India Knight is a highly-regarded columnist and author, known for her particularly zeitgeisty, common sense articles in the Sunday Times, and for Clara Hutt, heroine of her much-loved trilogy of novels.
Over a latte and a plate of cheese at her favourite local cafe, Regent’s Park Road’s Greenberry, India shared with me her thoughts on life in Primrose Hill. And we found plenty to discuss.
Our little patch of North London has had a turbulent few years, with the loss of certain well-loved shops and cafes, and with newcomers having created – albeit unintentionally – something of a stir. Naturally, India has been following developments with interest.
‘It’s incredibly important to have a vibrant and local High Street, but that’s not the same as stagnation’ she points out. ‘If new businesses like Space NK want to come in and inject a bit of glamour into Regent’s Park Road, I think that’s fantastic, and I also think it’s impossible to argue against that when we’ve got shops standing empty, and one that’s been turned into a charity shop. Nobody thinks the arrival of a charity shop is good news for a High Street.’
Are there any shops that you’d like to see filling the gaps?
‘What I really, really want, is proper local shops like a butcher – and a proper bakery would be quite nice as well. The fact remains that Primrose Hill has nowhere to go and buy your dinner. If you want to go and buy a chicken and some bits and bobs to go with it, you can’t do it on foot. The Ginger Pig should make an outpost in Primrose HIll. Captive audience!’
What does she think of the noisy resistance to change we have seen over the last couple of years?
‘I think there’s a lot of sentimental nonsense. There’s a happy medium, and I think that for everybody to start screaming about a shop that sells lipstick: it’s stupid.’ As for the closure of Welsh’s Hardware: ‘She did decades and decades and decades, and then she retired. It’s sad, move on.’
The Cowshed, thought to be moving into Regent’s Park Road soon, will be very welcome. ‘If anybody wants to have an argument with me about how that’s a bad thing, bring them on.’
In her many years here, has India seen changes?
‘Yes, mostly for the better, apart from the arrival of people with very grandiose renovation projects, who are the bane of my life and who drive me insane. People move here thinking it’s really lovely and there’s a community spirit, which there is. Well, respect it.’
She is well aware that although ‘we are massively privileged to live here’, Primrose Hill was once considered a rather grotty part of town, however hard that is to imagine today. Growing up in Hampstead, she had an uncle who lived in Primrose Hill, ‘and we all felt sorry for him’. Previously thick with smuts and smoke from the railway, and of course the notorious London smog, India points out that ‘it’s good to be aware of the history of a place before either condemning it or having opinions about it. Primrose Hill did not spring fully-formed full of affluent people wearing nice dresses’.
One of India’s favourite aspects of living in Primrose Hill is the informality of life here. ‘You can totally wander out in your onesie and your Uggs, and go and get a cup of coffee when you’re scruffy and unkempt, and it’s fine. I think that’s to do with the sense of community. I’d hate to live somewhere where nipping out for a pint of milk was a social ordeal.’
Is there anything at all that could be changed?
Apart from a desire to see a tightening of the planning regulations, India’s pet hate is the way people who should know better treat our lovely hill.
‘The people that are driving me nuts at the moment are the people who bother to pick up dog poo and put it in a bag, and then leave it lying on the ground or hanging from a tree! And in Primrose Hill you are never very far from a dog bin. They’ve done the gross thing; why are they leaving it on the ground when the bin is there? It’s very bizarre.’
Summer picnic litter is another bugbear. ‘Those two things are my bees in my bonnet at the moment’.
As a writer, working from home, India is a prolific Tweeter. ‘My mates all work from home too, so it’s effectively a water-cooler. We gather round, have an exchange for twenty minutes, then go back to work. It’s also completely brilliant for information. There is no faster means of finding something out, whether it’s hyper-local or world news. It’s always on Twitter first. And you can fashion it to your tastes. If you only want to know what’s happening in North London, well fine, it’s all there. And everybody Tweets, from individuals to the Roundhouse to restaurants. I do quite love it. And hate it. Mostly love.
However, as far as Primrose Hill is concerned, there’s no ambiguity. India loves it.
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