TO ALL THAT
by Ted Honderich
Robert Bridges left England behind with his book Goodbye to All That. As befits a lesser fellow, I have said goodbye only to Hampstead. It is the part of London that has always been regarded as its principal intellectual and artistic locale. It is a kind of counterpart to Greenwich Village in New York. Having its postal district, NW3, on their letterhead has improved the self-image of many aspirants to a kind of standing. Was it improving mine? The answer below was published in that admirable local newspaper, free but better in political and some other ways than most local newspapers for which you have to pay -- The Camden New Journal. Admittedly I was not addressing the world, and so there are some quick assumptions as to the local environment, and indeed England, and an argot, but maybe some of the world will understand.
So after 25 years why did we chuck Hampstead, so hankered after by so many, for the old market town of Frome in Somerset? Could the answer be a poncey one? That 4 Keats Grove had Victorian downpipes stuck on its Georgian front when it was put into flats? And that as an escaped Canadian and a fancier of old English houses, I thought we could do better?
Well we did, sweetheart, we really did. Grade 2 Asterisk Listed Building now, as against common old Grade 2 Listed. Fountain House is high on a Frome hill and has a facade finer by far. Discreetly out of sight too, on the garden side of our pile. Away from the prying eyes of pushy old neighbours from The Smoke driving down our lane to see how we're doing.
No bad move in terms of the lolly either. A little like Monopoly used to be on a good Sunday evening.
For £495,000, sell 2-bedroom flat. For £675,000, buy with my Ingrid estimated 8 bedrooms on first storey and two separate second storeys. Ancestral dining room, library, drawing room, wine cellar below. Walled half-acre with tennis court and swimming pool. View from high balcony over private facade to line of lovely blue hills with white horse.
Even, in the whole financial reorganization of retirement, some conscience-money left over -- including £5,000 to Ken Livingstone to get him to run for Mayor of London. Also well spent.
Or are we here not because of the wonderful Georgian proportions in stone and the good deal, but for another reason?
Because, as anticipated, our lane has in it only what faintly reminds you of traffic, this being one moped morning and afternoon? No need to get at Mendip Council for a No Entry sign -- by which Keats Grove has so far saved itself from the downward rush of the shiny tin cans every morning. No need to struggle more against the actresses in bunkers, and also the sub-literati elsewhere in the village who got their street fixed and then discovered the aesthetic imperative to save somebody else's from signs.
It couldn't be the shiny tin cans that led us to depart, though. Even the white vans on their mindless missions. There was more to life than them. Maybe it was my own little aesthetic imperative, having to do with the view over the gardens of neighbours more monied than I.
At night there were the twinkly lights in the shrubbery, so reminiscent of The Little Chef on the Watford by-pass. Also the soft ripple from the little pond, or maybe its perpetual pump. In the daytime there were the sheep and the lamb grazing peacefully, in their woolly plastic reality, under the eye of the life-sized gnome.
Maybe, since we have got onto the subject of taste and style, it was the whole new class and the commercial personnel throughout Hampstead. It would have been all right if it was every week that I wanted to buy my partner and lady-love some pretentious tat from an international chain of garment-mongers. But in the High Street you always got a memory of Hampstead past, the one that deserved Michael Foot.
It had in it not only the Bombay Tandoori in South End Green, now the only remaining good restaurant in Hampstead, but also that chess cafe on the corner where they say George Orwell used to work in a bookshop. Indeed even in my time, say until about five years ago, there were a lot of people in the village who read books. Some even had the idea that Mozart wasn't originally a name for a mobile phone.
Do I sound like I'm crankily not keeping up, but sunk in nostalgia, maybe a little antedeluvian? Shouldn't I learn that this is the future -- those personnel in earmuffs coming to suck up the Wednesday leaves with their roaring vacuum cleaners? Well, I'm trying to keep up, probably getting a mobile myself. So maybe it wasn't the Thatcherizing of Hampstead, followed by some Blurring, that did it. Maybe it didn't have anything to do with the fact that South End Green had to be saved by a hero out of its past (David Kitchen) from the entrepreneurial officers of nothing other than the South End Green Association.
And maybe in defence of Hampstead you now mention the decent M.P. Glenda Jackson. And the good Camden Council bad-mouthed mainly for low political reasons? And do you say the Heath was always a little chancey after dark? And weren't the bratties of the Malden Road always throwing the seats out of the windows of the 24 bus? And wasn't there some predecessor of the childhood street language of Fuck?
You can remind me too of my various pals, and of that pocket of intellect in the flats at the bottom of the street. And of some toleration too -- Freud still on his bronze statue over at Swiss Cottage despite psychoanalysis being bunkum and its having come out that he cooked his books for profit. All points taken. Maybe when Michael Foot goes, Hampstead won't really be over.
Could it then be that the explanation of our leaving was not really Hampstead but closer to home? Could it be that I got tired of the petty game of freeholder and leaseholder -- the hopeful idea of your resident freeholder that his true rank is baron? That your garden is his garden? That the Leasehold Valuation Tribunals are not on hand to mock his fantasy about the worth of a share of the freehold, or of another 90 years on the lease?
So far so good. But the score in the legal history of my residence was Leaseholders three, Freeholder nil. My nostrils were still flaring in anticipation of less of paying for peace in the future and more of justice secured.
Could hardly be that private reason, then. What about a really politically incorrect idea? I escaped from Canada in 1959 to join the English -- to join the fountain-people of my language in the great city of their history. They were divided into the ones that spoke proper and the Cockneys, and also some others. Early West Indians on the buses. But all English, or near enough, or in a way English.
They're lost in the Big New Hampstead Soup now, not a lot more noticeable than those Slavs that have stirred themselves in most recently. Do you say that anyway the people from the Empire had more than a right to come, after what we did to the Empire? I agree absolutely. You let me in too. But on 1 December 2000 was I myself without a right to go somewhere else to rejoin the English? Could be, guv, but we've done it.
The true answer to why we chucked NW3 for BA11 isn't any single one of these. Here you really are stuck with a mixture. Does one thing in the mixture do more explaining than another? Not according to a book just finished by me, a longer farewell to Hampstead. There's a philosophical problem here, newly discovered. I'm thinking about it better, thank you, looking out on the blue hills.
indication of later life in Somerset, anyway some ruminations in
Somerset, you could look at Has The Book a Future?