Friday 26 April 2013

Immigrants go home

I think I've been banned from booking and taking The Cat's Mother to any of the sort of events I like.  Now she's a west end theatre sort of person, and I'm more of a east side Fringe sort of person.  Generally this has worked well because with complimentary tastes we each get to see something that we wouldn't otherwise have done.  In fact the sonnet walk at the weekend managed to satisfy us both...we traipsed through the back streets of the east end, allowing me to spot the street art I like so much, whilst she got to hear the Shakespeare she likes.  However, Tuesday night it all became a bit challenging.  This was how it was described:

"Project Colony is Fourth Monkey’s site specific production at Trinity Buoy Wharf, a follow up to their recent sell out and award winning production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis at the Edinburgh Festival. The audience become part of the action, as colony inspectors in Project Colony, an immersive, site–specific piece at Trinity Buoy Wharf, based on existentialist author Franz Kafka’s short story, In the Penal Colony."

For me this was manna from heaven.  For The Cat's Mother it became purgatory.

Trinity Buoy Wharf is in the middle of nowhere.  Literally.  My punishment for dragging us there was two blisters the size of golf balls from a new pair of shoes I was was a long walk from station to Wharf.  My reward, our reward was the most spectacular views of London.

The bar in the performance space was somewhat there was no gin or tonic for the gin and tonics we ordered, so I resorted to Jack Daniels (straight), and she had vodka and lemonade.  There were thirty six performers, and at best 27 in the audience.  If you took out the parents of performers and friends of the theatre company, the cast outnumbered the audience by about five to one.  In fact we may have been the only ones who had paid for tickets.  Well I enjoyed the performers coming up and chatting to us in character, asking us what England was like, and telling us this was their first party.  The Cat's Mother recoiled in horror.  I quite liked being taken down into dark, damp cellars to witness torture and execution, and even enjoyed returning to the colony's town council debate.  But it would be true to say, The Cat's Mother wanted to leave at the interval...actually she probably wanted to leave within five minutes of the start.  It would be fair also to comment that the two lead characters were the weakest of the lot, and gave the thing the feel of a school play.

Today, my favourite sandwich shop will close, to be replaced shortly by a swanky new French restaurant.

It is a sign of the times, a sign of the local economy that this is happening.  Twenty years or so ago I started working in a part of London called Clerkenwell.  It was undeveloped, unreformed and pretty unknown.  The streets were lined with sandwich shops, Chinese take-aways, curry houses, greasy spoons.  Sophisticated it wasn't.  But it had character in spades.  But Clerkenwell became trendy, and one by one the old shops and take-aways closed to be replaced by smart and swanky establishments.  I'm all for progress, but it was a shame as the 'local's were driven away to be replaced by metrosexuals.  I was part of that - I'm a comfortably off consultant.  Seven years or so ago I moved to Bermondsey.  True, Bermondsey street has long had the uber trendy Fashion and Textile Museum, but that was only because it was run down...and cheap.  None of my friends and business contacts knew where Bermondsey was....and struggled to find it when they came to visit.  The Street itself was safe, but wander too far away and a mugging was a virtual certainty, leave your car you'd return to a smashed window and missing radio.  Our office was broken into three times within two months when we arrived.  Yes the area had problems...big problems, but it too had character, and lots of small, independent traders.  The Street has become gentrified, and the surrounding area is more prosperous and calmer.  But inevitably the same process is driving the old style places away.  Again, I can't deny a degree of culpability...I'm still a comfortably off consultant, and reflect the type of people coming into the area. Prices of property have rocketed - at the corner of our mews, there were some shared-ownership flats.  I'm not sure what happened but they were sold off to a private developer, and have just sold for £700,000 each - a high price for a small, poorly built two-bedroom apartment.  We still have the greasy spoon run by Italians...for a while longer...and we still have the Cypriot barber (although I had to stop going there when he started included trimming my ear as part of the haircut).  My favourite sandwich shop is run by Turks, and they will be heading back to Turkey once the shop shuts. Once, one of the girls behind the counter asked me to marry her...I think she needed a work permit...and I doubt that will happen again! For me that's a shame, the price of progress.  The Street will be 'nicer', but a tad less interesting, and probably less friendly and welcoming.  Shame.  Real shame.