London, you’ve changed…
I queued for brunch the other day, in Balham, of all places. An instagrammers delight complete with fair-trade flat whites in sky blue coffee cups and artfully arranged salmon and poached eggs. It’s a wonder of the modern age that we have managed to, that we even feel the need to, make a poached egg decorative. The cafe has been there for years but was recently mentioned in some mindless listicle as one of the ‘Best Brunches in South London’. So, true to form they’ve ditched their chipped white mugs, collaged the toilet walls and started serving food on faux-vintage wooden boards. You can practically hear the hashtags as you are swiftly paraded in and smuggled out, a sort of revolving door form of service.
In the 1600s apprentices took to the streets of London, rioting and raging because they only had salmon to eat. I’m vaguely tempted to do the same thing, start my own one woman #protest: Stop Objectifying Fish. Stop building facades and building up ostensible perception of things, basing value on aesthetic and social credo.
I suppose what I really want to blame is the new ‘London manifesto’ of nouveau consumerism for the nouveau riche. Consumerism may have gone out of fashion, the 90s took care of that, but it’s been replaced by this eternal search to find that new independent bar or cafe. A niche micro-brewery or vegan market stall, to be photo-ed and broadcasted on social media. Our new consumerism is shrouded in the guise of individuality and it’s spurred this surge of tailor made difference; it is based on a need to formulate our own self-image. All scramble for that new pull for the ‘individual masses’, filter friendly and fuelling impossible rents with no foreseeable end point. In the midst of it we sit, drinking over-priced coffee surrounded by cats. How quaint: let me post it on Facebook.
That dirtiest of words: gentrification.
But what happens afterwards, when our time in the half-light of cool is over? Are we all condemned to the fate of Clapham with its armies of red chinos and 5 pound lagers? Welcome to London.
In the meantime a tiny bookshop in Kennington, which was owned by a magician, closes down; sheets stream from the windows of the remaining council estates urging passers by to ‘Stop the Evictions’. These people that make London the city that it is, the accents that buzzed in Brixton market, the artists and musicians, the cultures and differences. The guy who tried to baptise me outside a tube station.
There is hollowness behind the facade of this new London. Short-term profits and a quick turn over, while people are being turned out. This city has always been organic, adapting and changing with the times, always bringing new movements, new people, new art and new cultures but for the first time it feels as if these changes are happening behind closed doors. An Eton smile and a large cheque to fill an already well-lined pocket with nothing behind it except a stagnant investment.
It may just be that we are staring at the gloomy prospect of five more years of austerity and cuts, or that I left and came back and was disenchanted by what I found. But it seems, to me at least, that something essential about this city that I love is slowly withering, surrounded by a vague buzz of discontent and a smashed Foxton’s window. I’m not being fatalistic, this city will rally, and it will move again, it always has and always will, but for the time being I can’t help but feel that times are changing and not for the better.
Follow Giselle on instagram: @gisellestorms