Where have all the prune-eaters gone?

'"Suet?' said the shelfstacker, incredulously. I could have been asking him for cobra venom'

Share

It was on the
Today programme last week, so it must be true. Rocketing food, transport and housing costs, said the presenter, have left many people in the capital with some of the lowest standards of living in the UK, according to a report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research. I wondered if my friend's sister, who lives in Notting Hill, was listening. No, of course she wasn't. I forgot. She and her husband, sorry partner, have gone to live in Bali for a year with their two children and the nanny. To recharge their batteries. Well, that's what Sarah Jane told everyone before they left, but it's obvious now that the real reason they upped sticks was simply that they couldn't afford to live in London any more.

It was on the Today programme last week, so it must be true. Rocketing food, transport and housing costs, said the presenter, have left many people in the capital with some of the lowest standards of living in the UK, according to a report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research. I wondered if my friend's sister, who lives in Notting Hill, was listening. No, of course she wasn't. I forgot. She and her husband, sorry partner, have gone to live in Bali for a year with their two children and the nanny. To recharge their batteries. Well, that's what Sarah Jane told everyone before they left, but it's obvious now that the real reason they upped sticks was simply that they couldn't afford to live in London any more.

I'm not sure if they managed to rent their house while they are away. Mind you, a double-fronted, nine-bedroomed villa with a private communal garden at the back and a swimming pool in the basement isn't everyone's cup of tea. When they bought it two years ago it didn't have a swimming pool. It had a self-contained flat for a live-in couple - the usual housekeeper/chauffeur arrangement. But Sarah Jane hated the idea of staff living in ("why can't they just come in every morning like Brian's secretary?") and had the whole thing converted into a Roman pool with marble pillars.

It's undoubtedly true that housing, transport and food are more expensive in London than anywhere else in the country - anywhere else in the world probably - but there are still plenty of people around who can afford them. Looking out of my window on to the King's Road, I sometimes feel I'm the only ordinary person left in Chelsea - "ordinary" meaning that I put leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow's supper and save string.

"How can you be ordinary and still afford to live in Chelsea?" scoffed a friend up from Bristol for the day for a teachers' conference. Because we're still living in the fourth-floor flat without a lift up 85 stairs that we rented 30 years ago for £9 a week, that's why. It's gone up since then of course but it's still just about affordable if I buy neck of lamb and take in washing. If they put in a lift and rented it to a Swiss banker or an American record producer or a Lebanese arms dealer like all the other fourth-floor flats around here it would cost nearer £9 an hour.

Trouble is you can't buy neck of lamb in Chelsea any more. Since 99 per cent of the residents are now rich foreigners, the supermarkets no longer stock homely fare. I spent hours the other day searching in vain for prunes and suet. "Suet?" said the shelf stacker incredulously. I could have been asking him for cobra venom. "I can't remember the last time we had suet on these shelves. Or dried prunes. But I think we've still got some of the French ones stuffed with marron glacé."

As for transport, except in the rush hour, most of the buses ploughing through the King's Road traffic are empty because all children in Chelsea is driven to school by their mother in a designer jeep the size of a house with 18 wheels and kangaroo bars that uses as much petrol between Sloane Square and Cheyne Row as a French farmer gets through in a week.

The latest example of conspicuous consumption is fireworks. In the old days, fireworks were limited to once a year - 5 November - which in our case meant a packet of sparklers and a Catherine wheel on the roof. Any old party now, birthday, cocktail, wedding anniversary, retirement, ends with a firework display. There was one last night somewhere along the embankment (with Battersea Power Station glowing in the background), which woke me up at midnight to a cacophony of bangs and fizzes. It lasted a full 15 minutes which, I am reliably informed by a friend in the party planning business, could easily have cost £5,000. More if it had a personalised greeting to end with such as "Happy Birthday Sarah Jane". There's a thought. Fireworks are probably cheaper in Bali too.

React Now

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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?