[Photo: Past London]
Our city is under attack from dinosaurs, reckons Giles Coren.
There’s a derelict underground public convenience down my way that has recently been turned into a bar, to shrieks of hysterical opposition from the neighbours.
That’s right. A place which even in its heyday was no more than a terrifying subterranean piss cave full of drug addicts and sex pests, and which for the last 20 years has not even been that, has been turned by a nice young man into a safe, clean place for eating and drinking, and the local bourgeoisie are going postal.
I know, because I have seen their objection letters. Seen the names on the petition that went to the council. And it’s the same purse-lipped, clench-arsed curtain-twitchers who object to everything round here. And it’ll be the same round you. Anybody who tries to do anything fun or modern or funky in residential London, however dirty and desperate for renewal the district, first has to face the same phalanx of middle-aged, middle-class dinosaurs who are determined to keep London shitty.
‘Save our loos!’ cried the letters to the council. ‘We don’t need another bar, there are already two in the area. What we need is toilets!’
As if the toilets were open anyway. As if anybody apart from tramps used them when they were. As if these correspondents would dream of peeling down their saggy corduroys and parking their pampered arses on anything but clean, warm, private porcelain, close to a ready supply of quilted Andrex and old Polly Toynbee columns cut from the Guardian and hung within easy reach on a piece of organic string.
They were the same when a brilliant pizza/chicken mini-chain opened on a tricky industrial site which had seen three previous enterprises fail. This one, because its owner had a track record of success, encountered opposition on the basis that ‘It will be noisy’ and ‘It will make parking difficult’. In short, local residents were happy with a business being there as long as it was failing, but a really good restaurant was not to be borne. For success is what the English cannot bear.
A great new independent butcher opened on the high street and everyone objected because it would threaten the long-established, not very good butcher round the corner. That’s right, England, let’s keep good businesses away so that bad ones may thrive!
Then they objected to a new fishmonger because ‘It’s expensive! They have lobsters!’ Yeah, storm the barricades, man. Kill the rich. Except they also sell whiting at £6/kilo which could feed your family healthily for a handful of shrapnel. A fear of real food is what that is, from a privileged populace grown weak and stupid on supermarket ready meals.
They objected to the opening of an ethical, progressive Mexican restaurant over the tube station on the grounds that it would displace a raggedy roadside greengrocer whose fume-kippered unseasonal produce my snob neighbours would never dream of eating. They just like the thought of people less well off than themselves scoffing that rubbish, so they can keep on looking down at them for it.
Hell, they even had a sit-in against the renovation of a filthy pedestrian rail bridge because, presumably, it wasn’t fair on the rust, moss and broken bricks which had made their home there.
You ask, ‘Who are these people, with their faux-concern for the downtrodden, their temperance, their objection to good food, lively young people and thriving business?’
Well, they are ladies and gents of a certain age, who for most of their lives lived in a London of closed boozers, awful food, stinky communal pissoirs, graffitied public buildings, incipient sexism and racism, and danger on every corner. And they are just so jealous about the great things their children’s generation are doing to this city that they want to nip progress in the bud by objecting to damn near everything. They want to turn the clocks back to a time that they somehow perceive as having been more ‘real’, because it was their own miserable reality growing up, and they want it to be ours.
It makes me furious. So furious, in fact, that I have a good mind to dash off a strongly worded letter to the council.
Stop this sort of thing! Disagree? Tweet @gilescoren.