Portobello Towers versus the White Teeth of Chelsea

The first time we bused through Chelsea, on the way to Craven Cottage to See Manchester City v Fulham, I understood that I had misunderstood wealth and upperclass-dom before this moment. In Chelsea, the houses are made of compressed cash, mortared together with the ground up bones of the working class, gleaming white like polished teeth, tall enough to keep out the view of the poorer suburbs. Within the confines of the big red double decker, which now seems less like an icon and more like an eye-sore – kind of like the Pope mobile, but for keeping the poor in, rather than keeping them out – Chlelsea seems to be saying that nothing that can get in the way of the history of money. The houses are not houses, but regimented, lily white statements of intention and precedence. We are here, and we will always be here, and we like the kind of people we house already, they say. They tell you that everyone who’s ever lived here has been made of cash, and that situation seems inpenetratable. The atmosphere, however, doesn’t intimidate at first glance – it’s beyond beautiful, goes further than you’ve been in your mind, and makes you believe that, on a day like today when the sun both absorbs and reflects into the street, that anything is possibile. That is how the buildings, which are now alive, rectuit new wealthy people, which they will, over time, make into old money – by leaving out bread crumbs, so that if we covet well enough, we will one day be rich enough to live in Chelsea, and the cycle continues. Only to those with no ambition, without the confidence or wherewithall to make their fortune, does the residue of a bus ride through Chelsea have the bitter aftertaste of failure. These houses feed off of the egos of the rich, I’m sure of it.

Went on a bit of a tangent, there. Keeping on track. Fulham’s Craven Cottage is an old, family oriented stadium, a block of four stands, like most football stadia, on the edge of a sun-warmed garden that stretches along the Thames and Fulham Castle (I think it’s called). It was a great game, and we were in the front row, shading our eyes from the sun.

But Notting Hill. This is not Notting Hill – we have been to Manchester since we went to Chelsea. I was distracted because the place we are staying now, near Portobello Road, is near Kensington, which rests on Chelsea. Kensington is more gorgeous, I think, than Chelsea – it displays it’s wealth in a more subdued way, amongst parks and gardens, and with bricks of varying colours. We took the bus from South Kensington to Portobello Road, and the slide from one class to the next, one style to the next was quick and fascinating. We are staying not five minutes walk from Portobello Road, and the flats are, instead of lordly estates with thier own front facades and grand entrances, four to an entrance and made from yellow-brown brick and what looks like leftover mortar the colour of dirt. But despite the difference, this suburb is just as beautiful as Kensington. Each door has a different colour, and the steps are thin and dangerously steep. There are people from every part of the world here, and they all have shops. Kind of like Islington’s Highbury Feilds, and its off-liscence-packed high streets, and similarly dirty, but here, everyone’s shop kind of spills out onto the street and extends onto tables. A couple of blocks over but visible from everywhere is a council apartment block, at least twenty stories high, with washing lines and bikes hanging off it like they’re not aware how high up they are. Jean, with whom we are staying, says that in the economic downturn the prices fell, and rich people started buying up the flats, so that now it’s a mixture of ultra poor and ultra wealthy. I want to go and take some photos later.

We arrived in Portobello on Sunday, and the major market days are on Friday and Saturday. I have, of course, been to the House with the Blue Door, from the movie Notting Hill. It was exactly as it seemed, but a whole lot more ordinary, which actually made it more wonderful. It is a normal place where wonderful, if imaginary, things happen! There’s a Starbucks next door, of course. But that’s like saying there’s a thumb at the end of both my hands. I have, or will, attach photos.

The pub in which I write is The Elgin, not far away on Elgin Street, five minutes’ walk from the place Hugh Grant ran into Julia Roberts. They are nice here, and let me buy a coffee and write. I am incredibly apprehensive in these situations – writing somewhere, without being able to buy a lot of food or drink. Do they mind? I read, and read, and read writing blogs, and I can never get a definitive answer for whether or not owners of pubs or cafes actually care. That is, of course, because there is no definitive answer to that question. Because, of course, for me, that is not the real question. The real question is: why do I mind so much? And, Will I ever get over my anxiety enough to just be in a place, and deal with it if the worst comes to the worst, and they kick me out? No one has ever kicked me out of anywhere, and I doubt they’ve even thought about it. I don’t want to write in Starbucks, or Costa, or Cafe Nero, because they are soulless places full of noise and addiction. (Unlike pubs, of course.) But the Elgin is plush, airy, light and decorated for lounging, open, with high ceilings, really friendly male staff who clearly manage the place (I like friendly male staff – as opposed to closed off, grumpy male staff. Female staff either seem to be completely closed, or really open and calling me ‘darling’, which I don’t really like.) But even the female staff here are proving my past experiences. I feel comfortable here.

I thought I lost my phone today, but I didn’t. Just after changing all my passwords and informing the tube. Best feeling ever.

I am reading Dracula, and 80% through it, according to Kindle. If you’ll excuse me, I want to see whether they kill the Count.

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