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I went there this afternoon and some of those antique shops – as well as other businesses – have been replaced by branches of famous designer stores or chichi boutiques and art galleries.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.

7 comments:

  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.

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

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  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!

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  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 side...it'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.

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

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

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  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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