Thursday, 1 December 2005

The worship of Mammon

Some years ago a romantic comedy changed the face of a whole area of London. Notting Hill triggered the gentrification of Notting Hill Gate (by the way, there’s no such thing as Notting Hill). I lived in that once-bohemian neighbourhood for 16 years. At the time it was known for its antique shops: they were everywhere (Portobello Road, Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove especially were lined with them). I once took a cab from the West End; when I told him where I wanted to go, the driver said, “Oh, I know that road [it was a very tiny one]: there’s an antique shop on the corner.” We both hooted with laughter.

I went there this afternoon and some of those antique shops – as well as other businesses – have been replaced by branches of famous designer stores or chichi boutiques and art galleries. Westbourne Grove is still a mixture of high- and low-end retailers, though. There is an extraordinarily luxurious jeweller’s – its frontage is so grand! – next to the Oxfam Shop where I used to take my unwanted belongings. A few landmarks are still in place: the small post office that I used to visit every other day to mail my translations, before the advent of the email, is still there next to Tom’s delicatessen, which was an old-fashioned beauty parlour when I first settled in the area, in 1979 (it was one of those apparently jinxed shops, until Terence Conran’s son turned it into a successful café and posh grocer’s). The road gets steadily grottier as one approaches Queensway, although an expensive Italian traiteur has taken over the Pakistani grocer’s where I used to be welcomed like a long-lost friend on the rare occasions I went there to buy a loaf of bread.

I try to stay away as much as I can because it hurts: I could have made a killing and retired early, had I sold my flat in 1996 instead of 1995. Every time I go to the area I discover new weird things, some less pleasant than others. Today I came across a church that was renovated fairly recently: it's still a church (albeit an ultra modern one), but part of it houses a boutique and an art gallery, and I think there are flats on the upper floors. The last time I’d walked past it I hadn’t noticed how outrageous that was – perhaps because it had been in daylight: I hadn’t suddenly come upon the incongruous spectacle of a church building with brightly lit shop windows on one side. It seems to embody all that is wrong about that area now.

A little while ago I discovered that the nearest synagogue (in Brook Green) had been turned into a Chinese temple. I can just about accept that – although it saddens me, but the transformation of a place of worship into a shop I find truly shocking.

Notting Hill Gate has lost its soul.

A slap to the makers of that film – their influence has been an evil one.


  1. Somehow Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "One Art," comes to mind.

    "The art of losing isn't hard to master;
    so many things seem filled with the intent
    to be lost that their loss is no disaster."

    You lost something important to you. Sad.

  2. your proflie and the title of your blog is intriguing.

  3. Oh, that's so beautifully expressed, TLP. All those things leave a hole in the mind and the heart.

    My "profile" and "the title of [my] blog" only? What about the content? Anything intriguing in the content? LOL!

  4. I can live with deconsecrated churches being converted into flats (though I wouldn't live in one - seen too many horror films) or offices, but somehow shops seems worse. And as for having a bit of church with a bit of (unrelated) shop on the's more shocking. I think about the architects who thought they were building something to the glory of God. I don't believe in God, but those builders perhaps did, and would be quite offended to know that they were actually building a branch of Jigsaw. So I'm offended on their behalf, and slapping for them.

  5. I find that quite horrifying. Slapping along with y'all

  6. OH yeah. They need a good whack for that about the church. I'm surprised it hasn't been stricken by lightening.

  7. People are leaving Notting Hill Gate - they destroyed its wonderful ambience and now they miss what attracted them there in the first place. Perhaps the church will revert to being just a church in the near future.


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