Notes

I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted

Tag Archives: Business and Economy

Touch the Sky

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As modern as tomorrow, there’s something tangible sitting in this office seat, surrounded by silver laptops and shabby tubes of muesli. If you want to visualise the decade, then you’ll find yourself here, staring at two screens, listening to a bewildering range of accents and a slimline French girl with disconcertingly wide eyes.

Ambitions and eulogies soar in the glass room opposite me. It takes a huge gregarious character to entertain so many people for ten hours solid without a break. And that’s before you factor in the What’s App messages, emails and midnight phone calls to Shanghai, Chile and New York.

What I find more interesting than status is why people try to achieve what they do. Why do people keep working fourteen hours a day when you already have everything you possibly need. Money is the point, but its not what motivates them. 

They want something bigger than money. This goes beyond the champagne, lobster cliches and four-day weekends in Monte Carlo. They play for glory and glory alone and it’s an exhilarating experience working in London at times. Especially when I remember where I come from, and the shy insignificance I feel watching the globe elite converge in front of my very eyes.

Broken Glass

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Norton Folgate Demolition

Picture: Inspiring City

With Soho fast becoming a corporate shopping plaza and East End pubs smashed to the bone and re-branded as microbreweries. I find myself conflicted by the changing shape of London. Like Google’s Pac-Man eating its way through the city, the shabby old London is being swept away.

Pretty quickly you’ll have nothing left but glass apartments and rich men with tattoos. It feels decadent and precious to complain about this. Like everyone else, the world you leave behind will be virtually unrecognisable to the one you were brought up in.

The Griffin

Generation Z won’t notice the difference and individually you’re powerless to resist. But I feel immensely sad walking through Norton Folgate and Shoreditch seeing rows of Victorian warehouses earmarked for demolition. For me they are as beautiful and relevant to London’s cultural heritage as anything in Chelsea or Kensington.

Aldgate

Picture: The Urban Adventures of Keïteï

With luxury developers blinding future generations of their cultural inheritance, it feels cruel and unnecessary to see London’s rough edges destroyed. When I first moved to East London in early 2008, I remember arriving at Aldgate East tube station feeling a raw, dirty sensation. I loved the textural grace and industrial facades of Shoreditch immediately. I remember feeling incredibly naive and very much alive.

Jack the Ripper

Exploring my local area at the weekends, I spotted ivy clad philanthropist mansions, rows of broken factories and scary old man pubs serving only Fosters. After dark the Gerkin would sparkle in the distance and Jack the Ripper walking tours were growing in popularity.

Ironically there is nothing to see on these Ripper tours, almost all the original sites have been knocked down or rebuilt to such an extent they are virtually unrecognisable. It’s pretty hard to ‘feel the atmosphere’ standing outside a Pret A Manger.

The White Hart Whitechapel

Living in Whitechapel and Bow for eighteen months, my favourite Victorian free house was the White Hart, a corner pub frequented by Cockney geezers and ragtag students. Always a bear pit on Champions League nights, everyone would pack into the pub like a seventies football terrace, creating a better atmosphere than the games themselves.

The food was terrible and you wouldn’t dream of making eye contact with the West Ham fans, but it captured the ramshackle atmosphere of E2. Like many East London boozers it has been converted into a gourmet restaurant now. Walking past the upgraded venue in 2015, the microbrewery is busier than ever before serving pan roasted sea-bass, pesto mash and tender-stem broccoli.

There is nothing inherently wrong with gourmet restaurants and demographics will inevitably shift and evolve over time. Only entering the refurbished White Hart Brew Pub™ you could literally be in any UK chain bar ordering locally sourced fish for £16.50.

It’s safe, predictable and meticulously branded just like their Facebook page.

The views of the local community about the development of Spitalfields are 'cynically disregarded'

Its not only working-class pubs that are being gutted of their cultural heritage. Silk weavers homes, Georgian townhouses, children’s hospitals and historic trading markets have all been replaced by luxury flats over the past ten years.

Across London the grubby underbelly of alternative counter-culture is being slowly dismantled to the point there will be nothing left. Gone already are the dirty jazz clubs and bohemian squats in Soho. They are even demolishing an arthouse cinema for the financial benefit of a tiny global minority.

Madam Jojos

Destroying what made the area so attractive to visitors in the first place, global capitalism is paradoxically eating itself. Does anyone want to arrive in Spitalfields on a Sunday afternoon and discover nothing but ghastly office blocks and chain coffee shops?

Most people assume all change is growth and movement must go forward, but I am not sure this is necessarily true. Perhaps I am lucky to live here while the residue of past centuries are still visible.

London will inevitably change as buildings are not supposed to last forever. Like any other city in the Western world; fashions evolve, communities die and modernist epochs will be grafted onto any available space. But do you want to live in a smart city where everything looks the same? An urban fire forest that sparkles at night and morphs into dullness at day. Rough edges still have a role to play in my book. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.

London Ziferblat

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Ziferblat Clocks

Having lived in East London for six years, I can’t think of a more vivid and evocative snapshot of millennial life than Ziferblat. In this utopian Shoreditch cafe everything is free apart from time. De-consuming is the future and there is no better place to start than a reclaimed flat in Old Street.

You can bring your own sandwiches or last night’s pasta, enter the kitchen and drink unlimited cups of tea or coffee. The Russian coffeehouse has a rickety old piano, chess set and bookshelves full of donated literature. It’s a place for sharing just like you do online.

Costing only 5p a minute, £3.00 an hour, you receive a miniature clock on arrival and fill your name and time on a card. Essentially it’s a local community centre where people come to chat, make friends and pass away a lazy Sunday IRL.

Ziferblat

With its flowery wallpaper and random assortment of 20th century chairs, Ziferblat is like a romantic cousin of the sixties. Did twentysomethings in the 1960s hanker for bygone eras too? Or did they live in the glorious present like the startup man wired into his Macbook Pro sitting next to me.  

Skinny with a meticulously trimmed beard and slim-fit cream jumper, the angry freelancer clearly means business. I do my best not to disturb him even though I needn’t worry. His headphones are proving so absorbing I barely register a wink of indignation.

The bearded entrepreneur is writing about music’s future on Google Drive. Everyone else around me is listening to the vinyl crackle of Neil Young. He looks incongruously focused, but he captures the essence of Shoreditch’s business drive.

For all its charm and utopian spirit don’t expect to find anything new at this co-working place. It’s the twenty-first century and everything has been done already. What you should be asking is whether Ziferblat is more rewarding than what has gone on before?

I can spend hours here and unlike in Starbucks, you end striking up conversations with people sitting next to you. It’s the living room I cannot afford to have.

Ziferblat Winter

Living in a glorified world of connectivity, the pay-for-your-time movement is an opportunity to join a new world order. We must stop buying things we don’t need. And remember you have a right to be here, but at some point you must leave.

Just make sure you stay long enough to have a good time.

Ziferblat London
388 Old Street,
London,
E1 6JE

Italian Hustle

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Let's adore and endure each other

This is a story about an Italian hustler in Shoreditch. He broke all the rules, lied to everyone and never took any responsibilities for his actions. He cost me a considerable amount of time and money and I should hate him but for some reason I empathise with his desire for success. He tried, tried and tried again. And he doesn’t stop trying.

Likewise I never stopped chasing him in court for my unpaid wages. I kept on trying and trying despite having no chance of success. Everyone told me it was a waste of time. As enforcing a court order against this Shoreditch playboy would be like throwing spilt milk at a beggar.

Accepting work from Leonardo (not his real name) was a huge mistake. But when you are unemployed and looking for jobs; you try things, silly things, especially if you want to avoid working in an office. Freelancing is an extremely hard thing to do. It’s far easier to take a salary from a big company and bank the savings. Doing your own thing offers freedom and creativity but many people fail working on their own and some more spectacularly than others.

By joining CAN U in June 2013 I unwittingly signed a freelance contract with a startup company on the verge of collapse. Despite obsessively talking about #collaboration and #collaborating on their website their business model was opaque at best. Having a creative army of designers, writers and artists on your books is impressive but it won’t make you any money.

That’s the problem with many East London startup companies. During the first year you have a shiny new website, glamour launch party, coke-addled staff and a low-interest business loan to pay for it all. The second year the bills come through…and this proved to be Leonardo’s downfall.

An infinitely hopeful man with zero understanding of business, Leonardo believed he was predestined to become the greatest entrepreneur in the world. On running up 10k worth of debts in unpaid wages and countless feuds, Leonardo sadly proved to be just another social media consultant in a playground full of young CEO’s.

On being hired under false pretenses, I found myself overseeing their content strategy, writing blogs and updating their ‘What’s On’ microsite. Despite having nothing in common with Leonardo, I initially found him a positive and enjoyable person to work with.

Leonardo’s biggest problem was that he loved the idea of being a CEO but didn’t have the foresight or discipline to be one. For example he became convinced that writing in caps was a good idea. “FROM TODAY I WANT ALL COMMUNICATIONS IN CAPS”, I was surreally told one morning. I responded to his email straight away and explained that from a writing perspective, caps are considered loud and aggressive and it would upset future clients.

“THIS IS PART OF OUR NEW COMMUNICATION STRATEGY AND IS NON -NEGOTIABLE. CAPS ARE POSITIVE AND GREAT FOR BUSINESS”.

Only they are not great for business – they are annoying and irritate nearly everyone.  It soon became clear that Leonardo loved taking calls and updating his Facebook status but did precious little else.

CAN U failed to pay me for my 90+ hours work or any of their staff. Unable to remunerate his freelancers, Leonardo claimed he couldn’t pay anyone until CAN U received ten grand from an Italian restaurant in Hammersmith.

His negotiating tactics for settling this debt involved going over to West London and throwing chairs at the owner. Later he is alleged to have paid some heavies £250 (on the advice of a bogus debt collector) to bash the restaurant owner’s legs. Let’s just assume his methods were unsuccessful.

Abandoning all of his debts in July 2013 he tried to relaunch CAN U as a phoenix company trading under a slightly different name. His former colleagues were bitterly angry but couldn’t find a way to challenge him. Undeterred by his ridiculous emails, I pursued my wages in the small claims court and won a default judgement against CAN U.

It was a moral victory, but a pyrrhic one. CAN U have no funds left available and I will never be compensated for my efforts. No regrets from me – someone had to try and take him down. CAN U are still officially trading but only because I have a court order to keep them superficially alive.

On pursuing his entrepreneurial ambitions through social media, Leonardo appears no closer to making it big. Although I hope one day his fearlessness is rewarded. Reading his bizarre updates on Twitter #alwaysbehonest #nevergiveup I find myself almost wanting him to succeed.

As for all the lies expressed by Leonardo since I joined CAN U, I don’t think he’s a bad person. On the surface he’s a friendly and entertaining character. He keeps on demanding the impossible and makes glorious mistakes. Playing it safe is certainly not his style. He makes me laugh even though I should want to kill him.

Leonardo keeps on trying and has never compromised unlike this blogger. I guess for that reason alone, I am a grand down but can’t find it within myself to dislike him.

The ghosts of vanished ideals

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Reading about youth unemployment in a Central London office, I feel bizarrely left out of the ‘graduate without a future’ debate. Graduating a few years before the Great Crash of 08’ has left me observing youth declinism from the sidelines. With my own career stalling, I desperately want to take part in this debate but since I receive a modest salary, I feel unable to do so.

Graduate angst still resonates of course but I’m 31 years old and entering what Fitzgerald once famously referred to as a ‘portentous, menacing road of a new decade…the promise of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm and thinning hair’.

Stimulating and creative jobs are now sadly thin on the ground too. However, the concept of fulfilment in the workplace is a relatively modern one. The ancient Greek ideal of eudaiomnia, a contented state of happiness, is certainly not something that would have affected older generations.

Choice is a luxury and too much choice has created an existential hunger for well-paid creative jobs that simply don’t exist. Paul Mason brilliantly captured the spectre of declinism in his Guardian article about the “Graduate without a future”. His thesis is simple and inordinately depressing too – the Western economic model is broken and fails to produce enough high-value work for its highly educated workforce.

Graduating with a liberal-arts degree from Glasgow University in 2004, I don’t recall the spectre of declinism hanging over my generation. On the contrary everything appeared remarkably complacent – an era of cheap credit, flights and relatively bright job prospects.

Within one year of graduating from a Scottish university you could retrain as a teacher and receive a full pension, epic holidays and become a middle-class professional. Such a route was actively encouraged by the Scottish Government and it became a cosy meal ticket for thousands of well-educated arts graduates, unqualified to do anything else.

Back then the public sector wasn’t vilified like it is today and on choosing to study History; I embarked upon a luxury degree and one that came with tremendous academic and social privileges. Unaware in my late teens that it would seriously define (or paradoxically harm) my future job prospects, I attended a traditional medieval university whose emphasis lay firmly on academic learning. Studying at a Russell Group university is a wonderful privilege but it was one that left me completely unprepared for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Creating a factory supply of new teachers on route towards a public-sector nirvana might sound benign and egalitarian in principle. A society that invests in education is surely doing something right. However, I am not convinced that this golden ticket encouraged much creativity or entrepreneurship. Such a policy arguably stunted growth because not enough students were seriously challenged to change anything.

Unprepared for the future, I like many non-teaching arts graduates found myself lost in short-term contracts, temping and nomadic career wanderings that offered in creative or monetary value. Alas now I have a media job with a salary, and one I would have loved after leaving university, but looking elsewhere I find myself competing against millions of brilliant minds who are prepared to work for free.

Nothing much will change until Western economies catch up with the technological and communications revolution that has empowered the young. Like seeds beneath the snow, millions of restless spirits  lay dormant in call centres and fast food restaurants. And while Britain might seem like an uninspiring place, spare a thought for 55,000 who applied for 380 openings for Ikea in Sabadell, Spain. Now that is what you call a crisis of ideas.

Up a Gumtree

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Gumtree has played a part in most people’s lives since its conception in 2000. Providing the great British public with many of its essential needs for well over a decade – whether it’s a new shed, one night stand or an unhinged flatmate, the online classified website has it all. On forming part of our digital furniture like television adverts and BBC weathermen did in the 1980s, the website provides a universal portal for people to share, trade and form new relationships. Embraced by the illiterate and super educated alike, Gumtree has cut through social and racial differences and provides a welcoming home for everyone in society.

Modern flatshares are almost entirely reliant on the success of a classified ad. What I have noticed is the clear discrimination working-class men face in trying to find a place to stay on Gumtree. The majority of the London flatshare adverts state they are after ‘female professionals’ or if gender is not an issue then professionals or students may only apply. Where is the guy who works in the crisp factory going to live? Is a ‘professional girl’ in a call centre working as a customer service representative a more desirable member of society than a hard working plumber on 35k a year?

Sticking to our own kind is entirely natural and women in particular have to be careful. Gumtree is a feral website and provides an anonymous forum for the dispossessed, lonely and members of society that nobody else cares about. Usually they are male but not exclusively. Gumtree has also exposed a shocking increase in illiteracy levels in this country. This poor guy certainly didn’t use a spell checker before replying to my flat advert in 2008.

hi there

i just wants to know if ur room is still avilbell,so i can halla at ya and c if u avbel to rent me one of those room witch going to be free by 12th of march.well i am studint n i allredy have my acommodation booked till 10th of march so i tink if ur room is going 2 be free n if u dunt have any problem with having 21 years old studint around,Every ting going 2 be allright.if u dunt mind ill going 2 leave u my number so u can get back 2 me.

Sean

Suffice to say my room was not ‘avilbell’ to Sean but after meeting a series of freaks, misfits and miscreants from across Europe and being rejected by all of them. Desperation takes hold and you have to take leave of your prejudices in order to pay the rent. As a result I have shared a living space with a motley crew of bizarre characters courtesy of Gumtree. For while the silent majority have been lovely, friendly and thoroughly decent people; like the American House of Representatives, the lunatic fringe always seems to have a disproportionate influence on any flatshare experience.

Some of my flatshare highlights have included a homophobic cleaning Nazi, a manically depressed doctor and one insanely hairy Georgian. All of these characters proved to be insufferable over time. It usually takes about a month before the hidden nuances of these professionals are fully exposed. For like George Orwell in his book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, I too have met “eccentric people – people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent”. Alas there is now a familiar place for the eccentric and ill-balanced to find a communal home, but I can’t help wish they would stick to buying a garden shed.

Paradise City

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The slippery side streets of Soho have entertained the capital’s residents for centuries and it remains one of the most seductive landmarks in Central London. Renowned for its trashy lingerie, drug dens and peep shows, the unofficial red light district is a honey pot of illegal activities. Despite frequent attempts to clean up its image in advance of the 2012 Olympics, the back alleyways of London’s West End retain a downtrodden appeal.

Blue tooth messages are sent to visitors walking past illegal brothels, and friendly Russian gangsters are fond of marching their customers to nearby cash points for bonuses. These are obviously not the type of establishments you check in on Facebook but anyone who goes for a “massage” at 5am probably does get what they deserve.

Although to dismiss Soho as a magnet for illegal vices would be extremely misleading. For while some men wander in search of foreplay with their trousers on, Soho is also home to some of the finest restaurants and bars in London. The relationship between sex and food is the belief that one tends to lead to another, irrespective of which comes first.

Soho luckily provides both in abundance and anyone caught stumbling along say Green Court will realise that Yalla Yalla is one of the finest cheap eats in London. The Beirut food court is notoriously difficult to find but one of the attractions of eating out in Soho is that you get lost every time and nothing ever feels the same.

Attending restaurants in Soho is a bit like going to the theatre, where customers find themselves auditioning to play the lead role in a make believe world. Foreign themed restaurants are fond of describing themselves as ‘authentic’ but the word is misleading. A murky back alleyway in Soho is nowhere near the Middle East and while the rural taste of Lebanon at Yalla Yalla has never been in doubt. There is nothing remotely authentic about Soho.

Whether its old men drinking in 1940s pubs, PR darlings sipping cappuccinos or film journalists scribbling inside darkened rooms; the Soho peep show continues to entrance and deceive its audience. Constantly on the run and never dull, the side streets are awash with sexual favours and androgynous ecstasy. Soho meanwhile remains as slippery as ever and will put on magic shows for its audiences longer after 2012. Whether the law authorities will continue to permit such activities remains to be seen.

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