Bramhall lies on something called the ‘Cheshire Stockbroker belt’, or so I am always informed on the extremely rare occasions that this odd bastard daughter of Cheshire village and South Manchester suburb (pop. 40,000) makes it into the tabloid press (I think the last time was when probably its most famous resident, George Best, drunk himself into an early grave. Not on account of living here). I’m not sure where they get this ‘stockbroker’ bit from though. Manchester, the nearest town to Bramhall of which most Southerners will have heard, is hardly The City: more Armani Exchange than Stock Exchange in many ways.
Nonetheless, Bramhall is known locally as rather affluent and a pleasant place to live. It’s conservative with quite a small C, but has had a jolly LibDem MP for a while now. If I recall correctly, a study in some nameless provincial University pronounced it the happiest/friendliest/least disagreeable place to live in the country. This is not hard to achieve when your main neighbour is Stockport – a great grey sodden bubo of a town festering in the armpit of industrial North West England. I saw a girl there once trying to break into a car, not realising somebody was sat in it.
Bramhall, by comparison, is a paradise of niceness. Yes, each one of its local pubs has had its personality wallpapered over in patterns of varying degrees of floral, and been filled with as much glass, marble and mid-life crisis as you can imagine; but, like old age, it’s not pretty, but better than the alternative.
I have been harsh so far. And I really oughtn’t to be, since this place has served me and my twenty years well as a ville natale. The schools are numerous and their uniforms brightly coloured. Thankfully I didn’t go to the one whose jumpers were a fetching melange of yellow and brown. They, naturally, were comprehensively bullied. The high school was one of the first to bring sniffer-dogs onto the premises, which was a bit of a novelty; and it also hit the headlines for introducing clip-on ties for health and safety reasons, which earned us a nice dosage of Daily Mail ‘political correctness gone mad’ coverage.
We don’t have theatres; we have no cinema and no art gallery. Queen Elizabeth I once spent the night in Bramall Hall, our only national landmark, and, according to Simon Jenkins, one of the finest examples of Tudor architecture in the country. One evening, mind. Perhaps, however, she should have stayed longer: long enough to appreciate the joy of a picnic in the seventy perfect acres that surround it. After all, beauty is never expected, never comes when you think it will; least of all in the middle of this suburban wilderness, this sprawl of hedgerows and waxed-SUVs. But it’s there, believe me, it’s there.