Monday, 14 March 2011

When Two Tribes Go To War...

I am sure I have mentioned it before, but this July I will have lived in London for ten years. That’s pretty much a third of my entire life, and my whole life outside of full time education. A significant chunk, to say the least.
But, although people (mainly those who live outside of the capital) often ask me if am one, this does not make me a Londoner. Oh, no. To be a Londoner you have to have been born and bred here, and even those who have migrated to the Big Smoke at a young age and live here until the day they die cannot give themselves this title. There’s no point even trying – Londoners can spot a foreigner a mile away. Even before I open my mouth and prompt the question, “So what part of the north are you from?”, my country ways give me away, whether it is saying “thank you” to the bus driver or “bless you” to the lady who sneezes next to me in the queue at Tesco’s.
It’s not that I am saying Londoners are rude, but that they have had it installed within them from birth to look after themselves and protect their personal space from the onslaught that is city life, in the same way that a farmer has become closely attuned to the weather in order to protect his livelihood.
But, what fascinates me most is that there are different tribes within London. Some of them are better known than others. The Sloane Square rich kids, dripping in Pringle as they drive daddy’s car to Polo practice. The Cockney market stall holders, selling their jellied eels and knock-off electrics in the East End. Camdenites who hang around the Lock, showcasing their green Mohicans and inked skin. The Angels, Blackberries clasped to their ears as they rush from board meeting to networking event to wine bar.
Interestingly, these tribes do not seem to mix well with outsiders. As always, I have examples.
First of all, there are the Hampsteadites. They are rich. Very rich. This gives them the freedom to dabble in the Arts, and, when the pursuit of fame and recognition fails to meet up to their expectations, they come up with an even worthier solution: To use their Craft to help the disadvantaged.
I have come across a few of these Hampsteadites in the last year. Don’t get me wrong, they are lovely people and in a way I envy their earnest desire to do good. Unfortunately they often don’t have a clue how the real world works. This can become problematic for them when they are dealing with the aforementioned underclass and those who work with them. The said youth are often even more cynical of the Hampsteadite than I am, but even if this hard outer shell is broken down, the Hampsteadite then has to deal with the professionals who work with London’s underground. And that means meeting targets, writing proposals and honouring contracts.
Luckily the Hampsteadite has been brought up to believe in themselves. They are not easily swayed by such red tape. They march on regardless, sure of themselves and their cause. Again very commendable, but more than a little tiresome for those who are bound by the system and are trying to secure their funding for the next financial year.
The Shoreditch Crowd are comparable to the Hampsteadites whilst at the same time being very different. They too are rich and choose to pursue the Arts over more conventional career choices. The main difference is that the Shoreditch Crowd aren’t put off by financial failure. They like to slum it and their artistic hunger feeds off London’s grit. They don’t give a damn what other people think of them and don’t care to mix with those who don't share their disdain for convention.
Last week I went to a pub quiz arranged by a group of literary feminists. As soon as I walked into the hosting establishment I realised I was entering into the realm of the Shoreditch Crowd. It is hard to describe their look beyond “edgy” – think blunt, boyish haircuts, mismatched charity shop clothes and a look of contempt for anyone who could be considered “mainstream”. The quiz itself only confirmed my fears – the music round was beyond obscure and the literature questions decidedly arthouse. Needless to say, dressed in my denim miniskirt and Topshop jumper, I didn’t fare too well.
So, if you are new to London (or are due a visit), look out for the numerous tribes that roam within the boundaries of the M25. They are numerous and often difficult to spot at first, but once you get attuned to their existence you will be able to pick them out without much difficulty and take appropriate measures to move through their territory without any harm coming to you.
And, if you already live in London or are indeed a Londoner? I’m sure that you recognise the London tribes as well as I do. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have been indoctrinated into one already...

No comments:

Post a Comment