I was born and raised in West London so the East was an alien land. Once I traipsed all the way over to the Scala cinema in Kings Cross for a party and walked back to Hammersmith with my sister. Not having Google Maps in those days, we worked our way home by reading the postcodes on street signs (NW = bad, WC = good).
In the 1980s, a school friend moved to Old Street and all we could ask was “Why?” We knew it was somewhere close to Whitechapel Road – and that was the cheapest property on the Monopoly board, right?
But then my centre of gravity changed. I got a place at City Uni and moved into a flat in Angel. My London compass swung round: after a childhood on the East-West District Line, the North-South Northern line became my axis.
The lift shaft at Angel tube station was the deepest in London and when you stood on the narrow platform, the trains would thunder in from both directions. The next stop down was Old Street. In 1992 my friend Dotun Adebayo told me he was starting up a publishing company there, in Hoxton Square.
Where?! I went to Dotun’s new office and all there was in the middle of the square was a great big rubbish dump. Most of the buildings were run down or derelict. In one corner there was a little club called The Blue Note, a tiny, trendy beacon of things to come.
Fast forward twenty years and wow, how it’s changed. You can’t move for clubs, bars and business start-ups. This part of town may have been immortalized in Nathan Barley and mocked by the Shoreditch Twat, the Hoxton Fin may be the epitomy of naff self-consciousness, and the world’s first popup shopping mall beyond parody, but the continued success of this area defies the critics.
Shoreditch House is one of the best members’ clubs in London with its own swimming pool on the roof (open air pools more decadent in London than LA – mainly because you can’t actually use them). Google and Microsoft have set up offices by Silicon Roundabout. Heck! There’s even a Pret on the once-shabby Great Eastern Street. Shoreditch, you’ve come a long way, baby! It’s a damn shame I’m now back in West London.
Disclosure: My short story, Hoxton Babylon, was published in Westside Storeys (Xpress, 2003)