London has a lot of blue plaques. They’re fixed to the homes of people who were famous in history. The plaques tell you, for example, that Jimi Hendrix lived next door to George Frideric Handel. Did the neighbours complain about the noise? And were there more complaints in the 1960s or the 1700s?
Mozart has a plaque near Victoria Coach Station. He wrote his first symphony while living in Ebury Street. That was in 1764, when he was eight. This time, the neighbours were in luck: Mozart’s father, Leopold, was unwell, so Wolfgang and his sister were forbidden to play any instruments.
Not that it would have been easy to criticize such a musical genius. Even Emperor Joseph II struggled to find the right phrase: in the film Amadeus, he needs help to come up with the comment that a particular Mozart opera had “too many notes”.
Leopold Mozart found life in London expensive. It still is. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to rent or buy, prices are astronomical. As Joseph II might have said, they have “too many noughts”.
As for those who do own a house, they often feel they have too little space. A popular solution when Londoners need more room has been to dig and build a basement — or two, or more. Some of London’s houses have been growing like coal mines.
No wonder it has taken so long to build London’s new Tube line. A large part of the Elizabeth Line will be opening this year, and the trains will have to dodge basements where the capital’s rich homeowners have built billiard rooms and underground garages.
Will the rich even have their own stations when the Elizabeth Line opens? That would be really stylish. Forget keeping your Ferrari in the basement, though. Imagine catching your own train from your own personal platform. It may sound ridiculous, but is it really so different from life in the old days?
Take Sheffield Park, for example. It’s a country house south of London. It’s nowhere near Sheffield. If you go to visit its beautiful gardens, you’ll find there’s a station nearby. It was opened in 1882, built to make life easier for the thenEarl of Sheffield. Sheffield Park Station is now home to the Bluebell Line, a railway where volunteers run steam trains, and it has a museum full of lovely old engines.
An alternative to building basements is to build higher, and the government now plans to make it easier to get permission to put extra floors on existing buildings. This may help to create more flats, or it may just help to make nice buildings ugly. There’s an easier way of generating places to live, though: use Mozart’s operas, and specifically Don Giovanni. In fact, use a special local version of it: Lon-Don Giovanni.
At the end of the performance, the audience would be dragged down to hell through their basements along with the opera’s wicked hero. That would certainly free up some space, and it would finally bring down the cost of living in the capital.