I recently spent a weekend in London after some years of absence. I stayed at a residential club called Sloane Club, just off Sloane Square.
London is a big city of many neighborhoods; Sloane Square and the surrounding area is “my” bit of London. Sloane Square, which is named after Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), is surrounded by buildings – including Peter Jones department store and Royal Court Theatre. It is the intersection of three of the poshest areas in London – Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Chelsea – and marks the boundary between the two largest aristocratic estates – Grosvenor and Cadogan.
Peter Jones is a branch of the John Lewis group of stores. It is the all-time favorite department store of mine and many of those who live around the area. It is a special institution with lots of fiercely loyal customers. My visit to London would not be complete without a visit to Peter Jones to buy either household items or personal effects. On this trip I bought some bed linen and then I had to buy another suitcase to carry the purchases on the plane to take them home. This may not sound all that rational, but that is what loyal customers do at Peter Jones.
I have had a home within walking distance of Sloane Square – either as a principal or secondary home – for the past 40 years. My first home, rented from a English couple working in Brussels, is in an rather old dilapidated building in Chelsea Embankment near the River Thames. It has velvet purple curtains in the drawing room and I used to go back years afterwards to look at the curtains from the street to relive the memory of my time living in Chelsea. I have since then bought other properties but that home will always represent my youth and innocence.
My first stay in the Sloane Square area was in the early 1970′s when Britain was economically weak riven by industrial strikes and low productivity. Matters got worse after the Opec’s oil shock. Electricity was rationed nationally but my little home was well placed being on the same grid as a nearby major hospital, so I was fortunately spared electricity rationing.
Britain was then considered the sick man of Europe but things changed for the better in the 1980s with the pro-business government of Mrs Thatcher. She fought the labor unions who were causing much disruption to society. She was one tough lady and in a major showdown, the labor unions blinked first. Britain was saved from labor disruptions, and could develop and implement sensible policies to encourage entrepreneurship and the creation of prosperity.
As a reflection of the good time in 1980s, I bought an apartment in a rather smart building, literally off Sloane Square. It was very convenient as the underground station is just across the road. Despite proximity to Sloane Square, my home is quiet as the main rooms overlook a nice garden. Those were busy days as friends of the family used to drop by whenever they came by Sloane Square.
The magic garden
I upgraded to a bigger apartment in the Knightsbridge neighborhood that I bought in late 1990s. This home has the added convenience of being nearer to the world famous Harrods department store and to Hyde Park with its wonderful lake and paths for walking. The apartment has access to a garden, to my mind one of the most beautiful in London. This is my magic garden where I use to go jogging most mornings. On this recent visit, I walked round “my” garden a few times and savored its magic in the cold frosty air.
I have moved from London to Bangkok almost three years ago. Bangkok is bustling with new buildings going up everywhere. I found that there is something reassuring in my recent walk around the Sloane Square area. No new buildings have been built and none has been pulled down. In fact, I recognized all the buildings – they are like old friends. Many of these buildings have been there for a few hundred years and in all likelihood they will still be there a few hundred years from now. Normally I like change and I believe that change is inevitable. Nevertheless, it is comforting to be in a place like this part of london which remains more or less the same over time.