My lofty life amid the poor in the Ditch

Related Topics
"Write about the poor," I was told. "This loft living sounds perfectly Hogarthian." The glue-sniffing derelict who regularly kips in my doorway would totally endorse this description. "Fancy a shag darlin'?" he whimpered hopelessly at my kneecaps, as I tottered in from a trendy artisan bar last night. I slammed the door on his rake's rags. He was once a City-boy dealer in futures. Pity he couldn't foresee his own.

A more rascal-ridden, geezerish, mafia-warring, cell-phoned, ethnically melted, square mile than Shoreditch would indeed be hard to find. Not so much as a kitchen sink is missing from this urban trifle. As I exited my fashionable and filthy galvanised steel dungeon on to the filthier High Street this morning, there was one standing proud on the cracked and crazy pavement.

No one in the Ditch seems to have noticed that these last few months have seen momentous changes in our island's status quo. Elections are as irrelevant here as council tax and gardens. Anyone who believes in politicians is a mug, just as is anyone who pays the asking price for anything. This is the cash-and- carry world. The cash changes hands in the pub and the carrying is done under cover of darkness. Ditch dwellers rightly believe no government could better manage the economy.

Syd, the local psycho (he once dropped six tabs of acid in one go, no one noticed) can lay his hands on most things, "I've got this mate Keith in Transco, know wha' I'm sayin' ..." There's a stretch of the High Street where no business is transacted without his say-so. From a concrete blaster to a line of coke you call Keith on the mobile ... le's put it this way Kaz, a deal can always be done ... know wha' I'm sayin'?

I'm working on the roof-top of a once industrial building, now converted into luxury "studio" apartments. You'd think that implied live/work spaces for photographers and artists but, in fact, it's City-boy bonuses that snaffle up these jewels at exorbitant prices. Villainous 'hood estate agents Shaft and Gazump have made sure of that. This particular roof has an area of potted geraniums, climbers and Astroturf, all doing remarkably well despite the smoggy fumes that rise even this far from the traffic- choked High Street. Conan, Syd's dog - a mogrelish boxer with pugnacious tendencies and a permanently dribbling nose, not unlike Syd himself - scampers across the asphalted surface to lay a turd in the Astroturf. He is followed at a trot by Yasmin, Syd's consort, in bicycle shorts and improbably stacked heels. "Want any trainers?" she yodels. She is lugging a Prada suitcase which she opens to display a jumble of brand new Nikes and Adidases. "Size seven," she adds mysteriously. I explain to Yasmin that at the moment I have no money for any sort of shoe except the kind you boil and eat. She gives me an old-fashioned look. People in the Ditch may be poverty trapped but they can always get hold of money.

Never go to Hoxton Post Office on a Monday morning. The queue of claimant desperadoes goes round the block. Many appear to be Bosnian. Two have a bike they want to sell. They demonstrate its versatility, spinning the front wheel, balancing on the back one. Perhaps they were trick cyclists in the old country? The octogenarian leaning on her zimmer frame isn't impressed, nor is the harassed mother with three children under five in a push-chair, but the teenager sheltering from the slanting rain under a bit of card reading "homeless and hopeless, please help, thank you" exhibits mild curiosity.

Swathes of Eastern Europeans have penetrated the area, appearing with ghetto-blasters and obscure electrical goods in the local markets; giving even the ubiquitous Shaft and Gazump a few pangs in the pocket. For they too are developers and those buildings not falling to a shadowy mafia from Stamford Hill are snapped up before the boards are in place, amid rumours of unusual deals with Iraqi banks. Gordon, are you listening?

After the post office, I visit the chemist, who takes it for granted I won't be paying for my prescription, scout the market for bargains and having pounced on one or two spend the cash saved on a lottery ticket. Next to football and booze the lottery is the Ditch-dweller's greatest leisure interest.

Back to the roof. Must get on with the novel. In the Brickies last night was spurred on by three young men with screenplays tucked into their Puffa jackets. While I sit here chewing my pen ... Syd's looking out for a state-of-the-art laptop for me ... an industrial sander is working over the other side of the rustic fence and the sound of roadworks and diamond- bit drilling is deafening. When I said I was moving from Highgate to an East End loft my "Ham and High" friends were mystified. Why would I want to trade in my delightful house with terrace and garden for grim Dickensian squalor? I have to admit I've wondered myself whilst wrestling with the Laocoon electrics and Heath Robinson plumbing. Yet the view across the rooftops is bizarrely harmonious. There is St Leonards and a sweep across gothic Spitalfields to the hi-tech of the City. In the othr direction is beaming Canary Wharf. Besides, it's an adventure ... in the Ditch you never know what will happen next. Oh, excuse me my cellphone is ringing.

Carole Hayman's novel `Missing' will be published by Gollancz next March.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations and Administration Support Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Solar P...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Specialist

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is changing the way at...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor