Diary - Annalisa Barbieri

I have just put my central London flat on the market. I want to live somewhere where <em>I</em> am t

We leave London late on Sunday evening to start our holiday in Poole in Dorset. I have just put my central London flat on the market. "I want to live somewhere where I am the most intimidating, the most pikey person in the area," I tell people when they ask where I want to move to next.

It seems Poole is that place. Everyone is so nice: "Good morning" here, chit-chat there; "Sorry", "No, I'm sorry, I bumped into you", "No, really, it's my fault. Please, after you . . ." There is sea, there are no hideous amusement arcades, there are loads and loads of big, green trees. It is a wonderful mixture of town and country; there is no litter, nor abandoned cars; the houses are enormous and I feel utterly safe. It's like living in the 1950s . . . except houses here average £2m. It is the most expensive real estate in the UK.

Monday morning in Westbourne and I overhear a traffic warden say to a driver, returning late to her car: "Don't worry, you've got to do your shopping some time, don't you?" There are whole streets entirely free of yellow lines, and lined only with pine cones.

Although I say I'm on holiday, I'm actually finishing my book, a compelling study of menswear, started three years ago. I head to the local library, at Canford Cliffs, to work. It is glorious: peaceful, ordered, there's a small reference area where I can sit and look out on to the terraced garden, and two seconds' walk away are the cliffs, from which I can look out to sea (house for sale just next door: £5m). After a few hours of joyous writing, inspired by my tranquil surroundings, I walk the cliffs to join my partner and our daughter on the beach. We have ice creams.

Wonderful. I want to live here.

The next morning I head off to the library as soon as it opens and settle down with my laptop, only to be joined five minutes later by a man and a policewoman. Oh dear, I think, earning that extra holiday money was perhaps a mistake. Hello officer, I say - what's happening? "It's our weekly Neighbourhood Watch meeting," she replies. "Do you get much crime round here?" I ask. "Er, no, not really," she says. Yet they still have weekly Neighbourhood Watch meetings! Hard-core. I decide today is not a day to work and go and take a walk along my cliffs. I notice a few empty cans of Special Brew thrown by the car park.

The next morning the library is closed for Baby Bounce, to which I take my little girl. The librarian lets me join the library, gives me a library card and lets me take some books out. All of this without asking for any ID. Everyone is so nice. We start looking at houses.

I spend lunchtime looking up house prices round here and the profile of our neighbours. Crime: low; average age of people living here: high; interest in current affairs: high; likely to read: the Daily Telegraph. We spend the afternoon at the beach and meet some people who have moved down from London. They spend an hour telling us how wonderful it is living here; although then we find out they work three days of the week in London because "it keeps us sane". That afternoon, Pete and I get told off by some old people for playing Frisbee in the park. Fantastic! How to be made to feel really young in an instant: move somewhere where everyone else is at least 40 years older than you.

The next time I make it to the library, the reference room is packed with old people talking loudly about Matters of Extreme Importance and reading letters out in answer to letters they have sent to various organisations. This is the weekly meeting of the Friends of Canford Cliffs Library. I am cross. This is my library now, and there is so much noise I can't write. But then I realise it is better to be annoyed by old people putting the world to rights than teenagers with too much gel in their hair who are freebasing. I realise I am starting to generalise. I buy a copy of the Daily Telegraph and go for a walk along the cliffs, which I now know like the back of my hand. I notice more cans of Special Brew. I miss Selfridges.

"What's dogging?" I ask my boyfriend. He comes out of the kitchen looking worried. "Why?" he asks. "Because I was looking for the opening times of Canford Cliffs Library to see if there were any other meetings planned, so I could avoid them, and I found this . . ." I push back my laptop screen so he can see this site that I've found, run by a helpful lady called Melanie who wears lots of lace. She recommends the car park at Canford Cliffs, among others, as a good place for dogging. "It's meeting up in car parks, and basically having sex with strangers while others watch," explains Pete.

I am flabbergasted, unsure whether to report this important finding to my new best friend, the policewoman, or the president of the Friends of Canford Cliffs Library, who I've not met yet but will invite round for drinks when we move here.

The next day, in the Waitrose car park, we notice a man of at least 94, loitering around the back of a car. "What do you reckon?" I hiss at my boyfriend, "is he waiting to dog, a car thief . . ." ". . . or maybe he can't remember which door lets him into the car," continues Pete. We snigger. It's not cool to mock old people, because I fully intend to become one myself. Just not yet.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 05 September 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Ground zilch: how Al-Qaeda defeated New York