And in Comes the New …

May 10, 2013 by

(this is my take on The American Resident’s Where I live prompt … )

When we first moved to our beloved sleepy enclave of Westminster, several years ago, we were enticed by the comparatively (for zone 1) modest rents and the fact we could walk to truly London-y places like Buckingham Palace and Parliament.  We were not overly impressed with the convenience of Pimlico, our flat was just about a half mile from the nearest grocery store; we had to walk at least a mile to sundries like children’s birthday presents or new clothing and the restaurant scene was not as exciting or original as what was on offer in our previous neighbourhood, Paddington.  We were now parents and our entertainment budget dried up with my decision to stay home with my kids and forgo a pay check.  Over the course a few months we forgot all about our short walk to Marylebone High Street/Little Venice/Westbourne Grove and grew to love our new home and neighbours.

One of the first discoveries I made into our little neighbourhood was the typical, unremarkable but fabulously practical and affordable Tachbrook Market with its fruit and veg stand, a dry goods vendor selling odd biscuits and cleaning supplies, inexpensive clothing stall and the fishmonger.  Pat O’Shaughnessy had been in the Pimlico market for over 50 years; he and his daughter had a massive cart that they wheeled out into the market and placed their boxes of iced fish on top.  They were kind and friendly, not overly chatty with me (being a native Midwesterner I did not buy too many things from the fishmonger), but had a loyal group of customers.  Everyone in Pimlico took pride in O’Shaughnessy, either because the novelty or the practicality of having a fishmonger in our market.

Not long after we moved in, things started to change a little bit around our newly-claimed neighbourhood.  Independent boutiques opened, organic coffee shops came in, two Tesco locals opened, a craft beer pub and a new fishmonger came to the market. “ Jon The Fishmonger” opened up his own fish stand on the opposite side of the market to O’Shaughnessy.  Jon and would smile, chat and offer recipe suggestions.  He would decorate his fish stand with parsley and spray water on the fish so that it all looked and smelled better.  Soon a debate rose between area residents: O’Shaughnessy vs Jon.  Old-school Pimlicon’s stayed with O’Shaughnessy, newbies went with Jon.  We were new, he patiently explained to me how to cook the stuff, so we began to eat fish we bought from Jon.

Sometimes I would watch from the near-by playground as O’Shaughnessy would track a mother with her pushchair when she walked by his stall over to Jon.  I could feel his betrayal all the way from the swings.  There were times his scornful stare burned into my shoulder blades as my children and I went about buying our mackerel supper.  When Jon was not around, I bought fish from O’Shaughnessy.  One day he had a particularly long queue and apologised so profusely and kindly that we had to wait and went on to serve us some fabulous sardines that we enjoyed very much. But we were loyal to Jon and he always got our business first.

Right about the time we served those delicious O’Shaughnessy sardines, we were notified by our landlord that we should find another place to live.  Said “landlord” was my husband’s cousin and the flat was rented to us very much at a “mate’s rate”.  When we tried to find somewhere else to live, we had discovered that rents had nearly doubled in the time we lived in Pimlico.  We could no longer afford anything close to a 3 bedroom, even a two bedroom was going to be a real stretch for our rental budget.

As we began to fully accept that we would be leaving Pimlico for good I then began thinking about at the changes that had taken place in my neighbourhood.  Suddenly the roads seemed populated with an inordinate amount of Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s which I would eye with the scorn of O’Shaughnessy.  My local playgroup that I helped run had fewer and fewer mums arriving each week; there were more nannies and fewer children.  Properties around my flat and my friend’s flats were going vacant for increasingly long periods of time.  When families moved out of the neighbourhood, their flats and homes would be filled by single working professional or an exotically foreign family who lived there part time.

It slowly dawned on me that we were being displaced by a different crowd.  Out with the volunteering, community building family types who shop with likes of O’Shaughnessy and in with the international jet-set.  We were being run out of Pimlico by people who privately educate their children, seek private medical care, use few council services and don’t vote and might not even spend much time in London just as O’Shaughnessy had been run out by the likes of me.

My husband and I both willingly sought the expat life; with that comes, I suppose, a natural desire to embrace change and not fear moving.  We eventually found another sleepy under-recognised London neighbourhood that has little cache, but is affordable and convenient.  It’s nowhere close to zone 1, London has changed too much for our comparatively meagre income, but there are families, social groups, volunteer opportunities, community councils, and a market with an old school fishmonger.

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2 Comments

  1. Loved this, partly because I could relate to it–we moved into Whitechapel when it was still bleak and A Place to Avoid, but by the time we moved out to Essex around 7 years later property prices had doubled (hurrah!) and the undiscovered gems of the area had been discovered and taken over by lots of yah’s. You’re writing really captures the feel of this time, I love pieces like this: ‘I could feel his betrayal all the way from the swings.’ Thank you for joining in the Linky!! x

  2. Hi Michelle, Gentrification — gotta love it. Hope to scrounge up a ticket to Brit Mums this year (I left it too late and can’t get one now!! noooooooooooo)

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