Stardate 20220724: Weather remains hot. Still no rain. The garden is wilting. So am I. The summer holidays have started, the Things are already bored, and the fridge is empty.
As I was working in Stratford yesterday on the Great Get Together 2022 on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I stayed in London on Friday night with my best friend, her daughter and son and some of his university friends. Her son (my eldest godson) makes an excellent espresso martini, I was told, and when we got back from putting the world to rights with the dog round the streets of Shoreditch, there was one waiting for me. I had a brilliant idea for this week’s blog content while we were walking the dog but (three excellent espresso martinis later) I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.
So I’ll tell you about Shoreditch instead.
When I lived down on Hackney Road, a mere 20-odd years ago now, Shoreditch High Street was a no-go area – dodgy pubs with lunchtime strippers, shoe and clothes wholesalers, kerb crawlers on the side streets in search of a quickie, dealers, all-night garages, drunks in doorways, empty office blocks and warehouses. It was not a ‘destination’ but merely somewhere the bus or cab would drive through on the way to destinations. Close to Old Street, Liverpool Street and Spitalfields and the creeping gentrification of the East End, it was inevitable that it would change but there are – as you avoid the balloons, the nitrous oxide canisters and piles of vomit on the street – moments when you question how much this change has been for the better.
It started with small galleries: lots of artists have lived and worked in the lovely old houses off the main street. Cheap studios as they’d been converted from old warehouses and manufactories: Shoreditch was known for furniture manufacturing and many of the early slum clearances made way for artisans’ and workers’ dwellings like those on the beautiful Boundary Estate and the end of Columbia Road. Tracy Emin, Gilbert & George and more had their studios at the Spitalfields end. These of course are now priced out of all affordability for young artists, and are being turned into architect designed conversions.
Now it’s bars and (this is good) little independent shops as well as some designer outlets alongside the galleries. Redchurch Street, only 0.2 miles long, is apparently London’s coolest street. I remember it mostly as the home of one of the dodgier estate agents I dealt with back when the other Kersti and I were flat-hunting. You can’t spit without it landing in someone’s artisan coffee*. A couple of years back I was visiting the Migration Museum’s incredibly moving Calais Stories exhibition, and a coach pulled up and disgorged a load of French teenagers for whom this was a tourist experience.
The little shops, the cafes, the vintage clothes dealers: these are lovely and great for a mooch and a coffee. Vibrant street art abounds. There’s new hotels, there’s street food markets, there’s the Box Park with the little start-ups on the corner of Bethnal Green Road. But now it’s become a no-go area on weekends for a different reason: the bars which teem with hen parties and stag parties, office workers on a Friday night, trainloads of revellers from Essex and Hertfordshire who go home again afterwards (or pass out on a park bench) and leave the residents to hose down their doorsteps where people have urinated (and worse). There’s a men’s urinal on the streets but nothing for the ‘ladies’. Signs in the bar windows now say ‘People seen using nitrous oxide will not be allowed on the premises’ instead of ‘Lunchtime Strippers’. Sleeping in a room overlooking the street requires earplugs, especially when the hound takes against the dealers hanging round on the corner outside the old Nike warehouse.
I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point and Shoreditch will settle into quiet gentility, but until then…watch where you’re walking.
*I do not recommend actually doing this.
Things making me happy this week:
- Thing 3 finishing primary school, ready to join Thing 2 at secondary in September
- Thing 1 looking so grown up and gorgeous as she went off to her prom
- Nailing the whole godmother thing just by saying ‘when we were playing D&D last week’ – Fairy Geekmother, perhaps?
- Getting the Temperature Galaxy up to date
- Finishing a crochet project
- Visiting the Small is Beautiful exhibition
See you next week!
What I’ve been reading:
Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin
Moonglow – Michael Chabon