That bloke Ian Dunt (I think that is his name) wrote something provocative on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, about how stupid he thought people were to move out of London when they have kids. "Where are you going to raise them that's better?" he asked. I found myself reading the replies for the best part of an hour. Some people were getting really cross about how Londoners reckon themselves and their home city to be so great. Londoners seemed economically obliged to fight their corner - if they can't justify the enormous extra expense of living here, they are daft to be doing so, I suppose.
In amongst loads of emotive language on both sides, a Scottish paediatrician took the time to list more-than-one-tweet's-worth of toxic agents and carcinogens that he believes Londoners and their children are breathing, all day, every day. In fact, throughout these tuppence-worths, the idea of bringing your kids up breathing poison was second only to making them live in a smaller house without much of a garden in its frequency of appearance.
I grew up a loathsome asthmatic, one of those kids whose lungs make such unpleasant noises that other people around them forget how to breathe properly too. This was deep in the heart of rural Suffolk, and was particularly bad late in the summer, around harvest time. When I came to London as a student at eighteen, I started breathing better straightaway. My alveoli took to the heavy metals and diverse pollutants in the London air so well, in fact, that I often found it difficult to go home in the holidays. I had also become allergic to my parents' cats and dogs, something there had been no sign of before.
Twenty-six years later, as long as I stay away from hairy animals, which I'm usually very happy to do, it's unusual for me to have the slightest of wheezes. My two sons have both inherited my crappy lungs, however, and I feel a little guilty when I read on the internet that I am slowly killing them with my selfish metropolitan lifestyle. But what if they, like their father, turn out to thrive on lead and dangerous chemicals rather than with all that pollen and organic nastiness?
We usually find that we all breathe better at the seaside, oxygenated air inflating our wimpy bronchioles like withered foil balloons, leaving us over-aerated and ready for bed by seven. But on holiday in a chalet in Cromer once (where it seems a dog had been staying not long before), I ended up in hospital on a nebuliser, a facemask strapped over my nose and mouth.
Fred Neil was going where the sun was shining... where the weather suited his clothes. I guess we are going to have to go where the air suits our lungs. Oh yeah, and the kids have said that wherever we end up, they are going to want a dog.