Tom Hodgkinson: The bohemian spirit is alive and well


Related Topics

While our image of Notting Hill today may be of a wealthy person's retreat, the area had a more bohemian and radical reputation when I was growing up. A combination of West Indian culture and a punky vibe made it irresistibly glamorous and edgy to me and my friends. It was the land of sound systems, skateboarders, the Clash, the Westway, the Mutoid Waste Company, the carnival and head shops on Portobello Road. It was home to Rough Trade (where I worked for a year when I was 21), Whole Earth foods, second-hand clothes shops and stalls on Portobello Green run by artists. It was the Notting Hill of Jimi Hendrix and of John Michell, the celebrated late cosmologist and author. I suppose it represented creative freedom.

The area has changed somewhat in recent years and has turned into a new Chelsea, beloved of barristers, bankers and ad execs with the incomes to support the gigantic mortgages now needed to buy one of the charming Victorian villas.

However, W11, I think, retains its slightly edgy vibe. When Victoria and I were researching locations for our Idler bookshop and café, it was to Notting Hill that we returned, and one of my plans with the shop was to make a link back to Notting Hill's bohemian past. To my delight, this has happened, and all sorts of fantastic characters have popped up.

One such would be the poet Michael Horovitz. Born in 1935, Horovitz is what you would call a Beat poet, of the school of Allen Ginsberg and Alexander Trocchi. He is famous for putting on a huge sell-out poetry event at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1960s. He came to see us in order to drop off a load of his poetry anthologies and chat. He has a high, flutey voice, is given to wearing orange trainers, and bursts into song when a pretty girl appears. Always broke, he has arrangements with various Notting Hill eateries which will give him, for example, piles of cupcakes at the day's end.

Then there's the glorious, beturbanned Molly Parkin, novelist, raconteur and style icon, whom I met by chance at the University Women's Club. She came and gave a funny and touching talk at the shop. Another visitor is Mike Lessing of the radical paper International Times. He gained notoriety for rolling around naked in paint at a 1960s "happening", and is now an ambassador for the relaunched IT, which you can find online. It features poetry, politics and the likes of Heathcote Williams among contributors. Lessing is an anarchist and I was pleased when he said he approved of our mission to teach English grammar, saying: "Anarchy is merely good grammar."

These are the real poets. And to have such souls hanging out in our bookshop is a real thrill for me, as one of my dreams for the Idler Academy was that it would have an element of San Francisco's City Lights bookshop to it, the spirit of Ginsberg. While it is often said that the offspring of such free spirits rebel against their parents' bohemianism, that is certainly not the case with the children of Parkin and Horovitz: Sophie Parkin is a writer and wit and Adam Horovitz has followed his father into bohemia.

Another Notting Hill character whose spirit I am keen to respect is Michell, the old Etonian Platonist, promoter of sacred geometry and observer of crop circles and other unexplained phenomena. When Michell was alive, I would sometimes visit him in his Powis Square flat, where he could be found at a cluttered table with an ashtray full of roll-ups, a bottle of white wine and piles of intricate geometric drawings. "Hello, Tom, I'm just trying to make six into five!" he might say. John died three years ago but his friend, the graphic designer Richard Adams, is a frequent visitor to our shop, as is the historian John Nicholson, who has given talks here on Michell's life and work. Other radicals who are coming to give talks include Ian Bone of Class War magazine who is always a very funny speaker, and Penny Rimbaud, who was one of the architects of the Stonehenge Free Festival, and then went on to form the punk band Crass, which introduced anarchist politics to a whole generation of young people.

Behind it all is that feeling that Notting Hill is a village with its own psychogeography, an independent free spirit, which goes right back to GK Chesterton's novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill – which I think should be the choice for our first book group.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform