Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Stroll Around Rotting Hill

Campden Hill Towers and the far side of Notting Hill Gate

Unexpectedly, I am back home on Rotting Hill Gate. A good time to continue my stroll in the graveyard of memory and the ghosts of businesses past!  


Neighbour Ho?

At the busy and dangerous pedestrian crossing of Pembridge Road and Notting Hill Gate is United House. This section of the high street, including Campden Hill Towers behind United House, is part of the 1958-1960 development of Notting Hill Gate. A lot of incomers and tourists lose their bearings around this unremarkable stretch of buildings. They exit the underground station but get lost looking for Portobello Road and "the house with the blue door" from that awful Notting Hill movie. It's amazing how many people come to Notting Hill on the back of seeing that film. In the old days Performance was the film that used to bring idiots to the area. Now it's Notting Hill.    


Jones got slapped by rapper Schoolly D and his mates from BAD didn't him back up

But sometimes real life in Notting Hill is much like the movie from 1999. And what is Notting Hill without a celebrity roaming in the wild? I spot one: Mick Jones from the Clash exiting Tesco supermarket burdened with 5p shopping bags. It's funny seeing Jones like this. He once wrote a song called Lost in the Supermarket about a pot head having a panic attack on a shopping trip. These days the old punk is a bit of a sight in the flesh. Thin on top, in a blue pinstripe suit, with a disorderly arrangement of crooked front teeth, he looks a bit like Bela Lugosi. But Jones is a long term resident of the area - even longer than me - and seeing him out-and-about is one of the few connections between Notting Hill of the past and now.  

At the phlegmy stone base of United House is Jamie Oliver's flash new restaurant and kitchen shop, Recipease. Before that it was WH Smith, a place where I bought newspapers, textbooks, records and tapes during the 1980s and 1990s. It's also the site of some odd reminiscences. One concerns an ex girlfriend who used to haunt the rows and aisles as a teenager. She was an American and had some strange obsessive compulsive disorder that manifested itself in rearranging books and magazines on the shelves. I once caught her doing this after school in 1984. She glanced up at me but then moved swiftly out of sight to the next aisle of books and magazines.  I asked her about this many years later. She curtly informed me that the subject of her teenage neurosis was not open to discussion. 


Impossible to get in USA...

Next to WH Smith is Boots the Chemist - one of the original features of Notting Hill Gate and an outlet popular with a trio of shoplifting girls from my class at Holland Park School. They were always getting caught and returned to class after lunchtime break under police escort. I couldn't blame them. Shoplifting was on the practically on the curriculum at Holland Park. And ladies make up, then as now, is bloody expensive. I still shop at Boots. This time I'm marching up and down the aisles of the stark white shop looking for Umberto Giannini "flirty curls scrunching gel." The African security men are looking at me like a shoplifter. Maybe Boots has a file on ex Holland Parkers still resident on Notting Hill Gate? Yes. That must be it.

Next door is a sushi restaurant called Itsu. Another new place that I refuse to patronise. For many decades it was Wimpy -- the home grown English version of McDonald's, the horrid American hamburger restaurant franchise (I loathe that word!). Quite a few kids from Holland Park used to have birthday parties here at the "function room" upstairs. Then, in the early 1990s, it morphed into Burger King. Burger King didn't do much business with the locals and always looked rather sad and empty. But back then there was no shortage of good takeaway food to be had in the area. Around the corner on Pembridge Road was Spud U Like and the grotty old Slow Boat Chinese take away.  They ceased doing business in the 1990s -- the last great decade in the history of Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. 

Cosily beside Itsu is Tylers. It used to be a Europa supermarket in the 70s and 80s that sold expat food and afro combs. Sometime in the early 1990s it became a hardware store. I have shopped here many times over the years -- especially when I have had some low intensity DIY problem at HQ. Now Tylers is fighting an increase from the landlord - who wants to rent the space to Zara because planners and landlords want to turn Notting Hill into an area of high end cafes and chic shops. Funny thing is Notting Hill was a fashionable shopping destination 100 years ago. So perhaps things are going full cycle.


Unable to find pic of Rudy Kline. Here's Lew Grade instead.

Businesses come and go but memories take longer to fade out. Next along is the site of Centre of Sound a HiFi store that used to have big walk-in windows (handy for the dossing homeless of Thatcher's London). Centre of Sound was owned and run in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a cigar chomping Jewish bloke called Rudy Kline. Kline had the manner of a Sgt. Major and was always having heated arguments with customers. On one occasion an Afro-Caribbean bloke haggling for a deal on a sound system accused Kline of being racist. Kline put a large meaty paw on the man's shoulder. "What are you doing?" He asked. "I am knocking that chip of your shoulder," said Kline. Centre of Sound was also the first site of Video City, Notting Hill's first and only video and DVD rental store. Video City used to occupy the space upstairs from 1981 before they moved over the road in 1985.  Alas, Video City, like so many other businesses from my youth, is sadly gone. 

United House and Campden Hill Towers

One thing that looms permanent is the isolating horizontal block of Campden Hill Towers. Its striking grey tower is a landmark and beacon on Rotting Hill Gate. I have often wondered how the people of this generic block live together in their isolated apartments. It always makes me think of High Rise, JG Ballard's 1975 novel about the residents of an upmarket tower block where the residents enjoy swimming pools and black-tie cocktail parties before life turns into a dystopian Hell. The neighbours of "the gigantic vertical zoo" wage civil war; and some residents are so scared of leaving the block that they kill and eat their pet cats and dogs.  Perhaps they are doing just the same at Camden Hill Towers? 

You hardly see McDonald's in the USA but they are everywhere in the UK

Underneath its tombstone interlace of so-called luxury flats is McDonald's. Going back to the 1980s, the American franchise were keen to bag an outlet on Notting Hill Gate. They even tried to buy the historic Coronet cinema over the road. Finally, they acquired this spot. It used to be Serendipity, a roomy, black walled hippy dippy knick knack and seconds shop that had been going since the late 1970s.  The inclusion of a McDonald's on the high street always make me feel a bit sad for the high rise residents of Campden Hill Towers. Now the poor little rich people have to live above a burger bar.  Still, at least they have splendid views of the city to compensate for the smell of hamburgers and French fries.


Iceland supermarket

Further down the Gate is a succession of supermarkets, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer. Bags of choice in the 21st Century. But in the late 20th Century there was no such choice to be had and many locals shopped at Nisa supermarket -- an independently run chain once described by a racist neighbour as a "glorified Paki shop". Before it was Nisa it was an Iceland frozen foods supermarket. With its endless rows of deep freezers, it had all the airs and graces of a hospital mortuary and never seemed to do much biz.  Freezing your own food was popular back then in the 70s and 80s. Not in our house, mind. We don't even have a microwave.  


Marks and Sparks on Rotting Hill Gate

Where Marks and Sparks resides used to be the Cleopatra Restaurant and Greek Taverna. I only ever went there once. It was Christmas 1982 and I had only just come to live on Notting Hill Gate. Cleopatra's used to have a music and floor show where diners could do Greek dancing and traditional smashing of plates. Being 12 and a bit of a vandal, I was keen on doing some. Then came the bill. Darn those plates were expensive to smash. Worse was to come. I managed to get food poisoning and spent the rest of Xmas sick in bed. No more Cleopatra's and smashing of plates for me. The Greek taverna hobbled on until the mid 90s when it became, for a short while, Pharmacy restaurant. An unremarkable gimmick restaurant and bar often mistaken for a real pharmacy by bemused sick people with prescriptions.  

Ivy Lodge and Campden Hill Towers

That's the right bank of Rotting Hill Gate heading west from Bayswater Road to the top of Holland Park Avenue. I shall relate the amazing history of the left bank to you next month.

Until then...

The Male Trailing Spouse