When I came here there was nothing, warehouses, grimy alleys with blind windows festooned with dust, spider-webs, everything cracked and broken. Not a cup of coffee to be had, nescafe only made from a tap of hot water gushing into a chipped china cup, loaded with sugar; set you up for the day, but not much pleasure in it. Days spent wandering photographing or shooting super 8, ruins of industry, paradise
for rats. Saw a fat one once on Charlotte St, drunk and reeling. Wandering the streets at night, clandestine parties in labyrinthine studios and Victorian lofts, accompanied by a giant rottweiler for company and protection. Heroin, lots of it, dealt up Pitfield street and behind Hoxton Square. There was nothing to see, but behind the blank walls something was happening. Soon after I came there were Unicyclists on the canal, clowns popping out of grocers, juggling, the circus was in town, permanently. My girlfriends started flying the trapeze, quite a party trick.Pubs morphed into bars, bars into clubs; soulful, grimy late night speakeasies got colonised by people cabbing it over from Chelsea. Retreat. Resurgence. Finally, coffee. Restaurants. The art shops arrived, the galleries. More art-wank than you could digest in a year, all available in a day or even an hour. A lot of it dross, some golden nuggets. Pavements, once silent, start to fill with rush. Everyone’s eating noodles, slurp slurp, coriander and lemongrass – Smells like… victory. Everyone’s got a project, everyone’s on the move, on the make. Digital SLR’s on every corner, capturing every second, everyone’s starring in the film of their life, right here and right now. This place opens and that one closes, do anything but keep the chains out; keep the quirk, lose the smirk. Man was born free but will die in chains; you know who you are, let us live.
When I first came here there was nothing. Things come and go. I miss some of them, I am glad to see the back of others. The new dog is smaller, a Staffy. Not so much wandering anymore though; everything has a purpose, going somewhere doing something; at times I miss the silent reverie of nothingness. Why I love Shoreditch and why – despite curses and packed bags – I’ve never left, is that life is here. Variety. It’s Shakespeare’s hood. Dickensian too. Real life, with all its shit and all its diamonds.
Gillian is a Canadian film-maker, artist and writer based in Shoreditch since the late 90s. She works at Studio75.