This last week has given me a greater sense of time passing than ever before. I am sure that you all received the notification about the proposed re-development of the land and buildings adjacent to the convent. A few years ago, I might not have visited the presentation on the basis that such a development did not apply to me…or at least, not yet. Now, I consider my fate in years to come. If I am lucky, I won’t need to be in an establishment where every resident is assigned a nurse/carer and where the parking facility is geared to those using mobility vehicles. The proposals are interesting, tasteful and with a pleasing use of existing green spaces which are, at present, denied to local residents. For me the downside is that residents of such places are not allowed a resident’s parking permit, similar to those owners who have bought into the other new developments in Kensington targeted at able-bodied foreigners who spend little time in the borough. If I have anything on my bucket list, the fashionable fad of the moment, it is to be a Hell’s granny and roar round Kensington at the wheel of whatever I’ll be driving when I’m ninety. So, even if I have a dedicated parking space, I will only reside where I enjoy the full benefits of Kensington, even if I have to pay more for the privilege, until I am deprived of my licence by my doctor.
Visiting that little show in the Asa Briggs hall wasn’t the only pointer to the passage of time. I arrived in London in 1974, after a year of teaching English as a Foreign Language in Germany and France, thus missing the first of the great blockbuster exhibitions staged by the British Museum. That exhibition was, of course, Tutankhamun, and though I have since seen many of the artefacts in their native setting of the Nile and the Cairo Museum, I feel I missed out on the start of what has become an extraordinary tradition. On a trip back to Blighty in’73, I squeezed in The Jade Princess at the Royal Academy, but my real understanding of the word “blockbuster” came in Paris in 1975.
I was in my first grown-up job as a marketing junior with Avon Cosmetics and was despatched to Paris to take part in a pan-Europe new products’ brainstorming session, not because I had garnered the requisite experience in New Product Development (I barely knew how to run a filing system) but because I spoke French. The session ended at lunchtime. I skipped lunch, left my luggage in my inexpensive hotel on the Rue St Honoré, and went instead to an exhibition in the Grand Palais called L’or des Scythes, The Gold of the Scythians. The wealth and opulence of the artefacts was stunning, as was the evidence of a sophisticated semi-nomadic society about which even Russian experts knew very little at the time.
Societies which build in durable stone, like the Egyptian or Graeco-Roman civilisations, leave traces of their existence on the land itself. Those whose available materials are clay and wood are doomed to disappear, leaving only their personal and most prized possessions within their final burial places. Until the recent advent of satellite surveillance and mapping, research on the Scythians was restricted to the few burial mounds discovered, many of which had been raided over previous centuries. Now, since those early times of Peter the Great, much more has been discovered. Climate change has also contributed. The melting of Siberia’s perma-frost has exposed undesecrated Scythian sites, revealing mummified corpses, coffins, household artefacts to serve the deceased in the next life and even soft toys for the children. Experts have also learned that the Scythians roamed from the shores of the Black Sea to Siberia and Russia’s eastern coastline, a far greater area than had ever been dreamt of. They were, in many ways, the first nomadic super power…until the Mongols galloped onto the scene in the 14th century.
That exhibition stayed in my mind from that day. I had never seen so many beautiful items in one place, nor the evidence of such exquisite craftsmanship, nor the proof of their sophisticated social structures and family patterns. Although I was almost penniless, I bought the expensive catalogue and have it to this day. When the British Museum decided to stage their exhibition about the Scythians, visiting it became a “must-do” on my non-bucket list. Armed with my Paris catalogue, and with husband in tow, we set out. The display is beautifully presented and the use of digital simulation creates an impression of how they lived on those wind-blown Russian steppes, the topography of which has changed little over two and a half thousand years.
The British Museum exhibition is not as hugely extensive as that of the Grand Palais. In 1975, I reckon that the Hermitage just boxed up everything they had and sent it to Paris. It is however worth a visit and presents the most important pieces as beautifully as before. It is an eye-opener into the robustness of mankind and shows that, perhaps the reason for our survival as a dominant species is because of adaptability to climate and resources, and above all to an urge to create, to adorn, to treasure beautiful things and value the artists who create them.
Go and see it.
Two Positives and a Negative
The Design Centre has been on my to-do list since it opened three months ago (note NOT a bucket list. I’m not there yet!). Every time I drive past, I tick a mental box but, well, you know what it’s like when something is on your doorstep…there’s always another day, isn’t there…
However, the news that the Annual Art 2017 Exhibition had opened in Holland Park Orangery and that it had been organised and curated by our very own Gordon French and Family was the cultural kick-start I needed. Despite having lived in Kensington for the last twenty three years, this is the first time I have been to the Holland Park show and I am ashamed that I have been so remiss. It is delightful and presents some beautiful art works covering all artistic fields. This year’s featured artist is Olive Chalmers whose exquisite botanicals are as detailed and delicate as the genre demands. I have always loved botanicals for their obsessive attention to the minutiae of plant forms combined with a subtle yet glowing depiction of their natural colourings. Ms Chalmer’s works achieve a rare perfection and it is not surprising that she is so widely collected.
The range of art is impressive. Whether abstract or figurative, water colour, acrylic or oil, the standard is excellent. I loved the ceramics, especially Russell Mack’s Green Man and the stoneware clay of Hazel Leach and Alex Longmore. Also, the intriguing smaller ceramic egg-shaped containers make far more interesting gifts than chocolates or flowers. Gordon French’s evocative mixed media work The Merchant took me back to the Orient and to the sepia-tinted world of robed traders sitting in doorways, guarding their precious stock tucked into the labyrinth of tiny rooms behind their ever-open door.
So, if you haven’t been yet, gird up your loins and get there before the ninth April. It is worth it.
And then, on the way back, drop into The Design Museum. What a revelation! I was last in there just before it closed and though the dilapidation was extensive and the damp damage pitiful, the original concept shone through the neglect. This building, Modernist if ever there was one, was built in 1962 when Zaha Hadid, the High Priestess of Modernism, was only twelve years old. In its soaring ceilings and swooping curving galleries, it is truly ground-breaking and prefigures much of her much later, more famous work. As a piece of architecture, it was and still is absolutely magnificent. The renovation, using contrasting materials of pale wood, marble, smooth paint surfaces and metals, glorifies its innovative use of space and the interplay of light and shade pulses life into the surfaces and levels of the structure. The United Kingdom has been criticised for a pastiche approach to architecture and an abject fear of the non-traditional. The Commonwealth Centre, as it then was known, was always iconic architecture at its best and we should be proud that we, in Kensington, have offered the Design Museum a new permanent home in one of London’s most stunning exhibition spaces. A Must Visit, if ever there was and one of the features which makes Kensington a great place to live.
Now, on another more “residential” concern.
The last three years have brought major changes to property ownership, the use of corporate structures to hold possession of properties and the withdrawal of many of the benefits which these structures provided. Such properties, whether free-standing freeholds or leasehold apartments in mansion blocks are now unable to avoid CGT, Stamp Duty, IHT or Community Charge and the establishment of a Register of Beneficial Owners is set to reduce the veils of anonymity such property ownership once enjoyed.
One aspect, which relates predominantly to flats, appears to be have been overlooked. In a flat held under lease and whether within a “share of freehold” or by an external freeholder, the main obligation of the lessee is to pay the service charge. Those leaseholders who (stubbornly) do not pay can be pursued by legal means right through to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal. The penalties can, in extreme cases, result in forfeiture of the lease itself. However, if a leaseholder reneges upon this obligation, and if ownership of the property is vested in an offshore company, even if the property is commercialised and earning a rental income in the UK with tenants resident and registered in the UK, it is almost impossible to pursue these leaseholders through the UK courts. Legal procedures can only be served in the country in which ownership is registered and some countries are notoriously difficult (and expensive) when this process is attempted. Panama is one such country. The United Arab Emirates are equally unresponsive, especially if the ultimate owner is one of their nationals, and there are others. An application must first be made to the LVT to obtain permission to sue for payment in these external jurisdictions. Only then can the first and most basic steps be initiated and the potential for success is limited. It is virtually impossible to place a lien upon the property or to effect a charge, even upon a UK letting agent who collects the rent, to obtain unpaid dues.
We have one such leaseholder in our building and, I am beginning to hear similar tales from elsewhere. A recent discussion with our company’s lawyers revealed that there is a substantial number of non-resident leaseholders who are using this loophole to avoid payment of contractual obligations. Everything else has been tightened up, particular with regard to HMRC. This aspect has fallen through the gap and affects primarily co-residents who end up almost financing the shortfalls caused by these offenders. Given the huge efforts made by property developers to attract overseas investors and the fact that the UK is one of the world’s most unrestricted ownership markets, this needs to be addressed. It should be possible to pursue legally through UK courts a company/property where the property is physically located in the UK, regardless of where it is registered or where its owner lives.
So to all you lawyers, councillors, MPs etc who are in our locality, I say “don the thinking cap”. I would to love to hear experiences and even some suggestions how to redress this anomaly. There must be a way.
PARKING IS FOR DUMMIES
Is it just me? Am I the only person to get het up about things which I can’t do that much about? I’m not talking about some extraordinary intellectual dilemma or a moral crisis or even a mid-life crisis. Frankly, I’m past one of those so let’s rule that out right now.
I’m talking about traffic regulations. I’m talking about parking regulations. I’m even going to toss in the Highway Code for good measure. Last week, one of our Kensington Court Mansions’ residents moved out after a long rental tenancy. He had a lot of stuff, to put it mildly, so needed the removal van for three consecutive days. I don’t know if he had three vans or if the same van returned on a daily basis to shuttle the contents of his flat, plants and all, to a storage depot. Whatever, he’d been resident long enough to know the regulations and the removal company was London based, so they too should have known the procedure.
Did they apply for a parking suspension? Did they hell! The lorry simply parked itself between the two island blocks in the centre of the court and stayed there, blocking the through-traffic from nine am until about four thirty in the afternoon each day, for three days. A parking ticket was issued on the first day and was, I suspect, defiantly displayed for the following two days. Maybe I am being unfair. Maybe it wasn’t the same ticket, but that ticket became tattier and more ragged as the days continued, so I drew the apparent conclusion. By Friday, the ticket was a limply pathetic testimony to the vigilance of the local traffic wardens.
Obviously, it’s cheaper to incur a fine and pay it promptly thus earning a rebate of fifty percent, than to pay the bay suspension charge. If the wardens are operating on a one ticket per vehicle per day basis, this is certainly the case. I asked the driver why he was so parked (or rather not parked), as he reluctantly edged the lorry back to allow me to leave my space.
‘I’ve paid the bleedin’ ticket for today,’ the burly chap informed me, ‘so bugger off!’
Being under the impression that it was against the law to block a public thoroughfare for more than twenty minutes, I called the police. They arrived and helped guide the offending lorry into a Respark space outside our building, unsuspended and subsequently un-fined, because as previously announced, he’d paid his fine for that day, and probably all subsequent days. When a neighbor’s wife returned from the school-supermarket-playdate run in the afternoon with child and shopping, she complained to the driver that his lorry was using the three remaining spaces of the residents’ area not occupied by residents and asked where she was supposed to park. She received the same message about the fine, and similar advice about where to go, though in stronger terms.
The second day was a repeat performance. The traffic warden was spotted chatting amicably to the same driver. When my husband veered in her direction to ask why she was not doing anything about this apparent contravention, she scuttled away at top speed, and was not seen again for the remainder of the day. I called the Parking Department of the RBKC. A gentleman with a clip-board arrived, took some photographs, made notes and left. The outcome can only have been a rout for the Council as the lorry remained in situ, blocking the through-road and forcing cars to reverse the wrong way along a one-way system. I called the police. They arrived, chatted with the driver and left.
By the third day, a Friday, I knew it was useless. I thought I understood both the Highway Code, -that you may not block a public thoroughfare without permission-, and the parking regulations which state that if you park in a residents’ bay, you must display a valid permit. Obviously there are two sets of regulations: one for us, the hapless residents and one for removals companies….and, let me not forget, people collecting visas from the Iranian Consulate. They are also on friendly terms with the wardens.
These drivers know they will get away with it and that the parking fine is cheaper than the suspension charge, especially if one ticket can be spread over three days. Presumably the fines are also negligible…so why bother. Mercifully, there were no emergencies demanding immediate access and, given the attitude of that particular driver, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all to have heard him tell an ambulance driver to “bugger” off as well.
I am surprised that the RBKC allow this to happen and that they are oblivious to the revenue earning opportunity such impolite and cavalier conduct could provide. Those who flout the established system should find themselves facing fines of double the cost of the bay suspension for every day they flout it. That would give them cause for thought, wouldn’t it. And someone should have a word with our local police…….
I’m not even going to start on Young Street where those managing the massive building project have behaved impeccably and the others; deliverers, shoppers at Whole Foods, waiting taxis, people using the Nat West cash machine, patrons of Pain Quotidien, chauffeurs etc park on double yellow lines without challenge.
And this morning, I nearly collided with Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, whose red van decided to skip the circular route and drive against the permitted traffic flow from the post box on the corner of Thackeray Street to the one at the top of the Court. I was looking the wrong way, or the right depending on how you interpret these things, and had my husband not screamed, I’d have hit him (the mail van, not my husband).
And yet, at the last AGM, I was told, that it’s not that much of a problem……..
The Notting Hill Carnival
My first home in London was in Westbourne Grove, not directly in the area of the carnival proper but close enough to be aware of it. It was a marvellous event, colourful, lively, fun and a pleasure to attend. I went more than once, even taking my mother, and never felt the slightest shiver of fear. I was sensible. I didn’t take a handbag and attended only in the daylight hours, knowing that when the rum began to flow, things could get a bit too lively for a girl on her own, though many of my friends partied on in reasonable safety until well into the night. Local shops stocked up, knowing that this would be the most profitable weekend of the year. Pubs, bars and restaurants brought in extra staff to cope with the demand. The local library ran fliers for the events and played tapes of the steel bands as part of their celebration of the warm Caribbean culture. Everybody looked forward to it with excited anticipation. It was a real event!
On Saturday, August the 27th 2016, we popped across to Portobello Market to buy some fresh vegetables, especially a frisée lettuce so I could make a Salade Foie de Volailles on Sunday evening. As we drew closer to Portobello, I began to wonder if I was in the same city that I had left on the other side of the Park. Shops and houses hid behind hardboard barricades. Crowd control fencing lined not only the procession routes but was wedged firmly across gateways and entrances. Sainsbury’s on Portobello itself reminded me of shopping in Beirut during Lebanon’s war. The entire shop frontage was boarded, the door narrowed to restrict the flow of people into it. Inside the lights were dimmed and the store was closing at 4pm, not to re-open until Tuesday morning. Many businesses had closed on Friday evening and only a fraction of the usual Saturday morning market stalls were in operation. Though nothing had started, Portobello and many of the streets around resembled a conflict zone and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the occasional tank or gun emplacement.
Seven stabbings on the day of the children’s carnival, I read on the Sunday night news. Seven thousand police drafted in to maintain order, I heard. By Monday night 1000 people had received medical treatment, 450 had been arrested for violence and drug-related offences and a lorry-load of knives, machetes, axes and other vicious weapons had been removed from the hands and pockets of the revellers. The area was awash with crime of every kind
This wasn’t the carnival I had known. The original impetus for the carnival, The Notting Hill Riots, had been designed to provide a focal point to a society alienated by colour prejudice, to introduce a distrustful nation to the delights of the Caribbean culture and to show the world that Notting Hill in all its ethnic variation, wasn’t dangerous. By and large, it succeeded in its aims. Not anymore! Notting Hill, now one of the wealthiest residential areas in London, becomes one of its most dangerous for two days every year. Local residents, businesses, caterers, pubs and restaurants batten down the hatches, hope nothing to bad will happen and mostly leave the area for the weekend. For me, it is a tragic shame, a wasted opportunity to celebrate the diversity of our society, and one which I now believe should perhaps cease to be.
One minute, the scheme is on. The next minute, it is off, delayed, undergoing change and modification, whatever.
It’s going to be another of those “definite article” enterprises but only the name has anything definite about it. The Kensington, for so it is called, is a mixed facility development with the inevitable luxury flats, the so-called social housing (which means 1 bed apartments at £900,000 as opposed to £1,400,000) plus a cinema and therein lies the catch.
If you think that the cinema will remain in all its Art Deco glory, you will be disappointed. Minerva Properties are planning to relocate the cinema entrance in the Earl’s Court Road. They have pulled a fast one here as they are creating a “screening room”, whatever that might be, in the original cinema area but the rest is going, including the beautiful marble staircases and period interior.
No-one can deny that the individual cinemas themselves had become very shabby. The foyer and the staircases are a different story and with sympathetic restoration would enhance whatever the developers want to do with the site.
A quick look at the Minerva details showed that five directors resigned last year. The six current directors came onto the Board between December 2014 and November 2015. Sounds like a bit of a clear-out to me and that does not bode well. The web-site is vague to put it mildly, though they do say they are retaining the trees. How jolly good-hearted of them!
I suspect that once they receive permission to shift the cinema, it will shift permanently into the wide blue yonder and one of the most historic cinemas in London will be lost to the local community. Others share my view and today’s Sunday Times feature refers to a campaign which has won the support of many from the entertainment world.
It would be tragic if this much-loved, much-patronised local amenity were lost, especially if it is to be replaced by yet another “dark” residential building, owned by offshore investors on a money parking basis but never lived in. We have enough of those in Kensington already.
We don’t need dark buildings. We need homes for real residents and we need a cinema.
Joannah Yacoub, originally from the far north but resident in London since 1973 and Kensington Court since 1993, has views on what has to be her home city, no matter where she originally came from.