I seem to find social pathology everywhere I look, even in Winchester. Perhaps it is ubiquitous or perhaps it is me: one tends, after all, to see what one is disposed to remark.
We were staying overnight in Winchester, my wife and I, to catch the ferry next day from Portsmouth to Caen. We went for a walk, Winchester still being a lovely city in parts, though anyone still not convinced that the Twentieth Century was an irreparable aesthetic disaster for England need spend only five minutes there.
Passing a block of flats euphemistically described as social housing, I asked some directions of a young woman sitting on a low wall, her baby (or more accurately, her babby ) in a pushchair before her.
She answered very pleasantly, indeed smilingly, and it was then that I noticed that two of her upper front teeth were missing.
Teeth generally rot from the back first; missing front teeth have usually been knocked out. Most likely they had been knocked out by a boyfriend, possibly the father of the babby, more likely a subsequent boyfriend: for boyfriends of girls with babbies tend to be jealous and take the babby as anticipatory evidence of future infidelity.
If this is genteel Winchester, what must it be like in Toxteth or Moss Side?
We had a few hours to kill in Portsmouth and went to Southsea, where Conan Doyle was once a general practitioner. A former haven of petty bourgeois respectability, it is now seedy, its Victorian and Edwardian terraces divided into flats and bed-sits for students, recipients of social security and transients with jobs. I loved it.
For one thing there were scores of little shops, with no chain shops in sight; and you could park for free for two whole hours! There was a splendidly must second-hand bookshop specialising in pre-war crime novels, presided over a pre-internet owner who did not spend his time poring over a computer comparing prices. Southsea seemed delightfully unregulated; it as like going back several decades.
We went to an excellent and cheap Japanese restaurant – £17 for two with a beer included. The manager apologised for the slight delay in the arrival of the food (it was very slight).
‘We’re suddenly very busy,’ he said. ‘I expect it’s the rain. When the weather’s good, people have better things to do than come here.’
I think I could be happy in Southsea.