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6 March 2014

Squeezed Middle: should we sell up and move to Brighton?

A town where my fantasy of Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account can finally intersect with Curly’s rural idyll.

By Alice O'keeffe

I heave the buggy out of the station and stop to inhale the complementary fragrances of stale chip fat and fresh sea air. Gulls swoop overhead and I think to myself: hmmm, Brighton. In days of old I came here on many a student bender. More recently, it has been the site of several jolly family days out.

But today Brighton is not about fun. It is Serious. Moe and I have come to look around a house. It is time, Curly has informed me, that I started thinking seriously about moving out of London. There is only so long we can bring up two boys in a slightly-too-small flat; our downstairs neighbours have suffered enough. Besides, there must be more to life than this grubby, overcrowded, overpriced city. Larry is starting school in September, so if we’re going to move, we should do it now.

Curly has in mind a rural idyll in which he will brew beer and fashion wooden spoons out of sticks and where the years on end he has spent sitting in a dark room doing data entry will seem nothing but a long-distant nightmare. I’m holding out for the lucrative, high-profile media job, wisteria-clad Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account. Brighton, we’ve concluded, is the very place to reconcile these two wildly irreconcilable visions.

Moe points at things as we walk along the seafront, which has put on its Sunday best for us. Look! The sun glinting off the sea! A row of dinky pastel-painted houses! It’s all so lovely, bracing and fresh. We approach the house. So far, so good. It is on a pleasant street not far from the centre of town. It is of an ample size, and not noticeably derelict. A little flight of steps leads up to a nice green front door. Is it possible that Curly and I could live somewhere like this?

Inside, the pleasant surprises just keep on coming. The house has a fully functional kitchen and bathroom. It has enough bedrooms for the whole family. It has an almost leak-free roof and double glazing. It is, in other words, a fully fledged Family Home. The owner, a friend of a friend, escorts Moe and me to the local park, where a selection of ruddy-cheeked children are feeding the ducks. Am I getting carried away, or do they actually look healthier than children do in London?

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Afterwards, Moe and I sit and throw stones into the sea. We eat some deliciously soggy chips and I turn the Brighton plan over in my mind.

There are two discernible flaws. One: neither Curly nor I have any means of earning money here, though perhaps that is not insurmountable. Two: Brighton does not have the people I love in it. Could I survive without them? It’s a terrifying question. I pop another chip into my mouth. Food for thought.