Now what? - Lauren Booth wants to buy into foreign living
I want to leave dirty, dangerous London and join the farm and Frascati set
Who says war is bad for business? The foreign property market - for Brits wanting a "place in the sun" - is booming. With Blair and Straw terrifying us with predictions of inevitable attacks on our city centres, it has become fashionable for anyone with a small stash of cash to talk about moving to the arse-end of nowhere.
Anyone who spends time at home in the evenings is force-fed a diet of TV programmes dedicated to the idea that even living out the dullest of fantasies from Tuscany to Toulouse (growing olives or running a B&B) is better than braving it out in the UK. We've watched them until we are so brainwashed that we believe being skint abroad has got to be better than being broke in Britain. The great political irony is that Blunkett, meanwhile, is keen to sell us a picture of Britain as Nirvana. It's so glorious, he and his tabloid mates sigh, that the rest of the world (in the shape of swarthy blokes in leather jackets) swarm into our dirty, ghettoised cities in search of the high life.
As parents, it's the "sun and safety" ideal that's turning our heads. For me, moving abroad means less chance of having al-Qaeda operatives for neighbours, for a start. Why is it that terrorists congregate in the world's most miserable pits anyway? Osama Bin Laden's crew may be loaded, but they clearly don't watch prime-time TV or they wouldn't have chosen to produce ricin in a dingy flat in Wood Green. Instead, they'd have been persuaded to swap life above a chemist's shop (where most customers need prescriptions for beta-blockers) for life on a smallholding in the Dordogne.
Haringey police find knife and gun stashes on a daily basis. Somehow, it's hard to imagine the same hard-core criminality in the farmhouses around Biarritz.
London as a lifestyle is dead, finished. Describing life in the capital sounds as if you're describing an abusive relationship. "I would love to leave, but I'm scared to," we sigh. Like a Sheryl Gascoigne protegee, I've heard myself justifying my decision to stay so long with: "It's swings and roundabouts, innit? I'd miss it when I was gone", or "Some days are better than others".
Being a Londoner has come to mean rolling with the punches, calling on that spirit of the Blitz when times get tough. I used to defend it, no matter how bad things got. "Yeah, it's bad where I live at the moment," I'd say with a kind of pride, "but things'll get better - I know they will."
Things came to a head recently when I realised that, instead of actually living in a place that makes families feel happy, I was pretending to live somewhere nice and even getting my daughter to collude in this love/hate relationship with my home town.
During an especially tense drive to the childminder's - Tube problems, rain, a missing shoe - I looked in the rear-view mirror at the little girl and as cheerily as possible said: "Happy day, baby!" Her little face lit up and she smiled and cooed: "Happy day, Mommy." It was as if we were sprawling on a haywain in bright sunlight with bits of straw between our teeth, not clenching them with horns blaring and dirty vans trying to force us on to the pavement.
So, I want to join the farm and Frascati set. There's one big snag - I hate flying, especially post you-know-when. Still, routes to little French towns should be safer than the transatlantic ones surely? Apparently not: BAE Systems and Matra (a French missile company) both have research facilities in Toulouse, where they are developing beyond-visual-range, air-to-air missiles. They both receive billions from our pockets, which they promptly spend flying to each other's HQs for dinners - hence the Toulouse/London route.
Grape squishing is back on hold.