Monday, May 22, 2006

Comfortable under-achieving

We moved from Balham to Streatham Common around a year and a half ago. It was a simple choice really based on the size of house we could buy, but frankly a couple of extra bedrooms and a big garden for a couple of extra miles travel seemed worth it.

The compromise of course was familiarity and amenities, however a year and a half on we couldn't possibly have made a better decision. The people in our neighbourhood tend to be that little bit older than us as it tends to be populated by people who have had their families and then moved to fit them in, rather than us who are planning to do it, but decide to set up camp now.

Our opinion was if we kill ourselves financially now, by the time we have numbers 3 and 4 (haha) then it won't be quite so painful. Anyway, we've got to know a lot of the people in our area and I can honestly say they are the most interesting bunch of oddballs I have had the pleasure of meeting in a long time.

The one uniting thing seems to be that they have all moved out of flats or small houses in Clapham, Balham, Battersea, Ealing, Chiswick and the more affluent areas of town in favour of unfashionable outpost Streatham, the other thing that struck me at the weekend was that they are fantastically proud under-achievers.

Living for so long in Balham and going out in Clapham and Wandsworth Common a lot, you get the feeling there is constant ongoing sense of disappointment. No one seems to have enough round there. Everyone works a million hours, earns a squadrillion pounds in the City and are currently digging out the second basement level for the 3rd Latvian Au Pair and her partner who's going to be the on site handyman.

Everyone's got a Bugaboo that was customised at the Aston Martin factory for their new born children. VW Touareg's, LandRover's and Porsche Cayenne's are the cars they choose to plough young children over with and the only way they can one up on the car front is by buying the nanny a rare VW GTI one off to run around in. The unhappiness is tangible, but funnily when you're part of it, you don't notice it. Well actually you haven't got time to notice it.

But Streatham Common, well different story all together.

We were at a party just recently with some neighbours; an Old Etonian who corrects his French Wife's french grammar; an ex-marketeer turned political speech writer in the Northern Ireland Office, who had recently had a speech read out which contained some extraordinarily wingy propsals which no one had checked because they were all too hungover, meaning he'd committed a minister publicly to £50m of spending that hadn't been signed off centrally; a doctor who'd given it all up to be a concert violinist; the head of one of the London borough's child protection units who was planning to bomb a developer's house (very seriously).

It was an absolute hoot, everyone was working just as hard as they needed to, to get by. There was a complete absence of converstion about, house prices, how the Poles were incredibly hard workers (and such good value), your job and much more about - the best way to get an Aerobie to fly through the crook of a tree at 15 feet high, how the best way to rid yourself of pigeons is to fill balloons with hydrogen, float them under bridges and then shoot them with an air rifle and last, but not least the art of never underordering from a local take away.

I think I've finally found somewhere I'm comfortable.


Lucy said...

And what an ecclectic, jolly bunch they sound too!
But has not the planning issue now been resolved?

Curmy said...

Six, of course if you want to sound posh, you tell people you live in St. Reatham !
My parents were brought up in that area.
My Dad lived in a fairly large house at 1, Streatham Hill. shortly after they moved the Germans dropped a bomb on it ! and I belive the area is now several small houses or a block of flats.
Their stories of life in that area on the'20's and 30's are quite interesting.

IsobelMagsBuchan said...

That's exactly how I felt about W3 although I believe the particular area I lived in has since I left, become 'gentrified'.

I lived between an Irish couple who had lived there for 40 years and used to tell me not to dig too deeply in my garden for fear of what I would find there, with hundreds of grand children and a committed labour party activist with whom I shared many 'high' nights and lots of fun. We also used to get together to have a collective moan about whoever our current lodgers happened to be.

Directly opposite was an Indian family who were kind and thoughtful and next to them was 'H' from Steps. I'll leave that one but the man was not a good neighbour and his antics were a pain in the ass, quite literally.

Next door but one were a lovely gay couple who owned a restauarnt in Chiswick and could always be relied upon to produce decent wine at any garden parties in the summer. Next door to them were a family who originated from Trinidad who every August Bank Holiday weekend had their own 72 hour Notting Hill carnival in the house and garden. I'm glad I had the stamina.

Next to them were a friendly Iranian family although their arguments would often spill out onto the street in the wee small hours. Their daughter was quite the most beautiful looking child I have set eyes upon.

Further down the road was a hostel for newly arrived refugees. Those of us with children at the local school got to know the comings and goings here quite well. There were often collections of clothing and baby equipment made and then taken down there. We went through Croatians and then Bosnians and finally Kosovans whilst I was there, each with a story more harrowing than their predecessors.

At the bottom of the road were several houses converted to flats by Notting Hill Housing Association. There was an eclectic mix in those flats from single moms of Irish origin to Somali families and older people who had lived in the area all of their lives.

Right at the bottom of the road was Acton Park which was and still is, one of the best urban parks I have ever had the pleasure to visit. It was my life saver when my son was little and I met many wonderful people whilst enjoying time there. I loved the way that on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you could not see the grass for the people. It was well used and well loved.

I do wish that we could have stayed there. It was a good life populated by good people. And I fitted in.

Lucy said...

St Reatham, I'd not heard that one before!

An old school friend lived for many years in Brixton . Her mother could never bring herself to admit to it, always telling folk her daughter lived in Streatham.

Sarnia said...


Hope you don't mind me posting on your blog.

I remember you mentioning on the boards a few weeks ago that you worked in Wandsworth - is it at the old orphanage?

I'm a Wandsworth Common girl - grew up in the house that my mother was born in. (Henderson Road - in the area the estate agents call The Toastrack).

When I was growing up, Wandsworth Common was full of "normal" families. Bellevue Road had a butcher's shop, a fishmonger's, a wool shop, a chemist etc.

I cannot believe how it has all changed.

I know Streatham Common well too - is Pratts still there?

Six Years Late said...

Sarnia, of course not, glad to have you here.

Yes it's called the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. It's been all sorts in it's time. POW camp, orphanage, asylum. It burnt down some years ago and was purchased for a pound by the current owner who has ploughed tens of millions into it and it is now a combination of workshops, offices, beautiful private flats. There's a very good French restaurant here and a ALRA the drama school. Unfortunately I'm moving in to town soon. One of those horrible commercial decisions I'm afraid, so I'm leaving this which was my first office when i set up in business.

Pratt's is long gone I'm afraid and the High Street almost lost it's way therefter, it was voted worst High Street in the UK some years ago, but it's gradually attracted new investment and it's on it's way back up. It's never going to be great though as the A23 will always be a major artery route out of london.

Six Years Late said...


It's good to feel comfortable. In truth it's the first time i've ever known all my neighbours properly. that may be because i live in an area of houses predominantly rather than flats which tend to be full of more transient folk.

Six Years Late said...

Actually Sarnia, Bellevue road is still one of the few streets that can support independent retailers, simply because of the amount of wealth around.

However, many of the food shops are now in Northcote Road which is one of only 2 streets in their entirity that currently appear in the Good Food Guide.

My favourite restaurant in the world is on Bellevue road. Chez Bruce, it's a 1 Star Michelin but without the astronomical central London prices.

Sarnia said...

I used to go to Brownies (at the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building) but we always called it The Orphanage.

I remember the night it burned down. Could see it clearly from my house.

The restaurant you mention in Bellevue Road - was that Marco Pierre White's first restaurant? That used to be the fishmongers!

Glad that Northcote Road is still going - I'm presuming the market is still there?

Every time I nip over to London (to go to Stamford Bridge) the Gatwick Expresses whizzes through Wandsworth Common Station (fond memories of commuting to Victoria!). When I was a student, I had an evening job at The Hope (just by the station).

My parents sold up in 1987; a decision that my mother regrets to this day.

Every time I go back to London I keep meaning to go back to Wandsworth Common and just walk around - maybe it would be too poignant though.

My local was The County Arms (on Trinity Road).

Curmy said...

Sorry to barge into your blog, Six, but I was wondering if Sarnia knew Loxley Rd in Wandsworth Common, my Godmother's lived there all her life.

Six Years Late said...

Hey Sarnia,

Yes it was Marco Pierre White's. It changed hands once and lasted a couple of years before Bruce Poole took over in 1995 and frankly it's never looked back and neither has the Northcote Road Market. It's a bit more urban farmer's market now then it was, but despite the fact it is now so gentrified round there a lot of the original traders are still there, never got pushed out and they're doing well.

The Hope is back, it became the Faith and Firkin for a while, but it never worked and was bought out by an independent owner who turned it back in to The Hope. They've taken the central bar out and it's now at the back which means there's more room in there.

The County Arms also had a huge refit. Youngs spent around 600K regenraqting it. Those massive chandaliers went along with most of the prison staff that guaranteed a fight on a Friday night. It's a real gastropub, with a huge outdoor terrace, it's actually very nice I have lunch mith my dad there a lot, but I have no idea how they turn a profit as their main catchment - the toastrack - just doesn't have enough population to be able to sustain. I have my suspicions however, I've been there more than once when the Youngs Board have been having lunch. I reckon they've created a huge personal boardroom.

My folks moved just down from the Toast rack in 1988 and sold up in 2004, when the area had changed out of all proportion. I know how your mother must feel, but there are all sorts of things that happen in your life like that.

Very bizarrely, my digging the basement out comment on here was actually inspired by walking up your old road a couple of days ago, there are currently two houses opposite with those huge great basement conveyers bringing up tons of earth, everyone seems to be staying put and digging deeper and deeper.

Did you have Brownies in the Ballroom?

Six Years Late said...


I would be surprised if she doesn't. It is very close by. I drive up there very often if I'm in the car.

Sarnia said...

Curmy and Six,

Yes, I do know Loxley Road - quite near to my primary school (Beatrix Potter in Magdalen Road.)

Oxford University used to own a lot of land in that area hence the names Magdalen Road, Trinity Road etc.

The County Arms used to have three bars: Public, Saloon and Lounge. I used to drink in the Lounge from the age of 16. The landlord (Harry West - a real East End wide boy) and his wife gave me a bottle of perume on my 18th I remember (knowing that I'd been drinking illegally in there for two years)

You mention, Six, digging up in the road. There was/is a block of council flats opposite (my old house) that replaced two houses that were bombed in the war.

The Brownie meetings were in a carveneuous (sp?) place. Ground floor.

Glad that Northcote Road still has its market - albeit 'poshed up'.

I had a Saturday job at M&S in Clapham Junction - is that still there?

Blimey! SHUT ME UP!

Sarnia said...

M&S I meant. Not Clapham Junction.

Curmy said...

Well isn't it a small world ? For a while, my Godmother lived in Parkthorne road, but when her husband died, she moved back to the family home.She's 90 this year.
My other grandparents used to live in Trinity Road in Tooting, and I had an aunt who lived in Trinity Rise in W.Norward.
Trinity is a popular London Street name I think.
Both my parents families have lived in South London for generations.
You never know, we might all be related on this blog, What a frightening thought !

Anonymous said...

My Grandparents lived at 120 Trinity Rd, my Grandpa was a dentist. I remember visiting relatives in that area when I was a child.
I lived in Bewlys Rd W. Norwood until I was 2, then we moved to Hertfordshire.
I read in the papers that some people are quite rude about W.Norwood now, my Mother said it was quite a nice place to live.
It makes me feel quite emotional remembering all those places.
Apparently, in the 1920's-30's my aunt said Brixton was mostly white working class !

Sarnia said...

Apologies Six for hijacking your blog with remi (err can't spell it) memories of Sarf West London!

I went to college in West Norwood. It's Tom Utley who has been talking about West Norwood - saying he has always meant to move on but never has and never will.

Incidentally - if anyone is interested in social history, I read a really good book by Julie Myerson called Home. It's a biography almost of her (1872) semi in Clapham Common.

She managed to find out who had lived in it since it was built - fascinating stuff.

Curmy said...

Sarnia, I'm going mad, I'm the anonymous ! Yes it was Tom Utley.
My parents ancestors lived round the areas we've mentioned for generations.
Do you remember Stapletons the Estate Agents in W.Norwood ? That was my Uncle.

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