In 1984 I lived in a council flat in a dodgy little place called Shoreditch. As I was a baby at the time, my parents lived there too!
I have very fond memories of our time there; the neighbours, most of whom babysat me at one time or another; the lady next door with the Rottweilers and – for reasons only known to her and her family – a pet monkey; trying (and failing) to ride a bike in the hallway and, best of all, the parties! It seemed like every week friends and family would congregate at our flat and it would always turn in to a party. The sound system blaring, the flat packed full of people, alcohol, jokes…It was brilliant!
There were things that I was too young to notice at the time but that I found out about when I was older: the queue of people outside on the balcony waiting to buy drugs from the dude next door; or the fact that one of the kids my parents forbade me from hanging around with had fleas (that kid belonged to ‘Rottweiler woman’ who, I later found out to my eternal disgust, used to let the dog have her puppies on the fur coat that she always wore but never washed). I was protected from all of that nonsense and even though there were a few… shall we say, eccentric sorts in the area it was generally a safe and really friendly place.
We moved when I was 6. We left the council flat with its peculiar but generally pleasant characters and moved in to a house in what was then a very nice, quiet and I guess some would say, respectable part of North London.
Just over a week ago I moved back in to the council flat in that dodgy little place called Shoreditch, only it’s not a council flat anymore. It’s my flat. I own it. I was excited to be ‘going back home’ as it were, as I said, I have a lot of fond memories. The flat itself hasn’t changed much. The area still looks very much like a council estate, the little playground that was there when I was a kid is still there and is in very good condition but the main differences are that there is now a gate at the entrance so if you don’t live there you have to be let in by the person you’re visiting, and the lift doesn’t smell like piss anymore.
Oh, and the people.
Let me be very clear. Despite what you may have read in Time Out or seen on some property show on TV there is nothing particularly great about Shoreditch. Words like ‘Trendy’ and ‘hip’ are over used when people speak or write about this place and it seems that many of its residents have bought in to the hype. Sure, if you like food and clubs then it’s fine but that’s pretty much the case for a lot of places in London at the moment. The fact is, Shoreditch is still the grotty little cesspool it was pre gentrification only now it’s lacking in charm.
People give Croydon a hard time but having lived there for two years I can honestly say it’s actually not as bad as people say, or perhaps as it once was. I lived in East Croydon and, if I’m being honest, it was okay; nice houses and flats, a short walk from what is a lovely little town centre and, most importantly, the people were okay.
Shoreditch, like Croydon has great transport links, loads of restaurants and coffee shops, cute little markets and a Boxpark but the people suck.
Yeah, I said it!
Never have I come across so many rude, arrogant, self-centred wannabees in one place. If Shoreditch had a tagline it would be: ‘Shoreditch: Home of the Uber Douche’. I think this is to be expected from a gentrified ‘edgy’ place. All of the hedonists, big-heads and people who were bullied at school tend to navigate to these areas so they can show how ‘cool’ they are because everyone knows that your self-worth is totally linked to your post code. (!) I’m sure that like me, there are a few people who live here simply for its proximity to work given that it’s very close to Central London and I’m very sure that not every single person in Shoreditch is a dipshit but the dipshits do seem to be more prevalent which is a real shame.
After a day or two of exploring the area I knew I didn’t like it. Everything about it feels wrong. I feel like I’ve stepped in to an exclusive club that I don’t want to be part of. I figured that I was a pretty safe distance from Dipshit City though, once I entered those gates but alas, the dipshittery followed me home.
You see, the drug dealers and walking health hazards that used to populate this little estate have been replaced with…Urgh, I can’t even bring myself to say it…hipsters. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to live next door to drug dealers and people with fleas and unnatural attachments to their dogs but I also don’t want to live in a place where everyone thinks they are so much better than you which is very much the case here. For every two or three people that say ‘Hi’ or smile and nod back at you when you meet outside there are another 5 who look at you like you’re a piece of shit they stepped on in the street. I don’t take this personally, I don’t give a shit what people I don’t know think about me, but it does make me laugh to know that the real freaks and geeks that inhabited Shoreditch over 20 years ago, the ones that these kids are trying so hard (and unsuccessfully may I add) to emulate were genuinely better neighbours and possibly even better people than these privileged twats.
It also makes me laugh to know that these same people who believe themselves to be so wonderful because they live in a ‘trendy’ part of London wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on this estate 20 years ago. These little wannabe trendsetters would have pissed their pants and run back home to their parents once one of those Rottweilers started barking or the police came down to raid the druggy’s flat.
The fact is, this place is just that, a place. Okay so it might be popular now but let Brexit kick in and we’ll see how exclusive and cool this place continues to be. Even if it does retain its current image so what? There’s no need to be a total asshole about it. So you live in a popular area? Be humble and give thanks that you’re in a position to be here.
Gentrification is one the biggest evils of the 21st Century. Aside from the financial impact on poorer members of society, it reveals an ugly, self-centred arrogance amongst even the most economically modest among us. It screams ‘We’re so much better than you!’ while robbing entire geographical areas of their history, sense of community and individuality. It forces itself upon inhabitants and then spawns a new hollowed out community whose value system is based on image over substance, money over class and individuality over community.
I am not for a second trying to insinuate that Shoreditch was some kind of utopia prior to its gentrification. It was not. It had its fair share of problems just like everywhere else, hence why my parents left. At that time and in that place it was no place to raise a child, but it did have its own weird sense of community where everyone kind of looked out for each other and no-one, on this particular estate anyway, placed themselves above anyone else.
Believe it or not there are a few people from ‘the old days’ who are still here. They’re the ones who say ‘hello’ and give me a little smile when I get in from work. They’re the ones who still hang their washing out to dry on the balcony and sit outside when the weather’s nice just watching the world go by. I imagine that for them, like me, this place holds a lot of memories.
I take solace in my flat. Once that door closes behind me I’m home. I’m comfortable, I’m relaxed and I don’t have to put up with a miserable flatmate with several chinks in his wiring. I’m blessed to have a lovely little roof over my head and the things I had to go through to get it makes me even more thankful and grateful for it, however, I’m also aware that this is just a place and not a reflection of me or who I am.
That lovely quiet, some might say respectable place in North London my parents and I moved to when I was 6? It’s situated in what is now one of the worst boroughs in London. That area is full of crime, violence and takeaways and the people who once lived there – including my parents – have now moved on.