When you’re invited to dinner with your dad and his friend from childhood you never expect to get drunk off of pints of cider and bottles of wine that were free and flowing from your dad’s friends bar tab at a pub in the middle of nowhere. You also don’t expect conversation to go down the path of the gangs that were around the English town that they grew up in and the trouble that the two of them used to get up to (which was a lot… and also makes me have serious life envy of two almost 6o year olds).
As some of you may know I’ve been travelling around England for almost the last two weeks with my dad, which at first sounds drab and boring but it has actually been an incredible amount of fun. Unfortunately the catalyst for this trip has been the death of my Bamwah (Grandma) with her funeral at the end of this week, but I won’t get into that.
This trip has been an amazing bonding experience with my dad as we’ve experienced the highs and lows of the reason of our visit together, talked about everything under the sun, gotten drunk at pubs, have driven through the beautiful English countryside and discussed matching tattoo ideas. Like Belgium, England is no new territory for me. My dad was born here and ended up moving to Australia when he was 25. Even though I’ve been to England more times than I can count, there still remains corners of the country that I haven’t explored so this time I wanted to make my way to some of those places.
When I was a child my Bamwah sent me a video in the mail of the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which was one of my favourite movies as it had everything I loved: singing, dancing and magic. To this day it remains one of my favourites as it conjures so many magical memories of my childhood. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Mrs Price, an apprentice witch played by Angela Lansbury, and Professor Emilius Browne take the children to Portobello Road and when they’re there an extensive dance sequence ensues to the song’s theme which is ridiculously catchy:
Portobello road, Portobello road
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello road.
Because of this, since I have been a kid I’ve always wanted to visit Portobello Road and, in turn, Notting Hill. Notting Hill is an interesting place… it met my expectations in certain aspects but also surprised me. We were only able to go on a Monday and even though the busiest days of the market are on the weekend, Monday to Thursday a smaller market takes place. If you want to avoid a throng of tourists I think weekdays are better times to go, especially if you want to take photos!
The buildings along Portobello Road and the surrounding area of Notting Hill are definitely beautiful but less than 50 years ago Notting Hill was one of the most run down areas of London, which you can definitely tell as when you exit the tube you are greeted with a less than beautiful part of London. It’s not until you walk away from the main drag and towards the markets that the houses become more sophisticated. After the Second World War the standard of living was so low that Notting Hill became a slum but it was populated by immigrants and creatives which made it one of the most diverse areas in London. Like Brussels, this area of London is battling with its past and present.
Since the 1980s, the area has become incredibly gentrified and is now considered to be one of the most exclusive areas of the capital but this sadly means that those who made the area so unique in the first place aren’t able to afford to live here anymore. Walking down the streets surrounding Portobello Road I was blown away by the extravagance of the houses – with some streets having one coloured house after another resulting in a rainbow or streets who’s houses were crisp, white and refined.
Even though these days Portobello Road tends to be overrun by tourists and tacky souvenir shops have sprouted up in between beautiful antique shops, it still retains some of its bohemian charm as you wonder through the leafy mansion-lined streets and duck in and out of vintage clothing stores. One of my favourite finds that I happened across is a clothing store called Ragyard, which had only opened its doors two days before I got there. Upon entering, a super friendly woman with green eyebrows and purple lips exclaimed “Ahh your hair matches the shop!” and from then on I felt so at home. She explained to me that all of their items were one of a kind that either used materials that they had made or were from old vintage garments that they refashioned which I love. A neon sign that read “We love to create” crawled against one wall and paper cranes and lanterns hung from the ceiling. The clothing was something else entirely as it was colour and sequin galore, which is Billie heaven. I wanted to go crazy in there!
My last stop in Notting Hill was a place that I’ve read about, heard about and had been dying to go to: The Churchill Arms. I’ve heard story after story of a pub covered in plants that are in full bloom during certain times of the year and after rounding corners it was right in front of me, like a shining beacon. The Churchill Arms was built way back in 1750, making it one of the older pubs in London which was the first pub in London to serve Thai food.
I couldn’t imagine myself living in this area of London but I can definitely see myself visiting here again! Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog post on my trip to Brighton!