Broken Glass

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.

The trouble is, you think you have time

Global Warming

What would you do if you were told you only had fourteen years to live? It’s not cancer. It’s far worse than that. Floods haven’t been on the news recently but they aren’t going away and according to scientist James Lovelock climate change is going to unleash environmental devastation and by 2040 southern Europe will be a desert.

With global populations continuing to rise and third world countries developing a taste for red meat, the average British millenial is in a race to the bottom. And if James Lovelock is correct you should party like its £19.99 because you don’t have long left.

“Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

– James Lovelock, March 2008

James Lovelock is convinced climate change is inevitable and ethical living a scam. Recycling, wind turbines, planting nice trees – it’s a complete waste of time, the damage is already done and paying 10p for a shopping bag at Sainsbury’s won’t make a difference.

Ethical living is akin to a smoker quitting on his deathbed, it might make you feel better, but that’s all it will do. And you thought forking out for those solar panels was a good investment. Well your Dad probably thought so. But if you’re reading this you probably don’t even have a flat, let alone flash panels soaking up rays on a double garage.

If recycling pizza leaflets and beer bottles won’t save the planet, then what exactly can we do? Start paying 35p for the plastic bags we stuff underneath the sink? Grow carrots and potatoes in our back gardens and eat less meat?

Wait, statistically you live in an urbanised sprawl and don’t have a garden or any sustainable land. Your everyday survival is entirely reliant on the mass importation of food into corporate supermarkets.

Burgerthons

As a species we are tribal carnivores genetically programmed to eat everything we can. A risky gambit if you live on a small island that imports 40% of its consumed food. If Lovelock is correct and global catastrophe is only 16 years away then enjoy your burgerthon festivals and 2 for 1 pizzas while you still can. You can’t feed yourself on Twitter.

In that respect Generation Y doesn’t have much to live for and we’re the lucky ones. It’s your kids and unborn progeny, who are really going to suffer. Generation Z is fittingly apt because according to Lovelock “about 80%” of the world’s population will be wiped out by 2100.

The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time

You see this Buddha meme reposted on social media all the time. It’s probably fake but in the context of a forthcoming global apocalypse it’s worth paying attention to. With a decaying eco-system and billions of new hungry mouths wanting a first world lifestyle, there isn’t much point saving for a mortgage.

As your dream home is either going to be flooded or raided by starving vigilantes looking for something to eat. If Lovelock is correct then you don’t have long left before pale blue dot metamorphoses into a dead planet. If you fancy a career break backpacking around South America, then enjoy the precious time you have left, or hope Lovelock is an alarmist mad scientist with nothing to lose.

If you stay at home and do nothing else, then savour every gourmet burger, chicken fillet and goats cheese salad you eat and pay virtually nothing for the privilege. Generation Z are going to pay that dividend for you.

London Ziferblat

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

Soerditch: A Diary of a Neighbourhood

On recently being interviewed by Harry Potter with a beard in an East London warehouse, I left feeling somewhat disconcerted. Start ups are invariably formed by young people and the “Creative Director” interviewing me must have been no older than twenty-two. Here I stumbled upon the modern zeitgeist and felt like a pawn in a profound demographic shift; one where age is irrelevant and children born and shaped by the internet will rule the world.

Despite living in Hoxton for nearly three years I’ve never fully embraced the East London lifestyle. Self-consciously quirky and dripping with acid, even the street art appears alien and vacant. With the big drinks and footwear corporations imitating the guerrilla artists in Great Eastern Street, I sometimes struggle to differentiate between rebellion and multi-national profit.

When young residents tweet references to themselves as “wankers” as a form of cheery endearment, it’s like we’re all permanently trapped inside a hyper-capitalist matrix where nothing will ever change. Post-modernism is a passive condition entirely dependent on technology. Ironic mocking is therefore all we have left.

By paying homage to media fashions, converts will embrace parody to demonstrate their wit and intelligence but they are born within this system and can never leave. There is no future, only a recycled past.

Satirising a contemporary urban world, Adam Dant‘s cartoon exhibition Soerditch, Diary of a Neighbourhood offers an irreverent guide to Shoreditch. Embracing an irreverent newspaper aesthetic, Dant’s sketches provide a mocking guide to the area’s post-1993 residents. And what is most striking about “Tech City” and its glitterati of Wifi-workers, street food vendors and Harry Potter capitalists is the abandonment of history.

There are no longer any relationship with the dead and the Victorian furniture factories have long been scrubbed clean of their industrial residuum. With East London’s past shucked out within a generation, the old warehouses and churches are like fumigated skulls. They are merely an interim host that will exchange hands every thirty years.

While the deceased residents of Shoreditch are ignored their buildings live on vicariously without them. Originally assembled by coarse working hands, there is a natural hierarchy with age and somehow an older building is considered more ‘real’ than something new. History provides an emotional backbone that modernity with all its superficialities and globalised rootlessness cannot.

By mapping this technological and leisure society, Dant’s cartoons provides a wry sense of character and warmth to the area. Shoreditch’s transformation from industrial workshop to a consumer paradise is just another step along the road towards our final destination as archaeology. The Roman Empire lies crushed underneath East London’s converted warehouses and over time Shoreditch will follow suit – a pop up world waiting to collapse.

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 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”.

In Search of England

Despite having no real affinity for the South East, I have never been shy of visiting its historic market towns. In recent years I have travelled to Canterbury, Dover, Brighton, Eastbourne and more recently Cambridge. On arriving at the Cambridge train station and walking a mile and half towards the city centre, I realised I had been deluded from the outset.

Deluded by my own expectations, where I always hope to find an H.V. Morton version of England but leave disappointed every time. Almost immediately on arriving in Cambridge, I was reminded of a previous trip to Canterbury, where I went in search of Geoffrey Chaucer but found myself overwhelmed by the awesome triumph of American consumerism.

Canterbury Cathedral is curtained off by medieval walls but is surrounded by a pedestrianised shopping centre full of New Labour corporate chains. Such is the grim familiarity of these stores, I often find myself dangerously nostalgic for a golden era I never knew and regretting the triumph of motorways and supermarkets. Behind the sparkling windows of discount signs and fairy lights lies the banal realisation that almost every town centre in England looks exactly the same.

Cambridge offers a gift shop experience and on exploring their beautiful university colleges, it is still possible to find a postcard moment from selective angles. While Cambridge has largely maintained its medieval architecture and religious landmarks, most of their traditional local stores appear to have disappeared and replaced by Boots, Clinton Cards and Costa Coffee.

These corporate chains represent economic growth, jobs and progress. Everybody uses them. It’s just a source of regret that you can now close your eyes in any English city and be virtually anywhere from Newcastle upon Tyne to Southend upon Sea.