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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?