I have previously mentioned my intention to produce a history of the London Musicians Collective, and hope to make it a bit more than just a dry ‘history’; more of a ‘story’ really, with a plot and characterisation to do justice to this most interesting of organisations, and to the vicissitudes that it suffered, over its 32-year history.
My second project, one that I have been incubating, like a fussy hen, over the past couple of years (but put on the back burner by my work on early free improv), is a study of the re-gentrification (and its implications and effects) of the area that myself and my family (my wife and our three children) have lived in for the past 25 years. This refers back to my last blog about Iain Sinclair, and his various studies of Hackney. Not that I have any intention of trying to imitate the un-imitatable, or indeed any reputable historian. I remain a gentleman (I hope) amateur. Sinclair’s unique style and versification remain a cynosure for me.
What I would like to do is offer a take on an geographical (as well as psycho-geographical) area that has re-invented itself or, more accurately, returned to its previous original incarnation as an upper-middle-class enclave, as have also previously, over the years, several other ‘gentrified’ areas like Notting Hill Gate and Highbury, although both of these are somewhat grander, and even more stuffy, than the uber-suburb of Crouch End, which is now ineluctably associated with Bob Dylan, Will Self and Stephen King, for Christ’s sake!
There is surprisingly, little of any non-article substance written about Gentrification in London (or that I can find, at least). Its undoubted benefits and its undoubted horrors, perhaps best represented by areas of Hackney, for example. I went on a walk with a mate in Victoria Park the other weekend, a park previously untrod by myself and my usual escort, Romeo the Jack Russell. What I was particularly taken with in this outing, was an area which has been named by, presumably, estate agents and their groupies, Victoria Village. Just like Crouch End Village, (wherever that might be), a notional rural arcadium that exists to validate the gas-guzzling 4 x, 4′s and the multiple bucolic coffee outlets, frequented by the ‘yummy mummies’ (say what?) who drive these things, and their ‘partners’, and lap-toppers of all sexes. This ‘oasis’, as I think these sort of conclaves tend to called, is proximate to the already shape-shifting Hackney Wick, which is as bizarre, for those of us with long memories, as what has become the new Broadway Market and London Fields, which were previously semi-dangerous Wild East outposts that have now become places that one can only aspire to live in - as Linda Grant once quoted her mother as saying, “Hackney is where you come from, not where you went to”.
Ditto Crouch End, in a more minor key? It’s funny to consider the staid, conservative-minded and largely Conservative-voting community that set up these ‘villages’ back in the day, the largely non - conformist Victorian suburb-creating creators of these suburbs, and which still largely constitute, whatever their liberal (with a small ‘l’) views might be, the modern dwellers of these essentially conservative ‘enclaves’. Hence the predominance of multiple bars (not bars that sell booze) over their windows, and the sophisticated alarm systems that infest these homes, to protect themselves from their untrustworthy fellow-villagers. Shame, that. Particularly noticeable around Columbia Road Flower Market, I’m afraid, petal! These properties look like they are setting into a war zone, which perhaps they are.
So, my intention is to try to produce a piece on this phenomenon that is both informative and interesting - an extended version.perhaps. of the infamous Crap Towns piss-take, which described Crouch End with the following priceless encomiums:
“The Tyranny of Pesto”
“The Clock Tower That Thinks Its Glastonbury Tor”
“The Obsession With Property”
“The Rootless Residents Who Think They’re Locals”
“The Parking, the Papers, the Smell, the Hill, the Horror”…the Horror
All cruel but true, I’m afraid. And I should know. After all, I’m a 62-year old Baby Boomer, who lucked into the property boom at the right time, who is both appalled by, and secretly (not any more!) gratified by this unearned income that the hypertrophied property market has provided. And I’m from the West Midlands, to boot.
Mea culpa, Colonel Kurtz, mea culpa...
These Crap Towns guys deserve an award (Sam and Dan, I believe, as opposed to Sam and Dave?) - never has the sheer pomposity and self-regard of these ‘gentrified’ areas been better skewered and barbecued on their own self-congratulationary rhetoric. I am currently favouring The Tyranny of Pesto as a working title for my book on the subject. I could never have thought of such an apposite title, even if I had been offered an army of monkeys and typewriters.But perhaps this is only an inverse snobbery? Aaaarhgh, please help me with my copyright anxieties…!!!!