In praise of Brentford

March 20, 2011

When I first moved to London from Up North, I found myself in Brentford.

It wasn’t that Brentford was my first choice. I didn’t even know where it was. Someone at work had recommended Chiswick as a desirable part of the capital to live, but I decided it didn’t have enough edge (too many prams, I remember) and ended up viewing a flat in Brentford. There was nothing actively wrong with it – no smell of damp, no vomit on the doorstep, and no view of the motorway – so I took it.

No idea why. Ask most people what they think of Brentford, and they will probably just look blankly at you. Ask them to do the word association game, and they might, at a stretch, come up with  Brentford Nylons (that’ll be ladies of a certain age), Brentford football club and maybe, if they’re in the know, Ant and Dec, who live round there somewhere. I saw them once in the Indian downstairs, but that was when they were just a little famous and I was hoping to use them in an ad.

Brentford had even less edge back then than Chiswick, which is, shall we say, family-friendly. It didn’t even feel like London. I didn’t stay there long. I met the Peacock wife shortly after, you see, and she made me fork out for a pad in Notting Hill Gate. Well, at least it had edge.

Anyway, many years later, I found myself back in Brentford.

For those of you who don’t know London that well, Brentford is just off the M4 (handy for Heathrow), home to a premier league football club and – well, that’s it. Those of us in the know, call it West Chiswick (just a couple of major roundabouts and the A4 to cross to properties four times the price). I only found myself back in Brentford because the Peacock wife and I had parted and, at a time of great change (I don’t cope too well with change), I needed somewhere familiar. So Brentford it was.

Of course, Brentford had changed a lot in 30 years. Riverside apartments had sprung up (ninety percent of which didn’t overlook the river, but hey) as had a number of fairly good eating establishments (handily enough just under the aforementioned riverside apartments). Other than that, nothing remotely exciting had occurred and that suited me fine. I had vaguely considered crossing the river to a more fashionable postcode but I had heard tales of muggings and shootings past SW15 and anyway, as I’ve said, sometimes too much change can be a bit unnerving.

I snapped up a (well, one of 57) one bedroom Brentford new build with no river view. My flat had an anonymous wooden front door, exactly the same as the other 56 apartments. Several years on, I never see my neighbours. In fact, I don’t want to. And I dare say they don’t much want to see me. That’s what’s good about Brentford. No community spirit (well, not in the riverside apartments, anyway), but instead that good keeping oneself to oneself Englishness (despite most of the population not being English). Occasionally I see familiar faces in the Raj Tahal downstairs, and we politely nod at one another over our poppadoms. If the mood takes me I can go and see and watch Brentford FC too, not that I ever have. It’s nice to know it’s there, though, if I fancy it.

Hardly a pulling place though.

Her: ‘So where do you live?’

Me (coughing a little and trying to look surreptitiously for the exit): ‘Errmmm….Brentford. Well, Chiswick, really, but we like to pretend it has some edge…’

I might need to do something about that.


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