No-one would claim that Princess Row was the best street in town. Situated as it was between Queen's Road up the hill to the west, Marlborough Place down the hill to the east, Trafalgar Road to the north and, paradoxically, North Road to the south (towards the sea), it was in the heart of what had become known as the North Laine. North Laine lacked the feeling of spaciousness one had in, say, Dyke Road Avenue, and it had none of the grandeur of the Regency terraces and squares of Kemp Town in their uniform of cream rendering with shiny black doors and Juliet balconies. But despite these shortcomings, or maybe because of them, it had developed into the arty, some would say bohemian, part of the town with its specialist shops and funny little back alleys.
And if no-one would claim Princess Row as the best street in town, likewise no-one would claim number 2 as the best house in Princess Row. It was virtually indistinguishable from its neighbours, number 1 on the left and number 3 on the right. Of course, mused its current owner and sole occupier, whether number 1 was on the left and number 3 on the right or vice versa depended entirely upon one's point of view. If one stood in the street and looked towards the houses, number 3 was on the left. On the other hand, if one stood in the house and looked towards the street, number 3 was on the right.
This was a deeply philosophical thought for Tom Finch. Tom was not a man given to much philosophical thought, or indeed much thought of any sort. Ask any person to describe the average man and the description would fit Tom to a T. He was perhaps fifty-something, of average height and average build. His hair, which was starting to thin a little on the top, was a mid-brown, and his eyes were an indeterminate colour, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes even seeming to be almost but not quite brown.
Tom had lived at number 2 Princess Row all his life. Well, nearly all his life, he would say. The first week of his life had been spent in the old maternity hospital in Buckingham Place, but after his mother had been discharged and had proudly brought him back to Princess Row he had lived nowhere else. If he thought about it, which he never did, he would realise that he had no wish to live anywhere else. Princess Row suited him very well. What need did he have of more than two bedrooms, a front room and a kitchen? Most people would find it inconvenient to have the bathroom situated on the ground floor beyond the kitchen, but this didn't bother Tom at all; he was used to it, and had been for all his fifty-something years. If he cast his mind back, he had vague memories of baths with a clockwork submarine and his mother wrapping him in a large towel before he could get cold.
His mother had always been very proud of Tom. At least, she had always said she was, although she often felt there was something niggling away at the back of her mind telling her that her pride was possibly just a little misplaced. She always felt, when reading Tom's school reports, that he could do better if only he could be bothered to use his mind. She felt, when he received the very mediocre results of his GCE examinations, that those results could have been better. She felt, when he found a job in the caretakers' department of the Polytechnic, that perhaps, if she had encouraged him to use his mind a little more while at school, he could have done better for himself.
But Tom was, if not happy, at least not unhappy with his life as it was. To tell the truth, he never bothered to wonder if he was happy or not. Life was as it was and there was no point bothering about being happy or unhappy. He rose at six o'clock every morning, had a cup of tea and walked down the hill to St Peter's church, buying his daily paper on the way. He had always read the Daily Mirror because that was the paper his father had bought, and which his mother had continued to buy after her husband's death. At St Peter's, he caught a bus along the Lewes Road to the poly, as he had done now for more than thirty years. Here he performed his duties methodically, even conscientiously, but never imaginatively. Tom was not blessed, or cursed, with much imagination.
On the same day that Tom had his deeply philosophical thought about whether number 3 Princess Row was to the left or right of number 2, his neighbour at number 3 was thinking about Tom.