I’ve seen a child try to buy the lease on a Starbucks. “You can’t close down,” I heard him tell the barista: “I’ve broken up with so many women in here.”
I am nosy, and the word “women” – coming from a voice that hadn’t broken, such a squeaky, self-important voice – was intriguing, so I went round the corner, and saw a tiny person – maybe he was 11, maybe 12 – demand to know the price of the lease.
“Expensive,” said the barista, laughing, which was an error.
It hurt the tiny person: his blond head drooped back to childhood; he looked, briefly, like a little boy. He fought back by whipping out a BlackBerry and stabbing it with his fingers. “I can afford it,” he said, and blew his shoulders out so he looked like a small Donald Trump. “You have no idea. Get the manager!” All this time, he was dressed in his school uniform.
I wept for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart; I wondered whether the plutocrats devour, first, their own; I felt amazement that Starbucks could inspire an emotion so significant that a tiny man would fight for it, with his own pocket money; I wondered why. (Loneliness. What else? Starbucks was his only friend.)
Then I thought: I really have to stop living in Hampstead.
It’s clear that the only person in London pretending that Hampstead – which is both a place and a sneer, from dying Telegraph reader to smirking New Statesman reader – is not spiritually dead is me. I may love a cause, social democracy, that it is truly lost; but this is absurd. I apologise if I’m late to the battle and have missed it, but I am, in many ways, a delusional maniac.
I think I knew it was over during the 2011 riots. I looked out the window on to the high street. A gang of teenagers was approaching Kurt Geiger. The 2011 uproar was chiefly a shoe riot – and why not? Their voices were, very slightly, raised. A police car screeched up. The riot was rescheduled to a time convenient for all.
I think I knew it was over when I offered the tramp outside the Coffee Cup a coffee. “Thanks,” he said, “I’d like a latte” – and pointed at Maison Blanc – “from there.”
I think I knew it was over when I saw James Corden outside Melrose and Morgan, because all significant social change takes place, in Hampstead, in the shadow of whimsical bread. He’s not a terrible person, James Corden – but Peter Cook, who lived on Perrin’s Walk until he drank himself to death, like a proper comic, he is not. Or I knew it when I saw Ricky Gervais at the dry-cleaners. Ricky Gervais is a terrible person; and he’s not Peter Cook, either.
And now Starbucks is priced out. This signals many things, such as: the weird dichotomy that early-20th-century progressives liked living in a fake 18th-century spa village need trouble us no more.
This article appears in the 27 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Should Labour split?