Stop the gentrification, I want to get off!

Yesterday I fell off my chair. Or, not so much “off” as “through”. The chair broke, you collect. With hindsight this was not terribly surprising, not so much because I was sitting on it (don’t be so damn rude) as because the chair is about seventy years old and has seated several generations of skimbly pre-and post-war Mortimer forebears before playing host to my much better-nourished posterior.

In the People’s Republic we have always been peasantishly bad at throwing things away (as you might gather from the provenance of the chair) if there is any chance that sufficient duct tape and a funny little wiggling motion every time you pick it up/switch it on/put weight on it in future will rectify the problem. Accordingly, since the basic joinery of the chair is perfectly sound, I have temporarily knocked its warring components back together with a hammer, and am now sitting on it again, taking great care to ensure I don’t work too hard nor get too exercised on Comment is Free. But it is still going to need some sort of metal bracket nailing across the bottom of the frame, to brace the seat against the assault it will suffer tomorrow night when seven other drunken women come over for dinner.

Simple, I think, I’ll nip up the road to, er… Following the closure of Bond & White, the local DIY store, to make way for Planet-fricking-Organic, where the hell do you go in Muswell Hill to buy a hap’orth of nails, or whatever it is, and funny shaped bits of metal? Woolworths? Not for long, it seems. I miss Bond & White. Going in there was like stepping into a seventies sitcom and playing the part of Woman Customer. It was the only shop anywhere on the broadway or for quite some distance around that sold anything remotely hardware-related, and it seemed, to my inexpert eye, to stock everything. The nearest comparable range must have been in one of the giant chain stores on the north circular, which is useless if you haven’t got a car.

This isn’t a precious selfish rant about the death of the small shop – those are alive and well in most of London – nope, it’s a precious selfish rant about the death of the shop that sells, well, useful stuff that ordinary people need to make way for yet more luxury wankfestery. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that markets are blind. They’ll correct, but they’ll correct to the advantage of those with most input into the market. So in a rich area, you get rich people’s shops, in a poor area you get poor people’s shops, and in mixed areas… you get rich people’s shops.

In other words, there’s no problem with being a small shop on Muswell Hill Broadway, but there is a problem with being a small shop that sells a packet of nails every six months to a girl with a broken chair on Muswell Hill Broadway. All the people who form your main customer base, because they own their own homes and are allowed to do shit to them, are the kind of people who will also have cars and are able to make the trip out to the cheaper chain stores on the north circ. No one, except people like me, comes to the Broadway to buy nails any more.

No, most people come to the Broadway to pick up a few bits at M&S, grab the Guardian from WHSmiths, buy a chicken brick from The Scullery for Lottie to take back to university, take a fancy to an adorable little £150 dress from Leila (and that’s just the men), moon over the cheese counter in Feast and pretend they are some sort of Chaucerian goodwife throwback and now, presumably, feel up the pre-packed mixed seeds and nuts (so knobbly!) at Planet Organic. When they want a nail knocked in, they call up an Eastern European migrant in Tottenham and ask him to come over and bring a nail with him.

London, darling, it’s been wonderful, but I’m leaving you.


  1. We have a shop in Brighouse called Oddjobs. When you walk in, it’s exactly like the Four Candles shop from the Two Ronnies. They stock everything too. And show no signs of closing down.

    * smug mode *

  2. You should come in live in Crystal Palace!

    I can’t walk down the bloody hill in any direction without finding a shop that sells nails!

    (Except perhaps the Dulwich Village direction..and therefore your point is well made).

    We’ve got the DIY shop at the bottom of Westwood Hill (Sydenham) that sometimes has a guy working there who seems to finds the words ‘can I have 2.5 litres of dulux soft sheen paint please?’ a bit of a tricky one which I find a bit much in a DIY shop. Mind you, the man behind the counter is alright. Then we have another DIY store that also sells seeds in the Crystal Palace Traingle and then heading in the Penge direction you have a Homebase…

    …and our TV mast is better than yours!!

  3. Hm, I see that I may have made it sound only too tempting for you by using the phrase “drunken women”. I should clarify: drunken WIMMIN 😀

  4. So, enough suspense: did the chair survive the drunken women, err, wimmin? (The chair on which I am sitting to type this was rescued from a skip outside an Indian restaurant in Drummond Street N1 in about 1988. I feel almost sorry for people who do not know the joys of pre-owned chairs.)

  5. It, er, is sitting in bits on the table beside the computer as I type. Rather like my brain. Fortunately, the chicken and leek pie, lasagne, salad, coleslaw and chips had already been consumed and were totally unharmed by the incident.

  6. Crystal Palace as an example of the ungentrified state? Cue rant about the ‘old days’, and pointless list: when I started working on the triangle in 1998 there was a fishmonger, a green grocer, a haberdashery, an independent men’s shoe shop (and centre for anti-park-development protests), a jeweller, a witchcraft supply shop and a luggage dealer – all replaced by eateries.

    There are still plenty of independent traders around, but you need to break through the inner London metrosexual boundary to the areas that never ‘needed’ gentrification in the first place. If you can’t face breaking free from the big smoke altogether, Tom Brake could do with a wave of mass liberal immigration to our neck of the woods to shore up a reduced majority against the blue surge.

  7. Can’t remember whether it was Johnson or Boswell who said the gubbins about “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life” – whoever said it was talking a load of mince. Moved back to Scotland in 1999 and haven’t been back to London since. Don’t miss it at all. My madness lies in shortly moving to a village of 19 houses with the nearest pubs and shops about four miles away and me a non driver too.

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