Before I moved to London, I abhorred what it did to people who went there. Having once been sensibly sceptical about the capital’s influence and cocksure arrogance, new residents would become the most awful, sneering cheerleaders; looking down their long, smoke-smutted noses at the fetid provincials they once considered peers.
Having lived here for seven years now, I am now one of those people. This is brought home to me whenever I leave London, and find myself being surprised by amenities and courtesies (things like good 3G connections and running water) I assumed would not yet have percolated through to the unwashed bumpkins in Where-The-Fuck, Bedfordshire. And for that I apologise.
Which is a long way round to saying that one of the things I like most about London is the hidden pockets of specialised excitement it has, usually around a concentrated influx of immigrants to a small area. There are lots of famous ones. Brick Lane for curries, and a mostly Bangladeshi flavour. Kingsland Road for Vietnamese restaurants. Green Lanes for Turkish kebabs. Then there’s the obscure trades that cluster together. Denmark Street, the holy grail of teenage explorations, is where all the guitar shops hang out. Chancery Lane is the last bastion of tobacconists.
Discovering a new one of these is always exciting, because it reveals there’s enough people in the city that are so enthusiastic about something that it needs a whole street of shops, cafes and other businesses – and you never knew it existed at all.
My latest is London’s mini-Spanish quarter, which is based in Hanway Street. Hanway Street is just off the eastern fag-end of Oxford Street, before Tottenham Court Road tube station. It’s the point where the chain stores thin out to be replaced by scaffolding, questionable wristwatch shops and blokes hawking ‘free perfume’ through a loudhailer to a small crowd of credulous and confused tourists.
The best thing about these little enclaves though, is how they always have been Londonised to a degree. And often, it’s some fantastically inspired way that could never have be imagined in the original culture they were taken from.
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