Sunday, February 08, 2015

Regency Cafe and Pimlico - contrasts aplenty

I took a trip down memory lane last Friday to Pimlico, central London, where I shared a flat with my mate Chris Lodge through 1991 and 1992. On the last trip I looked at the shifting urban geography of east London on a wander around Bethnal Green from The City. Westminster offers more subtler and more nuanced contrasts, but they are there.

The first sign that greets you as you stroll out of Pimlico tube station highlights the concerns of local tenants of the Peabody social housing estates in the area that they are being forced out. The shops across the road from the flats were a laundrette and a posh off licence doing a promotion on champagne, as if to highlight who lives here, cheek by jowl. I glance in a local estate agents would tell you that a small house off Vincent Square would cost you £2.5million.

I wandered across Vauxhall Bridge Road, where our flat has long since been demolished, and into Vincent Square. Here are the "soccer" pitches of Westminster School, behind locked gates. 

Within a short walk are the chequerboard rows of tenament blocks of the estate between the square and Horseferry Road and Channel 4's modernist HQ. Designed by Edwin Lutyens and built on land given by the Duke of Westminster in the 1930s. There's a great blog on the design of it, here.

The purpose of the trip, as it is on other visits to different London locations I used to know, was a stop over at a classic London cafe; this time Regency Cafe, one of my old favourites. It was also the location for a pivotal scene in one of my favourite British films of recent years, Layer Cake. The menu was better than I remembered and the customers packed it out. I only had time for cup of tea and a pudding but saw enough to tempt me back. 

I've just checked the scene and I even sat at the same table that Daniel Craig did. It was a long table for six and just like the last trip to Pellicci's, you share a space with strangers - it was another fascinating encounter, a lad who used to work in the area with similar fond memories and an uncanny knowledge of the Blackburn Rovers team of 1995, especially for an Arsenal fan. London tends to throw up these opportunities for stories and shared experiences.

I nipped into a lunchtime Mass at Westminster Cathedral before a meeting with the team I'm working alongside on a new project. Again, the brief service was an experience of incredible social richness and diversity.

Back in the day Pimlico was an area of acute contrasts, it is even more so now. Amazing that working class London still clings on alongside incredible wealth.

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