Dalston Forever

Urban Living Room - Lord Rogers of Riverside

Urban Living Room – Lord Rogers of Riverside

Up The Smoke last week. The Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition on Thursday. A nice painting of Islington back gardens by Melissa Scott-Miller, “The Full Heat of the Sun” by Hughie O’Donoghue and a large animal made from straw, plaster and an old tyre. In one room a nod to Extinction Rebellion with models of future ecological buildings, but, yawn, I despair at “designers”. Since the 50s they have presented the same stuff. Large centrally planned new towns. Radar dish shaped solar collectors with little people walking beneath them. All very well if you don’t mind living in the shade. A “computer generated” picture of a future garden city entitled Urban Living Room by Lord Rogers of Riverside but what they’re really showing is that the Lords will walk beneath the sky and the rest of us will live underground or in the densely packed skyscrapers wreathed in smog shown in the background. This is important because it demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of the corporate vision of the future of human habitation.

What they’re chasing is efficiency. They’re saying that if most of us give up the pleasures we have now such as green fields and sunlight we can collect all that energy and use it to fuel a city with even greater numbers of people. More people means more profit but it also means that most of us will live like termites. A better way is to REDUCE HUMAN POPULATION and all live in the sun.

Then lunch a £9 lunch in China Town and back to Dalston to stay in the reasonable Global Lodge overlooking Kingsland Road. The Turkish restaurant was good and the Cuban bar did hoppy IPA (hard to find outside Sussex). I approached the door of one bar to be stopped by a large bouncer. “Have you been here before?” He asked. “No”, I replied. “Should I have? …. Good is it?”- He told me that it was a gay bar and I asked if it was just for gays and he seemed confused “No, but you should be informed.” This is the nature of our offence sensitive society. A trigger warning when you enter a boozer.

Sometime back in the 80s I recall hunting around for a late night drink and stumbling into some grubby pub in Shoreditch. Inside the clientele were dressed like anyone else but were all men. Eventually the penny dropped. When this happens you have a choice: Turn around and walk out or do what you came to do. i.e. Get drunk. I did the latter. In the more recent case I looked through the open front and noticed the wreaking “right on” nature of the clientele and thought better of it.

Thursday evening I took a bus down to Marble Arch and walked about a bit in Hyde Park. I used to enter from Speakers Corner and get a sense of freedom at the massive expanse of park land before me. A lot of it has now been fenced off for some fucking commercialised event and the little that remained seemed occupied by tourist overspill from Edgeware Road. The next day I found myself at London Bridge and popped into the Market Porter. When I worked nearby it had been bustling with bankers from the City, porters from Borough Market and doctors and nurses from Guy’s. Last week there were just a few tourist families sitting glumly waiting for the London of 30 years ago.

As a curmudgeon, I long for the days when cities were occupied by residents rather than visitors. I don’t go to Budapest to chat with a butane salesman from Iowa and I don’t want buskers cluttering up the street. I find buskers on the tube contrived and the “achingly cool” aspects of modernity opressive. Tourists traipse around ticking off entries on a list of UN world heritage sites like some fucking game of geography bingo. They don’t travel becasue they want to  but because some shyster at Thomas Cook sold them an “experience”. In a tacit admission that most of the tourists who visit Trafalgar Square don’t give a toss about it, the place is infested with “street theatre”.

It occurred to me that if someone asked me to list recent trends most detrimental to society I would list mass air travel and marketing. These two factors have had a massive impact on eroding cultural diversity. Go to any city anywhere in the world. Go to that city’s most distinctive landmark and there you will find scores of wankers dressed as Yoda.

It’s said that Britain will fall if the Ravens leave the Tower of London but an early indicator of demise may be punks at Piccadilly Circus. Since the 70s Piccadilly Circus was the place for Punks to parade and spit at passers by. Today there are no punks at Piccadilly Circus. Not one. Instead there is some idiot doing a “street act”. It’s American cultural imperialism. I love New York but I don’t want everywhere to be New York. Fuck street acts. They take up pavement space and they attract tourists.

Do we really need this?

We are told that London needs tourism, “it brings money in”. Of course it does. If we give up pavements space, space at the bar, and space on public transport for 19 million tourists a year then they will pay money for it. But they don’t pay me, they don’t pay you and the government have not expanded roads and services to cater for them. Corporations get the benefit in terms of sales but the people of London, who give up their space and their time, get nothing in return.

Corporate commercialism now permeates every aspect of our lives. Global corporations deliver our food, they monitor our conversations and they intermediate our smallest transactions. Our culture and language has morphed to facilitate the functioning of business “moving forward”. Organisations either become PLCs or they are taken over by PLCs. Human interaction become less Peer-to-Peer and more Business-to-Customer. David vs Goliath. Nations are dispensable. Identity is self-defined from a pick list of irrelevant preferences. We are atomised. In an age desperate for authenticity we are losing the power to be anything but consumers.

Dalston is interesting in this respect. There are no corporate hotels in Dalston. The Global Lodge is privately run and idiosyncratic. Returning late on Friday night I found a bunch of Italian youngsters sitting on the very small step at the front door. Were they staying there? No said the guy at reception but this was normal for Dalston on a weekend.

People are coming to Dalston for a night out even if all it means just sitting about in the street. And why are they doing this? Because it’s real! Even today Dalston is real. A predominantly black area merging into a Turkish area, it has good food, a fantastic market and businesses which have yet to hit the radar of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Shaba Hair and Cosmetics, Aldora, Onur, Smart Tech, Bonema and Yu Xiao. These shops are not listed on any stock exchange. They are run by people not process. The corporates have only a toe hold on Dalston at the moment but be warned, the corporations are coming.

lawyers and bankersThe California based chain Ace have already established a large hotel in Shoreditch to “appeal to the creative class” and the “food festival” in Shoreditch is not all it seems. Styled to appear like a ramshackle collection of individual stalls it is in fact owned by urbanfoodfest.com who are founded by a City lawyer and an investment banker! – Their web site reads like an excerpt from Marketing for Dummies – “…global gourmet street food…premium bar ….Urban cocktails….exhilarating atmosphere…..international reviews,……..achingly cool ….corporate and private events ……brands …Apple, Nike..” – They even list an address for “Market Takeovers”! – This is 21st Century Bullshit culture at its finest. Set up a Ltd company, hire vans and cooks, set up a web site, cut paste, cut paste, cut paste – an off the shelf business to be built up and sold within 10 years – Loads o’money!

My room overlooked the high street and I barely slept all night fo the sound of drunks and wankers. Yes, Dalston is like a magnet for wankers, but Dalston still has something: Authenticity. The shops, the bars, the restaurants are still on a human scale and I still love the place enough to proclaim “Dalston Forever”.