Sunday, 18 May 2014

Day 18: Heading down the 'bella

A few days ago I asked my readers for some writing topics. I got a fair few, but it was the first one, given to me by my old school friend Yan Lynch, that took my fancy the most:
Has Portobello road changed for the better or the worst, has it lost its soul?
I grew up in the area around Portobello Rd, West London. We lived on the Queens Park Estate, just north of the Harrow Rd and I went to school in Ladbroke Grove - St Charles Square. We'd often walk home via 'the 'bella' as we used to call it (even though it wasn't really on the way home for me) or go we'd go there for lunch. We'd hang out there in the afternoons when we were dodging classes and shop there with our families on a Saturday afternoon. In our later teens it was our general stomping ground. Pubs, bars, etc. A lot of my friends lived in the streets immediately surrounding it. Many still do and my mum still lives in the same flat on the queens park estate.

It's taken me a whole week to start this piece because in order to do it justice, I felt it only fair to pay a proper visit. It's not that I don't go there any more - I'm there at least monthly - but I wanted to walk the 'bella with the subject in mind, making notes and observations. I did that yesterday, and even took a voice recorder along with me.

I recall once being given a similar assignment by our English teacher once, when we were in our 3rd year in secondary school. A few years later, in sixth form, we were given an art project, with the street market acting as a focus for our work. The first produced to some very funny, juvenile essays (hey, we were 13) the latter was the best excuse ever for a bunch of 16 year old teenagers to spend Friday afternoons lounging around coffee shops and trying to be cool.

So this isn't the first time I've been tasked with this subject. I think that's part of what makes it appealing.

Needless to say, I need more time to collect my thoughts. There was so much to think about when I was there yesterday - what was it really like when I was growing up? I wasn't actually paying attention at the time, just getting on with being a kid. How much has it really changed? I think it's changed several times in the intervening years, going through both good and bad patches. Does it still have the same qualities, despite the changes in culture & wealth of the area?

I also gave myself a shopping mission while I was there - to buy a kilo of chillies for my next batch of hot sauce. I figured if I was there with a purpose I could make a better observations...

Next: Saturday Shopping.