Every neighbourhood I've ever lived in
and some places I simply passed through.
|awful stack||May 22|
It might be extremely dead, rating neighbourhoods you’ve never lived in or really experienced. There are good, correct reasons to talk about the places where we live and breathe and exist. And there are bad, achingly dull and sometimes overtly shit reasons for talking about — for example — London. This is a sub-tweet, obviously. And your angsty pearl-clutching is not only offensive but also deeply lame. Just enjoy it.
So what follows is basically a way of sorting memories through place, and of thinking about what makes the places I’ve lived in experientially and architecturally different from other places I’ve lived in. And that’s it. Why I moved to the places I did, and what I liked about them. Actually I’ve never actively disliked anywhere I’ve settled, not really. There are places I think it’d be nice to live in. Like the modernist experiments of Camden CC in the 1970s and 80s, which are wild and lasting and beautiful. These might make for a really great place to live. Karl Marx Hof looks baller from the outside. Sometimes the image we have of a place is enough.
When we move, we move. What remains are memories. Perhaps neighbourhoods are just one way to sort them.
Oxhey, south Watford - sometime between 1991 and 1993I have no idea. When I strain my memory of this place there is a picture of a slate-roofed railway house with a red front door. I was very young, and the sofas we had — there are very few photographs from my childhood, due to a confusing and peculiar reason — were deep, velvety brown, as was the carpet. My dad would walk me to school through the railway station, and I recall the wood panels and tobacco yellows of its vast and echoing interior. But then again, maybe this house is just a child’s drawing of a house, and it never really existed.
Silkin and Corbet House. Built in 1963 and photographed here in 1988, when I was born. The ‘L’ blocks and expansive balconies are quite unusual, even a little bold.
Bushey, south WatfordLike Oxhey, Bushey is a suburban outgrowth of Watford; the final pitstop before the green belt that cleaves London from the home counties. This is the waistband that my relatives crossed after the war, offered a new future as part of the fiercely proactive New Towns initiative. The East End was a bombsite. Go north. Bushey I recall only for a street of pink blossom, a petrol station. I really can’t remember more than this. My grandfather was a telephone engineer. My grandmother a cleaner. Their parents were Thames bargies and dressmakers, working within the cry of Bow Bells. Now, I write copy for digital brands. What a world.
Manod, Blaenau Ffestiniog - no idea tbhI entirely forgot Manod. Not sure why. It is surrounded by old slate mines and the hills are black and fearsome and cloaked in cloud. When the sun breaks through the rain, fallen on everything, begins to glimmer. I think of bracken, slate, grey tiles. It was a squat little house, and everything felt very hard and very fragile in the same moment. My asthma must have cleared up, and my accent faded in and out.
Luton, Bedfordshire - a long time, maybe?Or a place at its edge, separated from the town by a motorway; a hill driving into the sky. It has some incredible late Victorian buildings, like the Museum. Much of it is new and post-war. The Vauxhall factory dominates. As does the airport. It is clung about with big roads and underpasses. Close enough to London by train; a fanciful 25 minutes. You could escape, leave, depart at your own will. The area where I lived was all post-war housing, expanded or modified by the slow trickle of new money that dripped into the neighbourhood. Sloping and slightly wooded. Walk backwards and you’d end up in fields, among brambles, crossing streams. Forwards, and you’d appear at the town centre and the “Arndale” mall of 1972. I grew up in the simulation of a rural suburbia that was really an addendum to an urban core, thrown up in plastic cladding and high-rises. It always had a really good energy, not trying to be something it wasn’t. From a design perspective, I think it would be unkind to clobber it with the moniker of Nairn’s “subtopia.” The samosas in the indoor market’s ‘Curry Centre’ are beyond belief.
Completed in 1972, the Arndale Centre is home to a huge and always bustling indoor market - really the heart of the trading community.
Bits of Cambridge - 2007, 2010I feel like admitting you’ve lived in Cambridge is a bit weak, because it implies that you might have studied there - a very neeky place imo! But then I don’t want to do the Oxbridge Discourse, because I am tired and grown-up. Whatever. It’s nothing special. Anyway, I lived in the southish part for a while. It was shit. I lived in the eastish part for a bit, near Anglia Ruskin, and it was a lot better. The pubs were old and worn in. It went by in a sort of flash. Its oldness is beautiful in a sort of appalling and reckless way; an unerring reminder of your own death. It is an ocean of single-glazed rooms with odd carpets and faraway looks in people’s eyes. It’s why I liked living in the not-old bit, in the east, where there was a 1980s shopping centre, a pool hall, and normal stores. All you need to know is that I once talked to somebody who started at the university with 17 other people from her public school, and all at the same college. I apparently had a “chip on my shoulder” because I pulled a face.
A field in Turkey - 2009The light wakes you, spilling into the barrack house. Slow grunting as various bodies slip or drop out of the bunks. The showers whirr into action; 5 minutes apiece. It’s cold, even. We’ll be on-site at 7, trying to get as much work in before the heat climbs too high and the government shuts access to the site. Once a week we drive into Konya by bus (no air conditioning). We use the pool and restaurant of a tall hotel; the highest building in the city. There’s a mall over the road (mostly empty), and a store that has the same branding as tesco but a different name. Over the summer, we refurbish the bar and install a new concrete patio, a dance area. The plan is to start drinking as soon as you’ve finished work and showered. I find three fat, sharp fingers of obsidian, almost like claws. It takes a couple of hours to slowly remove them from the dust. How many months pass?
Forest Gate, London - 2010??I almost forgot about adding Forest Gate to this list. I don’t remember much about it. It abutted a really vast and seemingly endless park. I wasn’t there for very long. A brief pause. An overlap in time. It always seemed really laid back and at ease with itself, which was nice. In summer the strip of shops outside the station would be bursting with flowers. The 25 bendy bus used to pass through here, making it a golden place.
Kilburn, north London - 2010This was the interface between Shoot Up Hill and West Hampstead; where the long maw of Kilburn pauses before plunging down into the gothic of red-stone Cricklewood. I got really into Crash Team Racing and Polish vodka while living here, a bottle always on ice; wedged like a cinder block into the narrow mouth of the freezer. There were so many gaudy, five and six-story townhouses in various states of repair. London plane trees, bumpy pavements. This was the last time I remember it snowing meaningfully in the city, during the winter of 2010 and 2011, and I’d spend a lot of my time (I was a postgraduate at UCL) in the city centre. And then it became the winter of the student protests; insufferably cold and bitter. There was an evening that comes across in Goya-esque darkness; a kettle on Whitehall, a bonfire of placards - a bus stop consumed by flame. Horses had corralled people into this tight yard. Kilburn didn’t notice any of this. I slipped and fell on Christmas day, walking back from the store with armfuls of shopping.
Deptford, south London - 2010, 11King of neighbourhoods imo. All of life was here. An always-busy and functionally pedestrian street that, made good with Vietnamese supermarkets, its sprawling market, Hubei cuisine, Jamaican cuisine. This may have been as many as 7 years ago. It’s hidden from the long march of New Cross. Peter the Great lived here, for a while. On a recent return, the energy has been clipped a little; but seems as chaotic as ever. Redevelopment and regeneration plans have begun to steamroll its more interesting edges. There is a bar in the underpass that sells comically pretentious cocktails (overpriced and not good). There is a bar in a former job centre, called “the job centre,” which smacks of lame bad taste. If you want to sign on today it means a slog up to Catford. Something needed was taken away and replaced with something we already had too much of. I swear it has the freshest fish in the whole of London. The new library is clad in gold, for some inexplicable reason.
The Pepys Estate, Deptford (1973), GLC. An architectural showcase that, due to wider forces, became increasingly unpopular. A nuanced take on the story can be read at
Crystal Palace, south London - 2012The park at crystal palace is filled with anatomically incorrect dinosaurs, a sprawl of wind-rippled boating lakes, an avenue of bending linden trees, a labyrinth and a monolith. The houses that immediately surround it are imperious and almost drunkenly victorian. We lived in an old schoolhouse, converted poorly into ill-fitting flats. In my kitchen was a chapel’s stained-glass window. The bedroom was a cube at the centre of the house and received no light. It all felt very far away from London. I stayed during winter and went to a friend’s pub for a Christmas day lock-in. This remains a very golden memory.
Klagenfurt, Austria - perhaps 2012, 2013We moved in with a bunch of friends in their extremely bulky house on the southern side of Klagenfurt. Six months passed, taking us from a bristling winter into a horrifyingly hot summer. By day, the only thing to do was swim. The lake was vast and blue and, even from these balmy waters, you could see snow on the mountainsides of the Julian Alps. You’d drink beer, cook barbecue. We’d go to hockey games or sit around playing playstation in the cool indoors. I think that time may have stopped. I became very invested in reading the books of Thomas Bernhard. Sometimes we’d go on road trips through the lakes and mountains, crossing the alps into neighbouring Slovenia. The neighbourhood was made up of these big, old houses, with red-tiled roofs. Beyond, there were steel and very metallic looking function centres and car dealerships. It was a very clean place. And very ordinary. Nobody can exist beneath that much heat. There was a two-day wedding, high in the mountains. I slept in the fields.
Hakin, Milford Haven - 2013, 14On and off. Sometimes. The staunch post-war prefabs and council homes slaked in pebble-dash, windows grazed by the wind that rises from Gelliswick Bay. This used to be a fishing town, and its economy took a nose-dive after the fisheries collapsed. The gigantic, gaunt refineries and the port heaved into view. From the kitchen window, I’d watch the long, low tankers arrive and gorge themselves on petrol, before riding low on the waters out. You were never more than a five or ten-minute walk from the bay, from its un-pretty but calming beaches. Five minutes and I was already on the coastal path. I got really into anthropology, again. I read French. Descola. Perec. Artaud. This is where I earnestly started writing, with reviews for igloo. Electronic music from the fringes of Europe. I’d swim in the cold bay. Hard, weathered, rubbed away at. English holiday cottages and middle-class estates, dividing the town in two. People got in trouble. People got by. They shared a lot of things. The refinery never stopped. The lights were always on.
Unthank, Norwich - 2014, 15Life collapses. You pick it up. You find something else somewhere else. This time in that weirdly named ‘golden triangle’ between Earlham and Unthank. A place that everyone was very keen and smug about but mainly because it was UEA postgrads living here in cosy particularity. I needed a bit of stability, and to forget about the West coast. I think my housemate wanted to destroy me. That was fun. All of the houses (post-Victorian, and small) were strangely identical in their interior layout. You’d go to a house party and know immediately where the toilet and kitchen were. Lasdun’s UEA is, of course, mythic, but not too close by. A walk, or run. The town is old and used to be England’s second city. There are some quite good pubs and bars, on the edge of the triangle. After so much coastal squeeze, I didn’t mind the walking. Nairn got a bit testy about its somewhat indifferent treatment by developers. “The traveller comes on a brand-new building announcing the city centre at the southern end of St Stephens Street, which for crushing banality must have few equals in Britain.” I wasn’t there too long.
Zizkov, Prague - 2015The baller of all neighbourhoods. “Red Zizkov.” There was a bar beneath my flat which remained open seemingly at all hours. You could smoke there. You could drink Czech pils for £2, and it came in a huge frothy glass. It was boisterous and fun. The area housed the sci-fi pillar of the Zizkov TV tower (1989). The grave of Kafka. A bar called Bukowski’s (actually not bad). A bowling alley with a pub attached. The local American-style burger joint was always rammed because it was good and filling and cheap. Imo this is the greatest of all cities, and Zizkov is its most storied place.
I’d drink here most nights. A simple walk downstairs. It’d get busy, smoke filling the room like fog.
Somewhere in southern France - the winter and summer of 2015?There is no such thing as a neighbourhood in the French countryside. Chateau on a hillside. Farmhouses and brick barns. Curling roads lead eventually to a sleepy, nearby village, which led in turn to the town of Cahors. There were still je suis charlie posters up in the local stores. There was a state of emergency, but it didn’t mean anything. Years might pass and nothing outwardly would change, here in the slow midi-Pyrenees. The grounds of the chateaux were filled with stands of forest and the gnarled attempts at olive trees, comically out of place in this brisque region. The local farmers liked to cross into the gardens in the morning, so you’d be woken at six am to the sound of shotguns; their harrowing echo. It became very easy to write, read, and watch films, which is what I did almost exclusively for this entire period. I drank only champagne (we’d been gifted the remnants of a Christmas cellar from the owners). I began applying to do some more postgraduate research. Nothing seemed to happen anywhere, which was really lovely, when you think about it. Just sometimes. I think I began to unravel, and go slowly mad, but didn’t notice until it was too late. My flight out of France felt incredible. Like I was burning off a cloud.
Odense, Denmark - late 2015, early 2016Here, in the western suburbs of Odense, Denmark’s third-largest city, I found a kind of peace. I stopped writing. I got really into making very slow and quiet music (a tiny Akai MIDI keyboard, a DAW, a sampler). I ran each day in a bright loop around the district. I would become emotional in the supermarket because a Danish supermarket is a kind of delicate utopia. A whole fresh salmon was cheaper than certain types of grain. I continued not to smoke. I gave up most alcohol. The suburb was leafy and unobtrusive and filled with the kinds of incredibly well-designed modernist housing that would make Camden blush. It was entirely, enchantingly dull. If I wanted to drink I’d get the bus into the town and get wrecked at a bar frequented by ex-pats, or go to the Danish bar where for every ten beers you drink you are given another one for free. You could walk home and be sober by the time you climbed into bed. Four months of this was enough.
Finsbury Park, north London - 2016For three brief months, on the top floor of an obnoxiously heavy Edwardian townhouse that lined the edge of the park. By night the park became filled with peculiar groans and dreary echoes. It was one of those arrangements of convenience, and I lived with a peculiarly eclectic group of absolute strangers who all managed to get on surprisingly well, despite being able to hear each other screwing and breathing and eating through the thin walls. Somebody kept a dream book of what I would consider “Cursed” sketches. We killed time by rolling up and sitting on the ‘balcony’ (large sash window with plummeting drop beneath). Once these houses were probably very shiny and expensive, with views over this rare London park. In solidarity, I took up drawing again.
Rowan’s, in Finsbury Park, is just a perfect and beautifully shared place.
Manor House, north London - 2016 to 2019“Those are the ‘art’ kids.” I glanced across (warm, bubbling-over light; somebody mashing away on a drum kit in the distance, over a bassy EB track). Body-suits, gasmasks. This was a part of my life where I didn’t sleep much. It was a period punctuated by endless weekends that began with big barbeques on the decking (a cast of 20, 25 people), which then collapsed into sweaty all-night raves in the surrounding warehouses. Manor House itself is an interregnum between Finsbury Park and Tottenham. It is the first steps of the Green Lanes ‘ladder’ and a sprawling industrial park which had been gutted during the late 1980s when many of the workers moved away. Doing this for more than three years was too tempting a thought. I realise now that a lot of people were experiencing crises that, on leaving the area, have entirely softened out. My friend almost got crushed by a gigantic mechanized valve. The spontaneity and fun began to bleed away, after a while. There weren’t really any shops, bars, restaurants. This remains a formerly light industrial scrubland. There is a boating club, which we were thrown out of.
Wood Green, north London - nowI’ve already written about this, on two separate occasions. It bangs, but in a very particular way. Being in this close proximity to some of the best Turkish and Kurdish restaurants in the world is also a vastly good thing imo.