People seem to think that living in London makes you fearless. But I'm coming to realise that the urban lifestyle really only equips you for one, very specific type of fear.
My husband and I live in Lewisham in South East London. Here are some facts about Lewisham:
• Lewisham has a homicide rate that is twice the national average.
• It has the largest police station in Europe.
• It also has a major fire station and the largest hospital in South East London (just outside our flat, in fact. It’s siren-tastic.)
• Millwall FC has its home ground in the borough.
• Lewisham is officially the "least peaceful" place in England. This is based on five indicators: the murder rate, the violent crime rate, the weapons crime rate and the public disorder offences rate (source)
• Finally, Lewisham is also the home of a man who deems it socially acceptable to host all-night reggae parties on a Sunday. Now I love an all-night reggae party. But not on a Sunday, sir. Never on a Sunday.
On the plus side it also has a fantastic music scene; great (if noisy) transport links and is cheap as chips to live in. Need to purchase 25 chicken wings for under £5 at 3 in the morning? I know just the place. But nevertheless, it’s understandable that every now and again we need to escape the hustle and bustle for a little peace. And when that time comes, we go to Mudeford Sandbank in Dorset.
A tiny spit of land jutting out of Christchurch, it is the home of around 200 beach huts, each about the size of a large shed. There is no running water; only the tiniest of shops (which is rarely open) and the only way to get there is by ferry or on a land train older than me which looks like a child’s toy.
But for peace and quiet, it literally cannot be beaten. Especially on a slightly chilly week at the beginning of June, when the kids are in school and the retirees are at home with the central heating on. For two people who spend their lives in the country’s least peaceful borough, it was a little piece of heaven (if heaven is 12 degrees with a brisk southeasterly wind.)
The only downside is, when you live in such a constant hub of traffic, people and violent crime, you suddenly find yourself all alone and discover that it can be more frightening than any statistics. As proved on day three, when I was so unnerved by a light mysteriously coming on in the toilets that my other half had to watch me walk over to brush my teeth and walk back again, mobile phone in hand in case of a hidden assailant. And I ran back to the beach hut screaming after thirty seconds anyway because I thought I heard a noise, which turned out to be the rustling of my own jacket.
Our supposedly edgy urban lifestyle has turned us into babies. I very much doubt that anyone wanting to commit a crime would bother to take the “Noddy Train” at a handsome cost of £1.20 each way, and then walk 500 metres down a beach to do so. But fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, and that very dark, very silent beach made us feel like children at a sleepover after telling ghost stories. There literally could have been anything out there.
At first light when we were having breakfast overlooking the sea all this was forgotten of course, and the beach became a lovely little pocket of tranquillity once more. But it’s a funny feeling when you realise that the late night shouting, mewling infants and, yes, even the thumping reggae beats are in fact what makes you feel safe.
When we returned home on Sunday, Lewisham was just as we left it. Busy, crowded, noisy and overwhelming. And as much as we were revived by our getaway, it was a home comfort to hear the first siren as we stepped out of the station. A small, albeit loud, reminder that we were home, with other people, where we belonged.