30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
9. NOTTING HILL
I lived around Notting Hill for 3 years. I was going to write a piece about London herself, but it’s West London and the Notting Hill surrounds that I will always remember.
I am currently not living there. After 3 years, I decided to move on. Most of friends have gone, and I wanted to try something different. I don’t regret it, but it’s not the best decision I’ve ever made. I miss it a lot.
Notting Hill is held together by Portobello Road – a long and winding road that goes from south to north. On the weekends it’s one of the best, busiest markets in the world. At nights it’s full of great pubs, restaurants and cinemas. At other times, it’s just a collection of flats, supermarkets and cafes. It’s a different thing at different times.
By luck, my job is in West London, so I tried to find a place to live near work. I found it in Ladbroke Grove, the next suburb up from Notting Hill, at the end of Portobello Road. From here, most mornings I would walk past the markets, and if it was a weekend I would soak in the shops and the atmosphere.
The place, even when packed with thousands of people, feels like home to me.
Portobello markets is the highlight. A million Saturday mornings spent going through it’s shops, and eating it’s paella. There were great record shops – the indie/famous Rough Trade, the 60s old school vinyl fanatics Minus Zero, and the soul/reggae shop Honest Jon (part owned by Damon Albarn).
For food, there are plenty of market stalls. Fantastic paella (with a slightly scary loud lady), excellent falafel rolls, nasty but sometimes necessary spicy German sausage to a little alleyway where some woman roasts a pig on a spit every Saturday. There’s always new ones too – I saw a Ghanan place the other day.
There’s plenty of sit down places too – the Electric, expensive and posh Italian at Osteria Basilico or Essenza, the best Thai in London at Market Thai. The Sausage And Mash Café is great for a hangover a50s chic décor, or the hidden away courtyard at Lazy Daisy. I have eaten myself mad on this street.
The shame is, there is no good coffee. London coffee is dodgy at best, so for a while I tried to support Progresso, a fair trade barista. But the coffee was so bad I had to spit it out, and I started going to Starbucks.
There are, however, a lot of pubs. From north to south – The Fat Badger, right in the Caribbean end of Portobello with a big open front room and comfy sofas. The Market Bar – always too crowded but a couple of great front-facing seats for people watching. The Castle – small but lovely, bar staff are wankers but we met a great group of people dressed up once. First Floor – my favourite bar that’s in the markets, right next to Rough Trade, people spilling out everywhere, clunky revolving doors, a million great memories. The Duke Of Wellington – the old man bar where I ran once after a heartbreaking night, to head into a conversation about continents. The Portobello Star – chic, charming, small bar that’s recently been prettied up. The Earl Of Lonsdale – cheap and with a big beer garden, many nights were spent in here, meeting lots of people. But if I had to choose one, it’s the Sun In Splendour –first shop south on Portobello. Quirky, great beer garden, best food – and it’s where Monty Python would drink and write the Flying Circus.
And that to the stalls that sells comics, CDs, vintage suits, old paperbacks, antiques, Hugh Grant’s Travel Bookshop, Jesse’s Western for old cowboy shirts – and more. Before I bore you with more details, just make a plan and visit it yourself.
Londoners are always fighting about what part of London is best. North vs South. East vs West. It gets kind of old. So I’m not going to go into why the West (where Notting Hill resides) is better than any other part of London. Except for one very important point.
Notting Hill is beautiful. Rows and rows of lovely terrace houses. Side street mews, and the wonderful All Saints Church just hidden away but over looking it all. It LOOKS like London from Paddington Bear cartoons. And, as with everything in my life, I usually go for the pretty.
As exciting as I find the place, people tell me I missed the golden days. The 50s brought with it an influx of Caribbean people – an influence that pervades the laid back, somewhat hippie culture of the area (and is best manifested in the yearly Notting Hill Carnival).
In the 60s, it was the home of Psychedelic rock. Pink Floyd, Cream and Hendrix all hung around there. Hendrix himself died in Notting Hill, in a hotel that is now a terrace building. The Electric, right in the middle of Portobello Road, was a famous avant garde cinema at the time.
Part of the reason for this was Notting Hill fell into disrepair. Large houses turned into artist slums. Leading well into the 70s, it was considered one of the worse areas of London. Clashes with police and the feeling of injustice led to Saint Joe Strummer, a local boy who created the Clash. In Strummer, I see all the great things about Portobello Rd and Notting Hill. An artistic life lived with passion. A mix of intellect and gut. World rhythms and white hot guitars. Politics and love intertwined. God, I love the Clash.
The 80s came Thatcher, and the slums and the bums were cleared out. Most of them were posers anyway, but the heart of the area stayed. Slowly it became neater, and the shops popped up. It became a buzzing part of new Britannia by the 90s – and was the home of Blur and Pulp. Jarvis Cocker wrote Common People about the influx of tourists and upper class types into the area.
Then came the Richard Curtis movie Notting Hill, which changed everything again. Now a worldwide postcard, Portobello was taken over by chain sneaker shops and expensive clothes. The danger has gone. It’s now one of the biggest tourist attractions in London.
But that Joe Strummer spirit is still there. The Portobello Film Festival isn anarchic and awesome. The street works together as a community. All peoples come together here, to dance, to kiss, to argue and to live.
A million memories flood my mind when I think of Portobello. Above and beyond the pubs – are the clubs. All of them mainly cool, and drinking spirits and dancing like a mad man to 70s funk. Be it Trailer Happiness or Notting Hill Arts Club. And walks home, buying more smokes, a bottle of water and sometimes instant noodles as well from the all night shops.
There were Sunday nights at the Coronet Cinema, mostly on my own, watching whatever indie film was on. The Hillgate, where Jay, Dan Ryan, Hampton and I ruled for months. The weird school where I took French lessons. I still get my haircuts from the South Americans on Golbourne Rd.
Many life changing scenes, both good and bad, occurred in Notting Hill. But that could be the amount of time I spent there. Many times I found myself walking down Portobello in the dead of night, and I have it all to myself. Friends made, girls kissed, girls lost, fights had, cans thrown, piss pissed, records bought, jokes told.
It’s where I think of when I think London. If any part of me is a Londoner, then I’m a West Londoner. Even if the whole place changes again, it will still be my London.