Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Cities: the streets of London

Cities are like people: they change, and you can't expect them to look exactly like they did 30 years ago. 

Today's "Daily Telegraph" property section has a feature "The true cost of living in London" which begins: "London's middle-class habitats have changed beyond all recognition in the past decade. The centre is now unaffordable to all but the super-rich, triggering a cascade effect as domestic buyers move out of Kensington and Chelsea to Clapham and Chiswick, while others set up camp in Raynes Park and Kilburn." - by Caroline McGhie. This chimes in perfectly with my own thoughts, done earlier today ....

Cities are never static,they change and develop all the time, sometimes we don't notice, but we certainly do now, here in London, as it becomes The City of The Future all around us. It is a global city of course but now the rate of development is staggering. I was uptown yesterday and again was amazed at how busy and crowded it was - and I speak as someone who spent all my working life in the city and the west end, including that 25 years in Regent Street and New Cavendish Street, so was right in the middle. I was standing under that Shard the other week, by London Bridge station, awaiting a friend from Ireland for a theatre date (ASSASSINS). London Bridge station too has been the scenes of over-crowding as frantic commuters tried to leap over or under the barriers to escape the crush, as their on-going rail improvements overrun with no end in sight ... 
Everywhere seems more crowded now, as more and more pour in - more workers, more tourists (and its not even Easter yet - usually a very busy time). Traffic is snarling up too, and that whole area around Victoria is an-going building site, making way for new rail improvements. A whole street has been torn down, which included a busy theatre bar, a gay bar, a gym and a supermarket. Crossrail is an ongoing development which will transform the city and property prices - which are escalating rapidly. I shudder to think what Tottenham Court Road looks like now, that development is supposed to be completed by 2017, as well as the Victoria Station area. I now read that Crossrail has the Curzon Soho cinema (where I saw that special THE SERVANT screening 2 years ago, with some of the cast present) in its sights. It will be a shame if that goes - soon there will hardly be any cinemas, bars or late night hangouts at this rate, as Soho too is being transformed and the bulldozers move in. The popular cabaret hangout Madame Jo-Jo's has closed, as has the Escape gay bar (I used to like that a decade or more ago), and the popular gay and busy The Yard has, for the moment, fought off a take-over bid, as the developers want to close the courtyard - a nice space in the middle of town - and build another apartment block above it. But if Soho is changed completely, then it is not Soho any more. The sleazy old Soho of Paul Raymond's empire has been sold to the property developers, so there will be yet more apartment blocks going up - like along the Thames, transforming the skyline.

They are also digging up over 3,000 skeletons from their burial place near the old Bedlam asylum, near Liverpool Street Station, again for rail developments.
And the latest is that Soho's Chinatown may not be there in five years time, the way restaurant rents are increasing .... restaurant owners have been voicing concern. 

Already working class suburban areas that I knew well in the 60s and 70s, like Balham and Stratford have been gentrified, pushing prices up - an ordinary terrace house is about half a million now - and the areas, which used to be full of shabby apartments and rooms to rent, have gone up in the world with the influx of new cafes, bars and trendy meeting places. Same thing is now happening to Brixton, Elephant & Castle etc. as those who can't afford posher areas move in - even now these areas are becoming unaffordable to ordinary workers. Meanwhile the rich investors from abroad are buying up available properties in Central London - but it seems to be a global phenomenon, same thing seems to be happening in New York and San Francisco. The ones who bought their houses 25 or more years ago and have mortgages paid off now find themselves living in very expensive properties - unless they sell up and move away to a cheaper part of the country it is not much good to them, particularly as their children cannot afford to move out and buy their own places ... people in their 20s and older are going back to live with their parents!

I can only say I am glad I arrived in London in the cheap and cheerful early Sixties - April 1964 to be exact, when I was 18, when they still had those "No Blacks, No Irish" signs in rooming houses, bur rooms and jobs were plentiful, with no zero hour contracts like now. The city was changing then too with all that new '60s developments (as in BLOW-UP) replacing the old wartime bombed-out areas . One would need to be a millionaire now to think of moving into Putney or Ealing - let alone Marylebone or Pimlico. I recently walked past that house in Chelsea where I shared an apartment with 3 friends during 1972/73, ok 40 years ago - in Draycott Place, just behind Peter Jones and Sloane Square. That was just several fairly cheap flats then - now those houses are done up and modernised and are several million each! The very rich are even digging down, creating extra floors underneath these "iceberg houses", causing endless disruption too. Trains too are full to capacity all the time now - on a recent trip to Ireland I had to stand on the train to the airport until it almost emptied out at London Bridge, at 6.30am in the morning! glad my commuting years are over and I shall be back in Ireland before too long. 

Update: 16 April: The famous gay pub The Black Cap in Camden High Street has now suddenly closed as well, this was one of the original gay cabaret pubs in London since the 1960s or earlier - where legends like Mrs Shufflewick, Regina Fong, Lily Savage, Julian Clary and others learned their craft and entertained legions over the years. It seems developers want to turn it into a block of flats .... it wasn't on my circuit as such, being a South London boy, though I had a few enjoyable evenings there ...  

1 comment:

  1. Its terribly sad and I hate the social cleansing the government are currently doing, declaring some people are too poor to live in the capital and moving them as far as Manchester. The Tories ladies and gents, who yesterday declared themselves 'the party of the working people' Pah! What a disgrace!