The houses of the Belle View housing estate certainly have a view. The main road was cut sometime in the fifties along the side of one of the chalk escarpments that overlook the town. I can imagine the construction photographs: heavy lorries passing backwards and forwards along a ribbon of dusty white hardcore, scaffolding like stilts along the plunging edge. Visiting these houses is a strangely disorienting experience. You park on the road, walk down two flights of steep concrete steps to the front door, into a house where the downstairs is the upstairs and the upstairs is underneath. It’s always bracing to look out of the window, like a suburban council house had been ripped up and slung under a giant balloon.
Lila is sitting in a riser recliner at the wide window, a rent controlled Captain Nemo on the bridge of her dirigible. Since her accident – a fall, naturally – she’s swapped her uniform for a sweltering, cable-knit dressing gown and felt, leopard-skin booties.
‘Did you have any trouble with the keysafe?’ she says, waggling the booties. ‘Some people find it a bit fiddly.’
‘No. It was fine. It’s one of the better ones.’
‘I worry about it,’ she says. ‘Being overlooked.’
‘What by? Seagulls?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘The house that side’s been empty for ages. Next door’s the drugs people.’
‘Oh?’ I say, pulling a concerned face. ‘Sorry.’
‘Oh no!’ she says. ‘They’re lovely. They’ve helped me loads of times. They don’t take the drugs. They only deal.’
‘Is that the house with the big hedge?’
‘That’s it. The postman says it’s cannabis, but I think it’s juniper. They didn’t grow it, mind. It was there before they came. Fifteen years ago, now. It wasn’t that tall then, but I don’t think they’re gardeners. Anyway, it probably suits them to have a little bit of cover, if you get my drift. They’ve had the police round twice, you know.’
‘Have they? When was that?’
‘Once when they first moved in, and once a couple of years ago. Rita did a bit of time in the prison, but she’s so good they let her out pretty quick. I think they wanted to keep her longer ‘cos she was good for morale, but she’s got kids, so…’
Lila waggles her booties again.
‘Anyway! What’s on the menu today?’