Today, golden sneakers have taken over from monk-strap brogues.
Back in the olden days, my younger self used to indulge in the stiff upper lip, olde worlde charms of Knightsbridge’s crusty kind of wealth. As a young, car obsessed German boy, the illustrious parts of London used to be some kind of automotive mecca: Bentleys and Royces galore, not to mention vintage exotica (at a time when old cars were considered just that in Germany). There was a certain nonchalance even to that aloof chap that parked his Ferrari 456 halfway across a zebra crossing, just because that happened to be right in front of the café where he intended to have his breakfast. Not to mention all those gentlemen in double-breasted pinstriped suits, who always seemed to embody some kind of aristocratic calm.
Rose-tinted it certainly is, this recollection of Knightsbridge’s past, and most certainly there were quite a few cretins around back in the day too, but that place used to possess one thing: class.
That crucial ingredient has mostly been replaced by, I guess, sheer wealth. There are more expensive cars around than ever before, but most of them tend to be on the vulgar and/or boring side. Some of the terraced houses that make up much of Knightsbridge’s residential area actually appear to have been abandoned – what with their owners probably betting on being able to add another cypher to their market values in due course.
Yet the most poignant image of Knightsbridge anno 2016 isn’t one of those utterly inhospitable ‘condominiums’ (does anyone else have the stench of rubber in his/her nose when reading that term?) that also seem to be mostly uninhabited and radiate all the charm and – that term again – class of council housing with added bells and whistles.
It was the car that was parked in front of the house that used to be home to one of the great aesthetes in cinema history: Sir Ken Adam. The legendary James Bond production designer famously used to drive around London in his white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Drophead Coupé, which could actually be seen parked in front of his house on Google Maps. And in the 1960s, that same honour fell to a Jaguar E-type. It’s been cars like these, with the typical terraced houses in the background, that had defined Knightsbridge to me.
But when I returned this year, there was neither Jaguar, nor Rolls-Royce to be seen. A quaint Nissan Figaro actually did its best to lighten the mood, but the reality of today’s Knightsbridge was all too vividly summarised by the green screamer that occupied Sir Ken’s parking space.
Adieu, Sir Ken! Goodbye, Knightsbridge!