Image source: R Schofield
It was over a year ago now that the Telegraph’s Alex Proud railed against the Shore-ditchification of London genrally, with Shoreditch and its youthful, creative and undeniably fashionable vibe seen as somehow the enemy of respectable urban living. It still rankles. What was most provocative in Proud’s piece was the suggestion that Shoreditch (by which he meant the people of Shoreditch) was somehow not authentically ‘cool’. Too much irony, too many beards and not enough contemporary history to be really cool was Proud’s charge – unlike, we were told, Proud’s own chosen corner of cosmopolitan savoir faire in Camden.
A city of beards
Image source: Christopher.Michel
Reading back through Proud’s piece, and looking around at the energetic and progressive energy that is the hallmark of Shoreditch today, it is impossible to resist putting his sniping little diatribe in its place. Proud is a man out of time. Shoreditch is a borough on the up.
That’s not a description of any sort of ‘cool’, and it’s not an attack on the ‘local culture’ – whatever that means – of any other area of the city. It’s a facet of a great deal of energetic, creative and – perish the thought – youthful entrepreneurial energy. The fact that there is a buzz about the place is what has alerted developers and hoteliers to the fact that there is serious money to be made here.
What may have started out as a series of low budget, organic micro- businesses has bloomed into to full-blown economic phenomenon. In an age of austerity and at a time when so called ‘knowledge work’ is seen as the commercial great panacea, Shoreditch should be celebrated – not denigrated – by the likes of Proud,.
In truth, what got Proud’s goat seemed to have nothing to do with anywhere at all, and everything to do with his own middle aged angst. For all his claims to ‘cool’ he is like nothing so much as some teenager’s dad on a dancefloor, pulling his Night Fever moves and raving about disco.
His serial mentions of ‘beards’, ‘skinny jeans’ and ‘hipsters’ generally sounded like someone denying his own slippage into middle age – a ghost railing against the way his lights went out.
A city of ghosts
London is full of ghosts. It is a city layered with history. Each and every borough has seen the tides of fashion and economic prosperity ebb and flow. The swinging 60s Soho that preceded Camden as the bearer of Proud’s precious imprimatur of ‘cool’ is now simply, just another part of town. Wardour Street is just a street in the city, it’s iconic place in the public imagination has long since slipped away.
Image source: Ben K Adams
Those like Proud who berate the ‘trendiness’ of Shoreditch, and who label it with so many other damning epithets have all the clout of would-be ghost busters.
What they appear to hate has nothing to do with Shoreditch or its inhabitants. It is the fact that their own heyday has already come and gone, and that they are only now waking up to the fact. The realisation leaves them raging in a world that has moved on. They are ghosts, clanking their chains and moaning as they make their way through the streets of a city that they no longer belong to, and which no longer belongs to them.