Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: Hampstead Is the Only Place Where the Greengrocer Has a Double-Barrelled Name

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: Hampstead Is the Only Place Where the Greengrocer Has a Double-Barrelled Name

Article excerpt

I biked up Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead the other day behind a cyclist who might have been 70 years old. He cycled in the old-fashioned, laborious way, leaning to left and right as he pedalled. He only had a Sturmey Archer three-speed hub, so it was a wonder he was getting up the hill at all. He wore a grubby mac and had one of those army surplus gas-mask bags you can buy for 99p slung over his shoulder. It contained, I suspected, his sandwiches.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I reflected that this man probably remembered the days when the French Connection shop was a chemist's, when the Everyman Cinema was a drill hall. He stopped at the red lights at the top of the hill (I mean, he was that old-fashioned), but by the time I'd caught up with him the light had turned green, and he turned left into Fitzjohn's Avenue.

I looked along that road when I arrived at the junction, but there was no sign of him. He might as well have been a ghost--a ghost of Christmas past--and, come to think of it, nobody but me had looked at him as he'd toiled up the hill.

A novelist friend of mine used to own a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead. I asked him what the shop had become, and he said, with a shrug: "Dress shop." There may not be many writers in Hampstead in 2004, although Lord Bragg and Michael Foot cling on, these two being almost the only remaining representatives of NW3's intellectual days. But Hampstead is a very good place for a writer to visit.

I cycle there at least once a week. I think I've got the hang of being in Hampstead, but sometimes I'm pulled up short. Last week, for instance, I asked for a packet of peanuts in the Holly Bush pub.

"We don't have peanuts," said the barman with a sigh. "We have small bowls of pistachios." The basic rule that I observe in Hampstead is: don't buy anything ... except maybe from the second-hand clothes shop, which advertises with a slogan that might well be the Hampstead motto: "Designer Clothes Required Every Day. …

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