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Saturday, 10 April 2004


Topic: Casino Avenue

I believe that where you feel safe in the world is very much an instinctual thing, and rarely corresponds to actual risk.
I once sweet talked a bus driver, who'd finished his route, into going a little further and dropping me at my east end home, rather than cross the five lane junction. It was only idleness or at least weariness that prompted me to ask, and I was pretty surprised he'd agreed. It soon dawned on me that he thought I'd requested an extension to my journey because I was frightened.
'How can you stand to live somewhere so dangerous?' he asked, as he drove me home in a gigantic red juggernaut (police cars and ambulances aside, the most dangerous vehicle on the roads, if you ask me).
'Aren't you scared? I would never walk around safely in an area like this.'

Fact is, my presence in the area was one of the effects of yuppification. Too mediocre to own expensive things*, I was always going to be bobbing on the surface of any 'ghetto', and never going to be a target for violence like the never-mixing black, asian, and working class white congregations were.
[* I'd like to identify with the moneyed classes of St Katharine's Docks, Wapping, Canary Wharf, etc, but reality intrudes: the one time I was burgled, the police officer consoled me with the words 'with all due respect madam, there's nothing in your flat that anyone would want to steal']

A friend who'd grown up in the slightly more violent area of Whitechapel had been stabbed in the street there a few years back. Yet he regarded my area as too violent to hang out in. Having seen a daylight stabbing in Whitechapel myself, I thought the reverse to be true, but was disabused: 'Bow's more dangerous than Whitechapel, because the violence is under the surface there,' he assured me.
I deduced that personal safety must be something nebulous; I'd never felt unsafe in Bow; ergo it wasn't unsafe.
Compare and contrast to Bromley by Bow where I was once conned into getting into a strange van and had to plead to be let out, where I've glimpsed dancing figures around forty foot bonfires in the centre of what were meant to be tennis courts, where the local authority housing is infested with rats and children are covered in open cuts and scars, where the yuppies in the local private gated community actually run to the local station in the mornings, resolutely staring ahead, away from the cars with broken windows. I'd rather be boiled in oil than wander around there alone after dark, but the yuppie flats there are selling like, um, hot flats, whereas mine markets as more of a sort of stodgy, unwanted tapioca pudding. (dead metaphor alert)

Sydenham on a dark boozy Saturday night feels dangerous. There are gangs of loudly chatting youths in dark driveways and alleys, who deliberately exaggerate their gestures as you pass. Cars hurtle up and down the hill at improbable speeds, and traffic signs become more of a guideline than legally binding. People bundle out of kebab shops and offies running or shouting, and you try not to look too closely to find out why.
Most of the streets are deserted, but the Chariot cafe on the high street has a different middle aged couple (feasting on coke and roast chicken dinner) in the window seat every weekend. It's tempting to sneer, but hell, they're the ones eating a large meal, with someone, looking perfectly happy under neon strip lighting with a wipe clean menu to peruse, and you're beyond the glass walking slightly too fast as you pass, huddled under a hat that looks white when you nervously glance at the CCTV screen, so who's the idiot?
The lady who owns the beauticians is alone there every night, sat at the nail bar, over bleached hair looking vulnerable in the last bright circle of light. She looks nervously at an open doorway in the rear of the shop as you pass, where a bulky tattoed line of defence may or may not emerge.
You begin to notice the cars, slowing as they come level to you, that have passed three times now, and that out of the two middle aged women on the street, one's slack face holds dark pinpricks of wasted, unseeing eyes, and the other: is she leaving the late night grocer, or is she being thrown out? She has the smooth cheeks and the too attentive posture of the mad. That leaves you, and the kids at the crossing with the cans and the plastic bags. And the car that you might have seen before, turning in the street ahead.

Safety's a purely nebulous, instinctive thing. I feel safe here, but I have bars on the windows, a video entry phone, casement locks, and I draw all the curtains when I leave.
It seems unnecessary to me, right now, but it would take just one incident for those bars to feel more like they're penning me in than keeping others out.
So I'm holed up in my beige basement, and I'm not going out tomorrow. I have a roast to cook (never done that before), I have the entire series of Roots to watch (never done that before), and I'm not so sarcastic about jatb's apocaplyptic theories to actually go looking for trouble (she pointed out that after 9/11, 3/11, tomorrow's 4/11, it's a big religious festival, this is London; come off it, I've seen enough horror movies to know when not to push my luck).
It's me, a dead bird, and Alex Haley from hereonin.
"When you clench your fist, no one can put anything in your hand, nor is there anything you can pick up" Omora Kinte

Happy Easter.

This page graced by sarsparilla at 10:28 PM BST
Updated: Sunday, 11 April 2004 3:52 AM BST
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Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 12:16 AM BST

Name: Sarah
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Is this supposed to make me feel bad about not accompanying you to the kebab shop (that was never going to be open) at 5am?

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 12:22 AM BST

Name: fridgemagnet
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Sydenham is considerably more dangerous than the East End - this is not an illusion. In the semi-suburban dustbin of South London, there are people who hang around outside McDonalds trying to start fights with passers-by, simply from boredom. I never encountered that in the East End, where you can easily get into the centre of town to work off your aggression. The only fights I've ever been in in London have been in Bromley.

Of course, when you consider Essex, it's even less appealing. It's boring and it's much harder to leave.

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 1:00 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

What a comprehensive knowledge of London you betray...!
It's actually several miles from here to find a Mc Donald's (perhaps Catford has one?), the Chariot cafe is the nearest equivalent, like an olde worlde Wimpy.

All these places are horrific, though. Sydenham has the slight benefit in that I know all the criminals - recently I left a hire car with the engine running, the window open, and my handbag on the front seat, while I bought something in a Co-op in Bellingham. Coming out of the shop in my 'blend in with the locals' bright pink suit and four inch heels, I saw four hooded, tracksuited youths in attack formation around the car as the sun went down. Heads jerked up at me, they all went puce red, nodded, and said hello. I'd known all of them since they were ten years old. Still, perhaps they'll hesitate before the next time they jack something, to use the local parlance.

I know what you mean about Essex, though. I've had some Wicker Man moments trying to find the road out of X village there.

Sigh. Roll on the summer, wealth, and my trip to Hawaii.

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 1:02 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

Lol! The damn local paper *promised* the stinking, lying Hilltop Cafe would open at 5.30 am, though, I had to try it.
There was actually nobody on the streets at that time in the morning, and it was quite pleasantly cold and misty, even if the lying bastard cafe closed down weeks ago, and the man in the 24 hour shop laughed at the make up running down my sweaty face.
And anyway, I fully appreciated the care and concern in the fact that you texted me 'are you all right?' at 5.45 am, before immediately passing out on my sofa. It was a gesture, right? :)

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 11:53 AM BST

Name: sarah
Home Page:

aaargh. What a striking picture - reminds me of hanging out with friends in Walkergate, Elswick and Byker, idly watching someone get beaten up while waiting for my bus back to the posh north bits of the city.

Take care, and remember to spoon the gravy/oil from the bottom of the roasting dish over the roast every ten minutes or so to get it nice and brown.

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 2:36 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Oooh, yeah, I had to look at the html on your blog yesterday to work out how to do the pictures and the hover over titles, ta.
Roasting dish? But I have cat grass growing in the roasting dish. I wonder if I clean out the grill pan itll serve?

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 3:07 PM BST

Name: em
Home Page:

wow, what a great read. i also live in a questionable part of town and constantly get asked "when are you gonna move out of there?" by my friends, but i like my town. hate it when people slag it in fact.

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 3:28 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

"when people slag it in fact"

That sounds so British...

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 4:45 PM BST

Name: Sarah
Home Page:

Heh, I was held prisoner in Pink Nasty's invisible grasp, really I was!

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 6:58 PM BST

Name: sarah
Home Page:

yay, knew I was good for something - that's my mam telt :D

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 9:00 PM BST

Name: em

um, sorry?

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 9:27 PM BST

Name: em
Home Page:

funny you should say that though, cuz i've been teased recently for my American slango.

Sunday, 11 April 2004 - 9:54 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Jus cus I thought you were American. I've never heard an American say #slag# in that sense before. :)

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