Good news: I've decided to stop banging on about the perils of inner-city gentrification. I will no longer be comparing the East End to a ghetto theme park for the fashionable offspring of posh parents. It was the Ridley Road rat that changed my mind.
Yesterday, this paper reported on six butchers in the famous Hackney market who'd been caught selling the illegal and "possibly contaminated" Ghanaian delicacy cane rats. Why this is any more or less cause for moral panic than the foie gras served on the other side of town, I don't know, but that's not the point. The point is that these stubborn pockets of resistance to the gradual Chelsea-fication of the East End have always cheered me.
I grew up on a Hackney council estate not far from Ridley Road. At 18, I was lucky to get a place at a prestigious university and consequently secured a job in journalism. In my late 20s, I moved back to Hackney, where the media people now lived, and became both victim and perpetrator of gentrification. Since then it has been a topic close to my heart. Possibly too close.
I once signed up to the mailing list for a gastropub under construction where a beloved teenage hangout used to be. I wasn't an eager patron, I just wanted a quick hit of schadenfreude every time an update on their squatter problem arrived in my inbox. Not healthy, is it?
That's the trouble with resenting gentrification. Some of your anger is justifiable; It's a bitter irony that the poorer residents systematically exiled from trendy neighbourhoods are often the same recent immigrants, eccentrics and cockneys who made an area desirably "vibrant" in first place. But you also find yourself grumbling every time a health food shop, or new chi-chi coffee place opens. Which is a shame because, really, some of them do an excellent macchiato.
I've come to realise how absurd it is to revere the old days. A city – especially the inner city – is in a constant state of flux. What was good about my halcyon Hackney wasn't the authentic lack of Kings Road-style gift boutiques. What was good about it was a balance of social housing and private residences, which allowed people of different backgrounds to coexist. It not only created that diversity at the heart of city life; it also gave everyone an equal crack at living it.
Sadly, that kind of balance is disappearing in the East End. But the Ridley Road rat trade is a cheerful reminder of that recalcitrant inner-city spirit which no amount of over-priced real-estate development can sanitise.Reuse content