An aspiration, I believe, for many a New Yorker though my own move was not to Long Island (though I do remain resident on a much longer island). Whilst Southampton shares a name (and given the etymology of said name, can be considered the original) with one of the Hamptons most desirable villages, I doubt the folk of the four boroughs are queuing to move here.
After three months as a resident, I can say that Southampton is no Cambridge – the architecture would (on the whole) be considered less attractive and despite a river I have yet to see a punt. Some of the dodgy architecture can be blamed on the Luftwaffe, though I fear the British must take the blame for the re-building. It does, however, have some history – it claims it was from here that Cnut failed to command the sea (wisely eschewing use of the Illearth stone) – and has a long naval tradition.
When I moved from Crouch End to Cambridge, I noted the increased obesity of the residents in my new domicile. This effect was repeated with my most recent move. I believe this is a class (or socio-economic effect); it is extraordinary that within a century obesity has gone from being a signifier of extreme wealth to one of near poverty.
It is also quite astonishingly green in many parts with a very generous provision of parks surrounding the city centre and the Common just to the north. My new demesne lies within a Georgian crescent (well, demi-crescent) facing a small park and the main law courts (so, I still see plenty of police action). Whilst the frontage and hall floor are original, the rest is more recently-built and so offers the high ceilings and tall windows of the past but modern levels of sound and heat insulation. It lies betwixt the soi-disant Cultural Quarter and the Common and the older of the two universities – so little that I might want to visit is more than a mile or two away (including those vital pillars of a chap’s life: Waitrose, John Lewis, the main library and the railway station).
Talking of the universities, my new gym is associated with the johnny-come-lately uni (made famous as the seat of John Lloyd’s professor of ignorance in this latest series of the Museum of Curiosity). This gains over previous gymnasia in its cheapness and proximity, but mostly in that it has both a tower and crenellations! As the building seems less than a century old, I presume these are a decorative flourish and have never been used to repel an attack but do make a pleasant change from the retail “barns” which house so many modern fitness (and other) facilities.
The old university is comprised of modern buildings but in rather fine, tree-filled grounds. It also house an excellent music facility in the Turner Sims and a decent theatre in the Nuffield. I may talk more of these anon, but they do boast a very fine range of both ice cream and beer at very competitive prices!
Southampton provides a river and the sea at close hand, though I have yet to actually see the briny (however, I have seen some very large boats dominating the skyline – my first being the Queen Mary 2). It lies within easy cycling distance of the New Forest: yet another trip I have yet to make. What it also offers is very, direct good rail links to a surprisingly wide area of the UK – though Network Rail is contriving to make weekend or evening trips to London rather undesirable unless one wishes to invest an awful lot of time (and probably a bus journey) to return home. As a result, I have visited Oxford, Salisbury and Chichester for weekend fun since my move – all take less time than going to London from Cambridge and by avoiding going via London are a surprisingly cheap option (even without booking months in advance).
More of Oxford and Chichester another time, but I shall mention Salisbury now. I used to go there when but a lad, but the city now seemed very unfamiliar – even the cathedral. However, I did find Reeves the Baker (fitted with somewhat different signage than in the 70s) and they still offered lardy cake. Proust had his madeleine, for me the first mouthful of lardy cake and my temps perdu flooded back like soapy water to a badly-plumbed washing machine. The city costs only pennies more to visit than the cost of visiting Cambridge by bus from Sawston – and takes less time to reach despite the substantially greater distance.
Perhaps Salisbury’s greatest asset (or at least one of the greats) is the Playhouse. I have seen a truly excellent production of 1984 (which will soon drive me back to the book, which I last read when 12 – which might have been a tad precocious , or merely premature) and my first taste of Ibsen with Ghosts (the hammer-blow ending of which reminded me of Katya Kabanova – pretentious, moi?). Even better, it is amazingly cheap for a matinée seat at a mere £15 and offers a decent interval refreshment.
So, all-in-all, the move is proving a success – though I do miss Cambridge – and my plan to see the UK by living in its various parts (so much better than being a mere tourist) proceeds apace.