King’s Road . . .Sunday Afternoon.
I’d never been to Sloane Square before. I’d read the infamous Sloane Ranger Handbook back in Canada before I came back to England and something about the portrait of English upper class life caught my colonial imagination (I suppose everything British caught my imagination in those days). It wasn’t until I came over and saw the true awfulness of the type up close – those braying accents, the baseless sense of superiority – that the sheen wore off.
The Sloanes appear to have gone now, up to Notting Hill, to my old stomping grounds around Maida Vale and points north which back in the day was prime squatting territory, home to a thousand dole-dependent single men living in depressing bedsits . . . dominating, as they always have, the City, Law, now taking over PR, ‘Media’, and art galleries of ‘the right sort’ . . .
King’s Road, where Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren had their infamous ‘SEX’ boutique, where Maclaren auditioned Johnny Rotten and launched the Sex Pistols, winds through the heart of Fulham Chelsea – so gentrified now you’d have a hard time imagining that a place like ‘SEX’ had ever existed here or anywhere else. Vivienne Westwood’s boutique is up in Mayfair now, Johnny Rotten pedals his angry drunk Brit persona in LA (where he has made a fortune in real estate speculation, of all things) and Malcom Maclaren – does anyone know what Malcom Maclaren does now?
Even by the time I reached King’s Road in the middle 80’s, dragged down to the Chelsea Kitchen for the three pound dinner special by a girlfriend who knew all London’s ins and outs. it was a rich man’s neighborhood, but you could still find those nice smoky pubs with the wood counters, music burbling unintrusively in the background, a pint of bitter for less than a pound.
It seemed so very English, with the dingy tube stations, the alcoholic old men knocking back cans of strong lager in fromt of the tube stations – the taste of clammy sea air, exhaust and cigarette smoke in the air that seemed so very London.
Like most of London West, the buildings look a little different here than the rest of the city. White or yellow or even light blue facades, with those funny trees out front that look like a Yucca plant. I’ve always thought West London has something not quite English, so that on warm and sunny days, you might almost be in the south of France – or, at the very least Brighton.
I walked right down to the World’s End pub, across the street from the Guiness Estates. Back in the 70’s, a Canadian friend of mine, ten years older than me, used to come down here to watch the Chelsea games. It was pretty rough back then, the time of the Chelsea Headhunters, but, even though his parents were Greek, he remained a loyal Chelsea supporter, wearing the blue Chelsea colours at World Cup matches in Canada. On that afternoon, a match was on, and the street was full of big men with big bellies in Chelsea sweaters, standing in front of the chippie, drinking beer on the pavement. The World’s End was closed for refurbishment – will it open as a wine bar? – but the change from hyper-gentrified King’s Road, with it’s high end chain stores and wine bars and string of Cafe Neros was startling to say the least.
That’s how London is now – pockets of the old, working class areas, surviving like islands amidst this new London that seems much harder to identify. . . .