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DTGFP_Whitechapel4.jpg  Whitechapel High Street East London

“A boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed and the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine”

Last week, I made what must be my first journalistic excursion for the sole purpose of this blog. It was a Sunday, I had nothing to do and so I ventured out of curiosity into Tower Hamlets; the borough of London now notorious for its advanced and nearly complete Islamisation.

Here are my dispatches.

Alighting at Whitechapel Underground station, I soon found a street-side café at which to people-watch and took up a table seat outside. I must have remained there for at least an hour, drawing deep breaths of mint-flavoured nicotine from my electronic cigarette and staring thoughtfully at the shifting knots of people bumping around the crowded streets.

It’s true what they say about this place of course. I wasn’t expecting anything different. Tower Hamlets today looks aesthetically identical to a neighbourhood of urban Pakistan, the only giveaways being the gravestone coloured sky and skyscrapers rising behind the landscape.

It’s a slum in many respects, and I don’t say that emotively. ‘Slum’ is a word with political as well as poetic functions. It can denote a place where an urban area houses its low-paid but essential workers. Cleaners live here for example, as do the owners of the ramshackle Bangladeshi businesses and trinket stores which blight and degrade the whole of Greater London. The set-up of most of the residences nearby are crowded family cell-blocks with a proud elder generation who work, and an integrated youth who cannot spell ‘work’. That youth is clearly dominant on these streets. Hooded Muslims stroll and loiter on their pencil-thin legs, some of them lairily sipping cans of Red Bull in lieu of alcohol (it doesn’t have quite the same masculinising effect somehow).

Innumerable signs offered the services of ‘English Language Teaching’. From what I heard in the form of conversation, they’re not doing a roaring trade. Internet cafes seem to be another local speciality. One also cannot travel very far without seeing a very dingy, third-world electronics shop, its window blacked out with advertisements for mechanics, plumbers and hookers.

The famed markets of the area also now have a Sub-Continent character. Whatever quality they used to possess has now been traded for quantity. They sell the very basics – meat, vegetables and cheaply manufactured clothes. Abroad from here, Chicken grills, kebab shops and highly dubious ‘Italian’ pizzerias are the main options for food. There is also a co-op supermarket (never a good sign for house-prices in London).

On the Underground coming in, I noticed a police display appealing for information about a ‘serious assault’ – local euphemism for a stabbing. This is nothing to remark upon really. Gang culture pervades the local atmosphere. Bicycles, once a symbol of quaint conformity, now serve as tools of intimidation – as quick getaways from the repercussions of spontaneous violence. Youths on a gang of wheels later approached me and asked for cigarettes. I showed them my e-cig. They seemed to briefly consider swiping it before rolling away passively on their bmxs.

I popped into a corner shop and found to my surprise a fully uniformed shop guard. This is highly unusual but also sadly understandable. In London, shifty drunks tend to loiter by the doorways of such places like unwanted guard dogs. I took my change and was wished a good afternoon by the prayer capped shopkeeper, to which I dutifully smiled and said thank you. I felt a bit like a psychopath, grinning warmly at a man I’d gladly see dragged towards an airport.

Despite looking – and to my surprise – I couldn’t seem to find a Mosque. After turning a few more corners, I did come across a ‘community centre’ (pictured below – photo not taken by me). Judged by its architecture, the building used to be something very different. Perhaps a pub. How depressing.

shoreditch-mosque

When darkness lowered, I caught the train for home. As the train met each station further and further from Whitechapel, the passenger profile shifted less and less Islamic. At Putney, I disembarked, distinctly happy to be back in my own little corner of London, where the twenty first century seems more convincingly to have arrived, and may for some time still persist.

D, LDN.

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