''When a man is tired of London he is tired of life," wrote Dr Johnson. But I just find London perplexingly variegated. Within five minutes of my house, for example, I can be within either one of two communities: I'll call them "Up the Hill" and "Down the Hill". Up the Hill is largely Georgian and pretty, Down the Hill Edwardian and less so. Down the Hill is much more ethnically varied, and the name of an eating house there, "the Worker's Cafe", is just about plausible, even though, this being London, a flat Down the Hill will still cost more than £200,000. Up the Hill, a flat of the same size could cost twice as much.
Up the Hill, a can of beans costs 57p; Down the Hill, a can of beans costs 39p. Up the Hill, if you want your double duvet dry-cleaned, it will cost you £17; Down the Hill, it will cost you "about £8". Up the Hill, five Villiger cigars cost £9.45; Down the Hill, they cost £6.79. And from these facts comes my great insight about my local area: the ideal thing would be to live Up the Hill, but do all your shopping Down the Hill.
Up the Hill, I calculate, the average number of televisions in the half-dozen or so pubs is just under one. Down the Hill, one pub has seven televisions in one room alone, and they are all always on. Indeed, I think it is impossible to turn one on without turning them all on. Up the Hill, the old red phone booths have been retained; Down the Hill, they have the new ones, currently decorated with enormous adverts for the exciting Queen musical, We Will Rock You. Up the Hill, the Church of England church has a discreet notice speaking sotto voce of service times and coffee mornings. Down the Hill, there's a large, slightly outdated poster at the front of the church parodying Lord of the Rings. "Lord of the Kings -", it says, "see the big feature this Christmas".
There's a strong conservation movement Up the Hill. Any new business seeking to set up there is subjected to close vetting by local committees and then, invariably, rejected.
In terms of street furniture and signage, Down the Hill serves as a perfect encapsulation of the nightmares of the civic-minded people Up the Hill. Down the Hill, there's a garish KFC directly over the road from an equally garish Smoky Hill Chicken ("The taste of the open range"). In the middle of the pavement Down the Hill, there's also a turquoise plastic portable lavatory. It has a telephone number on the side, presumably so that you can call and complain about it. Up the Hill, there's a public lavatory that's cleaned every day by a lady with a perm.
There are far more cautionary notices Down the Hill. At the entrance to the park, for example, there's one reading "No Motorbikes". Up the Hill, that would be taken as tantamount to libel ("As if we would ride motorbikes through the park . . . I mean, really"). One newsagent Down the Hill has a sign: "No reading from the top shelf." Up the Hill, the problem doesn't arise because no newsagent's has a top shelf. Well, not in the metaphorical sense. Instead, those taking that furtive glance upwards so characteristic of men entering a newsagent's would be disappointed to see the likes of This England, Art Review, History Today and so on, although I suppose it might be possible to order some titillating material. I dream of going into an Up the Hill newsagent's and hearing an RP voice say: "I'd like to take the History Today each month and, er . . . Knave."
Sample shop-window advert from Up the Hill: "Writer seeks apartment." Sample advert from the Down the Hill: "MASSAGE. International Girls For A Touch of Class." I don't know about Dr Johnson but, from what I understand, James Boswell would probably have approved of that, at least.