New Kids on the Block

Rarely is anyone judged for who they really are. As anyone who has ever attended a party or social gathering will already know, new friends and acquaintances will invariably want to know ‘what you do’ for a living. It’s unsurprising really. Perhaps it is just human nature for us to compartmentalise our personalities and responsibilities in this way.

Graduates lose their progressive status within a year of leaving university. Thereafter some of the greatest young minds on this planet will be defined by their occupation – waitress, drug dealer and freelance blogger; or as they are more commonly known in the Eurozone – unemployed.

Our preoccupation with status has been further amplified by the sheer number of people who have a handle or profile promoting their job and lifestyle. Such a culture inevitably leads to people branding their identities and heightening status anxiety to extraordinary levels.

Alas in the words of the late Virginia Woolf ‘the eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages’. The lowly shelf-stacker at Tesco, who has read the works of Joyce, Mishima and Ezra Pound, is certainly not going to feel any better by spending too much time on LinkedIn.

Although there is a light blogging alternative to the online brand phenomenon, where nobody knows your name or what you do. Tumblr is an offbeat social media service with a pop-culture twist. Irreverent by nature and heavily meme based, the Tumblr generation post endless streams of fashion, photography and literacy quotes in splendid anonymity.

With no comments or trolls, there is something highly refreshing about Tumblr’s eccentricity and complete disregard for how we all have to make a living. Nobody cares what you do, it’s all about what you feel and know to be true.

Predominately US-based and with over 120 million users every month, Tumblr has given rise to some of the most entertaining and offbeat blogs around today. From the sexual intellectualism of Book Porn, soppy boredom of Dogs on Trains and the late great Kim Jong-Il looking at things, Tumblr is a wonderful place to waste time. A digital scrapbook for the creative moths of this world, there is something refreshing how people can express themselves so vividly online in such a weird and odd fashion.

However, success comes at a price and while the light blogging service remains the domain of hyper-intelligent college kids. Old media organisations such as The Guardian and New Yorker now want a piece of the digital action. With traditional newspapers spreading their ‘content’ online, there is a danger Tumblr will succumb to the wishes of large media groups wanting to promote their corporate image. Indeed it has probably happened already such is the power of big business.

But while people remain weird and strange there will always be a place for the marginalised and ignored on Tumblr. It remains somewhere pure and anonymous and relatively untainted by the status obsession culture found on other networks.

And while the pressure to be someone will never cease and every fresh handshake and sideways air kiss will inevitably be followed by an enquiry into your occupation. There is now a small place where outside thoughts no longer have to be our cages, and where labyrinth minds can express themselves freely on laptops in unkempt bedrooms and solitary library chambers.

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,
London,
E8 4EA

Same Jeans

As a Scot who once neglected to wear a kilt at a local girl’s wedding, I know from personal experience the emotional power of sartorial nationalism. On being subjected to bitter scorn for rejecting Scotland’s national dress, I had not only betrayed a local tradition but my country’s sense of identity too. Although anyone walking around Scotland today is unlikely to see any men wearing kilts on their way home from Tesco. The Highland veil of tears is nowhere to be seen on the high street and Scottish citizens wear the same jeans, t-shirts and dresses as everyone else.

Germans describe the purpose of clothing as Schutz, Scham and Schmuck – protection, modesty and ornament. Clothes are essentially a non-verbal language and wearing a kilt has always been a clear demonstration of Scottish identity. Ironically there has always been a long tradition of anti-Highland satire throughout Scottish history. Lowland poets such as William Dunbar and Sir Richard Holland caricatured the Highlander as being feckless, violent and stupid, while his costume, the belted plaid (see above) was an object of ridicule. The use of tartan to symbolise a pan-Scottish identity rooted in antiquity still resonates today but it is grossly unrepresentative of everyday life.

As illustrated in Niall Ferguson’s recent televised series Civilisation: Is the West History?, the advent of mass consumption has now consigned traditional dresses to the laundry basket. Previously there had been a spectacular variety of styles all over the world. In 1909 the millionaire French banker, Albert Kahn, set out to create what he called an ‘archive of the planet’. The 72,000 photos he collected reveal an astonishing variety of costumes and fashions.

All over the world it was clear that clothing defined national identity. However, with the rampant power of American consumption leading to an unprecedented convergence of Western fashions, people are simply no longer what they wear. Even some of the most ornamental fashion scenes in London’s trendiest districts are grounded in uniformity.

Anyone walking down Brick Lane on a Sunday afternoon will see thousands of young people listening to lesbian Bulgarian folk music and drinking Chai Lattes. Invariably middle-class and well-educated, the young gentleman on display will be wearing second-hand jeans as oppose to anything on sale in Top Shop. Meanwhile their female counterparts will be snapping up colourful vintage dresses from pop-up shops throughout the city’s alternative style mile.

Seemingly original at first but when thousands of people start re-buying old clothes on a mass scale. Even self-styled individualists begin to look very familiar, especially when they all congregate in the same street. No more so than outside British railway stations, where teenage skate-punks loiter outside in the identikit black uniforms imported on mass from the United States of America.

Superficial groups may appear to diverge away from the majority culture but compared to the astonishing ethnic and regional diversity captured in Albert Kahn photographs. Everyone in the West wears the same uniform cottons on a truly unprecedented scale. Sartorial nationalism still manifests itself in a post-modern fashion, where countries such as Scotland celebrate their national identity by wearing kilts on formal occasions. Uniformity of course provides a feeling of solidarity, which I discovered to my cost when I wore an English tuxedo at a Scottish wedding.

My last bite

As food prices continue to rise and my salary unable to keep up with the rate of inflation, I faced a grim economic decision and made cuts to my lunch budget. While I have no intention of starving this year, I can no longer justify spending excess of £5 a day in cafes and delicatessens. At lunch time I now have to unwrap wholemeal sandwiches from a recycled Tesco bag and savour the grim banality of an economic recession. With my taste buds regressing back to the 1980s, I became nostalgic for the culinary delights of the credit boom when it was acceptable to spend well beyond your means.

Lunches can brighten up even the most mediocre day at work. At the strike of noon, I consider lunch time in Fitzrovia to be a truly glorious affair and not just because I am not working. Fitzrovia is arguably one of the best places in London to enjoy a mid-day feast and with almost every world cuisine available, I regularly satisfy my carnal desires at the Goodge Place Food Market. Despite my modest salary, I have always strongly believed that beautiful food should not be restricted to advertising executives queuing up for crispy garlic prawns or Lebanese falafel from Hoxton Beach.

On becoming accustomed to enjoying a grand luncheon everyday, I would attend trendy cafes and rotate my meals depending on whether I fancied Japanese noodles or a Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich. Alternatively if I was running low on funds, I would resort to a taste of real life at Greggs. Such poor eating habits became the norm towards the end of last year when I began my efficiency drive. While saving is now an economic necessity, I sometimes feel disillusioned eating wholemeal sandwiches and occasionally slip back into decadent ways.

Food is one of life’s great pleasures and one of my favourite cafes in Fitzrovia is the charming Italia Uno, which serves rustic dishes and beautiful Italian sandwiches. Such is the popularity of the cafe you will regularly see immigration-style queues in anticipation of a cold slice of prosciutto. While undoubtedly popular with local residents, the cafe’s interior is ordinary and customers should wait until after 2pm for the peak lunch crowds to disperse before entering this family run outlet.

Almost all of the regular clientele are from the Bel Paese and their sandwich menu is absolutely divine. The classic Piccante sandwich with extra sun-dried tomatoes is the undisputed favourite and at £3.80 a sandwich it is very reasonably priced. Sadly Italian sandwiches are now confined to a distant memory as my lunches are forcibly digested in front of a keyboard. Unable to turn back the clock, I now walk past the middle-aged advertising executives queuing up for Lebanese falafel and can only marvel at what unrestricted wealth can buy in this age of austerity.