God bless

A grungy heap of sorrow with doe eyes asked me for some money tonight. She needed somewhere to stay. The girl must have been in her late teens or early twenties; the night’s shadow made it impossible to say.

When no is else is around, strangers become humans and harder to ignore. More often than not, the roar of city life render the most vulnerable into a passing blur.

Frost was biting my cheeks and the girl looked desperate for warmth. I had been at the cinema and was walking home along an empty concrete aisle to my friend’s apartment in Stepney Green.

I began shuffling in my pockets and found some loose change. I didn’t even know I was carrying any. Embarrassed by the meagre amount, I gave her about 37p and said that was “all I had on me” and she replied “I’ll take anything you have”. I was lying to her. My wallet was burning with greed.

As she walked across the road, I felt a pang of self-disgust and put a tenner in her hand. Her eyes widened in astonishment and she said “God bless you” in a soft cockney accent and I felt horrible for not giving it to her earlier.

The cruelty of London hit me as I entered the landing. How many times do you just walk away like I did? Say nothing or pretend you have no money on you. I couldn’t stop crying as I stepped inside the kitchen. Switching the lights on, the artificial heat smothered my cheeks and my phone vibrated with an emoji smile.

Looking out the window towards the city, I realised I should do more for people. Kindness is all we have when God wrought to make this world so sad.

What you missed

City Road has a godlike spectacle after dark. Nothing ever stays still even at the strike of midnight. It has grown astronomically since I first arrived in 2008. You feel simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted just staring at the traffic.

Walking home amongst glass pyramids and pelican cranes, cycle couriers whistle past me to deliver restaurant food at breakneck speed. Food app riders fascinate me. The push, tug and hurry of modern on-demand consumerism. With their branded helmets and lime green cagoules, a new urban tribe has emerged – a brushstroke of ambition in a globalised world.

Before the skyscrapers were built, I remember Daniela and I moving here and feeling like we had both made it. Sure, the bathroom was a bit rough and the kitchen underwhelmingly small, but this could work. It was my first major foothold in London and after making a series of choices, I won’t be going back.

Freelancing in people pubs, you become convinced that London is the only place that matters. I’ve done this before when I moved to Venice and returned six months later with a thirst for knowledge. How I missed terrifying blitz of technology and energy.

Uneasy jitters are settling in now. I hope I’ve made the right decision. Shifting all my boxes next door and leaving home once again without a key.

Last days of the counter-culture precariat

With only three weeks left for me in Hoxton, I finally bought a studio desk in a textile factory. Arriving everyday like a laptop camel in my shorts, I love the counter-culture cliche of having my own office. Like the many regrets you have when time is running out, I wish I had done this years ago. To physically and cognitively separate my work, life and playtime into different components.

Creaking back to the mid-twentieth century, the factory will probably be demolished in 18 months time. Hackney Road is prime real estate location for developers. A debilitated aisle of pre-war housing and cheap grocery stories that connects Shoreditch with Bethnal Green.

The Hackney factory is owned by a picture frame business that no longer makes anything. They import all their goods from China. By virtue of abandoning manufacturing, Studio X was born and I bought my desk space from two Spanish artists with dark chocolate beards.

Like everyone else in the studio, the Spaniards make entertainment for a living. They produce a boutique fashion magazine that has an initial distribution run of 4,000 copies. To boost their income, they sub-let their remaining studio space to freelancers such as myself. I paid £140 a month for a desk and sit alongside a Hackney fashion stylist and her three minions:

  • a ginger anorexic doll
  • dim-witted posh girl
  • a blonde street urchin in a baseball cap

Jackie sources expensive clothes for a Radio 1 DJ with a glorious 1970s afro. Attending photo shoots for most of the day, she delegates the hard graft to her interns, who scurry around London collecting wares on behalf of her DJ client. When I compare it to the soul destroying office jobs I did at a similar age, I am glad they are going down a non-conformist path.

Make do and mend and ignore the naysayers.

 

 

Double room for rent near Old Street

One of the benefits of working independently is the freedom to have absurd flat viewings. Like this morning when a muscly tattooed Polish chef, who couldn’t speak a distinguishable word of English, and his Irish brother-in-law came round to see my flat.

Standing together in Greg’s old bedsit, an austere collection of second-hand furniture and sunlight, I politely explained my role and responsibilities. My lips were parroting the same old lines, a puffing collection of melancholy sighs and amusing asides.

Has it really come to this?

With his industrial strength tattoos and rock warrior attire, I instinctively felt Marius’s future lay elsewhere. A skittish energy filled the room as he sat down, like a naughty child entering a doctor’s waiting room without any toys.

Immediately detecting my unease, the Irish chaperone gave bizarre assurances on how ‘sweet and clean’ his brother-in-law was. That he would be a great flatmate and I would barely notice him at all.

‘You seem like a good bloke Daniel, we just need to get him settled for a month before we find something more permanent.’

Marius’s painted biceps became more pervasive as he nodded along with his mentor’s sermon. At this point I began to feel sorry for the guy, like he was being auctioned off to anyone desperate enough to take him.

‘What a great place Daniel’s place has here…wouldn’t it be great to live so close to the canal?’

We then all shook hands at the front door and promised to get in touch the following morning to confirm. Of course, none of us did. Flat viewings oscillate from white lies to abject desperation in my experience. A mini-series of half-truths and lips sharpened from making judgements.

Dark glitter

During rush hour you feel like you’re marching your life down the tube. Going eye to eye with a petite woman in a scarlet coat, I utter ‘excuse me, excuse me’ before heaving my way inside.

Come evening and walking home on foot, I like to claim my life back. With my blue sonic buns keeping my ears warm, I depart from nearby Palestra, a technicolour glass mountain in South London and walk back to Hoxton.

Crossing over Blackfriars Bridge, I take my first steps towards the crystal empire, one that sparkles over demolished warehouses and future proofed roads. A military helicopter drones over the river and casts a security shadow over the city. I feel strangely enthralled by its presence. It’s hard, aggressive and exciting.

Weaving past tourists in cagoule jackets, I navigate past St Paul’s Cathedral towards the Barbican Centre. Streams of scarfs and bobble hats march past me, splitting through a demolished Victorian hospital. The Georgian corner pubs are packed full of businessmen drinking pints of honey but I don’t want to go inside.

Cutting through the motorway tunnel, I navigate over pelican crossings and storm past commuters with stringy headphones. A Tinder match vibrates in my pocket (Anita, 27, 3 miles away) as I stay on course and I arrive at Old Street roundabout.

Commuters are now pouring out of the station towards the glass pyramids on City Road. My neighbourhood is a maelstrom of human energy and piercing noise, I feel exhausted just watching the traffic.

I’ve lived here for seven years now. I have nowhere else to go. The dark glitter pours over me as I complete my journey home.

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 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 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.

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.

Like many East London boozers it has been converted into a microbrewery serving pan roasted sea-bass, pesto mash and tender-stem broccoli. While there is nothing wrong with gourmet restaurants and demographics will inevitably shift and change over time.

Going for a pint at the White Hart in 2015 is no different than any other UK chain bar. 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.

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 unconvinced this is 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.

Sounds on my pillow

Dozing on my pillow, I wake up and have thirty minutes to spare. Outside the pneumatic groan of the 394 bus trails past on route towards Hackney Downs. My phone is buzzing with messages and the second alarm is just about to go off.

It’s noisy outside and the estate is getting ready for work.

Housewives are chattering outside my balcony and packs of kids in woolly hats are going to school. Local drivers are in the hunt for a parking spot. Downstairs a coarse man nursing a semi-circle of ill-health is effing and blinding like a complete utter cunt.

My alarm is now vibrating on a cold sheet of cotton.

Surrounded by grim tower blocks and dazzling towers of chrome and glass, I prepare for eight hours of home working. Gone are the crashing bells of Venezia and waking up to gondola men whooshing past at dawn.

Ole! Ole! Ole!

Only a few months ago, I lived in that strange dream across the water. This provides some comfort as my body swivels on a chair and switches on a bright electronic light.

Arnold Circus

Arnold Circus Des BlenkinsoppAuthor’s Note

Life is not supposed to be confined to one place and living in an N1 council estate, I sometimes long to move on and write about something new. If that turns out to be case, then it certainly won’t be in Arnold Circus, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why. This place I prefer to keep to myself. Until then I hereby present a re-published story about a fairytale council estate in Shoreditch.

***

For most Londoners I know, the term ‘ex-council’ is a pejorative expressed with a wry shrug. Cheek by jowl people live in council estates under the loving supervision of private landlords. It’s a necessity rather than a choice, and if you don’t like it, then move to Leeds.

Everyone dreams about their ideal home and as a self-declared dreamer and social climber, I’d love a two-bedroom flat in Arnold Circus. Designed by Victorian philanthropists for the respectful working-classes, Arnold Circus is one of the most beautiful council estates in England.

Arnold Circus Lady Aga

With its red brick tenements individually named after villages on the River Thames and connected by leafy boulevards that extend from a central communal bandstand, Arnold Circus is like a painting fashioned from the rubble of dismantled slums.

Arnold Circus Andrea Vail

This Victorian model village has a fairytale quality that surpasses anything you may find in richer neighbourhoods. What is inspiring is how street design and architecture can improve people’s lives. It’s like every footstep you make has been accounted for on a map.

Home to thousands of social tenants and a few private professionals, I will never rent, let alone, own a flat in Arnold Circus. But for while I still live in East London it will remain my favourite conduit – a gateway to better things.

Arnold Circus Bandstand

With the rich green canopies sheltering bourgeois dog walkers and teen gangs, it feels like my footsteps become brush strokes whenever I walk through here. Like I’m subconsciously taking part in someone else’s painting. A snapshot of consciousness amidst the overgrown ferns and rising Plane trees.

Arnold Circus is a bona fide masterpiece in urban planning, and all I am is a passing visitor, a solitary figure traversing on foot.

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 on a card. 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.

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

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 huge 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 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 glamour launch party, new website, coke-addled staff, and a low-interest business loan to pay for it all. The second year the bills come through…and 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. Alas, on running up 10k worth of debts in unpaid wages and immersed in countless feuds, Leonardo was a bankrupt on multiple levels.

Accepting his job offer, I found myself overseeing their content strategy, writing blogs, and updating their website. Despite having nothing in common with Leonardo, I initially found him a positive and entertaining guy 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 told one morning. I responded to his email straight away, and explained that from a writing perspective, caps is considered loud and aggressive, and it would upset our 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 every hour, 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. He allegedly 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.

Leonardo abandons CAN U’s debts in July 2013 and tried to relaunch CAN U as a phoenix company trading under a slightly different name. We were all bitterly angry but were unable find a way to successfully 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 pyrrhic victory as his bogus company is bankrupt with no assets.

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, I don’t think he’s a bad person. He demands the impossible and keeps on making glorious mistakes. Leonardo keeps on trying and trying, and does not settle for anything less than perfection. I guess for that reason alone, I find myself a grand down, but can’t find it within myself to dislike him.