Friday, 11 November 2011


With remarkable irony, I managed to get a paper cut when opening one of the myriad catalogues that come through the door at this time of year. It was a catalogue for Robert Welch kitchen knives.

I know when it's time to get my haircut. I walk down Bermondsey street and peer in through the window of George the Cypriot barber. If the naked girl on his calendar is a different one from the last time I looked, then it's time for a trim. It's not that I really remember which girl was there before, its just that I recognise that I haven't seen the new beauty before. This week I spied a new girl on the calendar.

George is a feature of the Street, and there are others like him. I would imagine he's been in the street at least thirty, maybe forty or even fifty years. It's changed a lot in that time. Whenever I go in he likes to chat. Just about all his sentences include the word 'fuck' or 'fucking'. And I can always get the latest prices of flights to Cyprus. If I want I can buy a dodgy DVD, batteries, a pen or whatever is his latest scheme to bring in a little bit more money. He has to cut six people's hair a day in order to cover his overheads. I guess from that the rent is not too much. There's usually a good black and white or technicolour film on in the background. I know a lot about his family. His daughter is married to an Italian. I'm amazed that there isn't a Green Line painted down the middle of the road outside his shop. Opposite is a Turkish sandwich shop which I go in a couple of times a week. As far as I know there's no animosity, but I've never seen them speak either. In the Turkish shop I'm known as Mr Marvelous. One of the girls behind the copunter once asked me to marry her. I have a feeling it was more because she wanted a visa than because of the romantic way I asked for a chicken kebab with chilli sauce.

Next to George's is Al's Cafe. I think Al maybe Italian, although I've never asked. It's always busy with workmen buying their English Breakfast...bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and a big mug of tea. Delicious. I'm generally in there after a heavy night out to get my bacon and egg sandwich. White bread, no sauce thank you very much.

Twenty years ago, I started working in another part of London - Clerkenwell which at the time was similar to Bermondsey as it is now. Cheap and cheerful Cafe's and Chinese restaurants serving delicious albeit probably unhealthy foods. The whole area was forgotten and decayed. But in the boom years Clerkenwell changed as the money moved in. Printers were replaced by Corporate Design agencies, textile traders were replaced by contract carpet suppliers. The area became gentrified, the cafes went to be replaced by hyper-trendy restaurants and cutting edge bars. Shabby terraced houses were replaced by high-rise designer flats. On the one hand I can't say it's a bad thing. It's progress for sure, but whimsically I feel some heart and soul has gone forever.

The same is becoming true of Bermondsey. It's now fashionable. At one end of the street is The Shard, the spike of glass that rises high above the London sky-line and will contain designer flats, a fashionable hotel and restaurants cutting edge bars. At the other end of the street is the new White Cube Gallery full of uber-trendy arty types with more than a few bob to spend. And just beyond is Bermondsey Square, the new block of concrete and glass hotels, offices, bars and restaurants. In its centre every Friday is the 'world-famous' Bermondsey market - a now motley collection of market stalls flogging stuff that may well have come from a car boot sale. It's not the same as it was when you could smell, taste and feel the history.

I'm not sure how long George, Al and the Turkish sandwich bar will be around. I'm afeared not as long as I would hope. If I'm lucky they'll be here for another couple of years which is when I'm planning to move out of my office and work from home. Probably a shed at the bottom of the garden if The Cat's Mother has her way.

That's progress.