Capital shock: London is being shut off

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The Independent Online
When I lived in London I always lived in west London, for no very good reason except that that was the first bit of London you got to from Wales, where I had come from. Maybe, in true immigrant fashion, I just got off the first boat or train from Welsh Wales and took rooms where I was. I do remember that the very first general election at which I was entitled to vote took place when I had just moved to Addison Road near Olympia, and the very first piece of election literature I received was from the Welsh Nationalists. Admittedly, it was forwarded to me from the parental home in Wrexham, but it was impressive none the less to get Welsh propaganda in London, and if there had been a Plaid Cymru candidate standing he would have got my vote.

However, this is not an election piece. This is a west London piece. For the next 20 years I lived in west London, Notting Hill mostly, and this dictated everything, even our weekend excursions. If you live in west London, you don't easily pop out to the Kentish countryside or the prairies of Essex. You go to the Chilterns and the Thames valley. So I gradually became oriented to the west, and that may partly explain why, now that I live out of London, I live due west, in Wiltshire. So my connection with west London is not broken, as every time I go to London I go in via west London.

And this is what allows me to spot something that Londoners themselves may not have noticed, which is that it is gradually but surely becoming harder to get into London via the west, and that, if you want my opinion, someone is trying to stop people getting in altogether.

For instance, if I come to London by train, I come in along the Great Western line from Bath. I then get the Bakerloo line from Paddington to central London. However, the Bakerloo line is being gradually shut down. In the last few months there have been big notices saying that for the foreseeable future trains will only go as far as Piccadilly Circus, and never any further. This came as no great surprise to me, as even before then trains on the Bakerloo line had been erratic, with blackboards at Paddington saying LONG DELAYS TODAY ON BAKERLOO LINE or LONDON UNDERGROUND ADVISE YOU TO GO FOR A WALK INSTEAD. But it does seem extreme to close down a whole Underground line right in the middle.

I do not always come to London by train. Sometimes I come by car. I used to come in by the M4, but ever since this began to be closed down by roadworks and by congestion at Hammersmith we have taken to using the A303 (past Stonehenge) and then the M3. That is the road we used last weekend when we went to stay with friends in Barnes. And that is where we had the following conversation with our host, William.

Us: We're thinking of going to the West End. What's the best way?

William: Don't go by car, whatever you do. Even if you get across the Thames, which is doubtful, you'll never get a place to park.

Us: What's this problem about crossing the Thames?

William: Hammersmith Bridge is closed to everything except buses. Some major strengthening scheme, apparently. Cars have to find another route now, so all the other bridges are getting overused. It's having a big effect on house prices in Barnes, too.

Us: You mean, they're going down?

William: No. Up.

Us: You mean, Barnes house prices are going up as it gets less accessible? It's usually the other way round.

William: It's not the access. It's the peace and quiet. Barnes was a through way for traffic. Now it's like a village. Lovely. So long as the bridge is closed it's going to be great, and there are strange rumours going round that it may never be open again.

It's only two straws in the wind, but they are big straws. The Bakerloo line being cut in half. Hammersmith Bridge being closed. Is it too ludicrous to suggest that London is gradually being cut off from the rest of the world, and that places like Barnes will soon be back in the country?

Here is another straw in the wind. The first pub you come to, coming out of London across (the now foot-passenger-only) Hammersmith Bridge is a big white building which used to be called the Boileau Arms. Then, when theme pubs were all the rage, it became the Old Rangoon. Now, I notice, it has been renamed again. It is now The Garden House.

Is that because it is soon going to be a country pub, outside London, out in rural Barnes?

Just asking.