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Living in two worlds

Sammy Davis Jr recorded an album years ago with just the solo accompaniment of Brazilian guitarist, Laurindo Almeida. One of the songs on that lovely album is called ‘Two different worlds’.  I am reminded of the song when, in search of an address in Central London, I curiously glance into the windows of passing estate agencies, of which there seems to be a plethora in the posher areas, and observe the houses and apartments on offer.

Why curious? Because I used to live there!

I live today in a nice, comfortable little house, as I have occasionally mentioned in these Posts, in the outskirts of a seaside town, 210 miles from London. My ambition this year has been to sell my house and buy a place abroad. The highest offer I had for my house was £150,000, but when the building society valued it at only £147,500 the buyer couldn’t make up the difference and dropped out. I’ve seen fewer than a dozen prospective buyers all year. The agent says I should get £600 a month if I prefer to rent it out. It’s a bit below the national average property value, but not atypical.

Hold those figures in your head, and hold on to your hat…

In 1967, I left home and went to live with some old school chums in a shared flat above William Hill’s bookmaker’s at Moravian Corner, on Chelsea’s fashionable Kings Road. There were three of us sharing – a core group, as various other more or less savoury characters, girlfriends, etc. would pass through. And the entire rent of the two-storey apartment was £12 a week, of which my share was £4. This came out of the allowance of £8 a week I had from a Trust fund my grandmother set up to pay my school fees. I lived on the rest.

In 1970, with no more school fees to pay, the Trustees allowed me the £7,200 I needed to buy a tiny, two-bedroom workman’s cottage in Ealing, northwest London, then wound itself up. I sold the house three years later for £10,000, and my then-wife and I moved to a bigger house she had inherited in Harrow. It was sold in 1985 for £112,000 – the highest price any house had reached in that street before. Things were on the move. With five bedrooms and a large garden backing onto a recreation ground, I hate to think what it would fetch now.

A four-bed house in the London street I was looking for sold ten years ago for £550,000. This year, similar houses in the same street seem to be selling for £3.5 MILLION: a six-hundred per cent increase in ten years. The average rental of these houses is nearly twenty thousand pounds a month…. The figures take my breath away. The street is only a few minutes’ walk from Moravian Corner, where I lived comfortably only 45 years ago on income of £8 a week.

You can almost hear my gums gnashing. Pint of beer, one and threepence! Cinema ticket, one and nine!

As a child, I lived in the 1950s and 60s with my mother in a tiny flat over the garage of a mews house off the Gloucester Road. The house had been bought by my grandmother ostensibly to stable her husband’s two Mercedes cars – they lived not far away. But secretly, she had bought the house for the flat, because she could see that my parents’ marriage was looking shaky and her husband had forbidden her to support my father, who had run away from home and school during the war to become a very junior actor with Tyrone Guthrie’s prototype National Theatre. A typical weekly wage for an actor in repertory theatre in the 1950s was £2.50. Last year, walking past a central London estate agent, I glanced in the window and saw our old mews flat was for rent, at £1,600 A WEEK.

How seriously are the government and economists taking this really startling disparity between values in London and the rest of Britain? It must reflect not only the increasing demand for a limited supply of Central London housing, supported by a fantastic increase in wages for a small section of the community – and a high level of immigration by wealthy foreigners, their embassies and corporate employees – but also runaway inflation in the capital, an astonishing decline in the value of money within a highly localised economy completely out of step with the rest of the country. And the process is accelerating all the time.

How much does a person have to earn, to rent a small house for £5,000 a week? And live well on the balance? It seems economically unsustainable.

Two different worlds, coexisting not only in time, but in sociopolitical space. And no indication as yet of when or where they might collide.

Tsk. What’s it all coming to?

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