When Portobello road decided to expel Woolworths from the block back in 2008 just for going into administration, there were questions as to which fitting high calibre, gentrified establishment would be taking over its spot.
The sprawling store, Woolies, had been there since I was a child and probably before I was born, so it was obviously a successful venture. The Daily Mail backed Adolf Hitler outlawed the outfit in Germany, but it outlasted that
disturbed, one-balled, megalomaniac. It didn’t outlast the economic crisis, and the closing down of this high street legend marked a change in the manner in which people spend.
A new modern way of consuming in the virtual world forced old establishments to restructure their business model. Computer programs can never get sick, pissed off, offended or take time off to get married. Whatever stories surround the whole withdrawal of many long-standing establishments, it all boils down to ‘Goodbye shop assistant, hello checkout button’. Understandably too, if indeed your establishment holds profits over friendly interaction, profit over service with a smile and profit over real human to human interaction.
So the hard working android, once again puts an end to another human way of meeting other humans, with a smile and discussing and assisting with their domestic needs. One might assume that the next resident establishment would be a community farmers market or an indoor mini-mall selling quirky little bits that represent the trendy desires of the locals. But no, all of a sudden the signage went up, it said ‘Poundland’.
Admittedly, the dandy devil in me thought ‘What a poor idea’ (pardon the pun) and thoughts like ‘It’s out of keeping with the area, few people in Notting Hill would patronise such a ghastly looking establishment’ popped in to my head, totally underestimating the size of the (so called) recession, its creeping nature and the overwhelming working class demography. ‘They’re crazy’ I thought and on closer inspection they haven’t even put up signage but just a temporary vinyl banner. They didn’t even find Portobello Road worthy of the gift of a beautiful permanent sign reflective of the manner.
They will shut down soon I thought, after all David Cameron, Claudia Schiffer, Kirstie Allsopp, Madonna, Emmeline Pankhurst, Vidal Sassoon, Seal, George Orwell, Gillian Anderson, Jennifer Cavanagh and a host of other celebrities all live or had lived within a square mile of Portobello Road.
I dandily walked past a few times glancing disgustedly as though I were looking down upon a woman blowing cigarette smoke into a baby’s face. My body facing forward, head tilted 45˚ up to the sky, neck refusing to turn, eyes peering to the corner for a short, slightly curious peep. ‘Never’, I said, ‘never shall I enter’. People are in there now but it’s just a matter of time before what happens to all of these out of place stores happens, I thought.
After a few weeks… maybe months of ignoring the plop of nappy filler between The Organic Kitchen and the ambiguous shop next door, it happened, I ran out of TP. Too lazy and bowel free to go to Tescos, I walked curiously in. Alas, I suddenly joined the club, I became one of the many locals picking up their bits and bobs. Okay, toiletries, dish detergent, 50 seal wrap bags for £1.00, made lots of sense. Then I started looking around, I saw simple, useful hair products like bobby pins and crocodile clips and rubber bands. There were even tools and mops and plates and …well most of the things that you don’t really expect could become defective like A4 print paper.
After a short while it started to make sense. You need some envelopes, why pay more than a pound for such one use items? As each need jumped into my head, Poundland met it. It started with TP then went on to other safe items like bleach, window cleaner, water, paper I even took a chance once with a screwdriver which was a stretch just a little too far for the little wannabe tool section. It loosened four screws before the metal Philips head started to bend and tear like plastic.
As I noticed more and more local people using the shop, I started to see that food was, in the odd instance, an option. I saw wheat-free options from Nairn’s and Mrs Crimble’s that had me surprised at first but it seemed the whole community were making the best use of a cheap thing.
Is that?.. Ah Never Mind!.. no it is, it’s
ric Ritz Crackers at the back.
Seven years later the shop still serves the whole community in its various shapes and calibre’s. There are still some locals who do not use the brightly lit bargain house, but one thing is for sure: the successful inclusion of this type of shop in Notting Hill, one of the trendiest places in the world, says more about our general pretence and shines a light on our own self-deception, destroying the foolish notion of there being a middle class. The people of this bracket have either ascended to incredible wealth or descended to scraping by to merge in with the rest of the bargain hunters in the area at the onset of the recession. All others expressing that semi-rich semi-poor role only fool themselves in an attempt to fool us, to appear as though they’ve kept up with the Joneses.
I never thought I’d ever say this but…. Thank you Poundland.