Sandstone paving slabs thread with a seam of rust on wet days give the impression the street is literally paved with gold. These must be the most expensive paving stones in the borough.
Broadway Market. Pages of printing ink have been expended on this tiny strip of road, psychogeographers, journalists, travel writers, travel writing psychogeographical Journalists. I could spend pages writing about the transformation of this street, about the battle to save Tony’s Café, it’s occupation and reopening, the construction of a Reclaim the Streets scaffolding pyramid on the roof as a final barricade. I could write about the eviction of Spirit, the last Afro-Caribbean food store in this area, but all this has already been historicised. I could write about the less known aspects of the street, the drive by shooting at the Broadway BBQ kebab shop, or the hostility of the locals in the pre gentrified Cat and Mutton pub with its UVF graffiti in the toilets. But what actually interests me is the street now. The post-hipster, less fashionable Broadway Market, inhabited by Hackney’s second generation media workers. This has been the epicentre of Hackney’s gentrification and looking through the cafe windows I can see huddles of fashionably dressed, late twenties early thirties, mainly males, working on laptops. Transient desk space and free WIFI for the latest kickstarter company, all for the price of an Americana. Crowd sourced capitalism with a social conscience. This is my first real trace of the digitally expanded city.
La Bouche a delicatessen and café midway down the street exemplifies the mixture of socialising, networking and entrepreneurialship espoused by the denizens of Broadway Market. Faces looking out through street fronted windows, large bowls of salad on show, a long central table hosts small groups having meetings, leaning endlessly over laptops. Glowing Apple Mac logos illuminate the table, large white mugs containing lattes with elaborate leaf patterns jostling with the anodized aluminium laptops. This street is a mirage within a desert of poverty and 60’s social housing. Stepping back from La Bouche there is a punctum in the dizzying spectacle. The meeting point of Broadway market and Benjamin Close marks the border between two worlds. Looking at La Bouche from this angle the old world charm of the Victorian, faux Parisian, frontage is dwarfed by Welshpool house, a 17 storeyed 1960’s tower block. The bench style seating lining the outside of the café is mirrored by the public benches on Benjamin Close, currently occupied by a group of teenage boys, mixed black and white, but all wearing dark winter coats with their hoods high over their heads. Here two groups collide in a conspiracy of mutual indifference. Neither group acknowledges the existence of the other. Two alternate existences share the same space. The boundaries are understood by everyone but never acknowledged.
Fucking. FUCKING NOISES!
I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.
Do you know. DO YOU FUCKING KNOW.
Cos I don’t know.
Fucking. FUCKING noises!
If care in the community means anything, other than a budgetary cost cutting exercise, its exemplified by the community of outcasts who gather at the benches at the end of the cycle path that leads through London Fields to Broadway Market. A mixed and wretched community, black and white and varied in age. A tall thick set masculine white woman with cropped short greying hair and a hard face, wearing grey jogging bottoms and hoodie, sits with her arms raised like the outstretched wings of some large bird, elbows resting in the cuffs of a pair of NHS crutches. An ageing and overweight black man wearing an oversized blue raincoat with the hood covering his head and resting on the rim of a pair of large angular black wraparound sunglasses, face contorted as though he is concealing a segment of orange. A White man, probably in his forties, though it’s difficult to tell, drugs, alcohol, lack of food, and I suspect time on the streets have prematurely aged him. Hair shaven leaving long tails of unkempt and natty hair at the back, a crushed green plastic bottle of White Ace held between dermatitis inflamed hands.
These benches create a permanent space of sociality for those with drink, drugs and mental health problems. It is a space that enables the isolation of the flat, bedsit or hostel to be overcome. A meeting point to drink, get wasted and forget. Temporary self medication from the permanent cycle of return that traps the mind, crippling it, refusing to allow it to move on from some unspeakable trauma. The dark thoughts that keep you awake at night fuelling self-loathing. The voices. ‘FUCKING NOISES’, I overheard a young black man yelling to himself. Whilst there are tensions here, sudden eruptions of violent shouting, the occasional fight, you also witness tenderness, a caring for each other, even splitting cash to buy more booze.
Hoardings have been erected behind the benches. Toilets are being constructed to service the masses that come every Saturday to shop in Broadway Market’s boutiques, restaurants, and wine bars. The plywood boards have been treated with a translucent green varnish that emphasises the grain. Hovering above today’s bench dwellers, is an oblong block of opaque green paint carefully rolled to mask the still visible graffiti, ACAB. I stand and stare. There is an obvious comic reference here to Mark Rothko’s abstract expressionism. On these large boards it does produce the kind of melancholy Rothko’s paintings can inspire. But as I contemplate this accidental work, I locate the melancholy not in the abstract but in metaphor. This acronym ACAB has punctured my drift at various locations. ACAB – All Coppers Are Bastards. An antipolice slogan used by working class hooligans and football Ultras from both the far left and far right. It is a sign of working class resistance and rebellion. Contemplating the oblong of green paint, with the graffiti lettering visible only when the light hits it at a certain angle, I start to think about disappearance. I had read the stories of Hackneys gentrification. But what I have witnessed on this walk is deep entrenched poverty and desperation. The artists, squatters and anarchists have either left, moving gradually further east, or managed to do a deal like the community from Ellingfort road and London Lane; The incumbent wealthy parade Boadway market, flamboyantly sitting outside bars and restaurants, drinking expensive wines and cocktails. The alcoholics, junkies and teenage gangs have a parallel flamboyance, gathering at public benches or in huddles on estates waiting for dealers; but the shops, cafes and pubs that serviced the working class community have all gone. The means by which Hackney’s working class can be public have been erased, like the lettering in this piece of graffiti, but the community itself remains for now.