Sunday, 22 May 2011

In suburbia

One of the things I always think, is, whenever people tell you about where they live they always tell you the touristy things and no-one ever tells you about the really boring bits. Like, where people live, where they do their shopping and what kinds of flowers they have in their front gardens, etc. It made me think of this when I went to Edinburgh recently because all the houses were so different to our small stunted houses Down South. I am always interested in the really boring bits and for those of you who do not live in the UK this might have the charm of novelty. For the rest of you it probably will not and you are welcome to skip ;-).
Put that camera down and stroke my furry back
The first thing about Cambridge is, wherever you go and whatever you are doing, a cat will jump out at you and want you to stroke it. I think 80% of houses here must have a cat. One of the Great Cultural Differences between the US and the UK is, in the US they keep their cats indoors because, as I understand, if they go out they may be eaten by a ravening coyote and/ or a bear. In the UK 99% of our cats are free range and are at liberty to molest passers by. Indeed the other day I had to try to rescue an older lady near our house who was weighed down with shopping bags and had a very determined cat weaving around her feet. Alas! She had fish in one of the bags and thus I was powerless to dissuade the cat, and as I walked up the road I could hear her saying ‘Ooo! Stop it! Go on, you naughty thing!’ all the way.
I am estimating £800,000. Nice flowers though
The second thing about Cambridge is, house prices are just completely ridiculous. If you buy a house I think it is now almost impossible to get anything anywhere near the centre for less than a quarter of a million pounds, and if you rent, small houses/ flats cost about £800 - £1500 a month. This means if people have a house they hold on to it and no-one can ever leave anyone else because of their mortgages, unless they find a couple with a mortgage of a similar amount/ length of payment left and swap partners. Even when the housing market was at its worst, there were people in Cambridge gazumping other people with cash. It is all very depressing and sometimes I feel like knocking on people’s doors and saying, excuse me, do you mind telling me what you do and how much you earn, as I am curious.
Spot the bike. They're everywhere!
Everyone cycles everywhere in Cambridge, apart from me because I prefer walking and ambling about and stroking cats. So there are bikes everywhere you look and lots of second hand bike shops. Cycle theft is a major concern (yes! It is! Yes this is indeed a bit of a backwater!) and the only untethered bike in Cambridge which has never been stolen is the one in our back garden which I bought thinking I would be able to ride it. I could not, as I think it was actually a bike for a child, and it bruised my coccyx. I may put it in front of the house with a sign on it. ‘Someone take this away. PLEASE’.
See? Bikes again
Most houses in Cambridge are tiny terraces, often two up two downs where you go into the living room straight from the street, but there are some big ones like this. These are normally split into bedsits and/ or owned by the colleges. Often, university departments are in these big houses. When I was looking for a bedsit after I finished university, I went to see one in a house like this where it was just like Rising Damp. The lightswitches were hanging off the walls by their wires and there were 2 toilets for 15 rooms. We were dogsitting at the time and I used to go back from the horrors of bedsit-hunting and cry into the dog’s fur (she had dreadlocks), she used to sit patiently and then she and I used to pull ourselves together, drink coffee (me) and listen to loud music (both of us) while we waited to go to the pub.
I want to live in a boat with a solar power generator but not one of those chemical toilets
People live in house boats on the river. I always think this looks wonderful, but Partner says if he moved into a houseboat with all his books he would sink it. When I took this photo there was a boy sitting on one of the boats happily playing his guitar. It may not be so much fun in winter though. There is a big park next to this river, and actually there are loads of green open spaces in the centre, many of which have cows on in the summer. Sometimes the cows chase tourists, and when Stephen Hawking still used to get about in his wheelchair the cows who graze on the fen over the other side of the city used to chase him over the bridge while we watched from the pub.
No-one has ever stripped to their pants in this launderette. It is devoid of eroticism
All the centre of Cambridge is made up almost entirely of chain stores which is a bit boring, but as soon as you get out of the centre you find small slightly bizarre, 50s-looking shops like this. There is a shop round the corner from this where they have made their own sign, and, though I am supportive of the DIY ethos, well, you can really tell. I imagine the owner setting off up a ladder with paintbrush in hand, crying, pay a signwriter? I think not, and everyone else standing round raising their eyebrows despairingly at each other.
The scene of the Weaving Cat and Fish Bag incident. Leafy suburbs near my house
Plants in front gardens go in fashions. A while ago everyone had those giant spiky plants, at the moment we seem to be on things in pots, roses, or lavender. My street has a lot of petunias. There is a street near my house where someone has written all of Jerusalem on their front window and someone else has made some eyes and put them in the hedge. I don’t like to actually take direct photographs of people’s houses but I might see if I can do it discreetly to show you because, you know, eyes in a hedge O_O. Cambridge is very arty so often people have quite interesting displays in their windows, one house has a large hand sculpture, another has straw figures operating a wheelbarrow. A house not far from us has a big black cat ornament outside, often there is a real living black cat sitting next to it looking vaguely contemptuous. I assume it belongs to the house and has not just been attracted there by some kind of cosmic ordering vibe.

Have I bored you? What are the houses like where you live, and are the biggest threats to public safety free-range cats, horror at house prices and bike thieves? I am curious :-).


Stitched Together said...

Your tales of house prices is so much like York, where I grew up. I went away to uni and after graduation stayed away. I had a job, lived with a guy and when we broke up I looked into going back home, but I simply could not afford to. House prices were astronomically and subsequently rents were too. I also couldn't earn the same amount of money doing a more senior job, than I could get if I stayed in my then current situation. So I stayed where the rents are cheap and the salaries generous. I so still miss York as it is very beautiful and my family and friends live there. However I don't think I could ever live there again.

Susie said...

In Cambridge you had to have bought in the eighties because apparently it went ridiculous after that. Either that, or you can live in the unfashionable bit like us ;-). We used to have a poodle parlour (really) at the end of our road, and when we were moving, one of Partner's friends tried to persuade him he couldn't move here because it wasn't safe: to which Partner replied, why, do you think I might be flattened by a herd of marauding poodles?

York is beautiful too. Boo generally to ridiculous housing costs!

Rachel said...

I love this! I'll have to do one for the village I live in. Avoiding the touristy bits could be a challenge, as the entire village was built around tourism. Mind you, Cambridge seems like that sometimes!

Gracey is not my name.... said...

This is great! Not boring at all! I'm always wondering about how people live and when I visit someplace, always want to know where the locals go..

And we have a HUGE issue with outdoor cats in the US. Yes many people keep indoor cats, many are indoor/outdoor, but there are many more that are free ranging outdoor cats. Our neighbor has several...

Denise said...

As Tucson was part of the great house crisis of 2008, you can get a nice house reasonably cheap. We're hoping it stays that way for awhile.

We have a few free range cats here. However, there is a great chance they might be eaten by something. Coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, havelina, snakes. Then there is a great chance if they are not used to the outdoors that they will dehydrate in a hurry. You know blazing sun, 100F/41C in the shade.

Oh many bikes, and bike thieve rings. Meth addicts here steal bikes, break them down and re-sell them. (looking up at my neighbors above me) ahem. Regular ten speeds are often souped up with tiny motors and tiny gas tanks. Very interesting.

I enjoy the boring bits of other peoples lives too. I would like it in Cambridge if you didn't have the humidity. But then you would be desert too.

Maria S said...

Hmm... Well, I live in a small hamlet in south-west France. There are 7 other houses, all of them detached and all of them with large gardens. We have our own cats (2 of them), and our closest neighbour (about a 5 minute walk away) has one. I've seen a couple of semi-strays loitering near the bins, but they leggit quick when they spot anyone. They certainly don't come out and wind around your ankles, looking for a nice bit of coley.
As far as I can tell, cycling is the national pastime in France. So occasionially we'll see a cycling club out for a Sunday spin - there are usually hundreds of them, every single person (from 8 to 80) clad in lycra and zooming along as though the next stop is the Tour de France. It's a beautiful place, a quiet rural community. And a mile away is a lovely small town, with supermarkets, shops, post office and a doctor. It's wonderful, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Ah. And house prices... Well, for the price of our three-bedroom house, plus 1.5 acres of land, we could have bought a 2-bedroom flat in Warrior Square, St Leonards. Possibly.
Now scuttling away before I get mobbed...

Marushka C. said...

You're never boring, Susie. Perish the thought. I enjoyed this! Everything here is designed around the car culture -- in our corner of the suburbs you have to drive almost everywhere. Biking requires a significant amount of bravery since the cars don't always share the road well. Pedestrians run a risk crossing our big intersections because no one expects them to be on foot -- try walking across and you'll either get run over or cause an accident when the drivers are trying to figure out why you don't have a car like everybody else.

Voie de Vie said...

I want to know if the Bangladeshi take-away is any good!

Susie said...

Ha! I don't know, I haven't been to that one. (Takeaway). ;-).

Marushka, I am sure your place is lovely but I confess I would miss being able to walk everywhere. That's one of the things I like best about Cambridge.

Anonymous said...

That was really a good read - silly you for thinking it might be boring! Far from it; I enjoyed seeing another place in the UK which I know very little about. It looks a good place. Thanks for showing us!

Anonymous said...

I copied you, Susie! Here.

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