:: Blogtober is a blogging challenge whereby bloggers are encouraged to post every day for the month of October. My post topics have been taken from suggestions by friends and family. In general, expect my posts to be shorter, more random and of inconsistent quality! ::
This post was inspired by my friend Anna who wanted to read something about W12. I know this won't be 'your' W12, Anna, but I hope you find the post diverting :)
I was quite demanding in my early relationship with the W12 postcode. I'd rock up, tickets in hand, expecting to be entertained. The only three places I knew in the 'hood were the Shepherd's Bush Empire, the BBC and the Bush Theatre. All purveyors of cultural good times. In the early noughties, I got audience tickets for Joe Cornish's "This Week Only" at Television Centre. I laughed until my cheeks hurt and, for the first time, laid eyes on the curved bastion of my childhood televisual memories, BBC Television Centre. While we queued, I saw BBC staff with lanyards dangling from their necks and envied their being a moving part of this iconic flagship. In the bar, I did that thing where, try as you might, you can only keep one eye on your companion, while the other roves the room, half-expecting Andi Peters to saunter by.
Now, White City and Shepherd's Bush are my nearest neighbours. From my perspective in North Kensington, W12 begins on the whimsically named North Pole Road. Sadly, the road has not capitalised on its name and there is little to recommend it. There used to be a railway station there, until it was destroyed by fire in the Blitz. Southern, freight and Overground trains still thunder over the little bridge, along the old West London line. A year or so ago, I was driving along the road and I saw Oscar's head and eyes swivelling over his shoulder. He had just learned to read and had spotted the name of the road. "Hang on! Is this where Father Christmas lives?!".
On foot, BBC Television Centre is a short, drab journey along Wood Lane, past the nexus of roads feeding the Westway. This place feels blighted and grey, perhaps unable to creep from the shadow cast by the high prison walls of Wormwood Scrubs or the workhouses of the past. Despite this, I feel warmly connected to the place. My boys were born there, at Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea Hospital, one of the oldest maternity hospitals in Europe. It is a mercifully short 6 minute drive from my house. Things are changing, though. The earth under this north-eastern-most corner of W12 is in the throes of development. Television Centre was sold to property developers in 2012. Imperial College is establishing a whole new campus across the road. The Westfield behemoth is spreading northwards. The area feels in flux. In the meantime, there are small things to divert passers by.
This is the outskirts of W12. I only really came to know its heart when we set up Saturday Club there. I had cause to trawl up and down Uxbridge Road, marvelling at the Middle Eastern grocers with their cornucopias of cling-wrapped fruits, green-brown nuts, autumnal spices and pink slabs of Halal meat. I admired the handsome exterior of Bush Hall, wishing I had cause to peek inside at the Edwardian plasterwork and crystal chandeliers. I bustled along Goldhawk Road, in search of disposable coffee cups, discovering instead a textile mecca with rolls of silk and bolts of coloured cotton as far as the eye could see. If you look carefully, there are pleasingly odd juxtapositions and curiosities tucked away off the main drags.
Shepherd's Bush is not "lovely". It is green enough. The housing stock is solid and agreeable. The edible spoils of a diverse community are at hand. It thrums, vivid and lived in. But gentrification is at hand. As I write, neighbourhoods to the east of W12 have succumbed to the blandly, homogenising effects of the middle classes. In London, gentrification is seen as an inevitable tide resulting in social cleansing. Londoners by birthright and lower socioeconomic classes are being out-priced and displaced. It must and will be checked, though. If we squeeze out our nurses, our social workers, our street cleaners, surely London will not function? The Thin House, a converted 5-storey milliner's shop on Goldhawk Road, is one of my favourite buildings in the whole city. While I adore its slender form and love the bowler-hatted nod to its past in the retained shop front, I am also aware that it went on the market for over half-a-million pounds. So that's how much a literal sliver of bricks and mortar costs around here.
It feels like Shepherd's Bush is teetering on the brink. Good quality, affordable housing matched with thoughtful infrastructure will be the key to retaining the distinctive social character of the area. Time will tell whether the new developments and large-scale regeneration of Old Oak to the north will bring that. At least Shepherd's Bush Market, a glorious example of a 'local market for local people', has stood firm in the face of plans to develop the site. This sounds an optimistic note. Like the neighbourhood it resides in, the market is a lively, functioning multicultural melting pot. Saving it feels like saving Shepherd's Bush.
As I write, smart pockets have begun to pop up in W12. It is pleasing to be able to get great coffee from the independent coffee shops like Hummingbird Deli and Proud Mary's. The smart set has attracted the Ginger Pig and, despite its reputation as butcher to the affluent, it offers a range of well-reared meat at prices that are affordable and more fair to farmers. Any time I am near Askew Road, I will detour to October 26 (contender for best baker in London) and grab a loaf of whatever remains on the shelves.
I find myself on Askew Road more often than anywhere else in W12. It's a typical normcore Shepherd's Bush street (all mini-marts, launderettes and hardware shops) - but with sparkly bits. It's a functional kind of place where you can get a key cut and buy a Pyrex jug, but you can also buy a birthday present, or pick up good coffee in Detour. There is Icelandic soft-serve around the corner at Bears Ice Cream. I miss cake crafter, Cake Me Baby (strapline "Seriously, no Disney!") who have moved to purvey their heavenly valrhona-dipped almond cake pops elsewhere. Kite Studios and its cheerful be-buntinged frontage provides a warm heart to the place, offering community arts facilities. On the way home, I pass a number of Good Front Doors. And then there's always that sad old man, sitting in his very smart conservatory, day in, day out. Took me about 2 years to realise it was some sort of model or statue. All that wasted sympathy...
Want to read more? A special pocket of London.