Wednesday, 28 July 2010


After the frantic battle of people passing through Whitechapel and the disinterested obnoxiousness of those dawdling around Hoxton, the streets felt silently normal. The roads contracted back close together; the dwellings imploded from beglassed chic flats into terraced housing. Shadwell seemed mildly abandoned, or perhaps simply occupied by those less concerned by the trends of the world. Yet even in Shadwell there was change. On the compact road down to the stations, alongside the tired old supermarket and kebab house new flats were being built, new blocks dug deep into the ground, the foundations attempting to reach as far down as those who had been there for generations.

Some five years or so ago, at a party in suburban Leeds I met a couple who had moved out to a barren Thames subsidiary, Greenhithe or some such nonentity of a place, but before that they had barricaded themselves away from life in Shadwell. I can barely picture her, but he was one of those characters destined to be old early, from his dour demeanour to his sensibly grey marks and sparks sweater he smelled plain. Annoyingly, he had sat himself down next the stereo which was playing CDs I’d mixed especially. Party tunes from sixties classics to swirling hip-hop; I was deliberately trying to be overtly eccentrically cool. Check me out, it practically shouted, smug shit that I can be. He kept turning the volume down. It’d get to the point where the tunes couldn’t be heard over the chatter so I’d turn it back up.

Then he’d turn it down again.

Eventually, he said: ‘I don’t really like music.’

Later in the evening, some tea lights and church candles were broken out and scattered around the lounge forcing ambience. I noticed him shift to the edge of the armchair.

‘What’s the matter,’ I spitefully asked, possibly with a slight slur to my voice, ‘don’t you like candles either?’

‘They’re a fire risk,’ he replied. ‘Do you know how many people die in house fires caused by unwatched candles? But it’s okay. I’ll keep an eye on them.’

And he did, closely and for the rest of the evening.

Shadwell. It’s a confusing place. Before the Jubilee line extension opened, but after the Dockland’s Light Railway had been installed to ship out disgruntled city workers to Canary Wharf, people who attempted to make their way to New Cross for the first time would glance at the tube map and see that the East London line intersected with the DLR at Shadwell. Somehow this would always seem easier than going off piste and onto the overland via London Bridge. They would strut out to Bank, full of confidence, no doubt meander aimlessly around the labyrinth of the station for half an hour; finally find a DLR to Stratford and shuttle off one stop to Shadwell. On arrival, they would step out of the train glance around and fail to find any helpful signs. They’d descend down from the platforms in the sky to the packed streets, often smoulderingly dark for this seemed to be mainly a winter error, and continue to fail to find the East London line. This is because, intersect is a generous description for a station that’s four hundred metres away and around a corner. You have to exit the controlled environment of the public transport network and interact with the real world for a while.

I spent a lot of time in Shadwell when I was evacuated out to Blackwall. The company I worked for had finally moved out of Crossharbour and into the City. I’d duly moved away from the DLR only to for the bastards to purchase another company based in the weirdness that is Blackwall and send me back. It was the most frustratingly annoying commute I’ve ever had to undertake and the switch at Shadwell was at the epicentre. It was winter (something about Shadwell really draws people in on chilly evenings) so it was perpetually dark and in my suit, carrying my little work case, I felt conspicuous as I walked between the two stations, sometimes my shoes crunching the broken glass of the telephone boxes at the foot of the DLR’s stairs, from which New Cross residents used to receive confused phone calls along the lines of ‘I’m in Shadwell. It’s slightly creepy. Where’s the bloody tube?’

To which the residents of New Cross, who nearly always used the sensible overland when coming from the City or the West End, would reply: ‘No idea.’

So I lurked on Shadwell DLR station and nustled myself down into the depths of my then new duffel coat. It sits high above its people with a particularly urban view of the corridors that snake around the exterior of blocks of flats; sheets drying on balconies with no room for anything else save the faded plastic of outdoor toys and desperately exhausted potplants. The concrete square was cracked and open; where the wind whistled across it nonchalantly, gleefully pointing out that no-one else had gotten up yet.

It made me tired. It still makes me tired. It made me feel idenityless, little more than a cog within a larger motion. I hadn’t even realised I was looking for something else from whatever I was.

I was fed up with working for big business and the office politics of smarm and guile that were served up alongside it. Blackwall, just a few stops further up the DLR, was the most ridiculous place to have an office block. Four mammoth and squat pugs of capitalism were enveloped by a wall that looked as belonged on the perimeter of a Victorian prison. On the inside there was a precocious bar with no cliental, a news agents for people who had already arrived at work and a sandwich shop. The rest of the world was kept at bay. People told me tales of running from the security barriers to the DLR station, spooked by the noises from behind the railway pillars that kept it aloof, or from the deserted concrete play courts, or the rattle of chain fencing in the wind. Fucking idiots.

But, as I stood on the platform above the congested traffic that inched its way mournfully through the A12-13-tunnel junction I could kind of understood what they meant. It felt like we were working on the tip of an apocalypse; as though some sort of dystopian nightmare was colliding from the council housing and the office blocks and the snarled up traffic and the infrequent silently gliding trains and none of them, no-one, wanted to be there of all the places.
The DLR is a funny thing. It’s like a hint of the future; almost like a monorail in an idealised vision of a tomorrow that was in fact yesterday. Driverless trains take worker drones in the sky and under the river; through the gleaming arching substructures of towers reaching up to the money-lined heavens. It’s like something from a fiction that wasn’t going to come true, but then it hiccupped out a shadow of itself. Driverless trains make sitting at the front like being on a rollercoaster and it dips and dives under the water at Cutty Sark before breaking back out into the sunlight at Mudchute and repeating the trick on the way out of Shadwell to the termini of the city. It goes to many strange and wonderful places Elverson Road, Pudding Mill Lane, Beckton, the horror show that is the Excel Centre; further and further east stretching out the distances of Essex hugging the Thames and darting off in weird subsidiaries.

All of which is pretty irrelevant to Shadwell, other than this is where the DLR commences. Oh, sure, it goes on to Bank and Tower Gateway, but they’re on the inside of the congestion zone, behind the barrier of the square mile, integrated properly (more or less) to the rest of the tube system. No, it’s only once the trains reach Shadwell that they clamber out of the underground tunnels and into the sky and then they become a law unto themselves, ignoring the rest of the network and going their own way. Wherever that may be.

Sitting around google-Steve’s and Steph’s not so long ago, I regaled some inappropriately late meander across London’s bus network for no other reason than it made feel smugly superiorly cool, Lucy yawned, stretched slightly feline like and then asked: ‘How do you have so much time to go out? Don’t you go to work anymore?’

‘Nah, I just don’t sleep much,’ I replied even though it tasted false, ‘besides if
I’m not out I’d be in alone and that creates problems all of its own.’

Shadwell was once just a creek. It was once a cluster of huts on the outskirts of the city bound to the crook of water, until in 1587 when it was drained away by government decree. The East End is full of areas being torn down and rebuilt on the whims of the state; it helps the people cement their self-imposed feelings of rebellious anti-establishment.

I stepped across the pin tight narrow run of Cable Street. Further up the road was a pub, the Crown and Dolphin. Its immaculate sign from another time glinted in the sunlight, it even appeared to tilt somewhat in a non-existent wind. It looked welcoming. I quite fancied a cold beer, but if I was to have one it wouldn’t be there. The Crown and Dolphin had closed down a while ago just leaving its perfect façade out on the street to fool the world.

By the Eighteenth century Shadwell had been rebuilt and fostered a vigorous spa business; wealthy Londoners and landed gentry enjoyed the sulphurous waters and basked in the healing properties of the natural world. As I walked, this thought made me chuckle especially when I remembered the West Londoner’s comments about Whitechapel. It almost seems a typical Eastenders scam; bring ‘em in, soak ‘em up, fleece ‘em for every groat.

‘Is it even possible to make sarcastic facial expressions?’ I asked glancing up and possibly raising one eyebrow as I did so.

‘David,’ sighed the dark haired girl with the soft southern French accent, ‘if anyone could make sarcastic facial expressions, it’d be you.’

I crossed out of the packed houses, pas the reformed sailors church now used as a crèche replete with bouncy castle under the nave and onto the blandness traffic clugged drag of the Highway down to Stepney. It used to be called the Ratcliffe Highway, but the prefix was dropped after the murders of 1811. Two attacks in the space of twelve days. A drapers shop and then a pub. Two families gutted. Seven people dead. Fragments left alive to come to terms with their grief.

John Williams got the blame. An Irish down-on-his luck sailor with long held apparent grudges against people he may not have even met. He never got to explain though, seeing as he hung himself shortly after the arrest. The tabloids had whipped up a sensational controversy to be adored. Did Williams kill anyone, let alone himself? We don’t know. The local mob appeared on cue to cut down his shit soaked corpse. For good measure they jabbed a stake deep into his heart and dragged him through the streets behind a cart, dumping what was left of him into a pit.

Almost two centuries later a gas company dug him up again, stake and all, on the corner where Cannon Street meet St George’s. The landlord of the Crown and Dolphin decided to keep the skull as a souvenir and there it still sits, behind the bar, hollow eyes following the swirling movement of people until the pub closed its doors for last time. I wonder what happened to the skull. Perhaps it finally got to rest.
As I crossed the road, I paused to wait for an imaginary coach containing Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey to pelt on past on his way to Limehouse. He went to smoke opium, perhaps with Sherlock Holmes, in the den painted by Charles Dickens for the Mystery of Edwin Drood. The fictions of London occasionally overlay each other uncontrollably in my head. That was Dickens’ final novel; Shadwell, a place for literary giants to come and die.

Beyond the Highway and the buildings morphed again; they shifted from houses to converted warehouses hosting alternately spacious and cramped apartments. The streets remained cobbled for effect and at the end, overlooking the Thames, was the Shadwell Basin.

Once it at the Empire’s heart; the collection and distribution point of food and resources and cold hard cash tainted by blood exhumed from lands around the world.
After centuries it fell into disuse before being reborn as a false plaything for the privileged. Its marina style is trying so hard to evoke the Mediterranean, but it wasn’t. It was in Shadwell. When you sweep in westbound on the DLR, the view out one window shows bobbing yachts and wooden ships restored like airfix kits and dingys catching thrust of the tide and the view out the other window of blocks of congested flats and the strained people who live in them.

The basin is accessible by the old iron drawbridge that once served the docks. As I crossed over it, my footsteps left a slight echo of a clang in my wake and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was there to keep the plebs out or the over-indulged yuppies in. Whose land was it after all? Or was it no-one’s but the city’s? The city acting as an overlord to us, giving us all life through the toxic blood of the Thames. In front of me I found a cramped narrow passage way down to the river, one of the few remaining steps into its murk.

Wilfred Owen, the roar of Flander’s shells still in the horrors of his memory, wrote about that spot: “I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair./Along the wharves by the waterhouse,/And through the dripping slaughterhouse,/I am the shadow that walks there.’

But if I was at the Thames, then I was in Wapping and it was time to think of some different stories.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


It was one of those Sunday mornings when you wake up possibly still a little drunk from the night before. There’s no hang-over, which with the memories of the night before feels woefully wrong. In fact everything feels weirdly good, aside from a slight sludgyness, as though your body is sinking in syrup. Anyway, it was one of those types of mornings and we sat in the shade because it was too hot to concentrate on much else, our bare feet jutting out into the sunshine. Me and the two guys I’d only met the day before sat and talked about nothing much.

‘What’s that place in Liverpool, the one that’s always used as example of Britain screwing itself up?’ asked the one from West London. ‘You know, the one where the kids have guns and everyone wears a shell suit?’

‘Croxteth?’ the one from up north hesitantly replied.

‘Yeah. Croxteth. It’s a no-go area, right? Unless you’re born there. See, the thing with London is we don’t have areas like that. There’s nowhere you can’t go into. The city’s too mixed up.’

‘I guess,’ I pondered slightly sceptically yet adding my probably unwanted opinion, ‘places get stereotyped. Like Whitechapel. Someone from out of London probably has all these negative images of it, but it’s all right. It’s just context. Wherever you’re comfortable with.’

‘God,’ he looked shocked ‘I didn’t mean somewhere like that. Why the hell would you want to go to Whitechapel?’

If this was a movie we’d now cut to a long sweeping shot. One that starts high overhead and then arches across me as I stand on the bottom corner of Brick Lane and Whitechapel Road. All around, London life bumbles along in all its glory of bright coloured saris and wrap around shades and folks on their way home overlapping with those heading out and then the people only just keeping gtheir nose out the sewer of everyday life and then the camera zooms in for my close up. If I were so inclined I might light a cigarette or raise an eyebrow or curl the corner of my mouth.

‘Bloody Whitechapel,’ I might say.

But this isn’t a film. It’s just me putting words on a page and then you reading them off a screen. But just so you know: That sort of self-indulgent dramatisation is how my head works sometimes.

It’s a strange area, Whitechapel. It’s the name that springs into most people’s heads when they refer to the East End. It’s the East End of fifties gangsters and allegedly unlocked doors and blitz spirit and pearly queens and cultural integration, but it feels more transient than that. On the monopoly board it’s partnered with Old Kent Road as the toilet brown bargain basement set to collect, and like the Old Kent Road it’s more of a thoroughfare than a place in its own right. It’s surrounded by plenty of character, Aldgate to the west, Shoreditch to the north, Wapping to the south and Stepney to the east as though it’s squeezed into a few small blocks of buildings by the financial city, the Thames and places people really live. And yet somehow, it also encompasses all these other places, cradles them within its lovingly notorious arms until they shrug free with an identity all of their own.

A couple of years I ago I was stuck in traffic around the Aldgate one-way loop. I glanced at the dashboard and noticed the temperature gauge creeping up. It hadn’t simply shifted a little bit, in a way where I might have been mistaken, I could see the needle sweeping towards the red block of danger. I switched the engine off, thwacked the hazard lights on and jumped out into the monsoon.

The rain pounded down. Fat dollops of water broke over my head. It instantly soaked into my clothes, into my skin. I felt underwater. I popped the bonnet, not because I thought I’d be able to fix the damn thing, but as an international sign of “no, I really have broken down” to the twat angrily honking his horn. I peered into the piping hot steamy and dark recesses where the rain water evaporated as it landed and ignored the shout of ‘wanker’ as the honker passed.

I couldn’t stay where I was and block the whole system. I had to move the car somehow. I glanced around and saw, about thirty metres behind me, an access road to one of the office monstrosities that form the middle of Aldgate roundabout. At the time, the area was being resulted, the lines of access remodelled in a way that still doesn’t make sense, but it did mean the gates to this private road had been left open for goods vehicles to get through. It would do. It would get me out of the way. The problem was, how to get there. I didn’t want to turn the engine back on in case I damaged it, or the needle piped into the red and the whole thing disappeared in flames.

But cars are fucking heavy, you know?

I leant my shoulder under the driver’s doorframe, one hand holding the steering wheel, the other against the back window, slick with rain as it continued to gush down. My teeth were barred as I strained and the car rolled slowly. I became aware of a presence to my left. A man holding an umbrella, his head cocked curiously, watched.

‘Have you broken down?’ he asked in an accent vaguely eastern European.

‘No, I find pushing my car backwards the most efficient way of moving around the city,’ I snarkily replied.

Without another word he folded his umbrella away and leant into the bonnet. The added momentum quickly took us around the corner, although not swiftly enough for the bus driver who flicked us the finger anyway.

Out of everyone’s way, I reopened the bonnet and took another look. The dirty plastic water bulb was empty. I poured my drinking water into it, only for it flush straight out the bottom of the radiator in a splatter that was drowned out by the falling rains.

‘There is problem,’ my new friend pointed out.

‘You think?’

Despite my hostility he hung around whilst I waited for the RAC man to fight his way through the traffic. We sat on the closed bonnet of my inert car letting the rain near-drown us, turn our skin baby wrinkled, talking about nothing much.

Bloody Whitechapel.

I came to Whitechapel on one of my first visits to the city. We went to the Whitechapel Gallery. To see what, I can’t remember, but I do distinctly remember sitting in a greasy café drinking tea out of a cup with a saucer and being a little bit oddly mesmerised by the concrete blandness of the metropolitan university building on the other side of the road. Why this memory lingers so vividly I cannot say. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it feels like it should have been significant, as though we’d been telling each other secret histories. It probably wasn’t. It was probably just endless silliness yet for some reason the image of my then girlfriend drinking tea from a dainty cup trying to symbolise something that had already departed with this anonymous building in the background has stuck around the back of my head.

The café, however, is now probably a Subway.

Some time after we split I found myself in the Whitechapel Gallery once again. I’d gone to see the Sophie Calle exhibition, the one where she took a letter from the lover ditching her and got different women from different walks of life to interpret it in different ways. A clown, a singer, a dancer, a linguist, all pulling it apart and giving the words an emotional context through the mirror of their own experiences. It was rewritten as an email, a formal letter, a scrawled note, the words changed not just by their delivery but by the surface they were etched upon. Take Care of Yourself, both a distraught final gasp of love and also a pithy phrase, used just to couch the dismissal in something approaching affection. It’s a beautiful piece of work and, probably because we’d first seen it together at the Venetian biennale, it made me think about her.

Another ghost, but then the city haunts in many people in many different ways. Somewhere just behind the main road is the grave of a church, the public garden that still holds the skeletal shape of St Mary St Mary Matfelon. The church was the original parish church and is sometimes whimsically referred to the invisible church or the disappearing church. It seems to have spent as much time being absent as it has being there. It was destroyed in the great storms of 1362, the raging fire of 1880, and then again the fire from bombs in 1942 and finally to the overarching pressure of ruin in 1952. All that remains are the shadows of failure.

Further up the road, outside the tube station – the first of the old East London line stations – people were selling Jack the Ripper tours. These are both genuine and a con; Jack and murder wrapped up in another conspiracy to take unsuspecting tourists deep into the side streets and then deprive them of their belongings. They’re not all like that, but you can’t help but suspect that for some the risk of getting a wrong ‘un, much like the risk the girls took with punters when Jack was abroad, adds something to the experience. A misunderstood false layer of empathy.

People seem to occasionally quote this blog back at me. People whom I’m not aware of reading it will sometimes come out with statements that seem weighted, as though it’s some kind of test to see whether it’s really me or not. For example, I have mainly been coatless in the heat of the summer, but the other evening it threatened rain and so I wore my leather jacket.

‘I like your jacket,’ she said with a smile, ‘it suits you.’

‘It’s very old,’ I replied apologetically.

‘Leather jackets should be old,’ she said as her fingers brushed the lapels. ‘It gives it character.’

Okay, so I’m probably reading too much into that, but the other week the girl with the short dark hair and the southern French accent and I walked through Bloomsbury discussing our inclination towards intoxication when she said: ‘It’s like I don’t have a stop switch; as though I never reach that point other people have when I’ve had enough.’

It was an oddly specific turn of phrase and it made we wonder how much I should be sharing and whether the lines between what’s real and what’s in my head are too blurred. She said it and I felt another chink of the facade tumble away, as though in words the truth could be found.

The last time I inched my way along the Whitechapel Road, I drove one-handed and took photographs out of the window. I was looking for backdrops to a podcast; images of grime and urban murk to flash onto a green screen and prevent the people speaking from having to actually go down there for themselves. I parked up to wander around and left my car at the end of Mount Terrace, supposedly the former site of the Whitechapel mound. The enormous earth pile apparently stood forty feet high and would now rival the hospital for dominance of the road. Iain Sinclair wondered, and I agree, what happened to all the earth?

The Royal London squats moodily in hub of frantic activity. People are flushed in and out, often looking equally distressed in both directions. Sirens whirl and the noise of life and then what comes later is everywhere. The helicopter snarls across the rooftops and lowers itself almost lovingly down onto the pad at the peak of the Western wing. A giant, roaring red harbinger of aid. I’m sure there was a more logical reason for locating London’s sole airborne response unit in Whitechapel than the dreadful traffic clogging up the ambulance trails, but as the carbon monoxide flooded the hot summer air I couldn’t think of one.

Above the main entrance hangs a cracked and rusted bell. It used to be rung to summon orderlies to hold down the patients during surgery. Thick, possibly nervous hands pinned bodies to a wooden table with the etchings and the dried crimson from previous occasions still visible. The blade would bite into skin and all the patient could was bite down themselves on a block of wood between their teeth. That and the knowledge that every flinch risked greater injury were the only acknowledgements to anaesthetics. The lucky ones blacked out.

But then Whitechapel likes bells. Big Ben was cast in the Whitechapel foundry before being liberated away to the west.

John Merrick, the Elephant Man, lived in the Royal London for four years before his death. He stayed in a little room overlooking a square that now no longer exists whilst the country poked and prodded and pondered what exactly he was. Merrick lived there and only hundreds of metres away Jack was razoring his way through the women of the night. One of the more absurd Jack theories is that he and Merrick are one and the same, as though the Elephant Man couldn’t contain his urges and was embarrassed at being so easily identified by the girls that he silenced them. But that’s just London, isn’t it? The mishmash of hope and fear is so tightly overlain with each other as to become one.

Shortly after I arrived in London on a permanent basis I went to a wedding party just up the road in the upstairs rooms of the Blind Beggar. That place is also submerged in its own contradictions. Ronnie Cray blew away George Cornell in 1966 and William Booth in 1860 delivered a sermon that led to the foundation of the Salvation Army atop the same bar; echoes of good and evil whilst you get a pint in. Still, in 2001 I was there because someone from work was marrying her Columbian boyfriend in order to keep him in the country. We went along for the piss up.

It was a crazy fucked up affair comprising of her distinctly annoyed Oirish relations who supped Guinness in heavy draughts and a gaggle of stereotypically middle class South Americans over on student visas, all a mix of greasy hair and half-grown beards and shirts open down to just above the navel. I had a couple and then left them to seemingly try to beat the others traditional dance routines into submission.

Whitechapel. Sheesh, it’s just such a bloody cliché of itself at times there’s no helping it.

I’d just about had enough of its noisy smelly self-mythologising self as I stepped over the pearly king only just wearing a shattered suit of buttons and bottle tops and with the can of Strongbow black broken in his hand. I glanced down at him and wanted to tell him it’d be all right, but I couldn’t. I might be lying. He’d just have to find out for himself because I was heading down a quieter mess of narrowed terraced cottages on my way to Shadwell.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


This is where you came in. Sort of. Back in the beginning, if you remember, I was out in the Bedfordshire countryside being plastered by acorn-hard balls of paint whilst the new-old East London line was resurrected and…and… No. That wasn’t it.

Was it when Rob and I went out to the Big Chill bar, just further down Brick Lane from where I was standing in this semi-fictionalised recreation? That night when I couldn’t find the new Shoreditch Station? Well, kind of. That was when I decided to walk from Dalston to home, following the railway as it chomped through the East End’s skyline and uploading the new layout of the city into my head, but that wasn’t when it all started. Nor was it when we walked past Miquita Oliver looking all gauchely showbiz on the street corner outside The Golden Heart or, indeed, a decade or so before when, in the same pub, people had been so drunk they’d tried to use the basin as a toilet and it had been wrenched off the wall in a sloping mush of piss and faeces and jetting tap water.

That wasn’t me, that time. In fact, I may not have even been there. I may just be borrowing someone else’s memories. I can’t always tell anymore what’s my experience and what’s a story retold too many times, but I do know that every time I walk past The Golden Heart I hear the crack of porcelain hitting a dirty tiled floor.

No, this is a story and so I get to start, like so many of the best things in life, with a kiss as the first dawn light yawned itself across the sky. But the beginning might also be the end and I wasn’t there yet. Instead, I was in the middle. More or less. I was in Shoreditch.

The route out of Arnold Circus enabled me to skirt around the back of the old Tea Building. Its rear is less coldly designed than smooth reflective cladding front and so I’m protected from the vaguely pretentious mix of media consultants, psuedo-publishers and art spaces. The railway line was clear to see in front of me as it arched above the unfinished building site. I wondered if the reason I’d failed to find the station previously was because the new managers had deliberately hidden it away to save it from closure in advance. Stations called Shoreditch never have much luck. The first was opened in 1840 as a mainline station, although it had changed its name to Bishopsgate long before it burnt down in 1964. It then got some revenge by haunting the new line’s construction. Even as far back as 2002, when I’d sold my soul for an architectural magazine, I remember reading about Bishopsgate’s goods depot and its remarkable example of ornate gates that needed to be saved from the vandalism of regeneration.

The second existed between 1865 and 1940 and was also an overland station, but one that existed in the sky, built into the viaduct as the line headed up to join the old Haggerston station. They went down together, not from bomb damage but from lack of commuters. Most of whom were, presumably, busy dying in the sands of North Africa or the jungles of East Asia.

Shoreditch tube station, the northern most point of the old East London line, was open between 1869 and 2002 - nominally at least. As a child I had a large poster map of the tube network on my bedroom wall. Despite having rarely visited London I found the coloured lines and mysteriously named stations mesmerising, but none more than Shoreditch. I was fascinated by its disclaimer to only be open peak hours Monday to Friday and then Sunday morning. Unaware of the city’s geography I couldn’t understand why it would keep those irregular hours. What would happen to people who needed to get in or out on a Wednesday afternoon?

Perhaps it was this fascination that took me, when I arrived in London, to the other end of the short, obscure orange line? Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to answer a ten year old unasked question?

Nah. It was the same reason as I do most things. It was because of a girl.
This time I was determined to find the station entrance and I carefully followed the line along. It proved to be not so expertly hidden down a side street. There was nothing mysterious about it. There was even a handy pedestrian sign on the main road. All of which raised two concerns: One, a sense of vague disappointment that what I had suspected might be the biggest challenge of my quest in fact proved shockingly easy. Two, how much had I drunk that night?

Never mind. There was still the journey, after all. Still much more history to be passed through. As if to remind me that I was grounded in 2010, my stomach chose that moment to growl and gurgle and demand to be fed.

I sat on Hilly Fields late one Saturday afternoon recently with my book in my lap and the view out to the plains of Bexleyheath and beyond them Kent sprawling out in front me. A group of people in their mid-twenties, three girls and a boy, had been picnicking in the summer sunshine. The one girl, the one in the knee length denim shorts, swayed as she stood up, the empty bottle of wine dangling from her fingers.
‘Anyone want the rest of this cake?’ the boy asked.

‘Oo, no. Not me.’ Another girl in a long sweeping green and beflowered dress said. ‘I’ve only just lost all that weight.’

‘Yeah,’ shorts girl sat back down with a thump. ‘I noticed. You look fab. How did you do it?’

‘Oh, it was easy. I starved myself for two weeks. Didn’t eat a single morsel of food. Still went into work, mind. I was a bit spacey after the third day, but then that cleared and it was like walking on air.’

Her friends all nodded and mmed their approval.

Brick Lane, for many non-Londoners, may be closely associated with Monica Ali and her novel and despite the fact that the signs are in Bengali as well as English, the Bangladeshis weren’t the first immigrants to take root there. First there were the Huguenots and then the Irish and then the Ashkenazi Jews; the ghetto of Emmanuel Litvinoff’s childhood and the battles with Mosley’s fascists and then David Rodinsky, the reclusive academic who lived in a room on Princelet Street and one day locked the door and disappeared into the shadows of time. It was twenty years until access was forced and a perfectly frozen memory was discovered. The room was untouched, abandoned in a mass of scrawled papers and annotated books and moth riddled clothes and unfinished dinner, blackened and greened by the rot of life fading.

Iain Sinclair’s still following me about and he reminds me that he wrote Rodinsky’s Room with Rachel Litchtenstien. I know, I tell him, where do you think I get all this stuff from? I’m not just making it up. I read it in books.
Still, whilst Litivinoff’s childhood streets wafting with the smells of pickled herrings and the shouts of orthodox indignation may have drifted further north, more remains than the tightly packed terrace housing and litter strewn streets and improvised capitalism. There are Hot Salt Beef Bagels.

Two take away bagel joints at the northern tip of Brick Lane offer twenty-four hour service. It had never occurred to me that a bagel could be a sobering snack for the way home in the small hours until I moved to London. Of course, there is every possibility that I’d never had a bagel nor even knew what one was before I moved to London. I stood in the queue leaning across the back to basics, stainless steel counter, but the swelteringness of the day made my skin itch. I couldn’t stand the idea of eating something hot and dehydratingly salty, so I switched at the last moment to smoked salmon and cream cheese which I ate in hulking mouthfuls whilst striding on down the road feeling nauseating metropolitan with myself.

I passed the door to what may or may not have once been an arts space where I’d once been dragged to see a video piece. A slow-motion zoomed in grainy black and white film of one man inserting his penis into another’s anus on a twelve foot high screen. It was one of those times when I couldn’t work out whether I didn’t like it because of some otherwise undiscovered homophobia, or because I was a prudish philistine or because it was actually a bit crap.

A Friday morning and couple got on the train at New Cross Gate as it headed into work. She wore big shades that shielded most of her face from the excess of the new day; he a crumpled linen shirt that looked like it was more than fresh on. She slipped her arm around his waist, but tentatively as though it was still something new. She looked almost doll like next to his over-gymed frame. Her index finger chased the shape of his abdomen.

‘I can’t believe how much better I feel this morning,’ she cooed. ‘It’s like all the tension has drained away.’

‘Told you,’ he smiled smugly. ‘Best cure for any stress that is. A right royal seeing to.’ And they proceeded to reminisce all the way to London Bridge about the varied angles from which they’d fucked the night before. ‘Genius.’

‘Best not to get carried away,’ she pecked him on the cheek as the doors opened. ‘After all, it’s not like we’ll ever see each other again.’

Brick Lane has been making a land grab to become the hipster central for the vaguely trendy. It’s launched an all out assault on the dominance of neighbours Hoxton and Old Street. Places like the Vibe Bar and the Big Chill have aggressively transformed parts of the deformed Truman Brewery into something at the opposite end of the drinks industry from that which it was originally created to serve. Instead of churning hops into beer, dressed up blissed out twenties and thirties types are tightly packed into its broken lit rooms with soundtracks of twisted out samples, the inky stamps pressed onto the backs of their hands marking their tribe.

It’s seems almost a shame that the Black Eagle brewery, to use its original more imperial name, should end like that. Founded in 1683 it swamped London with ale for centuries – although not as literally as the Meux Brewery on Tottenham Court road did in 1814 when 1.4million litres of beer escaped and flooded the area drowning eight and giving one alcohol poisoning.

By day the brewery serves an even more innocuous purpose as a home from home for the artisans and purveyors of random life who were ejected by the gentrification of Spitalfield’s market. Across multiple concrete soaked floors, in rooms that once contained copper vats packed in ice and oak barrels ranked up for collection by the horse and cart, there are now uber-trendy slit cut jeans, ironic metal shirts, handmade cushions and unlistened to yet resold for the umpteenth time obscure reggae records.

Whilst browsing around this mush of culture for a Christmas gift for my sister or one of my cousins, someone attached a sticker to the small of my back. I wore an old woollen duffel coat and yet the sticker read: “I wear real fur; I am a cunt.” I felt violated, not least for the inaccuracy of the accusation. An unpleasant feeling of being wronged hung around me for a day or so, making me sneer with irritation.

Despite my continued disillusionment and disappointment with how Spitalfield’s has so enthusiastically grasped glass walls and middle class fakery to its hub, I still felt its draw. The pull of times past. On the way I’m reminded of the Water Poet, a pub I’d only been to once. It was a rustic retreat for the city types lurking just over the way, those who normally could be found clustering around Liverpool Street Station and its easy escape back West. I had semi-gatecrashed a Christmas party. My friend worked in the banking sector and this was 2008, just after they’d decided that bringing down western civilisation might be a bit of a giggle and so the party was a secret. It took place in the pub’s back room, rented out anonymously. The signage on the doors bore the name of a charitable foundation.
They covered up their guilt in plain sight yet I milled around being provocatively sarcastic. None of them took the bait. They were immune to conscience. It wasn’t their fault. It was system. It was life, get over it. It was you and me.

Letters and magazines kept arriving for the people who used to live upstairs. They’d left me their new address, another flat in Brockley, and like a dutiful neighbour I walked their post round one evening. I’d watched him write the number and street name down carefully, pausing to check he’d spelt the road correctly, and yet when I got there I found that number 67 was missing. It was occupied by a patch of grass; the gap left in the numbers in case a property was ever added. I stood in the evening sunset and wondered what to do with the Time Out and the water bill and the post card and whatever else for the people who no longer existed.

As I walked past the market itself, I noticed that the Spitz bar had been replaced by an ornately flushed brown leatherette sofa shop. I knew that, yet still it surprised me. I’d been researching gig venues earlier in the year and had struggled to understand how somewhere so identified with the rafters of the Victorian market hall could so easily up sticks to King’s Cross. Now all I had left was the live cd of bands who had never made it and the memories of Holly Golightly, despite the blackout, singing her bluegrass songs of woe in a voice that was like Americana corn twisting in a cockney breeze.

On the other side of the road is Christ Church, one of Hawksmoor’s – remember him? – icons of the city. A few years ago, I came to the end of a much grander walk around the city. One that had crisscrossed ancient monuments as it followed a path laid down in a story. As I approached the final furlongs I came along side that same church. Outside the front of which was one of those three wheeled scooters, with mobile coffee bars fitted to the back, which were briefly omnipresent. It was ridden by a girl with a thick eastern European accent. As she fixed me an espresso, I noticed a tubbaware box full of cupcakes with thick fake pink icing smeared across them.

‘Huh,’ I muttered, ‘cute.’

‘Would you like one?’ she asked ‘Only fifty pee, but it must be a secret.’

‘A secret?’

‘Yes. I make them myself. We are not allowed to sell our own cakes. Just company’s coffee. You see? But, people like them. They make sadness smile.’

How could I resist? It was a little moment of innocence in a place even now haunted by a murderer. You might have heard of him. People call him Jack.

The pub on the opposite corner is the Ten Bells; a decent enough boozer, if a little kitschly trendy and playing heavily on its possibly self-invented Ripper association. It was, allegedly, the favoured gin and porter haunt of the Whitechapel’s Victorian whores that Jack the Ripper carved his way through.

Still, me and Jack: We go a long way back. As a teenager I was almost morbidly intrigued by the unsolved romantic terror of it all. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that old Jack was just a story. I mean, he’s been reinvented and interpreted so many times and in so many ways that he’s almost become fictional.
He’s no longer an unknown person, but something more than reality. It’s starting not matter what he did and the horrific way in which he did it, but the unknown story has come to dominate. A story without end. A tale of love children, Masonic royal conspiracy, psychotic painters, depending, of course, upon which edition you’ve submerged yourself in. They’re all true and yet they’re all made up too.

Across the road there was, in amongst the rat warren of slums, once a street called Miller’s Court. Number thirteen was a single room. A room with a bed and fire and where Mary Kelly, the fifth and final canonical Ripper victim, slept. She was the only one not to be killed on the streets where he might have been disturbed and so Jack appeared to take his time with her. Probably, the first gaping slash across her throat killed her, but that was just the start. Incisions at the edges of her eyes allowed him to carve shapes and messages into her face, gauging the balls out with a pop. The removal of her right breast. Splitting her open from vagina to mouth. The extraction of her liver. Then the removal of her left breast, dropping it casually onto the soaked sheets. The churning out of chunks from her thighs. And finally, her heart was pulled out and discarded into the fire.

In Alan Moore’s From Hell, a dissection of the murders, Jack was William Gull, the Queen’s personal physician, committing ritualised murder and giving birth to the twentieth century. A hundred years of horror and gore conjured up in the bloodied guts of murdered woman. We all paid the price Jack’s crimes. But that’s just a story and we, all of us, make our own destiny.

That’s just a story and Mary Kelly was real. And what’s on the site of Miller Court now? A fucking car park.

I couldn’t think of anything else to think and so turned to walk deeper into Whitechapel.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


“We all need the perfect smile for the day we’re on tv,” said the sign in the dentists’ window. Below the slogan a caricature of a beaming set of perfectly artificial teeth was drawn, complete with the necessary pinging star at the corner. I couldn’t decide which was worse, the cynical sleaziness of the dentists selling unsustainable dreams to the impressionable or the fact that I saw lies rather than optimism everywhere I looked.

I turned back to the clustered street market stalls and squinted as the sun shone down between the plastic canopies and steel poles that formed the temporary frames. It seemed familiar, and yet I hadn’t popped out where I’d expected to. The a-z that lives in my brain had short-wired itself. I’d expected to find myself walking along a narrow residential street where the two storey terraces slumped forwards and overhung the gutters, casting the pavements into much needed shade. Instead, I had arrived in the middle of stalls draped in mix-matched clothing, jeans and striped vest tops, summer dresses of purple and lime green, shirts with flowered detail running from nipple to navel, dvds of films unrecognisable, unbranded vats of toilet bleach, blackened plantain and sprouting sweet potatoes, halal chicken wings sweltering in the late morning, the flies idly swatted aside and yet something about that unexpected world felt both reassuring and uncomfortable at the same time.

Fully aware of my memory’s fallibility I had a back-up map in my bag, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at it. That felt like too much of a cheat. After all, I wasn’t lost. I knew where I was, I understood how I fitted in within the wider Hoxton geography, I just didn’t know when I was; I couldn’t place when I’d walked down this street and for what purpose. I couldn’t make it distinct from all the other half-recalled moments that had been slowly spilling out across the early morning.

Perhaps I was merely being directionally challenged. Perhaps it only seemed weird because I’d arrived from the wrong angle. I turned and began to walk backwards down the road. That felt a bit better, the line-up of shops felt more accurate in reverse. I closed my eyes for a moment and when I reopened them, the sun’s heat was gone to be replaced by the looming gloom of a winter’s afternoon, the grey bite of deserted London streets after the weather has turned and I had a sense of searching for something; somewhere that was fading into nothingness as the light turned to dark and the memories broke apart.

‘Look where you’re fucking well going, you dick,’ someone sidestepped me and I was back in the heat and the bustle, vaguely aware of people wondering why the hell I was walking backwards. I righted myself and the memory was gone again; strewn to the winds of time. Why couldn’t I remember? It irritated me irrationally, but under that was the bigger question: How much else had I forgotten? How much of my sense of self had I surgically burnt away with whisky over the past couple of years?

Which, of course, had been the intention, but suddenly it was something I regretted. I didn’t want to forget, I wanted to embrace my ghosts. I wanted to remember how it felt to like myself. All of myself, not just an idealised publicly presented version of me.

Hoxton. Phh. It’s always self-indignantly felt shat upon by its neighbours, starting way back in the sixteenth century when, apparently, the agricultural lands were levelled to enable the middle class citizens of Islington to use the green walks for their leisure. It makes noises about being the downtrodden underbelly, but right after the great trampling European ambassadors to Tudor England began building moated manor houses to idle away their weekends there. Somewhere around there, on the crumbling wall of a fifties flat block, is a blue plaque marking where the house of William Parker, the Lord of Monteagle, the guy who grassed up the Gunpowder plot conspirators lived. Rebel spirit? More like establishment crony, but, ssh, don’t it.

As I crossed the end of Falkirk Street, the cheery sign pointed out Hackney Community College. Once upon a time a lunatic asylum stood on the same site. Samuel Taylor Coleridge commented upon it, around the same time as he was trying to get himself incarcerated to effect a cold turkey cure for his opium eating, and his friend, the poet Charles Lamb, bounced in and out as did Lamb’s sister after she stabbed to death their mother with a knitting needle. Poets: Mad bastards, the lot of them. It finally boarded its doors up in 1911. I wondered if anyone’s ever told the College’s staff.

Eh, it was a cheap gag but it made me smile as I strolled on through the streets.

Just beyond the market stalls I found the Macbeth and put myself on a slightly stronger geographical ground. The Macbeth is a pub that’s achingly cool in a scabby sort of way; somewhere that kids in bands watch other kids with guitars strut their stuff and appraise angled haircuts and the latest post-ironic clothing trend. It never used to be. Once it was a gravely Guinness focused drinking den far enough away from the media scene to cope, but in the past decade it has sold its soul to the fashion devil.

Opposite, though, my heart was broken as I realised that the bookshop has gone. This was somewhat hypocritical of me, given that I hadn’t visited let alone exchanged money for words with the proprietor in years and yet just another book seller disappearing into yesteryear made me feel bitterly sad. It used to be a pokey stack packed place where the light didn’t quite make it through the blinds. It was a muddle of smudged lovingly devoured favourites passed on when their owner did too and editions too archaic or confusing to have ever been fully read. I think I last bought some Kafka there. Or maybe something by Burrows. I couldn’t remember exactly, but the idyll in my mind’s eye was that it was the sort of place for fiction that was a little dangerous, a little dark and a touch lost within itself. Typically, I couldn’t remember what its damn name was.

I headed on towards the belly of the chic, Hoxton Square itself.

But before I could arrive I bumped into something else not quite properly recalled. The Red Lion stood on the corner and instinctively I glanced upwards. I could see large garden umbrellas overhanging the brightly white and red window boxes along the perimeter of the roof garden. I’d been up there once, years before on a balmy summer’s evening, nowhere near as hot as it was that morning, but when it had been warm with a soft wind fluttering past. I pictured myself at the bar, buying drinks and then climbing the tightly coiled staircase, where the carpet ruffled unevenly and then, finally, stepping out into the light. There was a largish group of people; I could see their movements, but their faces are blurred and their voices spoke Latin through a distorter that left just a cackle, like a lost medium wave transmission.

‘The thing I find really annoying about her,’ said the girl with the short black hair and the southern French accent, ‘is how she’s so full of self-confidence.’

‘Whilst you,’ I replied, ‘are just full of bluff?’

She stopped, turned and looked at me for a moment and then smiled: ‘This?’ She pointed to her extroverted self. ‘Hell, yeah: Total bravado.’

‘Takes a faker to spot a fake,’ I said but wondered, in that case, what was she really thinking .

‘I see them all so excellently fair, I see, not feel, how beautiful they are,’ wrote
Coleridge in Dejection, yet I found Hoxton Square strangely deserted. On such a warm summer’s morning, I had expected it to be full of lounging glitterati; cool art kids stretched out in the rare sunshine, their brows shaded by implausible hats.
Instead, the only people present were the two blonde five year old girls skipping gleefully in the dappled shadow created by the overhanging gnarled trees whilst a young man – surely a cheekily disgraceful uncle rather than their father – in his mid twenties sat on the ground smoking a hand rolled cigarette, an unopened can of Polish lager by his bare ankle; cut tight demin shorts and a combat green vest top, deliberately matted unwashed hair, greasy to his brow and four days of cultivated stubble. He fitted a stereotype and yet didn’t. His comrades in fashion, those who I’d expected to see there, were, I realised, still asleep in their beds continuing the nocturnal cycle.

Uncle’s hand shook as it moved the burning tobacco-paper mix up to his lips; spiralling red flickers of life drifted in the turbulence. It made me think, nastily, that James Parkinson had once lived on Hoxton Square, before the gifted and the damned swanned into town, and he wrote there about the disease that took his name.

I left them to it. Them and the closed up cafes and bars, the place where I’d sat with the girl from the band and the journalist desperately passionate about the importance of the press, but without a paper to work on and the place where we’d once argued about whether you should factor the price of cool into a Sunday lunch.

I drifted away to the main road, back to the railway line again. I slid alongside the Spread Eagle popping out underneath the old bridge across the road back to Dalston. Across the street were the Catch bar and whatever the place that used to be called the Bar Under the Bridge was called that week. The types of places I used to go when wanting to feel a tad more metropolitan. I’d gone to the latter that time my sister had come down to stay, showing off a bit the supposed diversity of the big city, and that girl with the acres of uncontrollable hair had come and laughed that infectious raucously carry-on laugh all night long. It was a shame we’d lost touch after she lost the plot.

I always think that the Catch should be called Catch-22 even though it has no connection to Joseph Heller and is not infused with self-contradictions. If ever there was a novel that deserved a bar to be themed after it then it was that one. A boozers’ bar; a place where alcoholics could be trapped in the inescapable circle of existence. Catch-22.

I tired to return to the plot and realised that I couldn’t see the station. That was supposed to be the point of this journey; to track and map the locations of the new East London line stations – not to lose myself in some never-ending spiral of confused memories. I could see the bridge, but that was all. There was nothing for it, but to head back up towards Haggerston and try and catch a sight of it down some random side street.

So, off I set. Past the place where somehow I’d once stumbled through the Turner prize winners’ book launch; past the Vietnamese that was the default option for food out round Old Street at one point, until I hung a right on the corner where the old neon sign manufacturers used to be, where it used to say things like “Think Twice” and “Cheer Up” in shimmering green or blue, glowing in the deep midnight black. It was a lucky guess for no sooner had I passed the garage with the huge mural of ganja smokers on the outside wall and just the two ancient rusting mini hulks inside then the station could be seen jutting out the underside of the bridge as it arched over the road.

It was only then that I realised why the road seemed so familiar. At the far end, before it reached the Hackney Road, was the converted warehouse where she’d had one of her first exhibitions, a crazy disconnected show of fifty or maybe even more artists all crunched together as though trying to give a still birth to some kind of communal movement. I didn’t need to go and see that place again. Even if it had survived and hadn’t been resurrected as some kind of funky nu-wave office block for businesses with no function, I remembered it clearly enough. It was a good piece of art. Cutely funny. It had stayed in my head happily enough.

I smiled to myself as I thought of the bug’s impossible journey and walked back through the light industrial estate that tickled along by the arches whilst the railway line groaned steel crunches overhead, and then popped out on the Hackney Road opposite St Leonard’s. As per usual, a rag-tag collection of bristled and bustled faces clustered amongst the tombstones supping cans of super strength cider, tugging lovingly at dog-eared cigarettes and occasionally losing their gaze to the wonders of the middle distance.

St Leonard gives his patronage to the imprisoned, women in labour and horses. Join the dots there if you can, but here’s another line: No-one had really paid much attention to the sixth century French monk until his spirit apparently helped guide the release of Bohemond of Antioch from an Anatolian jail at the dawn of the twelfth century. Bohemond was a particularly brutal minor Norman noble who’d already ravaged his way through most of Southern Italy, sticking two fingers up at various Popes as he went, before chancing his luck on the slaughterhouse run that was the First Crusade and consequently became one of those bastards I became slightly obsessed with trying to understand around the age of eighteen.

The inside of the church is stripped back bare boned Anglican worship faded by the sunshine that has worked through the stains for generations. Its washed out glory suits it; makes it feel real and not artificially restored. And that time I watched a performance art evening from one of the hard backed pews, it had sparkled with life unlived.

Opposite, in a rather elegant demonstration of a nation’s fucked up moral decline (should you be looking for such a fiction) is the strip club Brown’s, complete with roman styled pillars and gas-fired flaming torches on the doors. Years ago, just as I was leaving work, I said: ‘Yeah, just going to meet a mate up Shoreditch way.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ replied my boss. ‘Going to end up in Brown’s, then?’

‘Nah, I don’t think that’s likely.’

‘While the cat’s away, David will play,’ he said alluding to my absent girlfriend doing something in the Californian foothills.

‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever,’ and I walked out the door. Strip clubs don’t really do it for me. I can see through the façade too easily. I’ve been to a couple, sure, and generally found the experience slightly odd, like the time the person wiggling inches away from my nose looked, as far as I could tell in the bizarre light, remarkably like a girl I’d been to school with. But still, I appreciated the irony of Gomorrah’s vileness being sweated out so close to a church.

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in Hoxton. The author of woman’s rights and mother of Mary Shelley and therefore mother-in-law to Percy and his dandified bohemian shagging spirit of life and the grandmother to that beastly combination of science of stark fear, Frankenstein’s monster. The city throws up weird alignments at times. Just down the road is the Circus Space, London’s school for clowns and trapeze artists and beyond that, on Leonard’s Street indeed, there once was a media company I used to work alongside. They balanced atop the car pound for central London where rusting hulks were dropped down into a pit, semi-submerged by an office block, and left to die. It’s all gone now of course, just another passing whiff of the city’s memory.

Around the corner is St Arnold’s circus; a raised up garden roundabout surrounded by mansion blocks from the late 19th century. Red brick structures that pushed inwards to a central point until resisted by the sloped steps and spiked shelter in the middle of the grass. I crossed the road, at the same time as a woman, three or four metres ahead. She turned and glanced at me as though I might be following her. We both joined the pavement on the far side and she glanced across again. How was I giving off menace? What was she seeing other than someone going the same way?

In the centre of the Circus, near where the school that used to host the small press festivals in August, was where we’d once watched cyclists ride around and around and around in an endurance test for charity or somesuch. The bikes soared in tight loops as the world blurred in a repeated montage for the riders. A recurrent flash of the same beaming sun soaked faces and the same open windows with the tips of lace curtains fluttering in the breeze created by their own momentum until their eyes crossed and closed and the world collapsed in upon its dizzy self.

The woman turned to look at me again. What was her problem? Did she think she recognised me? It crossed my mind that, secretly, I’d have quite liked that. Not being mistaken for someone well known, but being someone well known.

When the New Yorker and the Daily Telegraph published their respective lists of the best American and British authors under forty, I was relieved to see that only one on each was younger than me. ‘Phew,’ I almost vainly posted on Facebook, ‘there’s still time then.’ But creating something beautiful that lasts and says something about the world is not the same as being photographed just for being you nor as making lots of money. Is that why the dentists’ sigh so riled me, because it made me realise that I occasionally dream of shallow fame too?

I cringed inwardly. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The way to be heard was to say something true not loud. Take St Leonard’s Church, for example. It was built in the 1740s by no-one famous. It has been in continual use, looks immortal and means something to its people. Its greatest claim to immortality though comes in a child’s song: ‘When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.’