#Cities: Simon Schama on Notting Hill, London in the 1960s

Simon Schama, Guardian 5.9.15: At the same time as Charlie Phillips starts taking photographs of the Piss House pub, 1968, Enoch Powell tells Conservatives in Birmingham that, “like the Roman”, he sees “the Tiber foaming with much blood” should an “immigrant descended population” settle and multiply in Britain. Charlie, born in Jamaica, sees something else: moments of unguarded happiness, many of them at the Piss House on the corner of Blenheim Crescent and Portobello Road, and he catches black and white in black and white… 

Charlie’s world is Notting Hill and the Grove, long before the lattes and the £200 designer jeans arrived; when the words “Notting Hill” meant the hideous race riots of 1958. [A few years after that] I was the lanky white boy in winklepickers walking the streets my parents told me weren’t safe: Rachman houses subdivided into one room for two; two rooms for four; communal kitchens on the landings; pork-pie hats; frying kingfish; working girls in purple hot pants; the Skatalites or the Clarendonians, a rocksteady beat coming from an open window. My school was on the edge of it… I hopped on a number 28 and went through the cheek-by-jowl districts of Powell’s nightmares. My parents thought I was safe and studying Talmud with the Reverend Halpern, but every so often a little jolt of adventure would sit up and beg and I’d take the 28 bus past the salt-beef bars of Willesden, past the pubs of Irish Kilburn, across the rowdy High Road and into “North Kensington”: into the Grove, where life was on the streets; where the locals of both sexes walked differently, did everything differently; and there was no beige, tweed or corduroy.

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Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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