As far as I can remember, I’ve always been utterly fascinated by the East End, although it started more for West Ham United (COYI!) and all the angry oi! bands than any other reason. My fascination quite quickly evaluated into obsession with my thesis written about Cockney slang and then I moved into a tiny room near Bethnal Green where it truly became my love for life.
What is there to love then? I really don’t know. The area which used to be the poorest, dirtiest district in Europe during the war, with many suffering from hunger and incurable diseases, has now transformed into one of the coolest tourist attractions, hipster-ish, sort of artistic, with rents having raised so rapidly that ironically, the most of those who should be originally credited for its charm, were forced to move away of the East End and look for home somewhere else.
I’d risk to say London’s East End is the place for nobody– too expensive for immigrants, too dirty for the natives, too alternative for the posh, too fancy for the alternative, too fashionable for hipsters, too hipster for a typical tourist.
And I’m absolutely fine being nobody with my heart melting each time I look around.
And each time I will see the buskers and the beggars, dozens of Bangladeshi restaurants, huge vintage markets, posh concept stores and tiny shops selling sweets in old-fashioned wrapping.
I will see the greatest pieces of street art, showrooms of young designers, bubbly clubs with drinks being sold in massive fishbowls and crispy goodies from the famous beigel shop on Brick Lane. I will fall in love with this place over and over again. Because no matter where in the world I am, nothing just feels like the East End.
Actually… Let me share a part of one of my favourite books to illustrate what I’m talking about. Hope you enjoy it.
…I hadn’t started school so I must have been about four. I was sitting on the damp, warm ridges of a wooden draining board, swinging my legs, in a big, low-ceilinged room, listening to the sound of women talking and laughing over the din of them doing the weekly laundry. It was the communal wash house under my nan’s buildings, the big block of flats where she lived. All the women had cross-over aprons on and their sleeves rolled up above their elbows. My nan probably had her slippers on, she usually did, and her stockings rolled down to her knees. It must have been hard work when you think of it- they were scrubbing collars and cuffs on their rubbing boards, their hands all chapped red from the hot, sudsy water in the big butler sinks round the room. All that wringing and rising and mangling. Pulling all those heavy sheets and towels and napkins dripping wet out of the boilers. But, like I said, they were laughing, talking. They knew one another. They were friends, part of the neighbourhood. Probably related, a lot of them. Families lived close to one another then. I don’t know where my mum was, she must have had to go out somewhere. But I was all right, I was with my nan. And all the girls made a fuss of me. It was good. Why I’m telling you this is, the difference when we moved to our new place. My mum who had always done her washing the same way as Nan, now had a nice new kitchen. A Formica-covered sink unit and an Ascot water heater, and a twin-tub washing machine that had the washer and spin-dryer attached. It must have been so much easier doing the washing and keeping things clean, but I know my mum was never happy there. It was lonely, you see. There was no one to have a laugh with, no one to mind me if she had to go out. She didn’t know her neighbours and she certainly never had her mum a couple of turnings away. What I’m saying is, I know the house was a lot better than where we’d lived in Poplar, which, to be honest, was no better than a slum when you think of it, but we lost a lot moving away from there. She was never happy. Never really settled. It was never her home. Not like the East End was…