A few years ago - before time began, before Land Securities redeveloped Cardinal Place in Victoria Street - I worked in Portland House. For those of you that don’t know, Portland House is a 1963 concrete skyscraper near London’s Victoria Station. If you’ve been in the area, you’ve probably seen it standing like an inappropriate erection menacing the surrounding area. However, it does have a good view from the top floors over the nearby private Buckingham Palace Gardens (Hi Queenie - put that bikini top back on).
I had a stressful job back in the early 2000’s. I know, I know, you weep for me. Occasionally though I would break the chains of my captors, shoo away the ravenous eagles pecking at my vitals, and head West (young man). I’d explore the quieter streets of Belgravia. So when my company moved to Belgrave House on Buckingham Palace Road a year or two later, I found I could walk to Harrods in my lunch hour. Once there I’d give my Harrods loyalty card a heavy work out. That’s how I roll. And so the Victoria Station to Harrods walk or - it’s more famous cousin - the Harrods to Victoria Station walk was born.
I retraced my steps recently, reminding myself, as I walked, of memories, memories of people and situations long gone but, as I turned familiar corners, not forgotten. For you see, whilst I often did this walk alone, I often didn’t. There was a girl once. There’s always a girl. But I’ll get to that.
As you come out of Harrods, turn away from Brompton Road, past the tube exit and into Hans Crescent. Latterly, this quiet road has become infamous as the place where that self-regarding idiot Julian Assange turns a whiter shade of pale inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. But also, marvel at the illegally parked limos littering the road. Clearly very rich people can’t be expected to obey petty traffic restrictions. They have to launder, sorry spend, their ill gotten gains in Harrods.
Turning right onto Sloane Street, we cross the road and idle past all the high-end shops no-one I know uses. Around the corner we get to the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel on Cadogan Place. It’s an ugly 60’s built hotel but very popular with rich people who like the nearby shopping. Here, if you linger, you can watch the rich go in and out, observe old men parade impossibly beautiful women - maybe to stock up on lingerie at La Perla next door - and then wonder, ‘why the fuck isn’t that my life?’
And across the road to Motcomb Street. I’ve always liked this little high street. There’s an elegant Waitrose, where, back in the day, I used to come to for lunch, buy some rolls, some ham, sun-dried tomatoes and make an al fresco sandwich in the open space behind the Pantechnicon across the road. Back in the mid 2000’s this was where old Roma ladies in shawls used to gather for lunch after a hard morning’s begging outside Harrods. It was quite the style back then; full East European garb, a walking stick, a shake and a shudder. Anyway, I’m pleased to report their various ailments seemed to be much improved by lunchtime as they discussed the day’s take.*
There’s just one pub, latterly called the anodyne The Alfred Tennyson but previously, the more spicy Turk’s Head. In either incarnation I never much liked it and, on my last visit, it seemed a restaurant masquerading as a bar. Anyway, I always turn left just in front of the pub and walk down the mews that is Kinnerton Street. Clearly I never go in Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus. Instead I head to the rather marvellous Nag’s Head and less marvellous but more spacious Wilton Arms.
The Nag’s Head has two bars; a tiny front bar - curiously low down - and a larger room down some stairs at the back. It didn’t allow mobile phones nor - as I found out - laptops. It’s a quirk but one I’m happy to abide by. I fondly think that much of Franco’s Fiesta was handwritten here. It wasn’t. That privilege goes to the bar in Burgess Hill’s Beefeater. A classy joint where you get thrown out for not wearing a football top.
Years back, I used to hold team meetings in the Nag’s Head, gaining the respect of my team by playing endless games of Shag, Marry, Push Off a Cliff. I usually ended up as ‘Marry’ which personally I’m okay with.
The pub almost next door - The Wilton - is a bit louder, a bit brassier. Outside in the summer it tends to be populated by Belgravia estate agents braying loudly about their latest deal. I’ve eaten here a couple of times. Nothing special.
A twist and a turn and we’re on Wilton Crescent, one of those gorgeous arched stucco terraces that home old money, embassies and money launderers. When I make my millions, I think I might buy here. No, not a flat. A whole house. And then I could pop out to The Grenadier - London’s most difficult to find pub which is out back, in another mews. I’m usually too pissed to find it. It’s worth a stop. Tell Madonna ‘hello’ from me. I still remember that night in Ciprianis.