Guest Post: London- A series of villages

Book Club is a collective of five friends, aged 27 – 29 who find that as life becomes cluttered with work, family and the usual wahala, we need to contrive a reason to meet regularly and catch up. We call it Book Club - much to the disdain of the men in our lives who think us pompous and theatrical to need and worse name such a group. We read great novels, we discuss their content, we argue, we gossip and we eat.

Every year we organise a special outing and the responsibility of organising it falls to me. Not suitably appraised of the clubbing scene in London any longer I had to seek assistance from further a field. I tried facebook, posting a message, only for my 17 year old cousin to reply ‘stay in the library it’s the best place for you’! Flaming cheek, you see the disrespect cyber space breeds?!. Unsurprised by the lack of response from my suitably aged friends and family, I deduced that most of them were like me, no longer au fait with the ‘cool’ bars and clubs. I am not ashamed to say that my ideal night out comprises of the theatre (the Arcola in Dalston, Tricycle in Kilburn, Almeida in Islington or Young Vic on The Cut – All have some truly inspirational productions and performances) followed by a gig and to top it off a drink or two at Three Blind Mice in Shoreditch (a fantastic little hide away, off the beaten track and out of reach of the skinny jean, sexually ambiguous type that has come to dominate east London).

On the eve of our annual outing, the pressure for its success bears down on my formidable shoulders. I’ve decided on a club called Collection (recommended by a footballer I know). It is in Kensington, west London - which has huge implications for book club as we all live south of the river and in a city where people don’t like to travel beyond their contrived geographic boundaries – It’s of biblical proportions to consider such a location for our meet up.

I sense this seems absurd that I’m making such a fuss about the location of our rendezvous, but London is a strange series of villages and Londoners a particular breed of parochial isolationists. The fact that I have worked, visited, lived and have friends across the city confirms my status as a foreigner – a true non native. I’ve been here for twelve years and call London my home, but I’ll never be one of them because I still see the city through the eyes of an explorer.
I recall my earlier years, when work hadn’t subsumed all my time. On the rare occasion I had money to buy a travel card (rather than relying on my free feet) I would exceed even my own expectation, travelling the breadth of tube map multiple times over. The markets in Deptford, hair extensions in Brixton, coffee and cake in Angel, my auntie in Hendon, shopping in Notting Hill and dinner at my friend’s Indian restaurant in Gants Hill – If it was on one of my travel card days, I was prepared to travel anywhere and wanted to see everything.
Now you ask a teenager where they visit (and believe me I often do, due to the nature of my work) they reply with suspicion firstly, unsure about sharing their whereabouts. So after establishing trust, you find that their school, part time job, family, friends, indeed their whole life takes place within a small geographic area and sadly there isn’t the desire or most importantly feeling of comfort to seek out locations further a field.

It’s not just the kids that are susceptible to this. I was a student at possibly the most liberal university in town (if not the country) where it was a taboo if you didn’t smoke weed every day (to free your ‘mind’) and discuss the places and politics of South America, Africa and India and the deprivation you had witnessed. Of course few of my fellow students had visited Peckham, Stratford or Dalston, (in their very city) and witnessed the deprivation there. The village mentality was prevalent even among the educated liberal elite, who today I have no doubt are carrying out noble work in Chile, Haiti and Uganda with the UN – yet still have no idea where Clapton is on the map. 

Even within the melting pot that is London, there is a palpable sense of geographic (hence socio economic) divide that still prevails amongst generations of enlightened, fashionable, multicultural Londoners, raised to believe that where they live determines their social standing, their sense of place and sense of self. Forget the illiterate gang members tragically killing each other who have come to symbolise this heightened parochialism. You don’t need to scratch too far beneath the surface of ‘acceptable’ society to see the divide. Ask your colleague what they think of Angel or Holloway, Peckham or Putney, Tottenham or Ladbrook Grove - then ask them if they’ve ever been to the very places they screw their faces at. We pretend it’s just that Notting Hill is cool (concentration of bars, artists, alternate music etc) and Brixton is not, but if you search a little deeper you’ll notice the prevalence of education, privilege, wealth, possibility that distinguishes the two. Book club is no different and when I proposed our annual outing in a west London club (Chelsea to be precise), it was met with apprehension.

The gauntlet has been thrown. I’ll let you know next week how our night out west pans out!