Along Chelsea embankment there’s a life size statue of Thomas More where his house used to be, sitting looking pensive to show he was an intellectual, made in a strange bright yellow material that is probably meant to indicate Catholicism and saintliness but only makes him look as though he’s got a metallic form of jaundice.
Ranelagh Gardens – the great Eighteenth Century pleasure gardens – haunt of Regency bucks and many a ripped bodice – is now closed off and rather run down as part of the grounds of Chelsea Hospital, suitably retired. The Hospital itself, a wide, solid and handsome building, has a line of Napoleonic era artillery in front, perhaps in case any of the hoi-polloi make a dash across the lawns, or perhaps to combine the twin messages of being both military and vintage.
Driven away from the Thames side walk by hunger we went looking for a cheap but decent cafe and found ourselves on the Kings Road. Not promising territory. An old friend of mine once said that some people vote Conservative but other people just are Conservative. Jamie said he thinks of Chelsea as not really being London. “Where are the chicken shops?” All the restaurants had a sort of social class force field around them, so we walked on getting hungrier; passing cream fed, floppy haired young men in clothes that look both expensive and well worn and whip smart, impeccably presented young women running for appointments with tiny clicking steps. Emerging at the far end of the road we were saved by a Co-op that felt more like home and provided us with crisps and sandwiches and croissants to eat on the end of a pier overshadowed by some brutal looking red brick tower blocks that looked a bit like a 1970’s version of Red Vienna.
The tow path in Fulham is not continuous or direct. There should be a warning. Detours have to be made around new developments and the Hurlingham Club – where they play polo…in London, with its high walls and metal spikes to detour urban explorers and devotees of parkour. These detours can be quite substantial and for a time it seemed like we would never escape from SW6. We walked past a school with one of those banners – “where every child matters” – as opposed to all those other schools where we only bother with some of them.
Back along the tow path through another ultra modern and uber posh housing development. Most of these seem to have very expensive and exclusive looking restaurants on the ground floor – all shiny glass and polished surfaces – and just one or two customers having hushed conversations while their cutlery echoes in the emptiness. Outside a hotel, a semi circle of Mercedes saloons and mini vans, all new, immaculate, black and polished like a Presidential motorcade in waiting. Security staff standing watchful and aloof. Lonely and soul less.
The old Lots Road Power station is being remodeled to be the heart of a new “Chelsea Waterfront” development. The power station is huge and handsome in that confidently functional Victorian way that made factories like cathedrals. A group of bored and slightly angry looking construction workers standing by the entrance in hard yellow hats waiting for the machinery to gut the structure and get to work building apartments that will start at £1.7 million each and none of them could dream of living in. “It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade.”