Daniel Agnew

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Tag Archives: TFL

A vision of a borrowed future


“There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

On visiting London’s favourite existential tourist attraction, I found myself travelling up kaleidoscopic lifts to the clouds. Like all religious temples, the Shard is a bold attempt to get closer to God. A post-modern cathedral with a celestial soundtrack, the sky is now empty but that doesn’t stop us trying.

Illusions are everywhere you look and not just in the clouds. Unfortunately the future does not exist, and it requires dreams to become a reality. And before we forget, just think how beautiful it is to be living together on this melancholy rock for no apparent reason.

The city lights are switched on (one-by-one) and will continue to do so in your absence; twinkling from the street lights, office towers and financial powerhouses of modern London. A constant flicker we all take for granted. Unwittingly you stare upon the grafted lines of Victorian rust carrying trains down to Brighton. Arriving like soft white caterpillars they remind me of boarding a late night train in Canary Wharf, where even holding a loved one’s hand makes you feel nothing but disenchantment.

Meanwhile kids play football in brightly lit fields and passengers congregate on lonely platforms at London Bridge. They keep playing oblivious to who might be watching. The Shard’s views come nightfall are a wonderful experience, especially the ancient serpent of the Thames, which loops with cruise ships gliding underneath the lemon rind of the moon.

Cities are young places full of vitality and will take your innocence away. One day none of this will matter and you’ll regret it when it does. Remember you don’t have much time, so climb up this glass mountain and behold a vision of a borrowed future.


Angel’s Delights


Situated inside a gritty 70’s warehouse that has been kindly acquired by Noble House Properties, Angel’s Delights is not going to be around for long. Serving Jamaican dishes inside a toilet-sized cafe, no one should expect to pay for their jerk chicken on a chip and pin device.

East London’s changing population rises to the surface on the towpath – angry cyclists, female joggers, junkies, estate teenagers with fishing rods and ugly blonde twins carrying bags of cider from Tesco. Many of them stop by at Angel’s to purchase a Jamaican takeaway. Time is not on their side.

Bulldozers are due to arrive in August and they will soon be constructing ‘beautifully designed 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with the finest contemporary specification’.

A stone’s throw away from the East London line, the white arc of progress has only further gentrified a once shady and violent area. With economic progress comes bourgeois cafes and homogeneous flats that have no relationship with the twentieth century.

Traditionally the canal has possessed a feral quality, especially if you wander the towpath after dark. It’s home to wonderful variety of local wildlife, especially in the springtime, where regal swans vie for attention alongside Canada geese, grebes and water rats.

And during the breeding season, coots defend their territories by screaming, flapping their wings and pecking at intruders. Coots may well soon be only thing wild and adventurous left on the canal as luxury properties rise from the ruins of the industrial past and wipe Angel’s Delights off the map.

Angel’s Delights
Dunston Road,
E8 4EA

New Found Land


On wanting to visit the parts of London that Time Out and Spoonfed don’t care about, I decided to make a voyage to the hitherto unexplored district of Wapping. The former maritime community has recently been transformed by the East London Line. The billion pound train line has carved open the capital’s rust belt and provided London with its first community tube service. By grafting through the industrial scars of the east, the fresh orange line is largely free of tourists as Hank and Wilma are highly unlikely to be dining in Shadwell on vacation.

The East London’s line extension northwards towards Highbury and Islington has led to a rush of culture trails and alternative pub crawls along its tracks. With visitors now able to celebrate the rusting underbelly of the capital, the forgotten holes of Wapping and Shadwell are becoming worthy of further exploration. The housing market along the East London Line has soared since its completion last year and as HSBC threatens to abandon the UK for tax breaks abroad. The banker sponsored affluence of Wapping becomes immediately apparent on arrival.

Best known for hosting the unelected court of James and Rebekah, the Docklands community is also resting place for the financial services industry. Wapping’s streets appear to have been scrubbed clean with a gigantic toothbrush as BMW’s and Mercedes ripple over the cobbles of the past. As the wealthy symbols of city boy lifestyles flaunt their tyres along the new streets of commerce, reminders of Wapping’s docking past hang from the walls of converted warehouses.

There is however a residential emptiness to Wapping and the sound of cranes, barges and tugs have long since been transferred to India. The Victorian facade of warehouse conversions provide a crisp melancholy flavour and nostalgia is readily available on tap inside the Prospect of Whitby. Dating back to 1520, the rickety old inn sits on the banks of the River Thames and overlooks the financial crisis on a daily basis.

Regrettably even one of the oldest of pubs in England still thinks it is appropriate to serve Stella in the 21st century and those wanting a more cerebral experience may like to stumble across the Wapping Project instead. Deeply enigmatic from the outset, the cultural centre of Wapping’s renaissance is very poorly signposted and built in traditional red brick; the post-modern restaurant could easily be mistaken for a poor house in Manchester.

The former Hydraulic Power Station is one of the strangest restaurants in London with its austere green interior and avant-garde exhibitions. Fittingly the next installation is devoted to iconic Japanese designer Yohji Yamamto and involves an oversized silk wedding dress in the Boiler House.  The Yohji Making Waves exhibition will only be fully visible from a small wooden boat, and future visitors will be rowed to the centre by a boatman every 15 minutes.

Unsurprisingly the Wapping Project doesn’t serve pie and mash to their arty visitors and prefers to indulge in a spot of braised osso burro, saffron risotto, kale and gremolota on a Saturday afternoon. And while their city boy neighbours continue to buy up properties along the water, further inland towards Shadwell there is a depressingly familiar story of urban deprivation. Raw, uncompromising and a throwback to the 1970s, the inner city suburb is best known as the birthplace of Bob Crow.

As the source of muscular trade unionism in the 21st century, Shadwell provides a stark contrast to the gentrified Wapping only five minutes away. With its ceremonial symbols of a maritime past no one in the area has ever known, there is a disconnection that not even a billion pound tube line can hope to make equal. Meanwhile the cultural pursuits and middle-class drinking games will only continue as millions of passengers set on board a cinematic journey inside London’s industrial past.

East London Line photo used with kind permission by Chris Hill-Scott

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Up in the Air


On writing from a rented box in the sky, I find myself staring out towards a concrete forest of tower blocks, cranes and scaffolding. With the average price of a room in London costing up to £150 a week, I like many others have found myself lured by the promise of cheaper rents in the east. Having spent my first six months in the capital living in genteel Chiswick, I felt bound by the invisible hand when I moved to East London. Unless you have a professional job or enjoy the luxury of being subsidised by your family, the cost of housing in the capital is increasingly unaffordable. Where the majority of people now have to enter the Gumtree lottery and throw a huge portion of their income on mediocre accommodation.

After tiring of coming up for air in West London, I decided to abandon suburbia and make a radical lifestyle change in late 2007. On moving to Whitechapel in search of affordable housing, I can recall my first evening exploring the Victorian side streets and becoming acquainted with inner city life.

Whitechapel is physically unattractive and only really comes into life in black light, where it becomes a true urban menace with sirens, graffiti and encroaching cranes. There are skinhead cockney geezers sitting on broken bar stools and outside you will discover complete freaks walking past you like an abandoned crisp packet. When I refer to ‘freaks’ I don’t mean alternative middle-class people in ‘controversial’ attire.These freaks are complete fucking weirdos, who grunt aggressive noises and there was one in particular that made me want to court an instant metallic death just to avoid making eye-contact.

Whitechapel is an extremely vibrant place and ugliness is always like to have a seductive tonic. After making eyes with the Katie Holmes barmaid the other night I almost dropped my glass in shock. It only lasted a few seconds but it just goes to show how rewarding life can be when you unearth a flower in the dustbin.

Undeniably raw, angry and glittering underneath the Gerkin, I found myself estranged in this new world order. Like those before me, I came in search of affordable accommodation and while initially I felt out of place in Whitechapel. Economic chains do ultimately bind us all and like the Bengali men selling fruit and vegetables in plastic tents, I came across another demographic earning a living on the floor.

Whitechapel regularly hosts walking tours for middle class tourists wanting to discover more about Jack the Ripper’s murder spree in the late 19th century. Although why a misogynistic killer has now become a form of street entertainment for middle-class tourists is a fascinating one. At the end of this century will Rothbury become a tourist attraction for huddled groups wanting to discover more about a sadistic Huck Finn with a sawn off shotgun?

As the Gerkin continues to shine in face of violent cuts in public spending, I find the housing situation in London virtually unbearable. With modern advancements in technology, I feel very frustrated that employees must continue to live within commuting distance of the workplace. If people could work at home on the internet like so much of our social and daily lives. Then no longer would people have to pay ridiculously high rents for rooms in squalid locations.

While you may still find yourself paying £150 a week for a double room it would no longer have to be confined to Central London. Rents in places such as Whitechapel would be able to drop down and greater diversity would be spread across the regions. If only this practice were in place now I could be writing high up in sky overlooking the Mediterranean. Something only mercenary landlords and tube station muggers could take issue with.

Pictures by kind permission of Louis Berk from his book “Walk to Work: from the City to Whitechapel”.

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