Of Homes and Cars

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Not as romantic as it sounds I’m afraid. These “garden cities” (worth reading, it’s interesting) are a product of “modern” town planning ideals, sprouting from one individual in the late 1800s. The idea “took off”, so to speak, and the design principle has been re-used extensively in the US and Australia’s own Canberra is cut from the same mould as well. Good old Wikipedia has all the details, I’ll leave it at that.

Letchworth isn’t too bad, it lacks the quaintness of Hitchin but dreams and reality are often separated by chasms more vast. We had a look at a place in Letchworth today, and all-in-all are in favour of it. We do have a little more research to do but know that the crime rate is low, similar to Rickmansworth, much lower than Northwood, and far lower than more central London locations we’ve considered. Train-wise there is a pretty fast service into Kings Cross that takes 35 minutes, so it’d probably suit Kathlene OK. Recreation-wise the train gets to Cambridge in 35 to 45 minutes and Hitchin in only 5. I don’t know if Letchworth itself has much entertainment for us, but there’s a largish shopping area (far larger than Ricky) with the usual High Street shops and even a cinema (not that we ever go to the cinema, maybe twice in the last 2 years.)
The particular place we looked at is a little the worse for wear, but isn’t terrible. Our place in Wollstonecraft was of similar age and deterioration, but at least this place isn’t mouldy. We’ve been living in an apartment that was built only 6 years ago, so our perspective has changed in this respect. The place is a middle-terrace house (neighbours through both side walls) and has three upstairs bedrooms, two of a good size and one of a reasonable office size. The potential office room is quirky, painted in sky blue and adorned with a Winnie the Pooh character strip and appliqués. Most importantly, the back yard is large and the stove is gas. We’re told the landlord is an easygoing guy and happy to let tenants paint and decorate the place! Not sure what I think about doing my own painting, not when I don’t own the place myself. There’s a little maintenance work required, but this is apparently “in progress” (mainly just two cupboard doors that need to be reattached and a fridge that needs to be disposed of.)

The trek to the station is probably a 15 minute walk, and would be less than 5 on a bike. The area in general lacks the “natural” beauty found around Rickmansworth though and we’d certainly feel more compelled to go for a car. By fortunate coincidence the young lady who drove us to the place has a Mini! It’s a Cooper and she’s had it for 3 years and had no problems. Generally very happy about the car and very positive about her experience with it. I have little to complain about as far as our Mini went over the long weekend. Five days with quite a bit of driving and only 20 quid of diesel required to top the tank up. Speedy, responsive, corners well, and much roomier than expected. My primary practical complaint is that the left-foot rest is too close to the clutch, even after 5 days of driving I kept getting my foot caught on the rest when depressing the clutch – very frustrating. The second complaint is about the far-left-and-up reverse position, on several occasions I went to shift from 3rd to 2nd and found myself too far to the left to pull down to second. The third complaint is that having the tacho dead-ahead through the steering wheel and the (huge) speedo in the centre console doesn’t work for me. I never look at the tacho, I’d rather have the speedo in front of me. The latter two I’d get used to pretty quickly, not sure about the first though.

With a car getting into the town centre would take only a couple of minutes, and Hitchin town centre would be less than 10 minutes away. It’d also be a safer way to get Kat to and from the station if the hour is late. The property has no lock-up garage, but the low crime rate seems reassuring (no bars on any windows down the street is always a good sign.) The socio-economic profile of this part of Letchworth is a strange one, fairly low-income (high welfare), jobs in retail and skilled labour, married, both working, children. Not us, in other words. So the Internet tells us anyway. Also, property prices are bordering on the affordable – which is intriguing. It all adds up to “what’s wrong with this place.” In August 2007 there was a shooting, one car full of young fucktards attacking another – supposedly not gang-related and remarked upon by most sources in the area as highly unusual. All persons involved were arrested, a bus blocked their cars in and the police were on the scene very quickly. Still… not a good story.

The reason we’re looking at Letchworth and considering the particular place we inspected is one of bad timing. We visited 6 letting offices and in all were told the same story, since January letting demand has soared with no rise in supply. Places in Hitchin (and also Letchworth) tend to go within half a week. The offices say it’s “one of those times,” conversely they’re not selling anything at the moment either. It’s interesting to note that it turns out that most agencies run a letting office as a hedge against property market fluctuations, letting isn’t as lucrative but it becomes busier in times when buying (and maintaining mortgage payments) is difficult.

In the end the pluses:

  • Large back-yard in a roughish state (yes, that’s what I want.)
  • Off-street parking (i.e. English-style concrete front-yard.)
  • Loads of space with three bedrooms, a large living room, and a reasonably sized kitchen.
  • Quiet area, in a corner of the town not on any direct through-routes (we’re told the neighbours are elderly.)
  • Rent is so much less than what we currently pay that the difference would cover most of the monthly cost of a new car (and we’d be paying a lot more if we moved within Ricky.)
  • Of Letchworth:
    • Good sized shopping district.
    • Large Morrisons (supposedly a good thing in the supermarket stakes.)
    • A Cannons (5 minute bike ride away), chain-gym usually equipped with too much cardio crap and no squat-rack but also cheap (if you’re with PruHealth.)
    • It’s fairly green and leafy, if not close-by any good nature reserves or woodlands.
    • Good train connections to places that are great to visit and work (i.e. Cambridge & London.)
    • Linked directly to King’s Cross, so also simple to get to Eurostar (less than 2 hours to Paris maybe?)
    • Bus connections to both Luton and Stansted airports, which aren’t far away.


  • Needs some work (but not much.)
  • Not very close to station (we’ve been spoilt living a sub-minute walk to the local station.)
  • No lock-up parking, in the case we decide to get a car.
  • Of Letchworth:
    • Modern and lacking character (but near to places with loads.)
    • Possible youth crime issues, despite low crime rate?
    • Hard to get to Heathrow (we use BA more often than not when flying, but that could change.)
    • Distant from Watford, although in the same county (we’re keen to keep up with Watford-LUG.)
    • No good nearby woodlands or reserves that we can see, what small woods there are appear to be on private land.
    • The name of the place, despite the “Garden City,” makes me think it’s full of old men in trench-coats.

We have a lot to mull over in the next couple of days. We don’t have a deposit down, so knowing our luck and given the demand we’d want to decide it’s a goer sooner rather than later if we’re to go that way.

I’ve mostly finished other summaries and write-ups of our visit to Cambridge. But now it is time to get dug back into work! I’ll probably dribble the rest out over the next week. I’ve also got some text down for the Hare salad and casserole entries… all to come in the fullness of time.

Ah, the complexities of life.