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On the breadline at pounds 100,000.

Keeping up appearances in upper-middle class London is just one pay packet too far, says Finola Lynch.

Trimmings of success: Prestige cars, ballet classes, partying - and parking - some costs are comparable but others are a good deal cheaper here.

Keeping up with the Joneses is never easy dahling. That is why you should never live in London.

London luvvies do not get the fact that the vast majority of the country refuses to be seduced by a city which lives on image and credit cards alone.

The supposed perks of living in the national capital - higher salaries, bigger jobs, more to see and do - is more than offset by the downsides and we've just discovered a few more.

A truly shocking survey in one of those London-based national newspapers has revealed that trying to keep up appearances in the capital is a challenge too far for most accountants.

The same newspapers which have an irritating habit of putting down the regions, using that awful, all-embracing word "the provinces" and making us sound so dull, have only just discovered that life in London is hard work. So much for quality of life.

An upper-middle class couple struggling with a pounds 150,000 mortgage, two children in private schools and all the costs incurred by the capital's exhausting lifestyle need to be earning a bare minimum of pounds 100,000 a year just to get by. How awful!

They have actually called it a poverty line - can you imagine? - which is stretched to the last penny by those outrageous London prices for homes, transport and the higher cost of everything.

The survey has been presented in a way which expects the reader to feel sorry for the types who insist on a Caribbean holiday every year, have a decent 4x4 because everyone else drives one to the school gates, and simply could not survive the London whirl without a nanny in tow to bring up the children.

The main strains on the budget are what you would expect. The price of a decent house, in the range of pounds 200,000, private school fees for the two children - about pounds 15,000 - and child care costs - at least pounds 10,000 for a decent nanny.

But it is the toll of London life in general which really bites into that part of the income laughingly called "disposable". Taxis and public transport, essential for getting from A to B in London, mean an extra pounds 1,000 a year alone.

Everything from goods and services to the price of theatre tickets and restaurants is also a constant worry to your average upwardly-mobile couple trying to maintain a high-maintenance lifestyle. Think at least another pounds 10,000.

The problem for many is they get caught up in the trap of "I am what I spend" - which is fine if you have the cash. But everything has a price and the upper middle classes who attempt to perfect this existence in London think it is a price worth paying.

The easiest way of proving you are a success in life is by forking out for it. It can only be done with a partner who is just as susceptible to these peer pressures as yourself.

This means both of you work, both of you are constantly exhausted and neither of you budgets. It is a life lived at a furious pace, a constant round of social engagements, dinners and nights at the opera.

Goodness, if you ever stinted on anything, your so-called friends would be on the phone to each other before you could say "middle class".

Here in the West Midlands life can be no less frenetic. You still see the same BMWs and 4x4s clogging up Harborne and Edgbaston on the school crawl to one of the King Edward VI grammar schools every morning, or pulling out of drives leading up to mini-mansions bought for a cool pounds 500,000.

But for those allowed to join the upper middle class caste, keeping up with the neighbours is considerably easier on the wallet.

If you're thinking big, think Edgbaston, not Kew.

One woman, who did not want to be named, lives in a nine-bedroom pile in Edgbaston which cost pounds 395,000.

Her husband earns in the region of pounds 200,000 and she doesn't work. "We couldn't live the lifestyle we do in London. We just wouldn't have the same amount of income. "At the moment my husband can walk to work if he wants, which admittedly he doesn't do very often. We wouldn't be able to afford this house and we'd have to live further out of the city.

"That would mean higher transport costs and a smaller house. I have four children and it would be a bit of a squash and I don't know where we would put the au pair.

"Perish the thought, I might have to go out to work," she laughs. "I think there would also be more pressure on the children. Pressure to send them to drama schools and get a nanny to occupy them from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.

"It would be such a demanding and high-pressured lifestyle. At least we don't have to be busy every night of the week.

"It is a slower, more low-key pace of life here but that's no bad thing. I think our quality of life is better for not living in London."

And her theory is born out by the statisticians. The Reward Group, who carry out more than 50 surveys a year on the cost of living and quality of life in Great Britain, reckon the Greater London region, that bastion of suburban bliss, has the worst quality of life in the country.

In a survey published in March this year, Scotland came top followed by the North West, the North and then the West Midlands. Is there a pattern emerging here?

The further away you get from the country's capital, the more likely you are to buy more for your money, spend less time in the car and see your children on a regular basis.

And if you are lucky enough to earn between pounds 80,000 and pounds 90,000 you can still buy the 4x4, the designer clothes and the new-fangled computer your child craves.

This is considered the breadline for upper-middle classes living in Birmingham and its surrounding areas.

We all want to be one of the gang but is it worth sacrificing a decent existence to the demands of a capital city intent on using you to fulfil its own image.

London may be cool and swinging, but at the end of the day who is paying for it? Not you or me, that's for certain.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 13, 1999
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