A contemporary free glossy magazine called The Hill describes the neighbourhood of my youth to its wealthy readers as “a no-go area for sure”. That’s not how I remember things; I think Notting Hill was a special place to grow up. It had its well established white working class, many of whom lived in poverty described by the politician Alan Johnson in his memoir. It had been largely built by the Irish, who had begun arriving in the mid-19th century and continued to do so. It was settled in the 1940s by refugees from General Franco’s uprising against the Spanish republic, and during the 50s by those arriving from the West Indies on boats such as the Windrush, shipped by then minister of labour, Enoch Powell, to provide a cheap workforce.I think there's a clue there. Can anyone see what it is?
My parents came from the latest influx, mostly white, of jazz-generation bohemians, into this minestrone population. Ironically, Ladbroke Grove was one of the few affordable areas in London for mum and dad – post-second world war and post art-school. In those days, people really did leave doors unlocked. Mothers used to swap children around between one another when they needed to work.There's a great difference between that influx of mass immigration, and the current one. Maybe that's the reason?
Then came the people rightly called “property speculators” – now euphemistically described as “developers” – and their estate agents.Ah. My mistake.
I joined forlorn attempts to rescue our local pubs – those indoor urban village greens where lifelong friendships and decisions were made, bets lost and sweethearts won, pints pulled, chasers downed, kisses locked and punches thrown. Tavern after tavern turned into luxury dwellings or snazzy bistros.And the smoking ban, plus the increase in non-alcohol drinking population, had nothing to do with that, right?
With the changes, lines have been drawn. The threads of that complex, convivial weave in which I grew up have been torn out and re-sewn, managed into a tapestry of brutal lines, on one side of which lies today’s road whence mum and I beheld the now skeletal Grenfell Tower.A society can bear mass immigration, and we once did. But it depends who immigrates, and why they do so.