himself in my living room, and so I had a summerhouse erected in my garden for my private counselling work. That summer I walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester, and caused a stir in the terrace when I invited too lovely Dutch girls I’d met on the way to come and stay in my garden abode!

From then on my time was largely divided between looking after my parents and campaigning for the Palestinians. I got my doctorate in 1999, my father died in 2000 and my mother immediately moved from Watford to sheltered accommodation in Hove, where she died in 2006.

I met Christine in 2003 and our relationship inched tentatively forward until, throwing caution to the winds we got married in 2009. It proved a wise decision! Since then we’ve both become heavily involved in Brighton Unitarian Church.

Well, the advantages of our little home in the North Laine have led me to adopt the motto: ‘He who lives by the station shall die by the station.’ So I expect, having hopefully overcome my prostate cancer, to be with you for a good while yet!

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