I have been back in my old neighbourhood. Wandering down the All Saints Road in Notting Hill brought back so many memories – witnessing a man shooting three people directly underneath my window, watching Paula Yates's body being driven away from her flat, spotting a tipsy Mick Jagger leaning out of the window of the flat opposite, bumping into Paul McCartney in the Photo Gallery and him putting my then tiny little daughter, Parker, on his shoulders while I secretly cursed the fact that I didn't have a camera on me. It all makes the Cotswolds seem very parochial. Even leaving the area was a Notting Hill moment, as I sold the place to Salman Rushdie but chickened out of retiling my roof garden so that it read "Salman lives here" for the next time that the Google Earth cameras swept over.
Some things haven't changed, like the caged-in corner-shop man who passes things to you through a small, fortified hole. As All Saints was gentrified, there were rumours of Terence Conran buying him out to open a restaurant, but nothing came of it. He's still there, hunkered down like some survivalist from another time.
Further on down the street, I'm pleased to see the bicycle shop is still there. It's outlasted temporary hotspots like the Sugar Club, which made a name for itself, as all W11 restaurants used to, by suggesting Madonna had been turned away after turning up without a reservation. I had supper with Dido there about two days before she went mega-global. I had no idea it was all about to happen for her, my old Bridge opponent whom I'd often bore by showing little clips of me dressed up in weird animal suits experimenting with what would eventually become Trigger Happy TV on the Paramount Comedy Channel.
Sadly, the Caribbean baker is long gone, replaced by an uber-trendy little boutique. I remember going in there so many times and trying to persuade the owner to part with the photograph that hung on his wall. It was a black-and-white shot showing Marvin Gaye leaning out of what was later my bedroom. My building was full of history like that – the Notting Hill Carnival was supposed to have been conceived downstairs. OMG, the carnival!
All Saints was getting ready for it as I wandered around. There was the dreaded float that would always arrive in the street about two weeks before the big weekend. Every night, the whole steel band would get going and practise for a couple of hours, only needing to learn one tune, as they would be on the move during the procession. They'd play it over and over.
I can feel it right now as I write this. It would invade every nook and cranny of my flat, leaving me with nowhere to hide. Sometimes, at the very back of the building, underwater in the bath, I would still hear the maddening tune hammer at my head.
The first couple of carnival years were fun, but after the novelty wore off I'd start to dread it. I'd join the huge desolate convoy of estate cars winding along the Westway to stay with friends in the country. We were weekend urban refugees. I'd return to devastation, the detritus of celebration. I can see it now: the whole place would be damp, with stale beer, sweat and urine forming a thin coating over old corncobs and chicken bones.
As I left the street, I took one last look up at my old flat, no longer the vivid orange exterior that, in a drunken decision, I'd once painted it. We all move on, as we must, but sometimes it's good to look back and remember the good old days. Such, such were the joys.
- More about:
- Festive Events (including Carnivals)
- Kensington And Chelsea
- Notting Hill
- Station Wagons