• A breath of fresh air 25 April 2016 | View comments

  • 25th April 2016 | By David Jolley

    The journey from Altrincham to Southwold is not quite coast to coast but it is pretty long and whatever way you go, it takes a few hours.

    Talk at the fish restaurant informed us that the resident population of Southwold is of the order of 800 – a tiny number – but bolstered even out of season by visitors and people from nearby villages who come for the shopping and buzz of class and liveliness. Mondays and Thursdays bring a market with food, flowers and local crafts and oddities, set in the suitably tidy but tiny market place at the head of the High Street. Down the street there are proper shops which know their specialist business – pies, papers, books, clothes and more posh clothes, banks and estate agents – a Beach Hut at £79,000! There is an Ironmongery which sells everything you might need and never realised you did - you could be lost in there for many an hour of memory.

    In the oldest part of town near to the market place and the greens and beach, the housing ranges from small to outrageously huge. Some of the most impressive, facing out to sea, have rabbits running on their front lawns – less destructive this year than we have seen previously.

    But what I want to say relates to houses as homes: In a brief moment between walks I caught a programme where a house in Crewe was purchased for £35,000. It was in a terrible state but the builder purchaser worked carefully and modestly to improve it, with a budget of less the £10,000, to transform it into a place you might be pleased to adopt as home. Revalued now at £65,000 to £70,000+. A five bedroomed semi-detached villa somewhere in London was purchased for £450,000. Shabby but nowhere near as down at heel at the Crewe house, it too was revamped but at a cost of £80,000 spent over 6 months rather than the 6 weeks in Crewe. Now lacking fireplaces, with most rooms featureless and white, its kitchen might feature in House and Garden but I’d be uncomfortable trying to poach an egg on toast. New value - £700,000 plus.

    Almost every house in Southwold is as pretty and as perfect as any doll’s house could be. Those which are not quite up to scratch are receiving attention from one of a legion of careful and skilled teams which are cutting wood, smoothing plaster, painting wall and windows. Only the very best will be good enough here.

    As an evening treat we watched the DVD of ‘Cilla’ – carried with us to take advantage of the time which holiday allows in the evenings. We grew up with her. Here she was, wearing our clothes, having our hopes, watching the cars we knew, singing our music, caught in the streams of segregation: rich from poor, Catholics from ‘Prossies’, young from old who had survived the recent war. Her family home did not have a front door – behind and above a bookies.

    It was home.

    Bobby’s home had a front door but was pinched and basic in a way hardly known these days. Later Bobby was to share space in his brother’s rented home – a building which compared unfavourably with the house ‘before’ in Crewe. But it was not about to be improved.

    Cilla came a long way. We all have come a long way.

    What stories she had to tell. What stories we have to tell – and more to come yet – unlike Cilla, whose story is told. One of us.

    And now we have lost Victoria Wood.

    It’ll be OK.

    Each morning we walked the beach and felt the wind and saw the waves coming in, and coming in, then taking all that water back, to come in again – later.

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